Living With Affect: A Memoir


My name is Ahab and I’ve been living with affect off and on for about 25 years now (hi, Ahab!). From my days as a New Kids on the Block stan (yes, little five year old me stanned the shit out of NKOTB), to my years trying to balance my love for both 90s boy and girl idols/idol groups and heavy metal bands (meaning one day I would be screaming my head off at a BSB concert and the next, meeting Static-X (RIP, Wayne Static)), to my migration to and subsequent obsession with Korean and Japanese (and some Chinese) pop music, I’ve basically spent my entire life as a hopeless fangirl. I’ve got years of experience behind me and I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about both the lived aspects of affect and what it means to bridge the gap between oneself and one’s idols. How does one deal with the knowledge that one’s idol’s image is carefully crafted and controlled, to varying degrees, by a semi-faceless corporation, with the very real feelings one feels when listening to their idols’ songs or seeing them smile or cry? Come with Ahab on this journey — because that’s never gone wrong for anyone ever.

When I talk about affect, I’m talking about Gabriela Lukacs’s idea that idols become image commodities wherein their value lies in the circulation of their images. Further,

“The tarento and the intimate televisuality their circulation generates managed to revive and maintain viewers’ interest in the televisual medium in the 1990s. In other words, by simply watching any particular program, viewers were able to tap into the complete participatory experience of Japanese televisual culture and its network of information on cultural and consumer trends. Decoding and enjoying programs in their intertextual contexts requires intensive and regular participation. As encoding becomes ever more sophisticated, decoding requires greater and greater exposure and “training.” By way of the encoding-decoding game, television is becoming increasingly indispensable for rendering social realities intelligible and human relationships meaningful in contemporary Japan.”

Basically, it’s a fancy way of saying that we get sucked into this life like a black hole: we want to know more about the idols and wouldn’t you know it, there’s just so much out there waiting to be discovered. As long as the idols keep working and putting out new material (songs, television appearances, movies, magazine appearances, etc etc etc), we’ll never run out of things to learn. Ishmael has talked at length about how this is done in K-pop, and I think if you’re here, you can figure out the similarities and differences between K-pop and J-pop in manufacturing idol personas. I’m also glossing over the fact that there are distinct differences between entertainment companies and management companies in how information about the idols is presented. As any Johnny’s fan knows, they’re not allowed to have their images out on the internet, which makes it sort of a pain when you’re going to buy a magazine or you want to watch the preview for the new PV and you can totally do it for, say, BoA, but not V6, even though they’re both under Avex, so you’re left to informal networks (I could spend a week talking about gatekeeping and access to information and information networks, but that’s not the point here right now). With the right language skills and access to information, however (or access to a/a set of reliable translator(s)), one can gather information about their idols, order the information and add it to what they already know, reformulate opinions, lather, rinse, and repeat. Growing up, I could go out and buy magazines like Tiger Beat and plaster my room with pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas or Devon Sawa or all of the Backstreet Boys/N*SYNC, etc. Now, I can (do) do that with J&A artists. As Ishmael pointed out, this gathering of information and feeling of closeness to one’s idols fuels financial investment. In essence, the more one learns about one’s idols, the closer one is, and thus, the more real the relationship.

I’ve written at some length before about distance and the bridging of the gap, but how does it work in practice? If one bridges the gap, what does one stand to find? Well, their idol could be a human being with regular faults like anyone else, or they could have their opinion of them reinforced, whether through the idol’s actions or the fan’s own perception of the encounter (in my experience, it’s both). How does place affect encounters? This isn’t merely an exercise in self-congratulation or bragging; rather, I want to use my own myriad experiences to try to elucidate how fans experience these encounters with their idols. Too often, writers (academics and journalists) discount just how real and meaningful these encounters are to fans. To do so would validate the experiences, as we will discuss later (and as I have discussed elsewhere before), which would in turn validate that pop music and fandom are both legitimate and meaningful. There is a broad cultural (I would even argue global) perception that pop music and the fandom surrounding it are things that only teen girls do and are thus not worthy of attention or simply things to be derided. There was a great article on Groupthink a while back that addressed how the media derides teenage girls and the things they love (in this case, boy bands), though I remember being made fun of quite a bit in a lot of venues for being an enthusiastic teenage girl who really liked a certain band (pop, rock, metal; you name it, there was a dude out there ready, willing, and able to be a dick to me about my tastes). Again, as Ishmael stated and as I’ve talked about before, boy bands/pop music/love of celebrities are things that one is supposed to grow out of. The tastes of women and girls are not to be taken seriously so no one actually wants to talk about lived experiences, or if they do, it’s rare to find that these feelings are validated. Jennifer Robertson’s book on Takarazuka and its fandom did a beautiful job of not only analyzing the interactions fans have with their idols and their feelings about them, but treated them as they should be treated: as real, as meaningful. All that having been said, let’s get to actual analyzing.

