I now completely understand why Pokemon’s Gotta Catch ‘Em All worked so well in Japan, because these people are freaking obsessive about collection. Okay, using ‘these people’ was possibly racist and my anthropology professor would be terribly disappointed in me, but the sheer scope of the merchandising here is staggering. Really, harder to avoid collectables than not. I’m not kidding, they’re everywhere. Get a cup of coffee? A Michael Jackson pin is waiting for you in a cap over the lid. Bottle of tea? Ruroni Kenshin key chain attached to the bottle. Bottle of water? Oh there’s a tiny model airplane attached to it.
Now I’m a nerd, I’ve been to conventions, I’ve seen how much merchandise the Japanese produce for their various franchises. At least, I thought I knew. The sheer volume of these things, it’s apocalyptic. In ten years when American is drowning in fat and the UK can’t move two inches without a dozen cameras spotting them, the Japanese will be lost under a sea of tiny figures and rubber key chains. Heaven help us all if they somehow gain sentience. The Hello Kitty battalion alone would be enough to conquer half the continent (introducing the new Hello War Crime line).
And they are everywhere. I mean sure, figures and other collectables are where you expect them to be; comic book stores, the looming anime towers of Akihabara, the internet. You know, all the places you expect to find strange men who quote episode and issue numbers and smell of unwashed loneliness. But it’s far more widespread than that. Above is just outside a museum (guess what the big attraction is). Book stores often have figures. Convince stores sell high end figures for big bucks. Heck, most convenience stores have promotions with big name series to sell unique merchandise. Artificial pop star and tech demo gone wild Hatsune Miku did Family Mark commercials to promote a new game and for the occasion they made figures that now go for well over $100. Heck, the 7/11 in Odaiba has 7/11 Gundams for sale. I’m not kidding, they’re real things.
What really staggers me is how many people buy these things. Back in the states figures and models like this are generally limited to the aforementioned unwashed lonely sect. But here in Japan everyone gets them. In the giant anime towers of Akihabara I’ve seen all types; little kids fresh from school, teenagers keeping up with the latest trends, young adults who are transitioning into the real world, middle aged salary-men, middle aged women, old people, and I swear I once saw a dog trying to convince it’s master to buy the figure in the window. Mind you my generation and younger (>30 years old) are the majority by far, but there are easily twice as many older shoppers here than in the States. It was really unexpected. As a nerd I kept telling myself that anime and manga was just a part of the Japanese culture and there was a lot more to Japan than those. And it’s true, there is a lot more to Japan than just anime and manga. But none of those other things are as in your face as the anime and manga bits. It’s the cultural equivalent to a vocal minority, it may not be the biggest part, but it’s certainly the part that tries hardest to get your attention.