Culture, No.6  Jun. 5, 2011


The 16th Association of Media in Digital (AMD) Awards for the Digital Contents of the Year 2010 gave the Life Achievement Award to the Paris Japan Expo’s co-founding trio plus International Relations Director for their contributions in promoting Japanese digital content in Europe.

As one of the Life Achievement Awardees, International Relations Director of Goma Communication, Mlle. CIBOT, was interviewed by Prof. HAMANO, as below:

Photo : Japan Expo and Japanese Pop Culture1

Prof. HAMANO Yasuki: I think Japan Expo is part of the fourth post-war “Japan Boom” in Europe, having a focus on the youth culture. According to my perspective, the current boom follows in the footsteps of the movie boom of the fifties, as exemplified by the Kurosawa genre; the Kabuki as well as other stage activities boom of the sixties; and, the language plus business-related studies boom during the “Japanese Bubble” years of the seventies and the eighties… .
Mlle. Sae CIBOT: As my mother was Japanese, I grew up watching Creamy Mami, Capt. Tsubasa (which I was not much interested when I first saw it but became a fan much later) and other Anime. But as for France, the popularity of Anime started growing when the French national television station started showing UFO Robo Grendizer (Goldorak in French) by Nagai Go in 1978.

Meanwhile, in terms of the social setting, French women in general became socioeconomically active, working outside of the traditional settings from about that time, so the Anime broadcasts accessible through television captivated the minds of children who stayed at home while the parents were out. The fact is, the children were enthralled by the stories their “baby sitters” were telling them. Filled with messages of courage and friendship, like those found in Dragonball and Saint Seiya, they also provided information on a separate culture although the young audience at that time did not realize the origin as being Japanese.

It was around 1995 when a Socialist Presidential candidate’s criticism in France, about the explicit and violent nature of some Anime shows, came to the fore and regulations were set up, correct?
Photo : Japan Expo and Japanese Pop Culture2

Yes, from the mid-nineties – Pokémon and Naruto being some of the few exceptions – Anime shown on TV became regulated. But by then the younger people had become engrossed with the stories and thus began migrating to comic books. Adolescents being told not to do something by adults usually lead to more adolescents doing so. Many then realized the Japanese origins of the earlier Anime that they had grown up with. In the beginning English to French translations such as Video Girl Ai which was a bit hit in France were in the main, with books being opened from the left. But after direct Japanese to French translations grew in numbers then the books were being opened from the right. In the beginning critics were saying this was just a fad, but more than a dozen years have passed since then and proving that it was not a fad.

So the market became active? Is this when you became involved in this “pop business” field?
2000 to 2004 saw the market expanding rapidly, with over 30 publishers of Manga books around France alone. The situation has settled down now but despite the web becoming a new source, many of the book publishers are still around. It is about this time that Jean-François DUFOUR, President, and Thomas SIRDEY, Vice President of SEFA Event, together with my friend Sandrine DUFOUR, started up the Japan Expo. In my case I was at first interested in building a bridge between France and Japan, at looking at music – though not necessarily Anime Songs – but one day I was asked to stand-in for my mother (who was involved in a project with MushiPro) at an event in Hiroshima, as the storyline involved the event in 1945.

I thus decided if I was to go I might as well look to cover the event for a publisher, and soon found myself involved closely with the Japan Expo. Perhaps the fact that French society apparently became more Japanese, with Futon and suchlike “Japonesque” items being used popularly especially among youths, I found more impetus to be involved. I think Japan is today viewed as a window to the world of near future, whether this be in the area of cuisine, fashion or technology, in addition to providing a glimpse into a different perspective regarding nature.

I understand that a visitor attendance nearing the 200,000 mark was recorded at the latest event in Paris.

Photo : Japan Expo and Japanese Pop Culture3
Referring to music, the Anime centering on music such as Nana and the phenomenal success of X-Japan, a band that has gained much headway by making “Anime Songs” their centerpieces, may be highlights in this growing trend. I believe the emotion basis of Japanese “pop business” has gone a long way to building up a major core of fans. The Japan Expo features displays and sales of materials related to J-pop, concerts and a range of live performances (whether it be “Visual-kei” or idols currently popular in Japan) to more traditional items ranging from shogi and go or martial arts and flower arrangement.

Yet now, there are also family visitors, an intergenerational spread of parents wanting to show their children how they grew up and they can all enjoy shopping, fashion and design encompassing not only clothing but also cars, entertainment including even professional wrestling, and of course video games as well as other “non-elite” activities together. Further, in addition to Paris, although the Chibi Japan Expo ended as of last October, there has been the Japan Expo Sud in Marseille since 2008 while another related event in Orleans this year had 10,000 visitors. Arrangements for a similar event in Belgium are being made for this November.