J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

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.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Spectre Watch's Bicultural Hero

Yo-kai Watch (妖怪ワォッチ) is big in Japan, with the game, subsequent anime, and recent movie breaking records and making millions of dollars and billions of yen for their respective creators, originally Level 5, to whom the copyright for the above image belongs. (お取り下げご希望でありましたら、コメント欄かnihonbunka.comのメールリンクまでご連絡ください)

The title (like many elements of the oeuvre) is a pun meaning (1) "spectre summoning wrist watch." This device is used by next generation Satoshi, to summon not Pokemon but Youkai - ghouls or spectres - and is not dissimilar to all the transformatory watches and belts used by Masked Riders and Power Rangers. Youkai Watch also means (2) the ability to see the same ghouls or spectres. It may also have the sense of "Neighbourhood Watch" in that Keita looks out for ghouls and spectres haunting his environs, based on the town of Tsukuba, in which I have lived. Importantly Keita Amano "watches" in both senses of the word/neologism: he sees and he plays with time.

I have argued that the dual nature of Japanese super heroes -- either they are possessed by something outside of them, or accompanied by a super friend --- reflects the way in which the Japanese self is visual, autoscopic (日人hito) rather than narrative (人間 ningen, "homonarans").

The Japanese super heroes' suit does not hide his mumbling 'secret identity," in which the Western super hero spends some of the time, but rather the Japanese super hero is spatially separate but often almost equivalent to the suit (Masked Riders, Evangelion, Gundam) and suiting up is done in public sometimes with great aplomb (Mitokoumon, Shinkenja). Traditionally, Words, names and symbols only have importance, as do images Lacanian theory, as transformatory 'stages' or catalysts. These medals, coins, cards with bar codes, etc. transform or summon the super visual form. The Japanese only need names to convince themselves that they are the sum total of their images (henshin! gattai!), their mask, or persona (Watsuji), as we only need images as a covering(Baudrillard), to convince ourselves that we are the hero of this narrative, behind that mask.

But Youkai Watch's Keita Amano is a little different. He is possessed or accompanied by two imaginary friends. The second, Jibanyan, a twin tailed cat, is strikingly similar to all the other cute but strong, round characters that accompany Japanese boys (from Doraemon to Pikachuu). The first friend above right, however, who provided the titular wrist watch, is more rare. This friend, "Whisper," is in name, constant attention to a encyclopaedic spectral i-Pad, very linguistic, garrulous. He is also fairly weak. In these respects he is pre-dated by Masked Rider Double, Philip, another weak, autodidactic wordy possessed or possessing familiar often seen walking around a spectral library or "Gaia Memory." I did not notice at that time, but I think that at least, after about 70 years of trying, the Japanese have succeed inviting the word to become flesh and dwell amongst them. Since originally in Shinto, words were things that one jumped in to rivers to wash out, this may be a bit of a shame.

But to today's bi-cultural Japanese children, raised in a mix of traditional Japanese and Western culture, to be concerned not only about how things look but how things narrate, Keita Amano and his two imaginary friends is a runaway cultural mega-phenomenon. Even more than Satoshi (who is accompanied, but off-stage, by a narrating professor) of Pokemen, Keita with his twin friends in Jibannyan and Whisper, should be successful in uniting children all over the globe.

I went to see the recent movie "Yo-Kai Watch the Movie: The Secret is Created, Nyan!" with my children. It featured the origins of the watch (previously appearing to be a present from Whisper, and at the same time random) in the promise of Keita's grandfather to his unborn grandson. It also featured a trinity of evil, industrial, villains that were always turning time backwards with horrific effect. In order to defeat these devils it was required that Jibanyan and Whisper merge. Bearing in mind that Derrida argues that the Western self is "deferred" in time (as opposed to displaced, seen from the outside) - we are always receiving spoken messages sent to ourselves, by ourselves from the past, the news is not all good. Keita Amano appeared to me to be a sort of Jappo-Western (和魂洋魂?) hybrid to beat nasty, industrial, watch-making Western culture.

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