Private Consumption

Private consumption of information is something I would like to talk more about later, but it’s usually the first step in manufacturing this closeness between idol and fan. Hearing a song and wanting to hear more, watching a TV show and thinking they’re hilarious and wanting to see more, seeing them on a magazine cover or in an ad and thinking they’re just about the most gorgeous being to ever exist on this planet; these are some of the ways fans get interested. Thanks to the internet, fans from all over the world can seek out information on their chosen idol, whether it’s Harry Styles or Matsumoto Jun. From there, the fan takes information acquisition into their own hands. In essence, they’re only limited by what they can acquire and how much they can understand. They can remain a casual fan — listening to all the artists’ albums, sometimes watching shows they’re on — or they can become a hardcore fan — consuming everything available to them, interacting with other fans to share information. Fandom is, I believe, a spectrum, and where one lies on it is entirely up to the fan. To use myself as an example: I’m more on the casual end of the spectrum with TOKIO and, while I know quite a bit about them, watch their shows from time to time, and regularly listen to their albums, I didn’t feel I knew them well enough to go see them on their 2012 tour even though I really wanted to, and that if I went, I may be taking a spot from someone who enjoys them a lot more than I and who would enjoy the show more. (Maybe this is also a time when we should talk about how, the more a fan knows, and the more time one invests, the more one feels like they deserve something? Or is that just me because at my worst, I’m incredibly selfish and possessive? Just me? OK *slinks away*) (The flip side of this, which I haven’t addressed, is that there’s a feeling of indebtedness to one’s idol that also fuels consumption: for all the idol has done for them, or for all the things they’ve obtained on the DL, the fan owes something to the idol and thus the buying of merchandise, going to concerts, etc)


Ah, the concert. Concerts are one of the main places in which fans get to see their idols in person and potentially interact with them. I’ve only been to one K-pop concert, so I don’t feel I can really speak to it as much, but at least at the Johnny’s shows I’ve been to and the many other ones I’ve watched, most groups do their best to get as close to as much of the audience as possible. Matsujun came up with the idea for the moving stage to get close to more of the audience and give them more of a chance to see and interact with Arashi, and now many other groups use that in their shows. V6 have the walkway around the upper level of Yoyogi so they can get as close to the entire audience in what is a huge venue. As groups go around the venue, fans are given a chance to have their idols wave, smile, give the peace sign, high-five them, etc etc etc. Being close to the walkways can get you attention. Having an uchiwa for your favourite(s) can get you noticed. Having a funny uchiwa can get you attention and get you remembered (remember the time Koyama talked about how he once saw an uchiwa that just said “ramen” on it?), even just in the short term. I’m about 95% sure Sakamoto waved at me the second night I went to V6’s concert because he remembered my face because I had a funny uchiwa the night before.


I spent days thinking of what would be funny and memorable, because I had no idea if/when I’d be able to see V6 again after that. He purposely stopped, leaned down, waved, and smiled at me on his way back to the main stage, at least in part because he thought my uchiwa was funny (how many other fans have asked him to go drinking?). This is an instance in which my breadth of knowledge paid off (in addition to being white and blonde and super conspicuous, let’s not ignore that, it’s a huge part of it): by using what I know about him and his hobbies, I was able to use that knowledge to make him laugh and in turn, get noticed.

These interactions are incredibly meaningful for fans. It’s a way of getting recognition for the hours (or at least money, in the case of those who go to shops to get theirs made) they put in not only in construction of their uchiwa but also in their dedication to the group. There’s a feeling of being special: out of many, they saw/waved at/touched me! There’s also the potential for disappointment if one doesn’t get seen, but that, too, can be explained away: my seats were too far away, the fan in front of me was too tall, etc.

