P40. Japanese Popular Culture

Session: Session 6, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Honors

Chair: Ruoyi Bian (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Zachary Long (Ball State University), James Stanlaw (Illinois State University)

The New Ambassadors of Cool: The Shift in Perceptions of Japanese Otaku Culture in the 1990s

Speaker: Zachary Long
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Ball State University
Abstract: Amidst the social and economic turmoil of the 1990s, the otaku served as a convenient scapegoat for many of the issues, or perceived issues, that Japanese society faced. The Otaku Killer, while a major component of the stigmatization of otaku, only served to open the floodgates to further criticism of this subculture. However, by the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s rhetoric, especially official rhetoric, surrounding the otaku went through a dynamic shift. This shift in part came from international appraisal of media created by and for otaku, as well as a tourism boom in Japan to locations frequented by otaku. In this paper I examine a brief history of the otaku followed by the events that changed perceptions of this group in the 1990s in Japan, particularly the Otaku Killer and the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin Gas attacks. I then explore how these perceptions began to change during the end of the decade and how the early 2000s presented a much different perception of the otaku than a decade before: that these nerds had become (often unwillingly) the New Ambassadors of Cool.

“Chico Will Scold You!”: Sound Symbolism, Folk Theories of Language, and Japanese-Pop-Culture

Speaker: James Stanlaw
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Illinois State University
Abstract: The Japanese language has a plethora of onomatopoetic expressions from poetry to manga. Ideophones connect exterior morphological structures and interior mental states. Though acknowledged by linguists, such things are not often examined in sociolinguistic context, though sometimes popular culture fills a void. For years, “Chico-chan ni Shikarareru!” (‘Chico Will Scold You!’) has been a popular variety shows on NHK television. Chico is (literally) a larger-than-life avatar, a precious kid who poses pointed questions to the host and guests, making for much comical banter, and a chance for participants to show their quick wit and verbal dexterity. However, experts also sometimes appear, making for an interesting interplay between specialist-knowledge and folk-theories of a subject as Chico asks innocent, yet rather profound, questions. Last year Chico asked why in Japanese—as everyone knows!—something ‘rumbling’ (“goro-goro”) is bigger than something ‘rolling’ (“koro-koro”), even though dictionary definitions say nothing about size. The consensus was, voicing reflected weight and strength. From this came discussions of the psychological “bouba/kiki effect” (where pictures of jagged and round shapes get labeled with different nonsense words), and the claim that Japanese vowels differ in order of “strength.” Here I describe these types of folk-theories of language presented in the show. I examine how this program demonstrates a rethinking of the relationships between researchers/scientists and participants/audiences—and what counts as linguistic knowledge. Even guest professors get interrogated, and educated, by a virtual five-year-old girl. This shows how laypersons—here, via popular culture—may advance the contours of language study.