March 17, 2021

The 1980s were a special time in Japan. It was during this period that many staples of pop culture now associated with the country began to flourishβ€”things like anime, video games, street fashion and music. The country had become an electronics manufacturing powerhouse and Tokyo a trendsetting international city on par with New York, Paris and London. The despair of the Pacific War had mostly evaporated and the future looked bright.

This sea change was driven by a booming economy driven by a strong export market through the 1960's and 70's. As the 1980's began, families found themselves more financially secure and ready to spend their disposable income on luxury electronics and foreign travel. A demand for high quality modern goods spurred the technology sector to develop world-class cameras, audio equipment and computers, further driving the export market. Young people were moving to the cities and adopting an urban, trendy lifestyle. And the pop culture of the time began to reflect this new way of life.

By the mid 1980's, the economy had taken off like a rocket due to the inflation of stock market and real estate prices. The yearly 4% growth was called an economic miracle. It was a time of lavish consumer spending - import cars, international travel, expensive fashion, high technology. However, reality inevitably caught up with the market, and in 1991 the economy began to crash. For more than a decade after, the economy continued to decline. While the economy has arguably stabilized, Japan has still not yet fully recovered from the crash and it is certain we will never see a period of excess like the Bubble Era again.

The economic bubble is a cautionary example of excessive market speculation, but the pop culture of the time and the media it produced is fascinating. It is at once familiar to Western senses and uniquely Japanese. It is nostalgic and catchy, optimistic and futuristic, ridiculous and beautiful. And we love everything about it.