Idols regularly talk about how concerts are places where they can get close to fans and show their appreciation for all the time and effort fans put in to supporting them, and how they want to put on the best show they can every single time because this may be the only time a fan gets to see them, or because they know that concerts are places where fans can get away from all their worries for at least a couple of hours. Because their entire career depends on fans, from the casual to the crazed like me, idols seem to be some of the only public figures who will acknowledge that fans are the entire reason they get to do what they do, and they don’t deride or denigrate fans for it (unless they step outside the boundaries of what is acceptable, e.g. going to houses, etc). In the 2011 tour pamphlet, Inohara talked about how they talk about fans backstage: such and such fan was crying, did you see such and such fan, etc. By reading these pamphlets (in Japanese or in translation), fans can (re)affirm their hopes that one day their idols will notice and/or talk about them. This is a carefully crafted move on their part (I’m not saying I don’t believe they don’t talk about fans backstage, but). In essence, if a fan puts in the work, they will get a reward for their hard work: out of hundreds of other fans, they can get noticed and receive the attention of those after whom they have pined.

Fan Meetings

Meeting their idol(s) and wanting to tell them thank you for all the joy and support they’ve gotten from them is a thing I hear quite often from my friends. I’ve had friends learn Japanese just so they could one day say thank you to their idol(s), even if it was just a simple “thank you.” Fan meetings are a place where fans can do that. I get this feeling, I really do. Outside of the personal encounter, it’s about as close as a fan can really get to their idol, and might be their only chance to have their feelings directly returned to them. They may send letters, but there’s little way of knowing if it was ever read (except in the case of radio shows where fans do get their letters/questions read on air, but not all fans or letters can be or are read).


The thing I noticed most when I met NEWS in 2012 was how emotional other fans got. I even cried a bit when they sang “Full Swing” because you’re a fucking heartless monster if you don’t DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY’VE BEEN THROUGH. For the fan who gets to meet their idol, shake their hands, and share their feelings, there’s, again, a feeling of reward coupled with pure gratefulness. I’ve talked about this elsewhere before, but pop music is a meaningful escape for a lot of people. I say meaningful escape because it’s not just a way to escape worries and whatever else but it’s also something into which a fan invests their time, effort, and most importantly, their emotions.

Idols, as well, talk about how they want to say thank you to their fans. After playing games and taking fan club pamphlet pictures, everyone in NEWS talked about how they felt terrible for having made their fans wait so much, and how grateful they were to the fans who stayed around to support them through their hard times. Essentially, the least they could do to say thank you would be to meet the fans face-to-face, shake their hands, and exchange feelings. For someone like me who’s been a (at times quite impatient) supporter through the myriad lineup changes they’ve gone through, it was an incredible opportunity to have the chance to tell them I basically came all the way from the United States just to meet them and give my thanks and have them all say thank you in return (well, except Tego. He was sort of stunned silent when I came up to him). I sat for almost an hour afterward at a Starbucks in the mall next door trying to get my heart to stop pounding and calm down enough to be able to go back to my friend’s place.

For a fan, seeing their idol in person is a sort of reaffirmation of the fact that holy shit, their idol is real; they exist, and they’re right the fuck there. Literally everyone I know who’s seen or met their idols has experienced that at some level. By seeing them or meeting face-to-face, one is getting past the media(ted) encounters through which one has experienced their idol before and affirming, with their own senses, their idol’s existence. Further, their idol now knows that they exist, and whether or not the idol remembers them down the road, they’ve had that experience and that encounter and for a lot of fans, it’s an extremely memorable and meaningful experience, one they might think about whenever they see their idols on a program, or when they need cheering up, or even at 4PM on a Tuesday for no real reason.

