Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
The Past, Present, and Future of Japanese Pop Culture - An Interview with Yusuke Nakagawa (ASOBISYSTEM)
Written by Anna
We interviewed Yusuke Nakagawa, the president of ASOBISYSTEM, who has been promoting Japanese pop culture through singers like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and CAPSULE. He told us his thoughts on the past, present, and future of Japan's pop culture.
"Japanese pop culture is fun!" and "Kawaii culture is great!" are words that are heard often in recent years. Maybe many of you are also interested in Japan's pop culture and have already visited the country to check it out yourself.
Now, do you know where this culture came from? Today we'll be interviewing ASOBISYSTEM President Yusuke Nakagawa to learn about the origin of Japanese pop culture. President Nakagawa has spread pop culture in Japan by promoting celebrities like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. We hope to be able to get a glimpse of the forefront of Japanese pop culture today.
Born in Tokyo in 1981. After gaining experience in organizing events, Nakagawa founded ASOBISYSTEM in 2007. He has been spreading Harajuku-born "Harajuku CULTURE," which includes fashion, music, and lifestyles. Locally based in Harajuku, he continues to spread Japanese pop culture to the world. He has been holding individual events called "HARAJUKU KAWAii!!" around Japan since 2011. In recent years, he has enjoyed the success of the kawaii-iconic Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's world tour.
For more on Japan's KAWAII culture, check out: "KAWAII" Culture in Japan.
What is ASOBISYSTEM?
ASOBISYSTEM is a Japanese company with the corporate philosophy of "INSTEAD OF CREATING BOOMS, WE SHAPE CULTURE. A NEW “PLAY” FOR A NEW ERA."
Focusing on the Japan-exclusive "Harajuku Culture", the company supports Harajuku-born contents like fashion, music, and lifestyles, helping them to grow and spreading this unique culture to the world.
Other than their business as a talent agency managing popular celebrities like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and CAPSULE, they also operate the tourist information center, Moshi Moshi Box, and hold a large festival called the "MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FESTIVAL" through the "MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON PROJECT," which aims to spread Japanese pop culture worldwide.
The 2016 "MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FESTIVAL" Event Poster. Photo courtesy of: Asobisystem
Now let's listen to what President Nakagawa has to say.
The "Past" of Pop Culture
- Why was pop culture born in an environment like Harajuku in the first place?
President Nakagawa: Because Harajuku has always been "a city that freely creates things." It's a little different from Shibuya or Shinjuku where things are finished up. Harajuku is a rare city where everything that fits the age becomes a culture.
- I see, so it's a city that is good at creating and expressing things.
Nakagawa: Another thing is that Harajuku is a city where doing the same thing isn't everything. Unlike how matching loose socks became a craze in Shibuya, Harajuku strangely comes together as one even when people are doing different unique things.
- Why did you decide to start the "MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON PROJECT" here in Harajuku?
Nakagawa: Traveling abroad, I felt that there are many people who are interested in Japanese anime and pop culture. I noticed that the power of spreading such Japanese culture was weak in other countries. For example, there are Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, but there are many that are run by non-Japanese owners. That's a good thing and something to be happy about, but on the other hand, I feel it's a weakness of Japan. Thinking about the Japanese tendency to struggle with having a high opinion of oneself and to spread such things, I felt that there was a need for people to learn more about Japanese culture.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a singer managed by Asobisystem. Photo courtesy of Asobisystem
Nakagawa: Also, I believe that there are various chances for people to fall in love with Japan. For example, someone might become interested in the cityscape of Japan through Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, or in anime through ramen. So the MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON PROJECT can't be just KAWAII culture, or pop culture. I felt that we have to advertise the "now" of Japan.
The "Present" of Pop Culture
Photo courtesy of: Asobisystem
- Tell us about the present of pop culture.
Nakagawa: We're in the internet age, and I think it's an era with many more possibilities than ever before. For example, like how Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's music videos were first watched more overseas than in Japan, I think it's an age when it's easier to take things outside of Japan.
- You hold events abroad. How are the local responses?
Nakagawa: I feel that there are places where Japanese culture is becoming something normal. France, for example, has been airing Japanese anime for many, many years, and I feel people who grew up watching it still like the culture now. I can feel the ideas that were seeded are beginning to become fixed. Also, the word "world tour" didn't even exist in Japan until recently, but the idea is spreading, and I think that's a good thing.
- I see. As you are in a position to lead pop culture, is there anything that you are careful of?
Nakagawa: To take things that are trending in Japan, things that aren't targeted too much at overseas markets. From there, localization is necessary to establish the ideas, but they first have to be good in Japan.
The "Future" of Pop Culture
The tourist information center operated by Asobisystem: Moshi Moshi Box.
- Japan is headed toward 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Many travelers from abroad are expected to visit Japan. What do you think about that?
Nakagawa: 2020 is a very important year, and I'm thinking that I want to do something as well. However, I'm more worried about 2021 than 2020. Even if we head toward 2020, that's not the goal. What we can keep in 2021 is what's important.
What do you think? The feelings and wishes of many people are behind the Japanese pop culture craze. Japanese pop culture will continue to grow in the future as it did in the past and is now. The culture that you will feel in the local land of this culture is different from what you can find on the internet. We recommend you visit Japan and immerse yourself in the newest pop culture.
The wonderful MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON FESTIVAL was held on November 27 and 28 of 2016! A new edition of the festival is planned for next year also! You should stop by and enjoy the cutting-edge pop culture created by Asobisystem.