Japan has seen better days. The mounting public debt is over twice the size of the GDP. Everyone is either old or will be soon. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is leaking toxic water into the ocean. And the Olympics thunder over the horizon, waiting to make Tokyo 2020 into a living hell.
So today we're retreating to a simpler time, back when Japan was rich, powerful and tasteless--the 80s, a period marked by unstoppable economic growth, the housing bubble and bikini butts on daytime television. Enjoy these advertisements for a lifestyle that would never fly in the austere social climate of today.
Asahido Camera: "The Story of Mika and Daddy"
"Daddy, buy a camcorder so you can tape me in my gym uniform before graduation!"
Nagoya landmark Asahido Camera was famous for its low prices--they leveraged the high yen to reverse import SLR cameras at a profit--and infamous for its goofy commercials. Locals chuckled at the cheeky slogan, "Our staff are rude but our cameras are cheap," while feminists raged over the commercial "The Story of Mika and Daddy." Of all the things to be offended by, they took up arms at how it suggests that women cozy up to men for material objects. In a shocking decision, the courts agreed and the ad was pulled. More shocking still, nobody was alarmed to see young Mika's butt cheeks hanging out of her gym tights, perhaps because daddy dearest was there to catch them.
The Takefuji Dancers
"Please borrow responsibly."
Takefuji used to be Japan's top consumer moneylender, a fancy term for what boils down to be an incorporated loan shark. Note the emphasis on "used to be"--on October 2011 the firm was convicted of overcharging interest to the tune of 2.5 trillion yen and ordered to split their predatory lending practices into a separate company.
Takefuji couldn't catch a break. The court order hit right as their last scandal had faded from the public consciousness. In 2003 founder and ex-chairman Takei Yasuo was charged with a three year suspended sentence for wiretapping the phones of investigative journalists who caused corporate stock to dip when they exposed the truth about Takei and his cabal of bloodsuckers.
When Takei died of liver failure at age 76 in 2006, Forbes magazine listed him as Japan's richest man with a net worth of $5.4 billion. Maybe that's why he could afford the music of half-Japanese half-Chinese superstar composer Joe Rinoie for his commercials, along with a rotating stable of leggy dancers. The Takefuji Dancers cycled through numerous iterations from their 1990 debut to self-exile following the 2003 scandal. The Takefuji brand attempted to bring them back in 2005, but the commercial was canned when a media review board ruled that girls dancing in leotards failed to persuade viewers on its message to "please borrow responsibly."
Onyokuto Bath Salts
"Snippity snap, oh so smooth, my butt's all silky smooth"
Japan will let anyone on TV so long as they have a schtick. Take Paul Maki for example. This ex-monk's claim to fame is the ability to snap his fingers like your grandpa might play the spoons. The gag was catchy enough to get him in front of the camera during the 60s and iconic enough to dust him off in 1990 to hawk Onyokuto, a gimmicky bath salt that makes your tub crackle like french fries in boiling grease.
The fabulous fannies belong to Baby's, a short-lived idol unit slapped together by their talent agency. Their energetic tracks stand out from the sea of similar acts thanks to producer Tsukimitsu Keisuke, the guy behind Lindberg, a pop rock band unusual at the time for its female singer. Baby's' second and second-to-last single, "Teacher Teacher," holds up today as a certified banger.
"Where did the Bubble Star UFO come from?" "Planet Bubble Star!"
Nothing sums up the carefree opulence of the bubble era like the Bubble Star. It's even got "bubble" in the name! The device emits supersonic waves to create bath bubbles that, according to manufacturer Hara Health Kogyo, "sooth the mind and body." Everyone bought into the idea except for the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law Oversight Board. In 1990 they ruled the device to be a sham, forcing Hara Health Kogyo to pull it off the market and shutter its doors. Japan Inc. soon followed suit.
The following year the stock market stumbled, then tumbled off a financial cliff. Japan spent the next two decades (and counting) trying to climb back up. All the country has to show for the effort is stagnant growth, declining wages and an astronomical rise in consumption tax. When the Bubble Star left Japan for its home planet it took all the fun with it. Oh Bubble Star, how much must we endure before you come back for us?