Japonism of the 21st Century – Eroge is Culture too! (Part Two)

“Dirty” Cultures Swept Under the Rug

It isn’t only the old things, Japan also tends to reject cultural activities that relate to certain themes. These include creations that have strong political themes or violent scenes, but especially “ero” (the Japanese short for eroticsm) is especially well-known.
Those that are accepted as artistic expression in other places may not be treated in Japan as such, and may even be rejected from art museums and centers of research or preservation. This is in a country where adult magazines are placed on the shelves of convenience stores at every corner. An absolutely baffling situation from the perspective of a Frenchman.
The recent “Shunga” (春画, Ukiyo-e with erotic themes) exhibition is a good example. Shunga is treated as a form of art for its unique expression and is an object of admiration. But in Japan, this form of expression from a century ago is treated more like pornography, a taboo of sorts, rather than a form of art. This makes large-scale exhibitions nearly impossible because of the difficulty of finding sponsors and the fear of complaints. This time, after much difficulty, an exhibition will finally be held in September. At the same time, within the film industry, we have movies like “In the Realm of the Senses”, which haven’t been able to be aired fully in theatres because of their sensitive content.


Shunga Exhibition at Alte Pinakothek in Paris (2014-2015)

“Ero” as Merchandise, “Ero” as Art

Walking around in Shinjuku we can find signboards of brothels and such. At the same time, the shop windows of convenience stores of streets where children often pass by have magazine covers of semi-nude women lined along them. Yet in art museums, cameramen and artists who take their work seriously have their work censored, and movie critics are forced to go to Europe to see certain movies in full. This current situation in a whole is absolutely mind-boggling.
In France, we separate sexual content into merchandise and art, a very clear distinction. Merchandise is kept out of plain sight, but in galleries and similar places, we respect the creators fully to allow for criticism and research. Furthermore, even if something was treated as merchandise, once it has been brought to the realm of art, it will be treated as such from then on, open to admiration and discussion in artistic terms.
We treat this sort of platform as a matter of fact and, of course, sensational works invite their share of criticism. All of that included, this kind of discourse is required for the creation of new works.


One of the Shunga available for viewing at the National Library of France (online digital archive)

Losing Cultural Treasures

Japan hold “common sense” and “order” in high regard, so perhaps art has to be reduced to a position where those can function properly. The preservation of shunga from the Edo period and erotic movies from the 80s have faced resistance because of the taboo on them. Even if we consider other kinds of content, such as products developed as merchandise, or art that has a limited number of audience, or creation that is not recognized as art, the exhibition or research of them is difficult. Game preservation is the ultimate example.
In other countries, games have already been recognized as art and research on the preservation of them has begun. The government and universities of Japan are, slowly but surely, moving towards the same direction, but there is still a strong sentiment that games should not be treated as art. Even Ukiyo-e was originally produced as merchandise. Even some of the works of da Vinci and Bach, whose works are now considered, undeniably, art have some that were ordered, and therefore are merchandise.
If Europeans thought of these as merchandise and not art and discarded them throughout the years, what would be left in our world now? Cultural treasures should not be preserved “after” they are considered a treasure. Japan has lost many of its treasures because of this. It is about time we change this.


The Movie, “Madam Black Rose” (団鬼六 黒薔薇夫人) by Oniroku Dan of Nikkatsu Roman Porno (1978)

Let’s talk about Eroge.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan has announced a consumer game database called the Media Art Database this year. This was a movement to acknowledge games as a part of the culture, along with manga etc., but it excludes information of the eroge of many platforms, including the NES.
I am honestly glad that the country has moved towards accepting games as art but, as with shunga, sexual content being excluded from lists for research and preservation purposes is, I think, wrong. Eroge as a genre is very intriguing as it is unique to Japan and not seen anywhere else in the world. Eroge is different from pornography elsewhere, exhibiting a variety of creative effort, making it display uniquely Japanese characteristics. The eroge of the 80s, especially, did not get introduced overseas because of platform issues. They are so unique and creative that if they were reappraised, I wouldn’t be surprised if an exhibition would be held for it in somewhere in Europe.
Since Japan is exporting anime, manga and other material under “Cool Japan”, they should also do the same for the eroge of the 80s. Instead, they exclude them from their lists and seem to feel a sort of embarrassment of treating eroge as a part of the culture.


