Amateur Doesn’t Necessarily Mean A Bad Thing In Japan

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What kind of impression do you get when you hear ‘Amateur’? 

Is it something like “one that lacks the skill of a professional“ as described in the dictionary? 

Well, it’s the same in Japanese, but I would say there’s a different nuance behind it.

If you’ve lived here long enough, you may have noticed that you have no idea how some celebrities or activities in Japan have gained popularity.

Entertainment & Amateurism In Japan

One prominent example would be in the entertainment industry, especially in the Japanese music scene, where talent doesn’t necessarily translate into popularity.

Some of the most popular talents are belting tunes at the same calibre as your 14 year old nephew at a Karaoke bar and fans love them for it.

Why? Does this mean all the Japanese people have terrible taste in music?

Well, not quite. They know the quality is less than professional.

Then why? There are a number of reasons, but I would argue the most important factor is closeness. 

Take AKB48 for example. For those that don’t know, they are as famous as Micheal Jackson, and sing as well as Samuel L Jackson — yes, I’m exaggerating a bit.

Sounds strange? Fair enough, let’s move on.

The AKB48’s original slogan was ‘celebrities that you can meet / reachable celebrities’ (会いに行けるアイドル). The management of AKB48 intentionally picked up members that look like girls you saw in your high school classroom, which means they are not outstanding in looks, singing or dancing.

AKB48 – Reference:

As a result, their performance leaves a lot to be desired on a professional level, and more close to a “work in progress” or amateur level.

Yes, you heard me right “work in progress’. This relate-ability works well and ends up enhancing a feeling of closeness to their Japanese fans.

How does it work? 

Since their performance is no where near a professional level, their Japanese fans tend to cheer them on so that the performers can improve – the same way you’d cheer your own friends on.

As the performers get more famous and popular, their fans feel a sense of unity with performers as they helped “grow to become this famous”

High School Baseball & Amateurism In Japan

Another good example would be the popularity of high school baseball in Japan.

Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan and there’s a pro league for it. 

But when it comes to popularity, Japanese love a high school baseball league called ‘Koshien’ (甲子園) over a pro league. There are a lot of people who are not into baseball even watch at Koshien.

High school baseball – Reference:

The level of Japanese high school baseball is high, but not as high as the pro league. Why is it so popular then?

Again, there are numerous reasons for sure, but the most important reason would be their lack of polish, in other words, being an amateur. 

Players make a lot of mistakes, but they make every effort to win. The audiences are moved and inspired by it and want to cheer on high school students like they do to their own kids.

I would say there’s an extra entertainment factor for watching high school level baseball versus the pro league. Fans are more forgiving and feel a sense of empathy towards the players.

Bottom Line

I’ve introduced a few examples, but there is beloved amateurism everywhere in Japan. 

You may be surprised that people often say “I love it because they’re amateurs”. You can tell you’re getting an authentic, unchoreographed version of entertainment that is oftentimes more exciting due to its unpredictable nature.

One last note: if you are in a B2B business and deliver an unfinished product, they will be mad at you as hell, so don’t take my word for everything happening in Japan — it’s case-by-case.

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