November 18, 2006
Fanning the Flames

Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan (Suny Series in Japan in Transition)

A collection of essays discussing fans ("connoisseur" or "stalker", not "object that moves air") in contemporary Japan.

A year ago I was on a quest to find the best books about Japan. I was looking for 10-15 books about modern society and city life. This one caught my eye, taking a scholarly look at the sometimes trivialized ultra-consumers of mass culture.

In the end, it didn't live up to expectations as a whole. Anthologies of essays are a crap shoot to begin with, and since this dicusses a non-mainstream topic, I guess it's to be expected. One oddity of the collection is that although it was published very recently, 2004, some of the essays seem at least 5-6 years old, and much of the research for them was done in the early to mid 90s.

The best articles bookended the collection. The first, "B-Boys and B-Girls," describes the nascent hip-hop scene in Tokyo in the mid-90s. It's almost essential reading, considering how widespread and pervasive hip-hop has become.

The next to last article, "Vinyl Record Collecting as Material Practice," has a nice review of record collecting in Japan, and describes how fans of different genres follow different rituals. Suddenly the record fairs, and the quality of record shops in Tokyo make a lot more sense. I was left wondering what effect the Internet and iPod era have left on this sub-culture, though, because I know it has overturned much of American collecting.

The final article, "Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand," does a great job of describing the underground comic scene, particularly with regards to women. Although I'm vaguely familiar with concepts like 'yaoi', this article describes the fan network, history, and events enough that I feel knowledgeable now. It was also the most up-to-date researched piece in the book. A nice job was done of comparing with similar sub-culture in the US and Europe.

Other articles presented useful perspectives of aspects of fandom in different sub-cultures in Japan, but sometimes they almost felt archival. Rather than looking for trends in the future of Japanese culture, they take a snapshot of a soon-to-disperse phenomena, such as aging fans of aging rockers. None of these are as engaging as the three I profile above.

Written at November 18, 2006 9:51 PM
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