(also see part 1)
What sort of stuff is “popular” in another country? How do we, as visitors, experience, catalog or contextualize pop culture?
Tokyo’s Shibuya district is the throbbing heart of Japanese youth culture, overflowing with pedestrians (and vehicles), with dense ground-to-sky advertisements for music and electronics and clothing.
Upon arrival, we see a truck driving by advertising an upcoming album release by Ayumi Hamasaki.
In fact, we see this truck – or others like it – constantly. We’ve never heard of Ayumi, but clearly someone wants this album release to be a big deal.
One evening, we notice large crowds outside Yoyogi National Stadium. Turns out it’s an Ayumi Hamasaki concert.
(Notice the suitcase, featuring her logo.)
Parked alongside the stadium are a number of Ayumi Hamasaki tribute vehicles
Passing by the next night, New Year’s Eve, there is an even more extensive display of tribute vans.
Assuming (and I do) that these vans were made by fans, and not record company plants, then at this point it becomes impossible to deny the obvious: she is huge. The larger-than-life marketing messages are appropriate given the enormous popularity. The foreigner’s reaction of “Well, we’ve never heard of her” is only a temporary refuge in the face of the demonstrable devotion.
Consider this: in a major city in the world there’s an performer where fans decorate their vehicles with her face on the outside and displays on the inside and tailgate together with their custom vans before concerts. And you’ve never heard or heard of her. (Disclaimer: doesn’t apply to you if you’ve heard of her).
And: spend a few days in this major city and you will learn about this performer over and over and over again and wonder how you could have possibly not heard of her before.