In recent years, Japan has aggressively moved to address its aging and dwindling population, going as far as subsidizing marriage, childbirth and education.
Unfortunately, it’s only been bad news: numbers fell 800,000
in 2022, the largest drop and the first time all 47 prefectures saw a decline since monitoring began 1968.
Experts blame different factors for the progressive decline. But one common reason is a lack of interest in dating, which some attribute to a preference of spending more time — sometimes copious amounts of it — on idols.
This lifestyle has a name, and it is “oshikatsu.” The term is not exactly new, but it has gained popularity as Japan, along with most of the world, retreated indoors in response to the pandemic.
“Oshikatsu” is a portmanteau of “oshi” (“推し”), which loosely translates to “someone or something one supports,” and “katsu” (“活”), which means “activity.” Hence, “oshikatsu” is used to refer to the act of supporting someone or something one particularly likes.
Oshis are typically entertainers such as actors, idols and YouTubers. But they can also be manga, anime and other works of fiction, and/or characters within these art forms. Animals, food and trains can also be oshis. Literally anyone or anything can be an oshi as long as one finds the feeling of wanting to support them.
A reliable threshold in identifying someone who has dived into oshikatsu is witnessing them actively and repeatedly engage in affairs related to their oshi/s. However, it is also important to note that there is no specific standard, and sometimes, all it takes is for one to admit their next-level reverence themself.
“I can’t go back to life without it,” Yukiko Fukuda, 49, told the Chugoku Shimbun of K-pop powerhouse BTS. She has surfed related websites, bought merchandise and even held a birthday party for one of the members, with a specially prepared macaron and herself in attendance.
Still, there is no limit in declaring one’s admiration for an oshi. But while this is an inclusive message, it could also lead to trouble.
After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, manga artist Sachiko Takeuchi, 39, devoted weeks to watching performances of “2.5-dimensional” actors and buying gifts for them. The lifestyle negative and seriously affected her health and finances, according to the Chugoku Shimbun.
Computer over humans
There is no known direct correlation between oshikatsu and Japan’s lagging population. But there is good reason to believe that a thin line exists between one’s devotion to idols and one’s rejection of life’s realities.
As early as 2013, some young Japanese men have decided to choose virtual over human girlfriends. At the time, they referred to themselves as “otaku,” fans of anime and manga.
“As long as I have time, I’ll continue the relationship forever,” Yuge, then 39, told the BBC
of his virtual girlfriend Ne-ne. The character came from a Nintendo game called “Love Plus.”
Yuge, who was aged 17 in the game, said he would still like to meet a real woman, but he was not keen about marriage:
“At high school you can have relationships without having to think about marriage. With real girlfriends you have to consider marriage. So I think twice about going out with a 3D woman.”
The big picture
Today, oshikatsu in Japan has become an economic force, with companies offering a diverse range of fan merchandise. “My faves looking at me give a boost to my life and feelings,” a 27-year-old employee in Tokyo told The Japan News
The market looks to be huge. A 2022 survey of over 17,000 people conducted
by JR East Marketing & Communications found that 57.4% of males and females between 15 to 49 had an oshi.
Whether Japan succeeds in boosting its population remains to be seen. It would be logical to presume that as long as people stay interested in seeing others, the “demographic time bomb”
experts have been warning about may still be deactivated.
And as with many — if not most — things in life, moderation is key to a sustainable oshikatsu lifestyle. Ninoude Punico, an “oshikatsu expert” at SoraNews24
, reportedly experienced “oshikatsu burnout” herself after trying to keep up with an oshi for a very long time.
Punico decided to take a break from the lifestyle. Afterward, she returned with a commitment to take things at her own pace.
She also stressed the importance of acknowledging the imperfections of oshis. “We shouldn’t act like an overbearing mother who blindly loves everything about our oshi and refuses to see any flaws,” she said.