Lots of Japanese media report that Japanese culture is hot in France nowadays. I guess it’s true, when considering that over 200,000 people went to Japan Expo this year. On the other hand, it could just be that people who love Japan gathered in one place at the same time. What interests me is- how do most people in France perceive Japanese culture? If Japanese culture is as popular as people say, then I should be able to see elements of this in the cities of France. I decided to test my theory by walking in the streets of Paris, in particular, areas around Nation and Bastilles.

*Hello Kitty is seen almost everywhere

I went to a market near my hotel and saw that Hello Kitty decorated many of the items being sold there. Items such as: balloons, car related items, ice cream packages, stickers.

Next, I checked out the DVD and Blu-ray corner at a local supermarket. There I saw a series of Dragon Ball DVDs lined-up. Considering the reasonable prices and the fact that they appeared in a supermarket, I must say that this anime is considerably popular in Paris.

The showcase of a bookstore lines up “Les Legendaires,” which is comic for boys written by Patrick Sobral, who has been writing it since 2004. I heard that it is a huge hit and it was also made into animation. Looking at the drawings, I see it was hugely influenced by Japanese anime/manga.

I also saw many Japanese restaurants in the area, which makes me agree with the media stating the popularity of Japanese culture in France.

In the Bastille district, Japanese Lolita brand “Baby, The Stars Shine Bright” manages a store. This brand is said to have started a trend in Paris for Lolita fashion. (a quote from Takamasa Sakurai’s Sekai Kawaii Kakumei) The brand was launched in 1998 and is one of the representative brands of Lolita fashion in Japan. Designs from the brand were used as costumes for the movie “Kamikaze Girls”, which led to an increase in its popularity. The store in Paris opened in February 2007 as the first overseas store. A tea ceremony event for 40 people was planned at the time and tickets sold out in just 15 minutes.

The store continues to be popular today and I saw many local people at the store. I also saw that Gothic Lolita events are now being handled by French people too. When I visited, there was a flier about a 2-day fashion event and I wished I had known in advance, because if I had, I definitely would have extended my stay to report the event.

*A street once dedicated to craftsmen of furniture is now filled with Otaku culture

The Bastille district is full of pop culture with toy, figure and book stores. The Japanese culture seeping into this district is slightly different from that of longstanding Little Tokyo in the Opera district. Bastille offers new Japanese cultures, which reflect the changing needs of the local people.

A hot spot in the area is located along rue Keller. I hear that some locals refer to the place as “Otaku Street” or “Manga Street.” In the past, many craftsmen of furniture used to dominate the area. Now, furniture is nowhere to be seen. Instead, manga, DVDs, anime goods, figures, cosplay goods and other otaku related items are available. Each store lines up a variety of items and does not stick to one genre. I saw different types of people walking into the stores, and it seems the area is widely accepted by many, and not just core otaku fans.

I was a bit disappointed to find a considerable number of counterfeits. I even saw items from other countries being labeled as Japanese.

This street goes beyond Otaku, it also introduces punk, metal and gothic styles. The Japanese Lolita brand “Angelic Pretty” has a store here and it attracts many local Lolitas. The store opened in 2010, and since, it has been hosting tea ceremonies and other types of events to bring people together.

If I were to compare Bastille to Japan, I would say that it is a mixture of Harajuku, Akihabara, Nakano and Kichijoji.

*BOOKOFF in Bastille!

I knew of a BOOKOFF store in the Opera district but was surprised to find one in Bastille as well. The interior of the store, layout and the staff working all had the same feel as stores in Japan. When I saw the number of secondhand Japanese mangas in French translations, I saw that the BOOKOFF culture blended well with France. If there is a demand for secondhand, it means that many people are buying brand new ones to start off with. I found it ironic that Japanese mangas were displayed at the center and were larger in variety in comparison to local bande dessinées.

My findings are based on limited data but I did feel the popularity of Japanese culture in France first-hand. I find this promising for Japan and although it is difficult to say that Otaku culture is mainstream in Paris, many opportunities for collaboration between the two cultures exists.

I think that it is important for Japanese people to continue to communicate “real” Japanese culture to France. Many of the things in Paris were imitations of Japanese culture, which is not entirely bad, but I do feel that if Japanese people could bring in their own items, it gives more people the opportunity to see and feel actual items designed by Japanese craftsman. Japanese people need to market their products well and make the most of the popularity of our culture.