The American and Japanese Culture Trade

“Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole…both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole in the twentieth century” – Roland Robertson.

Globalization is a theory calling for free trade amongst nations with little to no restrictions. Several nations have adapted this concept to their policies, some have proven to be successful other not so much. In this paper the relationships between nations will be examined more specifically focusing on Japan and America. In this relationship we see a mutually profitable Television and Film trade occurring amongst the two. It’s the globalization mindset that allows Japanese Television producers to export and adapt their programs for American broadcast. Globalization also provides a secondary marketplace for franchises to expand. With the trading of programs and films, globalization also aids in educating audiences on foreign cultures. For these reasons the paper will provide evidence that American and Japanese cultures are in a symbiotic trade.

“Globalization studies arose around several sets of phenomena that drew researchers’ attention from the 1970’s onwards. One was the emergence of a globalized economy involving new systems second was new transnational or global cultural patterns practices and flows, and the idea of “global culture(s).” (Robinson 125) Robinson’s description of the creation of globalization studies makes a point of the global culture. Globalization as a theory is saying that soon the world will become so connected that eventually the world will become a global economy and culture. There are “two broad categories of research: those studying specific problems or issues as they relate to globalization; (2) those studying the concept of globalization itself”(Robinson 126). The division allows better organization of such a complex theory, now able to separate different ideas and concepts of globalization. The concept of Americanization stems from the problems that relate to globalization. One of the leading researchers on Globalization is Maunel Castells. His approach is more technologically based. Saying “The new economy is: (1) informational, knowledge based; (2) global, in that production is organized on a global scale and (3) networked, in that productivity is generated through global networks of interaction.”(Robinson 132). The world is becoming a smaller place, the Internet can bring together two people from the opposite sides of the world and they can have a conversation. It is through globalization that we see the trading of American and Japanese Films and programs between each other made possible through mostly technological advancements. As Robinson puts it “An “epochal shift” has taken place with the transition form a world economy to a global economy”(130). In the past countries were mostly connected through trading and financing but in the modern world, instant communication and air travel have deteriorated the idea of each country being able to isolate itself from all others. In the modern age, the world is now one large global market.

The history of Globalization is rooted in a constant battle between isolationism and expansionism. Some claim globalization began with human history some 10,000 years ago, others speculate with the beginnings of capitalism some 500 years ago. Others say it started with post-modernism 30 years ago (Robinson 127). Globalization theorists have no idea when the process started or if it ever had a start date. Since the conception of the globalized studies. One of the main criticisms of the ideas of globalization is the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank’s promise to help third world nations out of poverty. The main way they would do this is by handing out large loans, but with the loans came strict regulations. One of those is full embrace of free trade and entrance into the world marketplace. This has led many to criticize globalization and the international agencies back it. In Mark Kramer’s book Dispossessed, he traveled around the world seeing the terrible hardship endured by many of the developing nations. He points out that the policies these nations have with regards to their own economies, as well as their infrastructure plan comes from IMF or the World Bank’s strict regulations when they receive their loan. Globalization is not completely without its benefits. Several teachers and journals have pointed out that Globalization is leading towards a more progressive, one world mindset amongst students and is helping the spread of knowledge about other cultures to these students. Throughout its history, globalization has been a battle ground. Some say that it’s completely impossible for third world nations to develop with all these regulations, but at the same time Globalization provides a broader spectrum of knowledge to students, it’s a duel edge sword. Globalization has been around for decades and we are now seeing the long term effects this theory has on the world.

Globalization has helped increase the profits of Japanese television companies as well as draw viewers to the networks airing the programs. Japanese Anime proves to be a niche market in America and mainstream programming of Anime has proved successful on several American networks like: MTV, Sy-Fy and Cartoon Network. Focusing on Cartoon Network, one of the first networks to embrace mass importing of Japanese programs, they placed a series of Japanese shows into a programming block called: Toonami. Toonami was originally hosted by Space Ghost and had mostly American animated shorts. But starting in 1999, Anime programs were imported and placed into its time slot . Toonami typically ran from 4:00PM to 6:00PM on weekdays. Toonami quickly became the only programming block showcasing almost entirely imported Japanese anime. One specific show which lead to a tidal wave of imports was Dragon Ball Z. While initially unsuccessful, Dragon Ball Z eventually became a ratings behemoth.