Personal Encounters

Like the fan encounter, the personal encounter — which I am defining as a fan meeting their idol outside of a concert or fan meeting — is kind of the height of fandom. Experiences to meet idols outside of sanctioned events are rare, and not an insignificant number of people freak out a little when it happens. With a fan meeting, one can kind of prepare oneself for what may happen (I say “kind of” because even the most stoic of people sometimes can’t hold back their emotions (*waves*)), but seeing their idol on the street, one is caught off-guard. The idol may or may not be in their idol mode (see: Sakamoto walking around on “One Dish”) but the fan is occupying a different role: worker, student, etc. and having their idol in front of them is a breach in the sociological sense, wherein someone steps outside expected interactions (like, if you stood facing everyone else in an elevator, or sat on your teacher’s desk instead of in your own, or just stood around doing nothing). The fan obviously comprehends that the idol has a life and is a normal person like them (stars! they’re just like us!) but in a certain sense, there’s a kind of dissonance between what one rationally understands and what actually gets through. What I mean is, we understand that our idols go to the store just like we do, but we’d probably all be shocked to see them there at the same time we were, buying a bunch of oranges or some coffee just like a regular person. A fan does not experience the idol’s daily life, even if one gets glimpses into it through videos (TV, DVD extras, etc.), so the fan would/will be caught off-guard when encountering their idol in a mundane setting.

In 2011, the Lincoln Center brought “Kinkakuji” to New York City for their annual summer festival of foreign plays. Shingo had come before that for “Talk Like Singing,” so this wasn’t the first time a J&A idol had come to do a play overseas, but it was the first and, at that time, the only way for me to see any of my idols in person, so with a few friends in tow, I went to NYC. The second night, we managed to make it to the stage door, along with a group of Japanese fans. The short version is I asked if we could give some gifts we’d made to Go (even though we know you’re only usually allowed to give letters, but we thought to try anyway), gave the letters we wrote, and, when he was leaving, I called out to him and we had a very awkward conversation in which I was tongue-tied and he seemed very surprised and shy. As we finished our sort-of conversation (it’s hard to have a real conversation when both people are super shy and I mean have you seen Go’s stare because goddamn I have met a lot of celebrities in my life and I was perfectly calm and collected and normal around them and then I get five inches from Go and just can’t handle him staring at me and forgot how to Japanese or English or breathe). Then, in 2013, on our first night in Osaka, as he was walking around the arena, he looked at my friend who was with me both in NYC and Osaka, then at me, then gave a look of “OH!” and leaned back around to wave and smile at us.

Now, let’s analyze how I’m presenting and interpreting all this. I’m shortening it and leaving out personal details, obviously, but second of all, I’m trying to be as objective as possible about two instances that a) still make me really twitterpated and b) may not be related. Maybe Go didn’t recognize us. There’s the possibility that, by virtue of being foreign, we got extra attention because, if you’ve seen me, I sort of stand out a lot (poor Ishmael has to live with the curse of my conspicuousness — we’ll be out places and people will only remember her in relation to me). I’m interpreting Go’s actions in New York as shy rather than as someone completely troubled by me/my actions (though I’ve worried about him secretly hating me and thinking I’m terrible and rude every moment since I called his name and kind of keep replaying the moment and wishing I’d done a hundred things differently and vowing to be more eloquent next time), even though, as he was leaving, he turned back around to call out “we’ll meet again~!” with a big, genuine-looking smile on his face.

What I think is most interesting with these encounters is that, when fans meet their idols, the first thing they tend to think or say when they talk to others about the experience is “he probably doesn’t/won’t remember me,” as though the fan is but a faceless member of an ever-increasing horde of starstruck girls who fawn over the idol(s) in question. And in a way, that’s not wrong. But there is still a desire to be remembered, especially if one is a foreign fan because we have to work so much harder to get closer to our idols.

My experience and the emotional investments I’ve made absolutely colour my impressions, so think about that as you read all my accounts. It’s entirely possible I’ve just been filed away as “generic white girl #92530823” in the heads of every J&A idol who’s seen/met me instead of “that one girl from NYC/Sapporo/Osaka.” (Ken also wrote about a white girl coming to see them in Sapporo after the night of the first show there on the 2011 tour and I’ve always assumed it was about me because I was the only white girl there).

But again, keep in mind that I’m using my knowledge base to interpret Go’s actions. I’m assuming he’s shy because that’s the character he’s presented on TV and in magazine interviews and that’s how he’s come off in basically everything. He needs time to warm up to people. I’m choosing (and I can’t stress that enough) to interpret all these interactions, both the ones I’ve talked about and the ones I’m not talking about (waves, peace signs, etc.) in a positive light because a) in essence, I have that freedom; and b) it would be devastating for it to be negative.

