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Public interest in U.S. fading with Heisei era drawing to an end

  • December 11, 2018
  • , NIKKEI Business Daily , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Yo Tanaka, senior staff writer


December is a time when many people look back on what happened over the past year. So is it for the Nikkei MJ. On Dec. 5, the outlet released its annual sumo-like banzuke ranking of hit products and services for 2018. In the final year of the Heisei period, the crown title of East Yokozuna was awarded to Namie Amuro, a diva of the Heisei era. No one will disagree. Her final concert tour drew a total of 800,000 fans. Her greatest hits album rang up  sales of 2.41 million. According to the Nikkei MJ, her retirement generated an estimated economic impact of over 50 billion yen.


The ranking is not compiled based on the size of economic impact alone but takes into account how something reflected the times as well. I am well aware of this because I was a member of the ranking compilation team in the 1990s when Japan was mired in deflation.  


The top East Maegashira title went to “U.S.A.”, a song by “DA PUMP,” an all-male pop and dance unit led by Issa, who is the group’s main vocalist and hails from Okinawa like Amuro.


Views of  the “U.S.A.” official music video were enormous, exceeding 100 million. The dance performed by the group is cheesy but cool. It garnered a strong following across generations due to its catchy and easy-to-learn moves.


“U.S.A.” beats the drum for the U.S. as the title suggests. But most of the lyrics are described in the past tense in a way to make people look back on an American culture that was once the center of admiration.


When this song became a big hit this summer, there was a corporate announcement that made the news: Kirin Company said it would end the sale of the “Budweiser,” a brand of beer that it has produced under license since 1993, at the end of the year.


The “King of Beers” is the highest-selling beer brand in the world. It was once an icon of a strong America, but its market share in Japan has recently stagnated at around 0.2%. In the 1980s, it was cool to order a glass of “Bud” at the bar, but that brew has lost its cache in Japan.


Harley-Davidson, another icon of America, is also on the decline. According to the Japan Automobile Importers Association, new sales of this American scrambler in the first half of fiscal 2018 fell 8.6% on the year to 4,796. Its market share sank to 42.4%, the lowest point ever since data compilation began.


There’s no doubt that the Japanese public is now less interested in the U.S. The once popular “Trans-America Ultra Quiz” TV show, in which contestants traveled across the American continent for New York by answering given questions, ended 20 years ago.


The song “U.S.A” includes lyrics like this: “It looks like the relationship has changed quite a lot over some decades….We are travelers of the same planet (ship).” This perhaps connotes that people used to long for America but now we’re on the equal footing. The catchiest part of the song is: “C’mon, baby, America,” which literally means “America, come join us.” This might be a sarcastic message to U.S. President Donald Trump, who is growing inward-looking with his “America First” policy. (Abridged)

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