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  • Envisioning the bubble: creating and consuming lifestyles through magazines in the culture of the Japanese bubble economy (1986-1991)

Kerr, Hui-Ying, 2017, Thesis, Envisioning the bubble: creating and consuming lifestyles through magazines in the culture of the Japanese bubble economy (1986-1991) PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis explores the consumer culture of the Japanese Bubble Economy (1986-1991). Using the four key magazines of Mono, AXIS, Hanako and Brutus as vehicles, it shows how the culture of 1980s-Bubble Japan was expressed and celebrated through its consumption. Using the critical theories of Baudrillard and Bourdieu, it explores the various consequences of this newly liberated consumption, showing how the effects of the Bubble were not just economic, but also social and cultural.
Spanning a period of about 4-5 years, the Bubble Economy was a time of ballooning prosperity in Japan. Following an upward revaluation of the yen and financial liberalisation instigated by the signing of the 1985 Plaza Accord, the late 1980s saw Japan entering a period of market frenzy, as a credit-fuelled boom caused assets to rocket and land speculation become rife. Consumption too boomed, along with a shifting focus from work to lifestyle, and magazines surged as guides to this new glittering life of prosperity and ease.
As lifestyle magazines, the four chosen deal with different areas of the market that reflect the changes happening in and because of the Bubble. Mono describes new, faster patterns of consumer behaviour predicated on the increasingly fast and superficial tastes of its readers. AXIS places itself firmly in the international sphere of design culture, and in doing so reflects the subtle nationalist agendas of industry. Hanako, catering to the new consumer market of young women, uses travel and consumption to distract and compensate for inequalities in their working lives, while Brutus demonstrates a secret dissatisfaction of its male readers at their own restrictions of privilege.
Using critical theory to interrogate the deeper implications of the Bubble, the thesis shows how rather than symbolising the apex of Japanese development and success of its unique system of working and social relations, it merely disguised the cracks that were beginning to form. Moreover, by encouraging the rampant consumer behaviour that was to characterise the Bubble, the government was inadvertently changing attitudes and expectations that would hasten

dissatisfaction with the restrictions of a system that included considerable gender bias and heavily internetworked localised social and corporate relationships.
In the final chapter to the thesis, the more strange and unusual aspects of the Bubble are explored, showing how even as it papered over faults and invited dissatisfaction, it also provided opportunities and space for transformation and self-expression. While many aspects of present-day Japanese culture, such as the trend for kawaii (cute), or hyper-energetic characters, are attributed to the 1990s, this thesis shows how these trends relied on the possibilities inherent in the Bubble Economy to flourish, before gaining enough impetus to travel abroad as mature cultures.
Finally, in the field of Japanese studies, the Bubble period is notable for its relative absence in its social and cultural aspects. This is not to say that it was an inconsequential period, but rather that the difficulties of the decades after its bursting and the extravagance that marked it have made it both less urgent and culturally problematic as a period of study. However, this has meant that it has been denied rigorous study, in favour of the more pressing urgencies of the Lost Decades. Using critical theories to a depth rarely seen in Japanese studies, this thesis aims to rectify this and provide a deeper insight into the Bubble than has been allowed before.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
School or Centre: School of Humanities
Funders: AHRC
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2017 12:01
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2017 12:01
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/2849

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