Japan Foundation Trip Report, Luis Martin-Estudillo
It took me a fair amount of reading, but just a few minutes in Tokyo’s Nakano arcade, to realize that, aside from the U.S., Japan is the country whose visual artists have the greatest influence on global youth today. At the University of Iowa, I regularly teach a course called Spanish Youth Culture. In this class, the students explore literary texts, films, and music produced by young people in Spain from 1939 to the present, with a special focus on gender issues and the relationships between market, popular culture, and high culture—always considering the global dimension of this type of creative products and exchanges. Prior to our Japan Foundation-sponsored trip, I was unaware of the significance and depth of the manga and anime traditions, which have had a strong presence in Spanish youth culture since the mid-1980s. Our visits to the abovementioned mecca of youth culture in Tokyo, and to two other sites devoted to giants of the Japanese cartoon—the Yokoyama Memorial Manga Museum in Kochi, and to the Mizuki Shigeru Museum in Sakai-Minato (Shimane Prefecture)—were eye-opening in that regard. Now I can clearly see that one of the factors that connect the US and Spanish youth is not a direct one, but rather their widespread common interest in (some might say fascination with) certain aspects of Japanese cultural production. This relationship should be a privileged vantage point for understanding how a global culture with roots in different countries (and not only the obvious ones, with the US in the lead) is in constant flux. I remain intrigued by the exchange economy that underlies this nexus between the youth culture of three countries on three different continents, and I hope to address it in future research about the reception of Japanese cartoons in southern Europe from the 1980s onward.
Luis Martin-Estudillo is an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Iowa.