This is the thing about being a fan and bridging the gap: you risk being hurt by what you find. Maybe they’re a huge dick, which you could then interpret and explain away through secondary explanations of belief, as “maybe they were having a bad day” or “I shouldn’t have bothered them.” Or maybe they’re, as you thought, a big sweetheart, but even if they are, you still have to contend with the idea that maybe they’re just really good at this whole idol thing and are faking everything. It’s like putting your feelings out there to a friend: they can either accept them and be gracious or they can rip your heart out and eat it in front of you. But with idols, you’re putting so much more of your heart and soul into it, because you’ve invested so much time and emotion, and they’re presenting themselves as so much more genuine, so the precipitous drop can be that much more painful. So you’re left with one of two options: you either resist or embrace it. You know it’s happening and you collect the information but resist getting emotionally involved, or you throw caution to the wind and let it consume your soul.



Johnny’s and Engaging the Foreign

Hi, I’m Captain Ahab. You may remember me from such posts as “Using JTicket International 2: Electric Boogaloo” and my seemingly endless stream of posts screaming about a certain idol and his doofy fucking face. I come to you today to talk about Johnny & Associates’ engagement with foreign fans and the foreign market. (But first, let me welcome you to this new space for discourse (welcome!))

Ah, Johnny’s. That bastion of sparkles, flashing lights, and costumes with poofy shoulders and an abundance of feathers. Yes, Johnny’s, that perennially insular provider of male idol groups whose business practices are virtually inscrutable. Over the past three years, they have been quietly expanding in small but relatively significant ways to engage a larger portion of the foreign market. Let’s explore those changes and their implications, focusing largely on concerts and access to information, and the ways in which J&A is both embracing and decentering fans and fan cultures (read: J&A appreciates your money but also probably hates you).

If you’re at all familiar with J&A, you know just how insular J&A is. Much of this is a byproduct of the structure of Japanese media and its insularity. Japanese media programs are much more difficult to license overseas due to their licensing fees being higher than any other country in Asia (this is a direct factor in why hallyu has gotten to be such a big deal because Korean dramas were/continue to be cheaper to license than Japanese. But that’s a post for another time). You know box sets of dramas, whether they feature idols or not, and concert DVDs of your preferred groups are exorbitantly expensive. CD singles and albums aren’t cheap, either, particularly for foreign fans. The Japanese media market aims to serve itself and be self-sustaining. I’d like to expand further on the efficacy and feasibility of self-sustainability, but that’s also another post for another time. Foreign sales, however, aren’t insignificant, and sales through Oricon-partnered online retailers are counted in overall Oricon sales with no distinction between foreign and domestic sales and have been for years now.

As we know, the pace at which J&A has embraced foreign fandom and social media has been glacial. Johnny’s International email service started in 2010 as a way for J&A to reach its fanbase and let it know about upcoming releases (mostly Tackey Channel), to let fans know about concerts for which they will be able to ballot, and any other information J&A feels fans need. J&A knows foreign fans are out there. Foreign fans obtaining, translating/subtitling, and then disseminating Japanese television shows (particularly dramas) has been a thing since at least the early 2000s1. Increasingly, fans are prosumers, crafting (and creating) content that reflects their desires and their views of/on the idol(s). This is also true for fan translators who, in whatever capacity, disseminate information about their favourite idol(s).2 Prosumption is something we’ll address in greater detail in another essay, but for now, just keep in mind that prosumers are interlocutors and shaping knowledge for foreign fans — largely for those dependent on translations, but also consider the way fans on sites like Tumblr shape information (I’m totally guilty of this).

In response to the doing away with restrictions on Japanese cultural products (in Korea, at least), various Johnny’s groups have done concerts and fan meetings in Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan (Arashi and V6 in participating in the Asia Song Festival in Kwangju and Seoul, NEWS in Taiwan, and SMAP in Shanghai immediately come to mind) (we know correlation doesn’t equal causation, but you have to know you have a market there before you’ll throw your money down to do a concert overseas). These opportunities are rare, but they do happen every few years or so. It’s important to note that these concerts are vastly different than the slap in the face that is Arashi’s upcoming 15th anniversary concert in Hawaii which is specifically for fans living in Japan who hit for tickets and get in on that package deal with JAL (and maybe a few Hawaii-based fans); these concerts in South Korea, Taiwan, and Shanghai are for the foreign fans. (Also, before we go on, let’s appreciate that TOKIO are going to be playing Summer Sonic this year, marking the first time a J&A group will be playing summer rock festival) (also, before fans get all crazy on me, I’m not saying it’s Arashi’s fault they’re doing this concert in this way, but it does still feel like a slap in the face).