Targeting a young to teenage male demographic, known for its over the top fight sequences, fast paced action, and a diverse cast. The same demographic that fell in love with Z in Japan fell in love with the series in America. Toy lines, made for TV movies and spin off series turned Dragon Ball into a cultural phenomenon lasting over 8 seasons. The next big import was Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Wing brought the multi-billion dollar Gundam franchise to America and opened the door for several Gundam shows mostly notably, G-Gundam and several other Gundam programs. The franchises brought over to America lead to a surplus of Anime related toys, clothing and DVD sales. At one point the market became over-saturated with one specific toy line, the G-Gundam series. So many models were brought over to America that the retailer did not have enough shelf space to place all the products. Gundam has since died down in America, many say it is actually because of the over-saturation of the market with the toys (AnimeNation). But Gundam is still keeping strong, with the latest series Gundam 00. Having finished its run on Sy-Fy, Sunrise is already planning on translating an older Gundam series, Turn A Gundam, for American broadcasting. While not the same scope as Gundam once was in America, its impact is still noticeable here in America. Another Anime program that had a huge impact on American audiences is Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop came to America in 2001 and enjoyed huge popularity on a different scheduling block of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim. At the time Adult Swim was not a ratings behemoth, similar to the way Toonami was originally. Adult Swim typically ran comedy and various other American animated short programs steered towards a more adult audience. It was after Bebop was the first Anime shown on the block that Cowboy Bebop’s popularity brought in more Anime. Anime from Japan such as Inuyasha, Neon Genesis Evangelion found a new audience. The popularity of Anime on Adult Swim made the programming block divide the two nights they ran, Saturday and Sunday into Action Saturdays and Comedy Sundays. Anime would dominate the ratings, but as Adult Swim became more and more popular, it began taking more mainstream American cartoons into their block, most notably Futurama and Family Guy. American animated comedy tend to fare better then action based Anime amongst older demographics and as such Adult Swim currently almost never showcases a newly imported Anime. Presently Cartoon Network has far fewer animated imports then it had in the early 2000’s, but the popularity of Anime endures on American programming. While not as prevalent as the glory days of Anime, Sy-Fy channel has taken certain Japanese programming and has Anime Monday’s, a programming block that is a mix of both Adult Swim and Toonami’s concept in the sense that it is not strictly adult or teenage programming but a mid-range demographic. The Anime they featured tended to be of artistic lesser quality than that of Adult Swim’s or Toonami’s, but the latest Gundam installment, Gundam 00 was part of their block for its initial run. With On-Demand, a feature used by Comcast Cabel as a sort of library of television programs and films, Funimation has used on Demand for Anime distribution and has two options one for free viewing and a platinum edition for paying subscribers. It is only through the free-trading between Japan and America that allows Anime to be broadcast on syndicated television as well as other features. This provides higher ratings to the networks that broadcast the programs as well as increasing the profits of the Japanese producers.

