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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Collecting Symbols becoming a Dangerous Addiction in Japan

Collecting Symbols becoming a Dangerous Addiction in Japan by timtak
Collecting Symbols becoming a Dangerous Addiction in Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In a sort of online gambling version of a "stamp rally", Japanese Internet users are paying to draw random cards from a pack, so as to "complete" certain sets of cards, so that they can then obtain a special card which enables them to win online games in a social network.

There is no financial reward to those that obtain the special symbols but the perceived value of these cards is so great that some Japanese are spending large amounts of money attempting to obtain them. This practice is called random-card-complete-set-collection or "conpugacha", and it has become an addiction. In the face of the dangers of this addiction, the Japanese government is thinking to impose restrictions on online game providers. The above article in today's Asahi newspaper reports the fears of online game providers in the face of proposed new regulations.

I suspect that the perceived value of the card - its fetishization - is at least in part in and of itself: the very act of collecting symbols is something that the Japanese find attractive since there is a long tradition of collecting symbols in Japan: from traditional sacred symbols (Yamada, 1965, 1966), pilgrimages (Reader, 2005), mass travel booms due to the belief that sacred symbols were falling from the sky (Nenzi, 2006) and stamp rallies (see Origin of the Stamp Rally), and various types of card and symbol collections for children (see Totem Badges Old and New).

At the same time the association of obtaining special symbols with interpersonal interactions (in this case in interactions in an online game community) is also found with more traditional symbols such as good luck amulets which are often an expression of love (Ayumu & Koshi, 2006) or perhaps a sort of assurance on the part of the giver (see Japanese Lucky Charm: Pubic hair). Often symbols give their holders the power to transform themselves, often including their appearance (see Transformatory Sacred Items Across the Ages).

For a long time the Japanese were thought to be "collectivists" because they travelled in groups, looking out the window when they reached the "named-place" (meisho). Today, the Japanese are more likely to travel on their own than Britons or Americans, but they still take with them their guidebooks (Goo Ranking, 2008), and travel to the named, symbolic places.

Ayumu, A., & Koshi, M. (2006). 「お守り」をもつことの機能 : 贈与者と被贈与者の関係に注目して[The function of having a ‘lucky charm’ : The relationships between donor and recipient]. Japanese Journal of Social Psychology ( Before 1996, Research in Social Psychology ), 22(1), 85–97. Retrieved from ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110004798371
Goo Ranking. (2008). 海外旅行先でついやってしまう「日本人ぽい」行動ランキング - 旅行ランキング - goo ランキング. Retrieved May 9, 2012, from ranking.goo.ne.jp/ranking /011/sightseer_pattern (based on a JTB survey)
Nenzi, L. (2006). To ise at all costs: Religious and economic implications of early modern nukemairi. Japanese journal of religious studies, 75–114.
Reader, I. (2005). Making pilgrimages: Meaning and practice in Shikoku. University of Hawaii Press.
Yamada, T. (1965). Shinto Symbols (Parts 1-5). Contemporary Religions in Japan, 7(1), 3–39.
Yamada, T. (1966). Shinto Symbols (Parts 6-8). Contemporary Religions in Japan, 7(2), 89–142.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.