You’re familiar with the family club only allowing those with Japanese addresses to join, and how one needs to be in the family club in order to ballot for tickets. And you know just how cruel a mistress the balloting system can be — send your 8,000 yen per ticket months before the concert, let Johnny sit on (or swim like Scrooge McDuck in) your money, only to call the hotline to find out you didn’t get chosen in the lottery and have your money returned (and your soul crushed a little. With love, Johnny & Associates). Of course, this all varies by group; some groups are easier to see than others. It’s really difficult to obtain a concert ticket if you’re a foreign fan, especially if you don’t live in Japan. Your only real options are: have someone in the FC and hope they hit for tickets; buy a ticket off someone on Twitter, Mixi, Yahoo! Auctions, or in one of the idol shops in Harajuku (and then, it might be marked up); or stand outside the venue with a sign in Japanese that reads “please sell me 1 ticket.” Lucky for you, JTicket International became a thing back in 2011 with a major change happening sometime between 2011 and 2013. Fans who hit for tickets in 2011 had to send copies of their passport photo page along with their flight itinerary to secure their ticket (and then pay cash at the venue); in 2013, you just had to pay online with a credit card and bring your confirmation email. They really had something there with JTicket International. The reader will note my use of the past tense there because JTicket has ceased operation and I am not presently aware of a successor to it. It was really nice while it lasted. I hope it comes back and I can also get some use out of my Johnny’s Family Club Support Card.

So that’s not a thing anymore. Also back in 2011, Johnny’s released the Johnny’s Web app to the App Store and Google Play, meaning users with smartphones could access jweb on their mobile devices by paying the 325 yen or whatever it is per month like everyone else. And that’s pretty rad. It sucks if you can’t really read Japanese, because you’re still having to either depend on more fluent fans to translate it or you’re stumbling through the entries, struggling with kanji (or both!) (I know I still do the latter on occasion. Kanji is a cruel mistress). Either way, it was something. And sometime last year, Johnny’s added English, Korean, and Chinese subscription services, so you could read the entries in your preferred language (assuming you read one of those languages).

What this does is in a way undermines fan translators and filesharers. Let me explain. This allows J&A to interact with fans who want to support their idols and/or who may not even know about fan translators, but it also lets them retake control over the words and images their idols are posting. This can also be seen in TBS uploading the foreigner segments of “Amazipang” with English subtitles to YouTube. I’ve talked a little before on my other blog about the implications of “Amazipang” as it plays into the formation of a national narrative and current nation branding strategies, and I plan to expand that this summer. For now, just be aware that this is pretty huge, mostly as it relates to the global availability of Japanese media. This is what Korean media companies started to do a few years ago to both engage with fans and combat illegal filesharing: put the shows on YouTube, provide subs, and expect fans will watch it that way. The companies still retain control over their intellectual property and can change or remove the video at their discretion (let’s not get into semantics about how people can still download videos from YouTube or any of that, okay?). It should be noted, and this is vital, that these segments on YouTube are all sans V6. The only reason this writer can think of for this is “because Johnny’s” (when you’re still mandating that online vendors selling magazines or books with your idols on the cover instead use a silhouette of the idol(s), you’re not going to upload videos of them to YouTube).

So there are good and bad things about Johnny’s engaging with fans. You can feel included in the community by having the information (whether textual or media) delivered to you directly and in your preferred language. It does, however, serve to disrupt the visible but still somewhat illicit fan communities that have formed and thrived on the internet for over a decade. That’s sort of the impression I have of Johnny’s recent foray onto Weibo. Johnny’s have had twitter accounts for things before (usually stage plays, sometimes dramas, some of them run by J&A artists. Koyama running the twitter account for “Guests of Room #0” while it was running comes to mind), so there has been some engagement there but no real official presence.3 On the one hand, you feel like you’re a witness to history. Wow, Johnny’s embracing social media! On the other hand, you’re paranoid and you wonder what this means for fan communities. You’ve probably felt the panopticon or heard rumblings about it and its reaches but now the panopticon is staring you in the face.

