How Coronavirus is (Accidentally) Making Japanese Culture More Accessible Than Ever

How Coronavirus is (Accidentally) Making Japanese Culture More Accessible Than Ever

Coronavirus is dominating the news around the world, as the contagious virus is rapidly spreading to new countries and more people on a daily basis. Measures are being taken in various countries to counteract the spread of the disease, with China having placed multiple cities in lockdown and led to the decision to close Japanese schools until April. Recommendations to postpone large gatherings of people to prevent the spread have also canceled events around the world, including in Japan, where concerts, events like Anime Japan and more have been impacted by the virus. However, what if, in spite of these cancellations, I said to you that the coronavirus has accidentally helped to make Japanese culture more accessible than ever before?

Cancelations Take Their Toll

I have to say, it’s weird to sit here arguing about the positives that arise from the widespread impact a disease like coronavirus can have on people and an industry reeling from cancelations and delays. Just today we learned that the PC Engine Mini console would only fulfill some pre-orders, with later orders being delayed until further notice, while a variety of anime are citing coronavirus as the primary reason for pushing the planned premiere of these shows from their planned Spring launch.

But what if you were a Japanese person who lived outside of Tokyo, where a visit to an event like Anime Japan or a concert such as the Perfume events at Tokyo Dome or WACK concerts in Osaka and Nagoya would be too expensive or difficult a journey to make, or live outside of Japan altogether? In those instances, the internet-focused events being organized in response to these cancelations are a perfect alternative.

Take the WACK event, for example. If you were unable to attend the canceled concerts or any other planned date of the tour, the decision made by WACK to stream the concert online via Nico Nico Douga allowed you to see a concert from the comfort of your own home which you’d never have the chance to see otherwise. On top of that, the tour-exclusive merchandise being sold at the event was made available to purchase for a limited time through their online store, so those who couldn’t attend the event could purchase these exclusive goods.

WACK weren’t the only ones taking to the internet to make up for lost cash and cancelations. As fellow writer Lachlan Johnston stated, groups like BAD HOP and more were impacted, taking to social media and live-streaming to share thoughts on the situation and to interact with fans.

Outside of the music industry, companies that had planned to attend Anime Japan 2020 are now similarly taking to the internet to make up for the event no longer going ahead. As summarised on Crunchyroll by Daryl Harding, the booths for Idolm@ster, TV Tokyo, Nitroplus and more had planned to sell exclusive merchandise which will now be sold on their respective web stores, while various stage shows by CyGames are being turned into web streams.

Coronavirus Forces Japanese Culture to Embrace the Internet

What’s the trend found within all of these announcements? These various companies are connecting with fans by embracing the internet in a way Japanese companies have often been reluctant to do in the past.

It took until 2019 for many Japanese artists to finally embrace the world of streaming music, long after the rest of the world had predominantly moved to services like Apple Music and Spotify for the majority of their music consumption, with YouTube utilization in an artist’s promotion and more similarly lagging.

Suddenly, the reduced ability for people to congregate has forced companies to either embrace the internet or lose money and relevance, which has made these hard-to-access events viewable by anyone around the world. Even if you attend the event itself, Anime Japan stage events are difficult to access, and now anyone who wants to see the events can watch them. Similarly, live streams for various musical artists aren’t geo-locked either, such as the aforementioned WACK event which I happily enjoyed from the comfort of my own home.

Shounen Jump, to counteract the school closures, have made all issues of the magazine released this year available for free until the end of March, and you don’t need to be in Japan to view them, either. Of course, they’re only available in Japanese, but it’s welcome for those who live in Japan or are able to read Japanese, and still makes a number of the most popular manga in the country free for all, including Demon Slayer. This was followed by sister magazine Jump SQ making a year’s worth of issues free for all to access, including the issues with the most recent Death Note one-shot.

Social media’s influence on popular music and viewing trends has been apparent for a few years, yet in spite of that many companies are still reluctant to take the plunge into the internet age for reasons such as a larger difficulty in monetizing the internet and more. Yet there has been a gradual yet undeniable shift of late, something the disruption of coronavirus on Japanese society and culture has helped expedite.

After many people have consumed manga this way, how many will decide to leave their physical print issues behind and purchase magazines weekly in the future? With fewer people venturing out, will streaming make a larger dent into physical music sales than it already has? Only time will tell, but the impact of coronavirus on Japanese culture is noticeable and doesn’t look set to end any time soon.

Shounen Jump ©Shueisha; WACK ©WACK, INC.; PC Engine Mini ©Konami
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