The Shopping Meme


Richard Dawkins: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

It is no revelation to any casual observer of modern Japanese society that consumer behaviour or materialism defined in western terms as “fad”, “craze”, or “fashion” is taken to a different level in urban Japan. I have read of shopping defined as secular religion in Japan, and while this might be a slack comparison based on nothing other than Sunday being the traditional “shopping day” in modern Japan, the acquisition of material goods is treated with an unabashed seriousness here that I think strikes most western products of the Protestant Ethic as quite…foreign (for me it also is a fascinating counterpoint to the lust/shame paradox I see in American culture re. material objects, the friction between our individualist ideology and the desire to have that iPod mini). What interests me is that it seems “fads” can be created within certain contexts here in Japan in ways that would not work in America. My case in point being the Walt Disney film, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’.

A marketing campaign begun last fall and carried into the Christmas season promoted the re-release of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ in Japan. Shortly after its initiation and continuing into the present day (long after the film’s theatrical run has ended) – I began noticing various product tie-ins appearing on the trains, usually (but not always) on the person of a female passenger and usually in the form of bags and other fashion accessories. I also noticed several stores in Harajuku that seemed to cater to media-based fads pushing various products (I bought a TNBC keitai strap myself). Anyway, I am curious about this…are the people I see on the trains the equivalent of the “hip and trendy” in LA and the East Village? (they certainly appear to be) That a Disney

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