2013: Zombies are it. With record breaking shows like The Walking Dead, constant new movies and remakes, spinoff events like survival camps, zombie runs, and zombie cosplay events, zombies are reaching the peak of popularity. Simply put: It’s good to be a zombie.
Unless you are in Japan.
Zombies are not a big deal. Maybe a minor deal. They fall on the bottom rungs of the horror ladder, if they even manage to cling on at all.
Yeah, I’m sure a few Japanese zombie examples are flowing through your mind. Resident Evil? House of the dead? High School Of The Dead? I Am Hero? And a slightly mild barrage of crappy B movies? Zombies are out there. I don’t deny that. But they are not making any big (zombie) waves in entertainment.
As a zombie fan, I needed an answer as to why. Unfortunately, there isn’t much Japan-zombie related research out there just yet, so I have to come up with my own conclusions using my own zombie expertise, conversations with Japanese friends, and repeated views of The Walking Dead dubbed into Japanese.
1. Burying the dead is quite uncommon in Japan
While most major recent zombie movies are based on the “virus outbreak” concept of zombie spread, the original movies were undead, rising from their graves.
Japan’s graves are mostly just monuments with nothing in them. Most Japanese are turned to ashes. So the concept of people rising from their graves has no fear.
2. Respect for the dead
While I’m sure all countries respect their dead, Japan goes above and beyond. Most people visit the grave sites of their deceased yearly, if not more. Families actually upkeep the gravestones, leave flowers and other gifts.
Many also have an alter dedicated to a deceased relative in their house. There is even an entire national week long holiday dedicated to the spirits of ones ancestors.
Turning a graveyard into a scary place just doesn’t work out. Though I’m sure I could think of a tasteless zombie movie “Obon Week Of The Dead.”
3. Guns, Guns, Guns
Regardless of your view on guns in real society, the consensus on zombie society is simple:
Guns are good.
More guns are better.
So there is a large fantasy of being able to wield guns freely, use them, with no guilt, and be a hero for being a good shot and killing evil things.
Japan doesn’t like guns. They are far outside the grasp of any normal person. A real gun has either the image of war, or an unruly yakuza member.
If an outbreak occurred, there would be no guns, which is the central weapon of 99% of zombie movies.
Guns? Who needs guns when you have katanas? Yeah… Katanas are way less common than foreigners think, are hard to get, and are illegal to carry.
4. Ghosts reign supreme
Most Japanese horror revolves around ghosts. Why? A large amount of Japanese people (especially women) believe in ghosts’ existence.
When people die, they become ghosts, not zombies. If they were to become zombies, what would happen to the ghosts?
5. Not enough dissatisfaction with society
A major reason why zombie movies are often thought to be popular is the idea of a society reset. People that have a lot of quarrels with the government, hate where things are going, feel trapped, or are dissatisfied with their own life see a zombie apocalypse as an escape. A chance for everyone to start on even grounds and get a life redo.
Now it is true that many Japanese are also not exactly satisfied with their government or their lives, and many people are not happy. But they are less likely to fantasize about change, and more likely to accept that this is the way it is.
Will zombies popularity ever rise in Japan?
I hope so. I would love to see a decent zombie movie that takes place in Japan with Japanese people.
Can you think of any other reasons why zombies aren’t popular in Japan? Or can you point to any Japanese movies, manga, or shows where zombies are done quite well?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.