Globalization also allows television producers to have another marketplace to showcase their product. Allowing franchises to expand to foreign markets increases the profits of the producers and distributors. Japanese children’s broadcasting has always been popular in America with shows like: Speed Racer, Voltron, Gigantour, and Astro Boy. It’s a field that Japan and America have had a long relationship in. Older times saw Japanese programs simply translated into English for broadcasting. But live action shows from Japan such as Super Sentai needed more than just translation, they needed cooperation between the original Japanese producers and the future American broadcasters. The popularity of Sentai proved so strong in Japan they brought it to America. Being aimed at the same demographic, boys ages 6-11, Sentai was adapted into Power Rangers. To do the adaptation the American producers had to replace the Japanese cast with an American one. With very little money to do the show, they relied heavily on the original Sentai footage for action sequences then incorporated new footage of the American cast into each episode. When Power Rangers was finally released, it quickly became one of the most popular Saturday morning television shows, dominating its target demographic and becoming a cultural phenomenon overnight. Power Rangers also spawned a toy line that still proves to be highly profitable. No large scale story changes or complete overhauls were necessary when Super Sentai came to America. Simplistic stories of good versus evil with no major cultural bounds allows children’s programming to expand to other cultures without there being much discretion needed to determine what needs to be replaced and what can stay. Transformers is another example of the Japanese/ American relationship. Originally a small toy that boasted two for the price of one, the idea was brought to America where it was developed into the Transformers toy line and cartoon show, both of which were massively popular and were then translated and exported to Japan. Pokémon is another Japanese franchise that was brought over to America. Initially Pokémon was just a video game but when the games were introduced to America they became a cultural phenomenon. Spawning an animated Television series, a long string of feature films, a trading card game, shirts, hats, underwear and everything that could was branded with the Pokémon logo. Retailers were swamped with Pokémon paraphernalia making the franchise one of the true success stories of globalization. The mass consumption of everything Pokémon has influenced the 90’s generation to no end. Pokémon still releases new games and while the mania is over, it still has retained a large following in the west and will continues its success with Pokémon Black and White, notable for having the largest release out of any of the Pokémon games (Gantayat). Globalization has allowed these franchises to expand over to America, leading to profits for the producers and distributors of such products. The Transformers television show is very similar situation to Super Sentai, but instead of going from Japan to America, it goes America to Japan. Globalization has aided companies to spread their products to the worldwide audience instead of just their domestic. It is through this free trade that allows such products to go far beyond borders. Power Rangers, Transformers and Pokémon are just three of many examples of shows with worldwide acclaim and popularity that could not be enjoyed by so many if their national borders were closed off from foreign programming.

The globalization of Television and film is not just aiding in the sales of profits, but it has also spread interest and education of other cultures. Anime has several reasons as to why it is so popular not just in Japan or American, but worldwide. Some reasons why Anime is popular among these audiences is mainly because “people are more interested in fantasy world when the reality around them is no as interesting or satisfying” (Hamada 197). Also Anime is a very flexible type of media because it can easily be translated into whatever culture it gets imported into, it has become a vernacular genre. As such it transcends cultural lines and is enjoyable wherever you are. The popularity of Anime has affected many younger audiences in various ways. In America, Anime has lead to a large increase amongst younger demographics to study Japanese. One teacher found that Anime has influenced several of her students to take another language course (Fukunaga 206). These students are now seeking to learn more about foreign art and as such are expanding their knowledge and becoming more aware of world cultures. Teachers have found that when students are asked to write about what they like to watch or what interests them they find that given the freedom, some students will write papers analyzing what they are watching, with one student trying to find the common thematic element in the Anime Dragon Ball Z (McGinnis 575). Globalization is not just aiding in the spread of cultures or in blending them. It’s also spreading awareness and educating students everywhere creating a broader world view for them and it will undoubtedly continue influencing generations to come.

Critics will argue that Globalization’s goal of benefiting both countries is false; one country always wins out in the end. Several European countries have strict limitations on what foreign television programs are allowed to broadcast. The fear European nations have towards hegemony with American culture stems from protecting their culture and history (Feigenbaum 375). Critics point out that America creates the vast majority of Film and Television exports and as such when a nation imports these products they take over their domestic marketplaces, their main fear focusing on an Americanization of their entire culture. America is the chief exporter of Television and Film goods, however one of the many reasons for America’s domination of these film and television markets is because the nations themselves do not produce enough products to dominate their own markets, much less anyone else’s (373). America alone cannot be held responsible for dominating these nation’s domestic marketplaces nor that Globalization is the cause for the deterioration of cultures. The Japanese and American relationship is one clear example of the benefits of globalization. The Japanese government has very loose regulations regarding imports primarily because “The Japanese film and television industries have been markedly successful in their home markets, at least until recently, and have developed significant export markets for animated films and television shows” (Feigenbaum 385). As such the Japanese government and people have no problems being introduced to American culture and in fact American imports often times find themselves gaining a large following. One example is the popularity of The Simpson’s in Japan. The show proves very popular among the same demographic that it targeted in America, however though unlike many other nations that broadcast The Simpsons, Japan has a television show in the same market that rivals The Simpsons, Shin Chan. Shin Chan is intended for the same audience. Many have called it “Japan’s response to The Simpsons (Kiku TV)”. It proved so popular there that it has been adapted and brought over to America, where it fared well at first but was cancelled after only two seasons. Besides America and Japan, India is another nation where Globalization is aiding in their Film and Television markets. Every American film that is brought to India is adapted and turned into a Bollywood production. This is due to a change in story telling structure. In India in order for a narrative to be complete in a film it requires at least one dance sequence. As such American films like Silence of the Lambs must be adapted to India and given a dance sequence. India markets and produces enough domestic films to keep their market their own, but in conjunction with Hollywood, India’s film market receives the rights to adapt these films and market them within their own country. Globalization is a cause for concern for many nations that cannot sustain their own market-places, mostly due to the fact that they do not put as heavy importance of the film and television markets as the Japanese and Americans. But as seen with the relationship between Japanese and America, the benefits of globalizing surmount the fears of cultural deterioration.

