Develop your own tastes and be tolerant
I spent a few days in Ikebukuro, Japan, on Friday night. The area, along with Akihabara, is something of a holy land for Japanese manga fans. The shop I visited specializes in animation marketed for women, and most of the customers were teenagers and young women in their 20s. As I browsed the comic books and character products, I noticed a man in his 40s. He was dressed in a suit and tie and was completely immersed in shopping as if he were looking for something specific. In Seoul, you would assume he was buying a present for his daughter, but in Japan, it was more likely that he was an otaku who had moe for something in the shop.
Otaku is a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests in a certain field or hobby. Moe literally means “to bud” and is a homonym for “to burn,” and refers to the passion you feel for an object you adore. For example, a “glasses-girl moe” is into characters who wear glasses. He will ransack a shop to find characters that fit his taste. Some people develop this same kind of obsession for nonliving things such as railroads, convenience stores or businesses by creating characters out of them. Some people think they are perverts.
In Japan, an endless stream of comics, animation and movies is produced to satisfy all kinds of eccentric tastes - and the trend is not limited to pop culture. One couple went around visiting the backgrounds in van Gogh’s paintings. One teacher collects ground beetles. Others collect keys, paper planes, torture tools.
Of course, this level of obsession still represents a minority subculture - even in Japan. But no one would dare to invade this small universe. Along with the United States, Japan has emerged as a global pop culture leader and could become the country with the most diverse cultural genres and solid subculture markets in the world.
Korea still has a long way to go before reaching this level of diversity and individualism. If a person was that obsessed with iguanas, ball-jointed dolls, tattoos or piercings, others would look at him sideways. Instead, Koreans follow each other. When wine is trendy, people drink wine. When sake becomes popular, everyone drinks it. Instead of discovering your own preferences, you dress in an outfit straight from the department store. We have nothing to gain from such conformity. And it’s not just individuals. Companies also have trouble being creative. To be successful, we need to develop our own tastes and be tolerant of the tastes of others.
by Lee Na-ree
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.