10 Reasons Japan Is Still Stuck In the 80’s

By Donald Ash | Japan Weird

Many a foreigner will confess that Japan can be a super easy place to live. For those who have been here for maybe two years or longer, you may start to experience that cycle. You told your family and friends that Japan was temporary, that you’d just be here for a year.

One year becomes two, two years become three, three becomes five. Five years become ten years, a wife, kids, and the desire to stay in Japan for the rest of your life. If you’re not careful, Japan can become this mellow, Urashimataro-ish time-warp where the years pass you by in a flash.

Aside from being a time warp for foreigners, Japan is a time warp in another way. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s an island nation or what, but certain aspects of the culture make me think Japan has some 80’s trends in a vice grip.

If you’ll step this way please. “Stand on the green platform, and please crouch down for 3.5 seconds. Please keep hands and feet inside the pipe at all times. Thank you for choosing Super Mario Pipelines Today.”

1. Big Hair

Big 80's hair at it's finest.  Go to Kabukicho and you may be able to find hair that's eerily similar.

Big 80’s hair at it’s finest. Go to Kabukicho and you may be able to find hair that’s eerily similar.

White Snake, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith. What do all these bands have in common? Droves of hot female groupies? Yep. Drug binges? Yep. Rock-n’-roll icons? Yep. Big Ass Hair? ABSOLUTELY!

It wasn’t just rock stars that had big hair back in the 80s, a bunch of people did. The 80s was just that “Go big or don’t go” era. It was the era of hair gel, hair spray, bangs and hairdos that were larger than life.

The closer your hairstyle was to making you look like a cockatoo the better. Of course I’m come from a slightly different camp because I think it was flattops and jerry curls back in those days. Hairspray wasn’t required for flattops, but for jerry curls, the more activator you had in your hair, the juicier it was, the better (think Michael Jackson’s Thriller hairstyle).

What on earth were we thinking in the 80’s? God only knows, but I’m glad some trends died a hard death. But not here they didn’t.

Here in Japan, big hair hasn’t gone anywhere! It’s so common! If you don’t believe me all you need to do is to go for a walk in Kabukicho, central Tokyo’s red light district. If you see hosts clubs nearby, you’ll easily be able to spot guys who look like the stepped straight of a Motley Crue tour bus. Their hair is more done up than most ladies I’ve seen here in Japan. Their hair is so big, Super Saiyan Goku would be insanely jealous. Big hair is still big here.

2. Smoking & Nonsmoking Areas

Smoking and non-smoking areas of restaurants, etc. still exist in Japan.  The taxes on tobacco are still quite low, too.  Because it's cheap like it was back in the 80's (or earlier) people who have 'quit' find themselves back at it here in Japan.

Does anybody remember smoking and non-smoking sections in U.S. restaurants and other establishments? Well I do. Not being a smoker, though, I can’t say I was upset when all of the smoking area began to disappear from restaurants and shops across the nation (I was secretly giddy inside).

Tobacco is HUGE in Japan, and quite cheap from what I understand. Malls have enclosed smoking areas, along with most cafes and Japanese-based restaurant chains.

Here in Japan, it’s almost like no one ever informed people that smoking was bad for your health. I find it so weird that tobacco giant Phillip Morris was doing things in the U.S. to try to clean up it’s image in the U.S. market (post lawsuits no doubt).

But here in Japan, a far less litigious society, Phillip Morris is still selling cigarettes out like nothing ever those U.S. lawsuits never happened, like it was still in its tobacco glory days, like it was still the 80s.

3. MC Hammer Pants

Hammer Pants in Japan

Believe it or not people still wear these parachute pants in Japan.

Somebody might try to call me out on this one and say, “Donald, you’re slippin.’ MC Hammer was the 90’s.”

Yes, you would be quite right. MC Hammer’s chart-topping hits like U “Too Legit To Quit,” and “The Adam’s Family” were all released in the 90’s. BUT, the single “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” was released in 1989, so I’m still sort of safe.

I have seen with my own two eyes, young Japanese people rockin’ colorful, MC Hammer Pants and it’s totally okay here! I’m not kidding. Bonafide parachute pants, folks.

I want any American under the sound of my voice to try going out with your friends this weekend, in the U.S., with some Hammer Pants on, when it’s not Halloween. I’d pay money to see the reaction you get.

Please tell me that someone else has seen these. I can’t help but smile every time I see them. I always have to rub my eyes and do a double take when I do.

You know what’ll make me really happy, though? If I see a Japanese person doing the typewriter dance with those pants on! I will be the first one with my smart phone out.

“You can’t touch this!”

4. Compact Discs

In a world where digital files are the standard way of distributing, listening to, and stealing music (let’s be honest, people), I surely thought CDs were dead. But not on the island of Japan.

Yes, There are thousands of people who have iphones and smart phones, but people there are people who STILL buy and listen to CDs. You don’t believe me? Here’s my (only slightly outdated) proof.

Early in 2012, AKB48 released the album So Long. I remember seeing the whole debacle about AKB member Minegishi Minami shaving her head and giving a tearful apology for “tarnishing” the AKB image by having a secret boyfriend.

