In my 7 years of living in Japan, I’ve noticed that this country has a really interesting relationship with anime, both as a media and marketing tool. I’ve experienced that scene straight out of Lost in Translation many times. The one where a 60 year old man is standing on the train, reading some manga that contains lots of…let’s say ‘fan service’ just a few inches from a kids face. There is a strange dynamic at play here. A lot of people would name “anime” as the first thing they think of when it comes to Japan. At the same time, being really into anime as an adult here is still seen as somewhat taboo. But not always…Don’t worry, I’ll explain. The same thing is true for games. Japanese games are iconic. Japan = video games, right? But Japan’s gaming industry also has one of the lowest ratio’s adult gamers in the world. What? How can that be? The answer is a deep dive into Japanese ‘FOMO’ culture, which I will generously guide you through. Buckle up.
So, it may be the most confusing answer possible, but it seems that adults in Japan don’t watch anime…except that isn’t true. There are certain cases when this absolutely isn’t true. Looking back on my 7 years of living in Japan, I can tell you there were many times when I met adults who were gushing over demon slayer or attack on titan.
So adults in Japan do watch anime, then?
If the time is right, everybody watches anime. In Japan this timing is very important.
Wait, so when is it okay to watch anime as an adult in Japan?
Adults watch anime in Japan from time to time, however, it is generally only socially acceptable for an adult to be excited about a new anime in a general social setting if that anime is the new craze at the time. I have noticed this many times over the years in Japan.
So, why is this the case? I think this points to a few possibilities in Japan, when observed from a cultural standpoint. The first is that adults in Japan watch more anime than they are letting on, because admitting that you are into anime past a certain age is still seen as somewhat embarrassing in Japan. I think this is very likely the main thing that’s going on, because I’ve had many-a-friend go on these long anime rants after a few beers at the local izakaya. All it takes is a few beers, and that too-cool-for-nerdy-things-act fades away. Suddenly Takeshi-san is obsessed with anime! What a nice surprise!
Fads in Japan, and how they affect anime consumption / social norms.
There is another possible factor contributing to this conversation around anime viewership, that being the sheer power of fads themselves in Japan. Seriously, fads in Japan come and go in a flash, and are passé within months. Honestly, it reminds me of growing up in the 90’s. As long as something is a fad, you’re following the crowd, and if that crowd happens to be into watching an anime at the time, then you have full permission to gush about the latest episode! Whatever it may be. I think this may be somewhat similar to how Game of Thrones became so popular in the west. What was originally a nerdy fantasy show got so popular that it was more mainstream than most things on TV. Suddenly, it wasn’t weird to have a party and invite people over for dinner and game of thrones.
I don’t know if many adults in Japan are having viewing parties for the newest episode of demon slayer, but I can tell you that I heard a lot of talk about that show among friends colleagues, and even across different shops in Japan. Suddenly demon slayer was everywhere. It was mainstream, and would become a permanent icon of Japanese culture. Only, once the fad is finished, it won’t be an appropriate talking point anymore. I think maybe you can imagine what I mean. Game of Thrones was maybe an okay thing to bring up on a date back in 2017. Now? Maybe not so much. It’s an interesting thing, the west seems to have more of n interest in ‘retro’ markets, but in Japan retro games and anime from more than few months ago is seen as just…old? Unless you’re starting the series from the start, people tend to stick with the current trend much more often. I would bet there are much fewer adults re-watching the original Pokémon series from the 90’s in Japan than in America or elsewhere. Nostalgia seems to be a market that isn’t quite as strong in Japan as it is in the west, at least from my personal experience living in Japan since 2015.
So, if adults in Japan watch anime, which anime do they watch?
There are certain anime that adults in Japan tend to watch, or are at least more open to admitting that they like. The most common answer I often hear is Doraemon. I also hear Pokémon and one piece a lot too.
Basically anime that adults here once watched before they ‘grew out of anime’ because anime is ‘just for kids’ right? Now’s probably a good time to mention that I actually don’t watch much anime myself, but I do find it funny how the same country who uses anime in official government brochure’s and marketing materials galore, is also the same country that says adults aren’t allowed to enjoy it. Pretty funny to me. The stigma against games is funny to me too, because I moved all the way to Japan, and suddenly I’m not allowed to talk about Mario or Zelda? What kind of weird cosmic logic is that? Alas, it’s simply the way things are. One of the sick jokes of our universe, I suppose. Anyways, in Japanese adults talk about watching anime, it will probably be something they fondly remember watching from their childhood.
Adults in Japan do watch anime, but really only talk about it when a new series is exploding in popularity around the country. Otherwise, it looks a little dorky or nerdy to bring it up, unless it is in a very casual way. Because of this, most adults in Japan keep their interest in anime to themselves.
If you’re interested in reading about Japan’s relationship with gaming, and why there are still so many arcades in Japan.
There are some interesting reasons why Japan is fit to have so many arcades. If you found this article interesting, I think you will enjoy the article below as well, and checking it out is a great way to support this website.