Tokyo Idols’ Update by Next Subculture Leader, Shinshi Okajima -Vol.1 : What is Subculture? (Part 1)

There is a word called “subculture”. According to the dictionary Digital Daijisen, it’s explained as, “Against the orthodox or traditional culture of society, a unique culture only belonging to a certain group of people. Like popular culture or youth culture, etc.

Below culture. Sabukaru (for short)”. For example, in other words it is defined by the dictionary as going against high culture (such as academics, literature, classical music, ballet, etc.) or a minor culture that goes against major culture. For the most part this meaning holds true, however recently in Japan, the word “subculture” has begun to change from its generally accepted meaning into one that is somewhat special. According to this author, who was born in the 1980s, from the 80s until the early 00s, I was left with the impression that the most of the world was generally divided at how it regarded otaku culture and subculture. But in current Japan, among things that are considered subculture, even manga, anime, games, etc. are included in what is referred to as “otaku culture”.

Otaku vs. Subculture

Otaku and Subculture. The roots of both are deeply entwined, and before in the August 2005 Special Issue of art criticism magazine Eureka, a feature titled “Otaku VS Subculture” proved to spark much controversy. Even recently during the speech-sponsored event Sawayaka x Yasumichi Noma x Hiroki Azuma Whether Otaku Criticism Constitutes as Hate or Not- Kancolle, Subculture, Counter that was held this past June, discussions with the theme of otaku and subculture became a widely talked about topic on the internet. With current otaku and subculture, it’s to the extent where one cannot be separated from the other.

For this article, in order to explore the meaning of Japan’s unique “subculture”, we’ll compare it with otaku culture, and listen and consider what two knowledgeable experts have to say about different themes like, “the meaning of subculture and the change it has undergone”, “the difference between otaku culture and subculture”, and “the current state of otaku and subculture”.

Akio Nakamori, “The Clash Between Otaku and Subculture Since the Beginning of the 90s”

First of all, I’d like to consider how these two concepts began to clash in Japan. Akio Nakamura, an idol critc and writer who first coined the term “otaku” analyzes it as, “I first used and coined the word ‘otaku’ in 1983. However, its clash with subculture began from the beginning from the 90s.”

“Critics can create context. The context of otaku can be traced back to after the 80s had passed, and from that point onward. The Miyazaki incidents (the serial murders and kidnappings of little girls that occured in Tokyo and Saitama) in 1989 was the turning point. Then all of a sudden as the word “otaku” took on the negative images of “creepy” and “part of a criminal group” it pervaded throughout the world, and became a target. Subculture was different from otaku, and implied culture with a fashionable image. From there until the end of 1991 I was publishing a serial feature article called “Nakamori Bunka Shimbun (Nakamori Culture Newspaper)” in the magazine SPA!, and subsequently launched the first issue of the subculture magazine Quick Japan (Ohta Publishing) that I made with Yuichi Akata. And from there I kept firing off the word “sabukaru” for subculture. I think I was probably one of the first people to use the word “sabukaru”, short for “subculture”, in the media.”

Subculture is the culture of “finding things which you don’t like, and then after coming to like them, turning that into pleasure”

Quick Japan was first published in 1993, and went on to grow and become one of the subculture magazines that represented the 90s. Sayawaka, a writer and critic appearing in the aforementioned talk event, in refering to the subculture at the time, described it like,

“Running parallel with Quick Japan’s era, the presence of Masaaki Aoyama (editor-in-chief of the magazine Abunai 1 Go published by Data House) rose. Such as underground type culture like drag culture and so on, as well as base things like snuff and grotesque movies, or bad taste culture… Culture that was admired like underground theater also existed in the past, but especially from the 90s, subculture was the culture of ‘finding things which you didn’t really like, and then after coming to like them, turning that into pleasure’. And so people who liked subculture came to include otaku-types that watched anime, and from there it became a natural occurence. During that time, because subculture contained an ‘all contents were of equal value’ type of mentality, ultimately it was possible for any genre to be included. Certainly it was this way with the Flipper’s Guitar (debuted in 1989, disbanded in 1991) that was popular in the 90s and the Shibuya-style music of Kenji Ozawa and Keigo Oyamada (CORNELIUS), it wasn’t necessary to make something original, but instead the method of cutting it up and sampling it, etc. or to copying the source of everything, and working it into something else well was also considered a virtue. Or to try and change the kinds of music genres featured on one album, like to dare and adopt something like metal or music that wasn’t popular at the time and try to present it as something cool. For example, Violent Onsen Geisha (noise unit), which was a kind of plus one Koenji and Shinjuku Loft subculture, like a wayside railway of the central line, rathert than Shibuya-style subculture, however its releases were trhough Trattoria. (Trattoria Records, which Oyamada was president of.)

