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Western Gaming: “Why Japan?”


(from Naisu na Mori aka “Funky Forest”, which is equal parts excruciatingly boring and excruciatingly “WTF???”)

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Hey all, sorry about the wait for a full “up to speed” site. I’m taking some pics to use as a banner replacement instead of these (rather beautiful but not to do with anything) nature scenes.

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In the interim, how about a quick discussion on Japan in our Western gaming?

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So, I run this other RPG discussion website over here. There’s been a few threads on Japan, Japanese-themed games and the like that I go back and re-read from time to time. Here are a few interesting ones, just wanted to point them out. I might go back and revisit them, and develop the “essay” further here at some point.

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It all started with a kind of crazy story about selling games at GenCon. Anna K, who runs the awesome blog on SexismFail in the (mostly console) gaming world called “Go Make Me a Sandwich“, had a weird moment where some guy with… kinda weird issues… shot down the pitch for every game because “Nope, Japan” (“…and my wife doesn’t like Japanese-themed games”). Supers, historical, whatever, somehow everything was Japanese and thus haraam. Funny and cute story. Almost kinda turned into a meme, but it kinda works better as just an example of some of the weirdness you run into at cons.

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But it got me thinking, why are there so many games that focus on Japan (say over other asian cultures)?

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I started this thread long ago, called “So much Japan in RPGs, why?“, where I looked into, talked about, asked questions about etc the whole “why does Japan feature so prominently in our RPGs?” thing.

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I followed that up a few months later after some discussions on Japanese-themed settings, “…why Japan?” That is, why is Japan so interesting as a gaming setting? What is it about Japan that grabs our little otaku hearts, be it historical or contemporary?

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So if you ever do some thinking on using Japan in your RPGs, and wondered why you were drawn to it, check out those above threads (no need to log into the site or generate accounts if you’re not interested, you can read them without being a member). You might pick up some ideas!

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How about you?

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* What do you find so interesting about Japan as a setting for your game? (be it historical, contemporary, or faux ala “Legend of the Five Rings”)

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* Any cool anecdotes about running or playing a game set in some Japanese or heavily asian-themed setting worth sharing?

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Let us know in the comments section! We’ll follow up in future posts!

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  1. I think that Japan is fascinating to Americans as a whole due to the American occupation of Japan after World War Two. American service men were regularly exposed to bots and pieces of Japanese culture, which they brought home to America is some distorted form. This lead to the Ninja / Samurai / Kung Fu craze, manga and anime fan clubs, etc… Japan was extremely exotic, but much better “known” than equally exotic countries and cultures.

    • I thought about this over a couple of days, and yes, I think it’s just that Americans, for whatever reason, just have more exposure to Japanese culture than other cultures, especially in the 80s and 90s. (I’m writing this as an American, so I can’t speak for other Western cultures.) Cheap tv shows and schlocky B-movies were probably an easy buy for producers looking for stuff to sell to kids, and it stuck.

      I’ve got a setting in an alternate history Japan (I’ll save everyone the trouble of listening to me go on about it) and what I enjoy most about it personally was seeing what happens to history after a few changes have occurred. A lot of my game is sort of the Bakumatsu-era blown up–the new meeting the old and it’s like water meeting hot oil. That was always my favorite part of history and so it makes for easy and interesting gaming.

  2. I am half Japanese, an RPG gamer, and a professional cartographer which led me to develop Kaidan: a Japanese Ghost Story setting from Rite Publishing (PFRPG). I have 10 products released so far, and currently running a Kaidan Campaign Setting Kickstarter (currently at 95%).

    Kaidan is fictional, though it is a set of islands much like Japan. Other Asian settings do a ‘handwave’ to Shinto and Buddhism – Kaidan is done with a deeper understanding of those religions and how they can integrate well into a horror setting. In many ways Kaidan is something like a cross between Oriental Adventures and Ravenloft with an emphasis towards folkloric authenticity – based on my lifetime of research into my heritage and legends of Japan.

    Also unlike other Asian settings, other Asian cultures aren’t shoehorned in – it is solely based on Japanese sources. The setting sits roughly on a comparitive timeline to Japan from 1185 to before the Sengoku Era. Many Japan based settings are set in the Tokugawa Era (1600+) – Kaidan appreciates the older and darker legends.

    There many errors in previous editions of Oriental Adventures, and I have a nit-pick or two that needed correcting – all of that is in Kaidan. Check it out!

    • Hey Mike. Good luck!

      I’m actually prepping a kickstarter for a Japanese tabletop RPG (Tenra Bansho) that’s coming out in a week or so! It’s rich with authenticity because it was conceived and written in Japan. Please check it out!

      • I’ll definitely take a look, Sutra.

        My setting is based on the stories of Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yagumo) and many other kaidan stories. In fact much of the imperial house and ‘cursed’ conditions of the island nation is based on Hearn’s first tale in his Kwaidan book, Mimi Nashi Hoichi. The emperor is Antoku, and the Daijo Daijin and Shogun is Taira no Kiyomori – the losers of the Genpei War.

        There is also a cursed reincarnation mechanic based on the Buddhist Wheel of Life, and the social castes of Japan are represented by the various ‘hells’ of the great wheel: Heaven = noble caste, Asuras = samurai caste, Human = commoner caste, Animal = ‘yokai’ caste, Hungry Ghost = Hinen caste, and Hell = Jigoku. When a character dies, based on an acquired karma score, he is reborn into the same or different caste based on his karma + reincarnation roll.

        It’s intended to be a very dark, Japanese horror setting. So mine is both creative and largely based on authentic Japanese folklore and legend.

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