I felt a bit sorry for her until I saw a line of fans snaked around a Tokyo Tower Records on the AKB48 album release date. Why were people lined up? These people were lined up to buy the AKB48 CD! Yes, the CD!

Then it kind of made me think. Was the whole shaved head thing some kind of ploy? It did happen awfully close to the album release date.

But it worked! People bought the CDs and continue to even now.

I can still find the CD-style walkman in electronics stores, CDs at movie/music rental shops. The compact disc isn’t quite dead yet in Japan.

5. Pay Phones & Calling Cards

Japan still has these things, and yes people still actually use them!

I was on my way home, literally last week (late July 2014) and I saw an elderly woman on a pay phone just talking her sweet little heart out.

You might be thinking “Well, Donald she’s an elderly woman, that’s why she was using a pay phone.” But about a month and a half ago, on my way to work I saw a younger guy, early 20’s in a having an argument on a train station pay phone. He was so loud that everyone gave him the Japanese “quick glance, sidestep and feigned ignorance” as they walked past.

Heck, you can still go to your local convenience store and buy calling cards. Pay phone calling cards! It may sound like a joke, but I’m serious.

You can still find pay phones here, still buy calling cards, and yes people still do use these things in Japan!

6. No Cocaine Epidemic?

Yes, Japan has homeless people, too. But the weird thing is, I have never one had one come up to me to ask for anything. I have bought a few meals for some homeless people here and never once have I gotten the impression that someone was on something. Being from Atlanta, GA you can gauge pretty well when someone may be under the influence of some substance (i.e.-crack) if they approach you.

Undoubtedly somebody in Japan has to be doing cocaine, they just have to be. But it never reached the epidemic levels that it did (in the U.S.) in the 80’s.

My guess is people who do it here might be Japanese celebrities who may have fallen off the radar a bit. They do drugs end up getting caught, and do the whole tearful, extremely long, apologetic bow bit in front hundreds of flashing Japanese press cameras bulbs. Or maybe it’s a foreigner who doesn’t know how big of a smack down Japanese legal system comes down on users and sellers.

But I’ve never had a Japanese crackhead (sorry I can’t think of a better word) walk up to me making requests…never!

The next time a Japanese version of Tyrone Biggum (still love the Chapelle Show to this day) walks up to you, please email me immediately and I will cross this one right off the list.

7. Woman and Colored Tights

Think Jane Fonda, Denise Austin and any of those other female fitness gurus that used to wear those colored tights in their 80’s aerobics videos. Tights and aerobics went together like miso and water. Before long, colored tights became a big part of female fashion.

Here in Japan, colored leggins or colored tights are still in style. A butt-load of Japanese women wear them! And I’m not talking stockings, either, I mean tights!

This is one of the ones I won’t laugh at or complain about, because tights look great on Japanese women (any woman in my humble opinion), especially ones with really nice legs!

8. Arcades & Old Video Games Still Exist!!

Ms. PacmanThis is one that I will not knock even for a second! This is one of my greatest memories in the mid to late 80’s, the arcade was the place to be! This was back when consoles weren’t as advanced and you still had a reason to go.

The arcade was where you would go for male bonding sessions as a kid, to chill out, to have good time, or even get one of your first kisses next to a Pac-Man machine (where are you —–ny? I’m still single! LOL)

Oh man, such wonderful memories: the original Street Fighter with those gigantic punch pads, Rygar, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac Man, Double Dragon, Galaga, Kung Fu, Q-bert, Gauntlet, Golden Axe, Street Smart, Narc…WHOO! I think having hot flashes.

Arcades don’t have the same oomph they used to in the U.S.. Home gaming systems are so amazing that they don’t really have to anymore. But in Japan arcades are still around.

I went into one a few weeks back and I was just browsing, watching a few people play the latest installment of the Street Fighter Series. But something made me go upstairs and when I did, I saw the floor of long lost gaming machines. Game from the 80’s and 90’s still around, still being played, I absolutely couldn’t. I broke out my wallet pulled out some hundred-yen coins a for a short while I was transported to 80’s arcade heaven. Sigh.

It’s not just arcade games, though. Second hand shops still have old gaming consoles like the Famicom (NES), Super Famicom (SNES), Sega Megadrive (we called it the Sega Genesis) along with a huge selection of games that you may have never even seen because they were only released here in Japan.

9. Japan Loves Ballads

Maybe it’s just me but has anyone else noticed just how big ballads are in Japan? Remember those 80’s ballads that seemed so amazing back in the day but feel just a hair cheesy today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an 80’s kid all day so I love a good ballad (yes, even the cheesy ones are classic to me). But back in the 80’s ballads ran rampant in the U.S.

Don’t know what a ballad is? It’s usually a song that narrates a story, but they have a similar sound and feel. Think George Michael’s Carless Whisper, Or Mister Mister’s Broken Wings, Holding Back the Years by Simply Red, or nearly every Phil Collins Song ever written.

In Japan they STILL run rampant and they are still beloved. I think the Japanese ballad is one of the pillars of the Japanese music scene.