The label of the Game “Do Dutch Wives Dream of Electric Eels? ” (1984)

Let’s Act Now, for the Future

Quite often we are told “Don’t tell me you preserve eroge as well” The answer to that is yes we do because we feel that any kind of material may be reviewed in the future and its value rediscovered. More so for material that is ostracized by many other organizations.
I always say that if Japanese games of the 80s degrade and are lost, that would mean they would be erased from history forever. The Japan-made PCs of the 80s only exist in Japan, and the floppy disks from that time are already starting to grow mold and their data are lost. Even if they were made as merchandise, or if they contained erotic content.
These contents are endemic to Japan and are very vulnerable. So Japan should prioritize their protection, shouldn’t they? To entice the world with more Japanese culture, Japan should be cool with preserving and researching erotic content. In that way, Japan can truly be “Cool Japan”. I too love Japan as one of its people, and I will continue to support this country in the field of game preservation so that it can become a cultural power in the world.

Game Preservation Society, Joseph REDON
Translated by Ming TEE

Read part one.

※The copyright of images belongs to their rightful owners.


Japonism of the 21st Century – Eroge is Culture too! (Part One)

The Legend of Zipang

Europeans have had a strong sentiment and respect for Eastern culture since ancient times. We listen enviously to the stories of friends who travel to Japan on vacation. The modesty and sensitivity of the Japanese were a breath of fresh air for boorish Europeans.

The legend of the golden Zipang had been known throughout the western culture since the beginning of the 16th century. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century, when the World Expo was held in Paris, that the popularity of Japan exploded. Famous artists like Manet and Van Gogh were mesmerized by Ukiyo-e, while Debussy and others were taken away by exotic melodies. The traditional arts of Japan, such as Ukiyo-e, Noh, and Kabuki, produced many fans amongst intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even now, in the 21st century, many people are still being inspired by them.


Vincent van Gogh, “Almond Blossom” (1890)

“Grendizer”: a New Japonism?

Now, a shamisen placed in front of a Japanese folding screen might make a pretty picture, but there are new aspects of Japanese culture that haven’t been introduced to France in this age of air travel. Yes, that would be anime.

The movie “Grendizer” aired in theaters around in 1978. This was when I was still a child. For whatever reason, the 3rd in the “Mazinger Z” series, which wasn’t even that popular in Japan, was a big hit in France. Even the tv series got aired almost immediately. And with that, the French dubbed version of “Grendizer” was available in the households all over France. Even I, who was a kindergartener then, got so absorbed in “Grendizer” I shouted out the names of Grendizer’s signature moves so much I had to be taught a lesson by my teacher. And actually, “Grendizer” had developed a cult following in France leading to the sales of the French-dubbed version of the movie theme reaching 1.35 million, one of the JASRAC(Japan’s music copyright group)’s best-selling records. By the way, “Grendizer” is known as “Goldorak” in France.


“Grendizer”, the French movie poster

Showa Era Heroes Enter Europe

The popularity of “Grendizer” did not end there. Since “Grendizer” was popular, other works should have the same popularity. And so one after another, Japan’s anime series were dubbed and aired in France. “Candy Candy”, “Captain Harlock” and a variety of other series were among them. “Harlock” was especially popular enough that the creator, Reiji Matsumoto, became a famous figure in France. In fact, his fame sparked a collaboration with Daft Punk in “Interstellar 5555”. In addition to that, “The Mysterious Cities of Gold”, “Ulysses 31” and others were titles which were made in Japan, by request from France, for France airing.

The exporting of heroes and heroines popular with kids in Japan did not end there. It went so far as to include sentai titles that make you think “There’s no way people outside Japan would like this ! “. And yes, even those were big hits for some reason. “Choudenshi Bioman” still comes up as a topic, “Space Sheriff Gavan” was equally popular, “Message from Space: Galactic Wars” is known as “San Ku Kai” and enjoyed nation-wide popularity.


“The Mysterious Cities of Gold”, French label

The Secret to a Hit is the Gaijin Perspective!

Just like how Manet and Van Gogh’s popularity began in France, so did the popularity of the new Japan craze of Showa era anime and sentai titles. There is one thing I would like to emphasize, that is the majority of “cultural exports” of Japan are actually the result of active and enthusiastic importing by the western cultures. These titles are not titles that the Japanese think would sell overseas. It is we, the “Gaijins”, who just thought they were interesting and decided to bring them over.

Today, Japan is using “Cool Japan” as a slogan to export its culture, but it is us, the consumers, the “Gaijins” who actually have an idea about what will sell. What the Japanese consider as “interesting” about Japan, may not necessarily equal to what foreigners consider as “interesting”. If we look at the lineup of anime hits post-1970, we can see that titles that were popular in Japan (Lupin the Third, or Osamu Tezuka’s works) did not get the same reception in Europe. It is those titles that were unpopular in Japan that somehow gained popularity.

