Why is Nintendo our identity?

At the last of every closing ceremony of the Olympic, it is traditional that the host of next competition provide a performance to give a glimpse of what athletes and views can expect. When the Olympic flag was passed to Tokyo last year, 2016, Japan gave surprising presentation featuring the Prime Minister himself dressed up as Mario. This was considered one of the highlights of the show, as the video was shared and tweeted on SNS across the glove. The world loved it. To use Mario as a representation of the country in a situation where every other country is watching express how Japan define their identity in the world.

Mario is popular character derived from one of the games from Nintendo, a multinational consumer electronics and video game company from Japan. Video games and character from Nintendo are popular worldwide and has been delighting the gamers in many nations since the company came out with its first ever video gaming console “Family Computer”, in 1983. Their reputation as video game company was structured in 1985, when they released the most selling game software in the history “Super Mario Brothers”. This is the year that Mario officially came in to the world. This is quite interesting because this implies that Mario, a character that represent Japan, has only been around for 30 years.

30 years is not sufficient for something to be considered a nation’s tradition. In fact, there is nothing about the product and characters from Nintendo that resembles Japanese culture. Mario, the company’s mascot, is by concept an Italian plumber that lives in New York. His face structure features large nose and big curly mustache that depicts his Italian nationality. Other characters in the game, Peach, Luigi, Wario, are all foreign as well. When you look at other notable games from Nintendo, for instance “Legend of Zelda”, “Meteoroid”, “Pacman”, or “Fire Emblem”, none of the game features a single Japanese character. Even their design is closer to American cartoon than of Japanese manga. Mario’s color is Red, White, and Blue, which is the color code of many major Western flags, clearly including America. Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer who created Mario, spoke in interview in 2013 by Times for kids, about influence of Japanese culture that had on him. Contracting to our guess his reply was, “I don’t think of myself as being very Japanese. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always liked America and American culture “. It is evident that the characters draw heavily on western influence.

How is it that the Italian plumber who resides in New York became a representation for Japan? To further observe this situation, it is important to understand what identity is and how it is formed. An identity is what differentiates us from one another. To form an identity a presence of the other, in this case nations, are needed since identity is formed as a contrast to the other. In order words, identity is not defined from within a single entity. Therefore, we need to understand Japan in the perspective of other nations, to have a clear view on Japanese identity.

The world we live in operates on capitalism. In this system, the growing need to accumulate more capital for the aim to gain more capital is enormous. To keep up with the desire, the market is growing on a global scale. Everything around us is not produced from a single country, they are manufactured by complicated global network of supply chain. Even though, the location of where it was produced is often kept in a black box, where the product as a concept came from is valued because it directly influences its brand. Brand is the driving force of consumers to buy the product. Consumers value system is imprinted both intentionally and unintentionally from these products as they are commercialized on the media. People conceives countries from the product and how it is marketed. Reason that characters from Nintendo came to represent Japan is because it is selling globally. Nintendo has had a huge commercial success worldwide over the last decade. Many consumers came to acknowledge Japan through the products of Nintendo.

It is important to emphasize again that Japan was not the one who labeled themselves as hometown of Mario. Instead it was other nations who recognized Japan that way. And Japan reinforced that given identity, accepted it and furthermore used it for their own advantage. Japan has redefined its identity to thrive in the world of capitalism. Though Nintendo has nothing to do with traditional Japanese culture, Nintendo is an effective brand for Japan. Nintendo being Japanese identity is accepted at least for now, but whether it will stay this way for next decades will be another question. It has only taken around 30 years for Nintendo to come this far. There is always a possibility of Nintendo losing its customers or danger of new gaming venture disrupting the market and if that happens, Japan would no longer have the interest to keep Nintendo as their representation. That is how easily identity are formed and lost in the world of capitalism.

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