The 80s was a period where consumers could produce new content, of which Comiket is the best example

The 90s embodied the clash between otaku and subculture. However, it’s said to have happened precisely because of how well they both took off. Mr. Nakamori described the reason why and its historical background as,

“Simply put, making it through the 60s post war reconstruction period and the oil shock period of the 70s, and entering the 80s, where an increasing number of people were engaged in the tertiary industries and were part of a consumerist society, became a major factor for the existence of otaku and subculture. In other words, it’s the prosperity of the advertising and media culture. If you follow the historical background a little further, one aspect of younger culture in the 70s that set the foundation for the 80s, was the presence of late night radio. Because of popular personalities such as Takuro Yoshida, Shinji Tanimura of Alice, and folk song singer Kotaro Yamamoto, a network of amateur listener hagaki shokunin (radio personalities who wrote or drew on large signboards) was created. Furthermore, Yoshio Hayashi (TBS announcer) from Pack In Music (TBS Radio) had been working with Yumi Arai (singer songwriter who debuted in 1972) before her big break as Yuming (Yumi Matsutoya), RC Succession (Kiyoshiro Imawano’s band that debuted in 1969), and Tatsuro Yamashita (who made his solo debut as a singer songwriter in 1975), and his work can only be described as subculture. At the same time, the subculture magazines Bikkuri House (Parco Publishing) and Takarajima (Takarajima Company) as well as the total journal magazine Pump became popular, and that younger people came to read magazines with small circulation or little magazines and not just “feature stories” and so on by major publishers was something big. Based on that, the consumerist society of the 80s arrived and Japan experienced wealth all over, and moreover, through the evolution of technology such as copy machines, FAX machines, and VCRs, consumers were then well-equipped to become producers. To summarize, new content was now made from amateur consumers. Comiket (Comic Market), the world’s largest convention for the sale of doujinshi, is the best example. That’s because it was like a second creation festival by consumers who liked anime and manga. The hit television anime Neon Genesis Evangelion (broadcast in 1995 and 1996 by TV Tokyo) by Hideaki Anno and other anime otaku like him at GAINAX, is symbolic of this.

To be continued in Part 2

Akio Nakamori

Writer and idol critic. Born in Mie prefecture. Started working in a variety of media from the 1980s. His literary works include Idol Nippon, Tokyo Tongari Kids, Gozen 32ji no Nonen Rena”, the co-authored AKB48 Hakunetsu Ronsou, and others. His novel Anarchy in the JP was nominated for the Yukio Mishima Prize.


Writer, critic
Born in Hokkaido in 1974. After graduating from college and later gaining experience working in the music and publishing industries, he started his career as a writer. From 2007 he has written many critiques which have transversed a wide range of cultural genres and have appeared in Eureka, Quick Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, etc. In 2012 he published his first book, Bokutachi no Game Shi (Sekaisha Shinsho), and his presentation of the 30 year history of computer games from his own original context was highly praised. With his work AKB Shoho to wa Nan datta no ka (Taisho Tosho) in 2013, he designed a new idol formula through chart analysis and an overabundance of affection. According to younger people who were touched by the pop culture transformation from the new millenium, this work is the first comprehensive modern culture theory of its kind.

Shinshi Okajima

Born in 1980. Professional idol writer. His works include the co-authored Group Idol Shinka Ron, AKB48 Saikyo Kousatsu, Idol 10 Nen Shi, Idol Gakkyoku Disc Guide, and others. He was an advisor of the Saitama prefecture-sponsored Media/Idol Museum, and was head of all nine programs during the exhibition period and event MC. He has worked on the production and management of idol culture web site and DVD magazine, IDOL NEWSING.

The cover picture


Source: Tokyo Girls' Update
Source article written by Shinshi Okajima
Translated by Jami Koide

Tokyo Idols’ Update by Next Subculture Leader, Shinshi Okajima -Vol.1 : What is Subculture? (Part 1) 1
Tokyo Idols’ Update by Next Subculture Leader, Shinshi Okajima -Vol.1 : What is Subculture? (Part 1) 2
Tokyo Idols’ Update by Next Subculture Leader, Shinshi Okajima -Vol.1 : What is Subculture? (Part 1) 3
Tokyo Idols’ Update by Next Subculture Leader, Shinshi Okajima -Vol.1 : What is Subculture? (Part 1) 4

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