In summary, Globalization has several benefits and several disadvantages. However, in the area of film and television trading the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Symbiotic relationships between broadcasters and producers allow more markets for products to be sold and the education of foreign cultures proves to be successful between the Japanese and Americans. While there are some countries that view globalization as a cloak for Americanization, to the nations that have opened up their borders, prosperity has been their reward. Globalization is becoming more and more apparent as technology shrinks the size of our world. It is the future, a television audience linked together as one worldwide whole.

Works Cited

“AnimeNation Anime News Blog » Blog Archive » Ask John: Which Gundam Series Have Had the Most Impact on Anime?” AnimeNation Forwarder. AnimeNation, 12 Oct. 2007. Web. 08 May 2011.

“Crayon Shinchan.” KikuTV.com. Web. 8 May 2011. .
Feigenbaum, Harvey B. “Hegemony of Diversity in Film and Television? The United States, Europe and Japan.” The Pacific Review 20.3 (2007): 371-96. Print.

Fukunaga, Natsuki. “Those Anime Students: Foreign Language Literacy Development through Japanese Popular Culture.” International Reading Assosiation 50.3 (2006): 206-22. Print.

Gantayat, Anoop. “Record Start for Pokemon Black & White.” Andriasang, Gaming News From Japan. 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 08 May 2011.

Hamada, Masako. “Teaching Japanese Culture through Anime: A Case Study.” Asian Cinema 18.2 (2007): 197-219. Print.

McGinnis, Theresa Ann. “Khmer Rap Boys: X-men, Asia’s Fruits, and Dragonball Z: Creating Multilingual and Multimodal Classroom Contexts.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 50.7 (2007): 570-79. Print.

Robinson, W. I. (2008) Theories of Globalization, in The Blackwell Companion to Globalization (ed G. Ritzer), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470691939.ch6

One thought on “The American and Japanese Culture Trade

  1. I consider myself a 90’s child, that means I witnessed multiple Japanese trends become Godzilla sized marketing monsters. Pokemon, Dragon Ball-Z, and Gundam Wing were the most popular Japanese import trends among my age group. Each brand came with an entire purchasable life style: clothing, toys, movies, snack food. There was always something new to purchase with each trend. Looking back on these trends now, I feel like in Japan there was same type of hype around these series. Kids in Japan were interested in the same things as American kids.
    Globalization goes both ways, I wonder what American trends became big in Japan? How does the translation between cultures effect the trends? I believe the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream had trouble exporting their “Chunk Monkey“ Ice Cream because of a translation error that lead the Asian consumer to read the product as “Chunks of Monkey.”
    The idea of shared values through globalization fascinates me. The Power Rangers/Sentai series claimed to be successful because it relied on simple themes of good vs evil. What other themes are shared across American Japanese media? Pokemon had many themes within it’s complex created universe. Good vs evil, was also prevalent in Pokemon, as well as friendship, adventure, and love. What it really means is that good art communicates with people, no matter what culture they are a part of.
    Most of my life I have heard the term global economy or global community. As a child watching these import programs I never considered their origins, I merely accepted them as a part of the world. The show were not foreign to me, just another type of programming on television.

Comments are closed.