The Japonism from a century ago also originated from pieces of Ukiyo-e, which sparked a craze regardless, even in spite of, the evaluation it received in Japan at the time. History repeats itself.

Parts of Culture to “Keep” or to “Discard”

From Ukiyo-e to anime, things that were not regarded that highly within Japan become objects of high-value as an expression of that which is Japanese upon arriving in Europe. This pattern has been repeated over centuries. Items that are generally discarded as things of no value in Japan which are in turn valued by Europeans and kept as art pieces are not uncommon.

Some Showa era anime series have disappeared from Japanese TV studios, whether it is to free up some space or save film costs, and when they want to republish it as DVDs or rerun it on TV, it seems they often reimport it from Europe. A culture that “Discards” used items and a culture which has a sense of duty in “Keep”ing old items, I feel that this might be the difference between Japan and Western cultures.
Europeans feel that anything that is made and enjoyed by people has to be respected and preserved. When one person recognizes something as art, then there is every reason to preserve it as a piece of art. Even if there is no consensus on the value of a piece of art, the act of preserving it for generations to come is essential. Old films, old paintings, and old buildings are all things that people in Europe have preserved over the centuries. These are now the power of the countries in the form of tourism and culture.

Japan replaces the old with the new, and as long as the majority does not identify the cultural value their creations, there will be no action taken to preserve them, especially the originals. The discarding, without mercy, of items that did not have a chance to be acknowledged, whether on its own or as a cultural symbol, is more common than it should be allowed.

Read part two.

Game Preservation Society, Joseph REDON
Translated by Ming TEE

Sadao YAMANAKA (山中貞雄)

The purpose of our society

The purpose of our organization, the Game Preservation Society, as the name implies, is to preserve video games.  When we talk about this, we are often asked “What games do you choose to preserve? ”

We always have the same answer to that

“All of them.”

Because it is so simple, the people who ask us often look surprised when they hear the answer. I know how they feel.

But that is the only logical answer to the question. If we are talking about Individual artworks such as paintings or any sort of craftwork, we can ask the question, “What do you choose to put into your collection?” And often that is the job of museums and such. But when we talk about what is (generally) a mass produced item, the ideal answer would be “All of them.”

This can be quite counter-intuitive.

We call books, magazines, movies, TV programs, music “media art”, but video games also have the same attributes.

Media art has a shorter history than traditional art but when people started to consider preserving them, it was too already too late and many works that should have been preserved was not preserved.

Let’s look at a few examples:


The mechanisms for practical use of movies were established during 1895-1896. They were initially used to display sceneries. But the development of various techniques made it possible to show fictional stories play out on screen.
But because of its role as entertainment, films that dropped in popularity were discarded without any second thought. It is said that in some cases, the silver used to produce images were recycled, allowing the film itself to also be reused. Their value as a piece of work was temporary.As a result, only 15% (at most) of the early silent films are left today.  It is a similar case in Japan, where less than 10% of Japan-produced silent films are left today.
In the States, because of copyright laws, there was a need for depositing paper copies of movies in the Library of Congress. So, many movies were revived from there. Even then, the majority of movies are lost and never to be seen again.
The critically acclaimed Yasujirou Ozu’s early works and the works of Sadao Yamanaka, who he held in high regard, are mostly lost.
The period in which movies started to be thought of as a subject of preservation may differ between countries, but it is no mistake that they were all after the 1930s. By then, it was too late. Recently, part of “A diary of Chuji’s Travels”(1927) was recovered, but that is a very rare case. One of the reasons is that the material used for recording naturally degrades after a length of time.
Source: “A diary of Chuji’s Travels” (Director: Daisuke ITOU)
Source: “Sword of Penitence” (Director: Yasujiro OZU)

TV programs

So did the TV industry learn from the mistakes of their movie counterpart? Unfortunately no.

Even NHK did not think of preserving their productions until the 1980s. The reason for that, however, is partly financial. The videotapes used then were expensive so TV studios were inclined to reuse them.

Much of the Taiga dramas, which cost a lot to produce, has not survived either. Most of them have the first and last episodes and, rarely, an extra recap episode stored in the archives, but that’s it. On the other hand, because the films of TV dramas and animation that were made with movie equipment couldn’t be reused, or they might have been cheaper, some old ones have survived till today.  For example the drama “Taiyō ni Hoero!”, airing from 1972 to 1986  is still being shown as reruns, as well as having its DVD released.