10. The Boy Band/Girl Band Craze

The boy band thing hasn’t been new for decades, but from the mid 80’s into the late 90’s these bands were everywhere. There was New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Menudo, Boys to Men (90’s), Backstreet Boys (90’s), and so many more.

Or how about the girl bands like Bananarama, The Bangles, EnVogue (90’s), the Go-Go’s, or Destiny’s Child (90’s)?

Fans went crazy for these bands, but the slightly stale, music model began to die off a bit in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.

But again, something that’s stale in the U.S. doesn’t mean it’s stale here in Japan. There are boy bands and girl bands all over the place. Too many new acts for me to name as a matter of fact. You have your AKB48, NMB48, SKE48, Parfume (girl bands) or there is (was) SMAP, Arashi, Johnny’s West (new group) and a heap of others.

The funny thing is, I don’t know if the model will really die here in Japan. Only time will tell. But for now, it’s still going strong.

If you don’t believe that ballads are still big here, try this…even if your singing sucks. Try singing Aerosmith’s “I don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” (not 80’s but DEFINITELY a power ballad at its finest) at karaoke with any woman over the age of maybe 26 and see the response you get (feel free to report back).

Any Others You Wanna Share?

Any other ways you think Japan is still trapped in the 80’s? Seen any of the stuff on this list? I want to hear about it!
The comment section is all yours! Pics, vids, comments…it’s all good!


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • CK says:

    Donald, you missed one of the biggest ones! Hand/leg warmers. They are huge here and I even admit to caving with the legwarmers. My kids have them in a billion colors.

    • thejapanguy says:

      Oh Snap! You’re right! That’s a big one, CK. That’s why I’m glad I have a comments section. Nice catch 😉

      • David Joiny says:

        Do you use Englipedia? Check out the shoutbox! You never met such a bunch of nerdy fuckwits in your life.

        Laugh out loud funny.

  • tvz says:

    I dunno, 3 and 7 are pretty trendy outside of Japan too. I think it was maybe a year ago that the MC hammer “poo-catcher pants” was popular amongst the ladies. Evidence: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/harem-scare-em-or-wear-em-perils-of-the-poocatcher-pants-20090820-erjb.html :-D!

    • thejapanguy says:

      That’s great!! Long live the 80’s! I must say though, tvz I’ve never heard them called “poo-catcher pants” before. Umm, that’s pretty funny stuff. I may have to borrow that phrase the next time I see someone wearing them. Or maybe I’ll start doing number 3 and 7. I think I could rock some “poo catchers” or some colored tights (provided I do a few more squats in the gym) if I really wanted to 🙂

  • Charlotte says:

    When I was on JET, the computers in the teachers’ lounge were definitely from the 80’s!

    • thejapanguy says:

      Bwahahaha! Good one Charlotte. If the computers were from the 80’s then they should definitely be on this list.

  • Muhammad Armie says:

    if i want to buy car parts and bring to japan post, can i wrap it and send it home. i want to go to upgarage this october

    • thejapanguy says:

      Hi Muhammad, I’ve never tried sending car parts home. I know there’s a list of things that you can’t send. I guess what I would do is take them to the Japan post and show them what you want to send (or show them a clear picture if the parts are too heavy to carry around). The worst that can happen is that they tell you they can’t. Hope that helps a bit.

  • SumoFit says:

    Mea culpa! I still buy CDs and wear something similar to Hammer pants for dance and around the house (I always get compliments on them, too — the pants, not the CDs).

    No one, but NO ONE can touch The Hammer!!! Break it down: Buuuhhh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh…

  • Claire says:

    I went to Japan as part of a school trip/sister city program this summer, and when my group went into a language lab at one of the high schools we visited to prepare for a presentation, we started snickering at the cassette players built-in the desks.

  • tokyofive says:

    That’s an old picture of Mötley Crüe. They’re coming to Japan next February, by the way. I’ve already got my tickets!

    (Please visit my blog: http://tokyo5.wordpress.com )

  • Claire says:

    I have to say, you’re wrong about the colored leggings/tights simply because they’ve practically replaced pants for young women in America now. That fashion trend is a lot bigger than japan…

  • WhiteGuyInJapan says:

    I just heard the muzak version of Bon Jovi at my local train station!

  • Cyndi says:

    In regards to 10, Japan is in an idol boom right now. Johnny’s has always been selling well, but female idols have just made a come back. They were popular in the 80s (Okada Yukiko, Nyanko Club – produced by the same guy who does the O48 groups) and 90s (Morning Musume, Speed), and lost momentum in the early 2000s becoming something only male wota liked… Until AKB48 and then Momoclo showed up. Now all the idols are experiencing a boom, since teenage girls are into them again. (Personally, I’m excited about this. I’m a huge Hello! Project fan. Morning Musume 4ever~)

  • Isaby13 says:

    So what you’re saying……is that I have finally found my place in the world!!!! Woohooo! Finally, a place where my extremely curly hair isn’t as weird! I could definitely live there, with the love ballads and all that other jazz. Thanks for this bit of info, it is really helpful!~!!!

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