Tuesday 28 September 2021

Yearning for the Real Japan: Showa Nostalgia at Seibu Amusement Park

Copyright ©SEIBU Railway Co.,LTD
They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be - except in Japan, where it's never gone out of fashion! In fact, the Showa retro boom or Showa revival - the Showa Era, named after the reign of Emperor Showa (Hirohito), ran from 1926 to 1989 - has shown no sign of losing steam 40 years on from when it first emerged. As I wrote about in a blog post on the Shitamachi (downtown) Museum in Ueno, the boom/revival started in the early 1980s and is marked by a yearning for a "real" or "authentic" Japan with warm community bonds and people who are "honest, forthright, and reliable" (Buckley, p. 529). It is also characterised by a yearning for a economically strong and thriving Japan: Inamasu notes that the boom is for the most part centred on the period 1955 to 1974 (Showa 30s and 40s) which roughly coincides with the so-called Japanese economic miracle. In other words, the boom focuses on nostalgia for a time of cultural and economic growth, a "hot" (nekki=熱気)period of excitement and fervour, when Japan was on its way to becoming Number One.

Copyright ©SEIBU Railway Co.,LTD
Seibu Amusement Park in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture (right next to Tokyo), is a good illustration of the incredible longetivity the Showa retro boom has enjoyed. Built in 1950, smack in the middle of the Showa period, it underwent a big extension and re-design for the 2021 season, with a grand re-opening on May 19th 2021. The theme? Why the Showa era of course! As well as the world's first Godzilla ride - most of the classic movies were shot during Showa - and a children's area based on the work of the "God of Manga" Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) - you can't get much more Showa than Atom Boy! - the centrepiece is a new "Sunset Hill" Shopping Street (Yūhi no Oka Shōtengai =夕日の丘商店街) bursting with shops, shopkeepers, and street performers lifted straight out of the period. From stall holders playing drums on the pots and pans in the kitchen-ware store and singing banana-sellers, to story-telling with pictures (kami-shibai=紙芝居) and cafes selling cream soda the detail and level of immersion is incredible. There are even police officers chasing a thief! See here for the marketing vision behind the creation of a place where "people can find happiness."

Though the boom has been particularly enjoyed by the so-called baby-boomers who experienced the period first-hand, it is also notable how young people have flocked to this retro chic, as a walk down Sunset Hill Shopping Street shows. Quite why a wistful yearning for a bygone era should be attractive to this generation - aside from its obvious instagramability (instabae=インスタ映え in Japanese) - is a little puzzling. Wallin, in a piece that attempts to answer this question, quotes from a Tokyo tourism industry employee as follows: “Because many Japanese millennials only see hardship in their future, it’s no wonder they look to the past. They see a time that still had a bright and hopeful future.” In these bleak days of never-ending COVID news, it is perhaps no surprise that the simplicity and safety of a world long gone has provided a refuge to both old and young. But it also offers some puzzles and mysteries for the youngsters: how exactly, asked my daughter, do you use a rotary dial telephone?

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