There seems to be very little in the way of a concerted strategy to engage an increasingly visible foreign market; again, much of this could very well be due to the insularity of the Japanese market itself. Johnny’s has been a pop culture force for decades without the foreign market, and the foreign fans have proven they’re willing to (resigned to?) conform to the system already in place in order to engage with their idol(s). Groups may go overseas to debut (Arashi, Tegomass), or for promotions for movies (“Letters from Iwo Jima,” “SP,” “NazoDi”) or to perform plays (“Talk Like Singing,” “Kinkakuji”), go on location for news coverage or variety shows (the list is quite long but Sho, Inocchi, Tego, Koyama, and Taichi all immediately come to mind, along with V6’s many “where are you going?” games and the time they went to South Korea to sell sushi for the VVV6 junk battles or when Inocchi went to Miami, etc., etc.), and occasionally appearing on foreign TV (Yamapi), but there’s no concerted engagement. Again, there doesn’t need to be. Many fans who illegally get their hands on Johnny’s material will later buy that same or new material in order to support the artist — or at least will feel compelled to even if they can’t afford much — but in this is conformity to the current market strategy. Johnny’s groups have exposure through fans who encounter media containing them in Japan, on the internet, through friends, etc. or who seek them out. “Amazipang” and Yamapi’s new show, “Otona no Kiss Eigo,” show some efforts to engage the foreign, but again, we have to consider the primary market for these shows and the reason behind them. “Amazipang”‘s show description says explicitly that they’re going to talk to foreigners about what’s awesome about Japan and then show that off to the world, and Yamapi’s show is, by its own description, not just a show for studying English (but it kind of is). These shows are cool, but again, they’re not specifically for us. Whether they’re used in engagement with the foreign fans/market remains to be seen (“Amazipang” sans V6 is trying) but there’s currently no indication they will be. Foreign celebrities often appear on J&A variety shows (“SMAPxSMAP,” “Arashi ni Shiyagare,” “VS Arashi,” “Gakkou e Ikou” (RIP), etc.) but again, consider the primary market for these shows.

All of this operates under a principle of “come to us, because we’re probably not coming to you.” Concerts in foreign locations are logistically difficult, yes, but lucrative. Yet they don’t happen often, so fans are invited to come, via JTicket International (RIP), to Japan. Fans are encouraged (expected?) to sign up for subscription-based services to read blogs. Information is, to some extent, increasingly coming from Johnny’s themselves. Fans are definitely expected to buy official releases from their favourite artists. There’s a normalizing in all this, and it’s one that gets fans to behave as J&A expects its Japanese fans to behave. It also, again, allows Johnny’s to control the script and its products. The foreign may feature in J&A (location shoots, locations for concerts/fan meetings, on TV shows, etc.), and as we’ve seen, there have been/are attempts at including the foreign but only insofar as it brings the foreign under their purview and, again, normalizes consumption practices.

This author has no real pronouncements on all this; she is merely cautiously optimistic for how and in what ways these things will change in the future. All media markets are different. Engagement is complicated, and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens? There still seems to be a policy of letting sleeping dogs (fan communities) lie, but who knows when or if that will change.

Citations and Notes
01. Lee, Dong-Hoo. “Popular Cultural Capital and Cultural Identity: Young Korean Women’s Cultural Appropriation of Japanese TV Dramas” in Chua, Beng Huat, and Kōichi Iwabuchi. 2008. East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave.. It is interesting to note that in this study fans, even when presented with official subtitles on DVDs, still preferred fansubs because fans would explain culturally-specific concepts/practices.

02. See the first and last chapter of Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan by Gabriela Lukacs. She deals much better with the idea of consumers crafting and creating content, the increasingly niche nature of Japanese media and choosing what one consumes and what one associates with, and the cultures surrounding fansubbing and foreigners consuming dramas.

03. Readers should be aware Johnny’s are not (usually) allowed to have social media accounts. Jin created his in March 2011 while still with J&A and as he was in the midst of his US debut. Others, such as Tanaka Koki, had to wait until Johnny’s terminated their contract. J-web is, in essence, the closest J&A artists get to official social media accounts. And speaking of Jin, we’re not even going to, because his attempts to break into the US market just require a whole separate entry.