The operative word is “humor.”
Ah, the quirks of modern Japan. In the movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray commits to a dry, humorous take on Japanese commercials starring American actors. It’s a great case study in diffusion and acculturation; while the Japanese have been very successful in diffusing aspects of their culture to other parts of the world, they have been acculturated as well. Take these examples:
- Whack-a-mole alarm clocks: to deactivate the alarm, you have to play a little whack-a-mole game.
- California roll: the nori is traditionally used to wrap sushi ingredients, but California fusion cuisine includes fruit in the roll, and is madeinside-out.
- Japanese whisky commercials: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time” doesn’t really make sense, but it sells the stuff.
- Casio synthesizers: if you owned one, “Together Forever” by Rick Astley was in the “Demo” loop, and there’s a whole line of Japanese instruments including matsuri and shasimen.
- Karaoke: this one begs and demands no explanation.
So let’s talk about juice boxes and… milk.
The first thing that came to mind: cultural appropriation. All cultures are Frankenstein’s monsters, and there’s nothing really “pure” about them except for the nuances that make up the core (which, in the end, do get influenced or affected, or influence and affect). There’s no “pure” culture; history, which never takes place in a vacuum, results in shared nuances of human social interaction.
This morning I was looking at a picture of juice boxes from Japan:
The stuff in Japanese banana juice or strawberry juice or kiwi juice may be no different from Western stuff, but the proof is in the packaging. It’s an archetype – perhaps stereotypical even – that “cute” is a Japanese trait, and a value at that. We see a juice box, but there’s an element of “cute” in it (much like passenger airplanes painted with Pokémon characters, or cosplay involving models dressed up as Pokémon).
Properly translated, it would equate to “awesomeness.” The Walkman, for example, revolutionized the way we listen to music. Or plastic mandoline slicers that eventually became the Wonder Slicer. Perhaps something more ubiquitous: Sony Trinitron. An entire commercial fetish can be made from Japanophilia. Like Saizen and pencil cases, online manga my officemates read every now and then, and my near-psychotic need for Kirei. It doesn’t have to be Japanese, but it has to have its elements.
Then again, to some extent, contemporary Japanese culture has its own fair share of Orientalist stereotypes reinforced not by the awesome or the “cute,” but by the downright weird. Take Japanese schoolgirls, cosplay and, well… watch this:
Bukkake Milk. It’s not a real brand of milk, and I’m not going to explain what bukkake is. For the most part, I can tell you that bukkake is a preparation of udon noodles. Edward Said calls Orientalism an “exoticization” of the Other – in this case the West to the East, all the while associating Japan with bukkake fetishism. Or even that term itself: “Japanophile.” Is it offensive? Yeah, and it shouldn’t be justified, but for many people, this is the way things are. And many people would rather settle for the way things are than to change them.
Or improve on them: tentacle bukkake.
I guess that every rant and complaint we make about bigotry or “racism” (race is a dated anthropological concept) is the result of weak waves of culture shock – cultural cumming, so to speak – that still happens in an open world. That no matter how open or accommodating we claim to be, we never are. Perhaps these are the things that make the world work; the kinks in the circle of life, so to speak.
As for me, I don’t drink juice, I don’t drink milk, and everything I know about sex and bukkake is completely theoretical. Yep, you guessed it: bootlegged porn magazines in elementary school. No, it wasn’t The Explosive Adventures of Bukkake Man Volume 69.