NHK is also requesting the recorded tapes, of some TV series from the 1970s to 1980s, from the public.  Unfortunately, VHS (the popular medium of the time) players had only been available on the market since 1976. So any TV programs aired before then has very little chance of resurfacing. As an exception, we have the first part of the “Shonen Drama Series” – “Time-Traveller” (1972). Its first episode was found as an open-reel tape which was a form of home-used recording at the time. The other four episodes, however, hasn’t been found. Its sequel suffers a less fortunate fate where none of its episodes have survived.

So, what is wrong with this state of affairs?

Is it simply that we don’t get a second chance to see what was lost again? No, because if people who think that way all pass away then nobody would be left to think of it as a problem.
So, naturally, that is not the issue.
Even without nostalgia, works of art can be of value even if times have changed. We can even find new value in old things. If the works aren’t preserved, that possibility itself is lost.
In cases that they were historically valued, if we cannot view it again today, there is no way to assess that judgment. The only thing that can provide that possibility is the work itself.

“Why haven’t they been preserved?” The answer to that question is multifaceted. It can be explained by economic reasons, but it may also just have been lost in a fire. Although extremely rare, there were cases where the film was deliberately disposed of because the lead actor/actress was involved in some sort of scandal. Other than accidents, the main reason would be that people thought it wouldn’t be needed ever again.
However, it has been shown that the value of a product can rise with some delay.
If the creator, or team of creators, has produced a highly popular piece of work, people will seek out their previous work. In the video game industry, “Metal Gear” is one of those pieces of work. The first in the series was made in 1987, its second in 1990, both for a console called MSX2. It never really got the chance to be in the spotlight until “Metal Gear Solid” was released in 1998. A few years after the success of “Solid”, coinciding with the rise of internet auctions, “Metal Gear” was being traded at fairly high prices.  Today, second-hand copies “Metal Gear” and “Metal Gear 2” are both being sold at prices above their retail price of the time. It is hard to imagine that in 1995, MSX games had close to no value such that nobody bothered to trade-in their second-hand games.

Let’s go back to our topic. Even famous games now might have experienced a period where they were considered worthless before people recognize their value.

What if they had not survived until the time comes? The cruel truth is that absolutely nothing could be done. If they don’t exist anymore, they cannot be evaluated, and are therefore just forgotten eventually.

That is why, to prevent that, we have to preserve ALL of it. The movie and TV industry failed to do so. “Value” may not necessary only mean monetary value, but if we knew for sure that by re-releasing a certain game, it would certainly sell, more often than not what is stopping us is that no copy of it exists anymore.

One more thing I’d like to add is that “All” has one more meaning. That is, “In preservation, we will not discriminate”.

Like I have said before, even if something has no value at the point of its release, that may not be the case somewhere down the road. But that is not all, we also do not wish to spend time discussing the value of things.

For example, We have a game that sold well upon its release, and one that did not. By saying we will preserve one, we are also saying we will not preserve the other. If we say we will not preserve the game that did not sell, then we would need to decide a threshold for that. i.e If it did not sell as many copies as our threshold, we will not preserve it. Which we then have to investigate.

If we make that judgment not by sales but by content, it becomes even harder. Whether we decide to dismiss some because it has “Adult Content” or just plain “Boring”, we would need to discuss the standards for that. And there are no objective standards in this case. So we would need to discuss endlessly. While doing that we would not have time for preservation work. That is why we need to preserve “All of it”, to save time. Our National Diet Library also has the same philosophy. Although some books and magazines haven’t been preserved, it is only because it had not been donated, not because they made a choice not to.

Video games still have a short history, only 40 years. As with movies and TV, there has been a long period in which people think of video games as a form of entertainment that will not last. Furthermore, since the development of tech is very fast, by the first half of the 1990s, most of the works from a generation before had been discarded. In particular, 8-bit PC games are being highly valued recently despite the dirt-cheap prices it was traded at just a few years ago.

For video games, its creators and users are still very much around. Which is unlike movies whose viewers from the early days are no longer around and countless works have no hope to be rediscovered and doomed to be forgotten forever.  Even if they had been highly praised, we would not know its value just from articles of the time. Even if they were made by great directors, we cannot evaluate the work itself. The same goes for TV programs.

We struggle to prevent the same tragedy repeating itself in the video game industry. That is why I answer “All of them” to the question at the beginning.

It may be difficult in reality. It may be that there are already games lost forever. But the lesson here is that we have to strive to preserve “All of them”.

Game Preservation Society, Yoshimasa KUSAKA
Translated by Ming TEE

The National Museum of Modern Art, National Film Center
NPO Film Preservation Society