If you live in a western country and are an avid fan of anime, you may not fully understand how this hobby is embraced in Japan. To be honest, I don’t fully understand either, but after having lived in this country for almost two years now, I can share some observations I have made regarding this topic.
- In general, the typical Japanese fan is similar to the typical western fan.
If you like watching anime, but you don’t consider yourself an individual who would be willing to spend income on extra purchases such as figures, CDs, DVDs, and other various merchandise, then you are similar to the average person who enjoys watching anime in Japan. Japanese people don’t often share their hobbies, so it can be difficult to gauge whether there is any interest or not. When I lived in the States, people usually didn’t broadcast their love for anime and that is also the case in Japan. It is something people enjoy in their free time beyond the judgment of others. This brings us to our next point.
- Anime is viewed by some as not being socially acceptable, even in Japan.
Normal Japanese life is very similar to that in the West. I go to work every day, I come home and I engage in my hobbies. I had a very similar routine in the States. Japanese adults are over worked and usually have very little free time for hobbies. Liking and engaging with anime is something that is seen as childish, a situation I experienced more often in the States however. Some view an overzealous love for anime as an extension of working less. If you watch many different shows, then you are most likely not contributing in another area (which is assumed to be the workforce).
- The anime industry is driven by a core group of otaku.
Anime merchandise is far and away the biggest contributor to the success of a particular series. DVDs and Blu-rays are unreasonably priced, but if a show is popular enough, this core group of otaku will make the purchases. Figure sales are a significant contributing factor to sales and whether or not a series will continue in the future. While figure prices have increased overall over the past five to seven years, they are more reasonable than the DVD prices. The demographic driving these sales usually consists of young adult and middle aged men who work and without families, find themselves having disposable income. Marriage is on the decline in Japan, and without a family to support, it is easier to convince yourself to splurge on anime related purchases.
- Often times, there is a divide between manga and anime fans.
Just as is the case in western countries, people do in fact watch both anime and read manga. However, I have noticed in Japan fans are more often divided into one camp or the other. People, who enjoy reading manga, will usually stick to that medium. Given the long hours and the popularity of public transport in Japan, it is a lot easier for the average fan to read manga than it is to watch anime. I have noticed that there is a surprising amount of computer illiteracy in Japan, and watching anime is confined to the television. Given the unusual airing times of most shows aimed for adults, it can be difficult to follow along on a week-to-week basis.
- If you are interested in collecting merchandise, being a western fan in Japan is great.
I am sure many of you have been to conventions and paid witness to the insane markup most vendors will have for all types of Japanese goods. The reality is that merchandise in Japan is usually inexpensive. The biggest contrast is figures. Figures are notoriously expensive, even from online vendors in the States. Since coming here, I have become an avid collector of figures because of the hobby’s accessibility and ease. If I want to buy something in person, I would almost always have to go to a convention in the States. In Japan, it is significantly easier to find stores selling figures in some capacity. The accessibility of the hobby is great to see firsthand. Furthermore, having a Japanese address is an absolute godsend. The shipping is not only unbelievably fast from online vendors, the shipping fee is usually no more than 500 yen ($5). If I bought a figure from an online Japanese vendor in the States, the shipping cost would increase the total amount of the purchase by a large margin. In the end, I am avoiding both the markup and high shipping cost. This adds up quickly over time and becomes an incentive.
These are my takeaways after two years. I wanted to share some insights into Japanese fandom, and if there is interest in this type of writing, I will continue it in the future.