The import of Japanese entertainment to the West during the 1960s through the 1980s had a significant influence on Western popular culture in several ways.
Television shows and movies such as Ultraman, Godzilla, and Johnny Sokko were some of the best things that I still enjoy to this day. The ongoing Ultraman series, over the decades, has been a wonderful source of entertainment for millions of people.
One of the most notable impacts was the spread of Japanese animation, or anime. In the 1960s, anime series such as, Speed Racer, Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion were dubbed and aired on television in the United States, introducing Western audiences to a new style of animation that differed from traditional Western cartoons. Some shows were taken and reworked into something that was very different, plot wise, like Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman to Battle of the Planets. This led to the development of a dedicated fanbase for anime in the West, which continues to this day. MS Gundam didn’t catch on as quickly but when it did, it was a huge hit. Long form storytelling also was introduced into children’s programming with shows such as Star Blazers, and Macross.
Another significant impact of Japanese entertainment imports was the popularity of martial arts films. In the 1970s, films such as Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon opened the door wide for all martial genres. Sonny Chiba and the Shogun Assassin series introduced Western audiences to the world of martial arts and samurai films from Japan. Bing niche subject matter wasn’t really a thing anymore by the mid 1970s. These films inspired a generation of Western filmmakers and influenced the development of the action movie genre. One of the best examples of a wonderful import was the chanbara television jidaigeki series was Kage no Mono, starring the aforementioned Sunny Chiba, about several bands of Shinobi in hiding.
Japanese music also had an impact on Western popular culture during this period. The popularity of Japanese pop music, or J-pop, increased in the 1980s, with artists such as Seiko Matsuda and Yellow Magic Orchestra gaining international recognition. This led to the incorporation of Japanese musical styles into Western music, particularly in the development of synthpop and electronic music. A musical duo known as Pink Lady, had an American television program in the early 1980s, and I was a regular watcher.
Finally, Japanese fashion and style had an impact on Western fashion during this period. The rise of Japanese street fashion in the 1980s, particularly the Harajuku style, introduced Western audiences to a new style of fashion that was characterized by bright colors, bold patterns, and a mix of vintage and modern elements. This style influenced the development of Western fashion trends in the 1980s and beyond.
Japanese toys played a significant role in supporting the spread of Japanese entertainment in the West. Toys based on Japanese entertainment franchises, such as anime and manga, helped to create a demand for Japanese entertainment and merchandise, which ultimately helped to increase the popularity of these franchises in the West.
One of the earliest examples of Japanese toys supporting the spread of Japanese entertainment in the West was with the success of the “Godzilla” franchise. The original “Godzilla” movie was released in Japan in 1954, and it quickly became a hit. This success led to the production of a range of “Godzilla” toys, which were sold in Japan and later exported to other countries. These toys helped to increase the popularity of the franchise in the West, leading to the release of English-dubbed versions of the films and the development of a dedicated fanbase.
Similarly, the popularity of Japanese anime in the West was supported by the sale of toys based on these franchises. Companies such as Bandai and Takara produced a range of toys based on popular anime series such as “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Dragon Ball Z”. These toys were sold in Japan and later exported to other countries, helping to create a demand for these franchises in the West. This demand ultimately led to the production and distribution of English-dubbed versions of these anime series, as well as the development of a dedicated fanbase.
In addition to toys based on specific franchises, Japanese toy companies also produced a range of general toys that were popular in the West. Examples of these toys include “Tamagotchi” virtual pets, “Power Rangers” action figures (based on the Japanese “Super Sentai” franchise), and “Transformers” robots (which were originally developed by Takara as the “Diaclone” and “Microman” toy lines). These toys helped to familiarize Western audiences with Japanese toy brands and franchises, paving the way for the success of other Japanese entertainment in the West.
Japanese toys played a significant role in supporting the spread of Japanese entertainment in the West. Toys based on Japanese entertainment franchises helped to create a demand for these franchises in the West, while general toys from Japanese toy companies helped to familiarize Western audiences with Japanese brands and products. When combined with Western based entertainment companies, something new and everlasting was born and reintroduced back into Japan where it is embraced alongside the originating concepts.