On the right is a used copy of Valkyrie Profile for the PS1 I bought at GEO, a popular used video game/CD/movie rental store in Japan. It has a lot to say about Japanese culture. It’s the little things that tell us about a place–as long as you know where to look. Let’s begin.
It’s Valkyrie Profile
I’ll explain why that’s significant. In the west, the market for used PS1 RPGs has even widely distributed titles like Final Fantasy 7 now retailing for upwards of 200 dollars. Copies of a rare game like Valkyrie Profile though, can even go for 400 on Amazon and eBay. The game saw much wider distribution within Japan, which would have brought down its resell price, but I still managed to pick up this copy for about 700 yen (around seven dollars.)
The Japanese certainly value antiques. Antique shops mark street corners throughout Japan, and museums with enough prestige to carry objects of historical significance categorize them by a detailed ranking system. Antiques are treasured, but used is another matter.
With a few exceptions like second-hand clothing, which is going through somewhat of a boom at present, Japanese just don’t like used things. They’re concerned about how their previous owners treated them. Certainly every country has its own haughty crowd that won’t touch anything labeled “used,” but in Japan it goes a little deeper. There is a cultural dislike of things used, which is why I can pick up most any used game, rare of not, for dirt cheap.
It’s In Immaculate Condition
Buy a used game in the states and you’re lucky if it loads, but this disc, with absolutely no blemishes whatsoever, came with an unbent, uncola-stained, unmutilated manual and box. Almost all items in a Japanese second-hand shop will be in pristine condition. No one would buy them if they weren’t, which goes along with concern for how they were treated.
But first of all they have to arrive there that way.
Centuries of kami worship has fostered a healthy respect for things in Japan. Japanese take care of what they have. The belief in kami gave rise to the tsukumogami of folklore, an inanimate object that has sprung to life and cursed its owner after being mistreated. (Though not all are malevolent. I touched on them once.) Certainly no one believes their TV will curse them if they don’t watch it anymore, but the folktale reflects Japanese culture in general. Japanese are taught to take care of their things–so well I’d bet what you buy at the second hand store is better than fresh out of the box. That way you at least know it works, which is more than I can say for a few things I’ve bought.
Old Means Not New
The tsukumogami also play another hand. A dislike of things old goes hand in hand with a preoccupation with things new. Tsukumogami can spring to life after being mistreated, but also after existing for a hundred years. Ancient Japanese where concerned with keeping things around for too long, because their kami nature could emerge and cause trouble. It happened with several animal yokuai (Japanese monsters) as well, like the fox, cat, and tanuki (raccoon dog.) After they lived for a certain amount of time they become supernatural and became a source of mischief. This, and the economic development of Japan, especially during the sixties, led to an emphasis on “newness” in Japanese culture–products, cars, whatever.
Even religious products are temporal. Japanese to go to shrines for hatsumode, the first visit to a Shinto shrine of the new year. It usually happened January 1st, though it depends on when people have off work. During hatsumode (and other shrine visits) the faithful buy charms to bring them good luck or ward off bad. Fortunately for the shrines’ revenue, the charms are not a one time purchase, but have to be replaced every year to maintain their effectiveness. Boxes are even provided to return last year’s charms for proper ritual burning. Product renewal a religious practice.
Shinto’s most important shrine, the Ise Shrine, is rebuilt every twenty years to prevent it from ageing. Many shrines are kept in a constant state of newness, something that can be rather disappointing for tourists who come to see traditional Japan. On my first trip to Mt. Minobu I was faced with a marvel of modern architecture where I expected to find the soul of Japan. Although now that I think about it, maybe I did. Tradition and modernity walk hand in hand in Japan, though sometimes they play nicer than at others.
Japanese Culture From A Used Game
Japanese culture can be found in every item you find here, even a used game. The religious side actually goes much deeper than I went into here–but it’ll have to wait for another post. There are other things waiting to be analyzed that show how better. Stay tuned. There’s more Japanese culture from common things to come.