Trends in Japan

Economy || Science || Sports || International Affairs
Information Society || Lifestyle || Society || Environment

Cultural Cross-Pollination Among Asian Countries Grows

FEBRUARY 28, 1997

Doraemon is a popular cartoon character in Japan and other Asian countries. (Photo: Jiji Gaho sha, Fujiko Production)

Animated Films and Comic Strips
In the recent past, trends and ideas have often flowed from Japan into other Asian countries, but there has been relatively little flow in the opposite direction. Today, however, the exchange of cultural influences via film, music, and a wide range of other areas is becoming more of a two-way street. Animated films (often called "anime") and comic strips ("manga") are cases in point. Many "anime" and "manga" have been distributed widely throughout Asia over the years. But now with the development of comic-strip artists throughout Asia, the work of some of these artists has begun to appear in Japan in the "manga" magazines produced by major Japanese publishers.

Films and Music
The trend toward a two-way flow of culture between Japan and the rest of Asia is especially strong in the world of film. For the past few years, Tokyo and other cities in Japan have often held film festivals featuring Chinese and Korean films, many of which have gone on to become big hits. Most recently, the hearts of Japanese young people have been captured by two films from Hong Kong, "Chungking Express" and "Falling Angels," both directed by Wong Kai-wai. Tokyo is among the cities in the world where the largest number of Asian films are shown. Because films from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have been so highly acclaimed throughout the world, it is only natural that they have also attracted growing attention from cinema buffs in Japan.

But this cultural cross-pollination does not stop with movie theater audiences; it also includes the actors themselves, as more and more Japanese actors are showing up in films from other Asian countries. Most recently, actress Yasuko Tomita starred in a Hong Kong film, "The Christ of Nanjing." And actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, a Japanese citizen who grew up in Taiwan, starred in "Chungking Express." This Hong Kong film catapulted the young actor to fame in Japan, where he has since been appearing in serial dramas and commercials.

Cultural influences are also flowing in both directions in the world of music. Singers from other Asian countries are attracting large followings in Japan. While Japanese popular songs have been on the lips of fellow Asians for many years now, and Japanese singers and pop idols have often given concerts around Asia, the reverse has not been true until recently. Asian singers have been known to debut and have careers in Japan, but they have almost always performed in Japanese rather than in their own languages.

But now, all that is changing. These days, more Asian singers are touring Japan, and when they do, they are singing in their native tongues. When Hong Kong's Leslie Cheung--a big-name actress who also has a longstanding singing career--gave a concert in Japan, Japanese fans turned out in droves. Another singer who has become well known in this country is Dick Lee of Singapore, who has performed his original songs on a Japanese early-morning children's TV program. Record stores in Japan now carry a wide selection of CDs by artists from all over Asia.

There are several reasons why the flow of popular culture between Japan and the rest of Asia is increasingly mutual. First, increased contact among businesses and people in these countries has created a climate that is highly conducive to each country's absorption of outside influences. Second, the economic development of other Asian countries has both given them greater leeway to focus on cultural pursuits and heightened Japan's interest in, and need to know about, their cultures. Third, a growing number of Japanese artists themselves are expanding their activities beyond Japan's borders. Fourth and finally, the spread of consumer electronic equipment such as VCRs and CD players, together with the development of the satellite broadcast infrastructure, means that a higher volume of information about pop culture is transmitted and received, and that the information travels faster.

The current trend toward two-way cultural exchange between Japan and other Asian countries is expected not just to continue but to gather momentum.