The phrase Big in Japan was coined in the 1970s to describe musicians who experienced far more success in Japan than in their home countries.
Today it's also used to describe any foreign pop culture that enjoys unusual success in Japan.
1. Cheap TrickCheap Trick is an American rock band that enjoyed monumental success in Japan. None of Cheap Trick's first 3 albums charted in the US — but they went gold in Japan.
When Cheap Trick first toured Japan in 1978, the country went wild. It was widely compared to Beatlemania.
2. DisneylandTokyo Disneyland is the 3rd most visited theme park in the world. It has never caused the friction with the locals that Disneyland Paris caused in Europe.
When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, a journalist with the French newspaper Le Figaro wrote, “I wish with all my heart that the rebels would set fire to Disneyland (Paris)".
In France, there was also controversy over Disney's dress code that listed regulations for the use of makeup, jewelery, facial hair and tattoos. French labor unions protested the code as "an attack on individual liberty.”
The Japanese have a habit of embracing foreign influences — somehow turning them completely Japanese in the process.
3. Louis VuittonSurveys indicate that 92% of Japanese women own at least one Louis Vuitton handbag. The Japanese have great respect for French culture.
Louis Vuitton has a reputation for quality that sells in Japan.
4. Twin PeaksTwin Peaks was a American TV show directed by David Lynch that had two seasons in the early 1990s.
It's widely considered the strangest show ever to appear on prime time American television. Twin Peaks failed to draw American viewers.
Critics liked the show — and so did Japan. Video stores all over Japan ordered multiple copies of the series to keep up with demand. Japanese tour groups flocked to Snoqualmie Washington to see the show's locations.
The series spawned a film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. It was an American box office disaster. In Japan, it was a big hit.
5. Anne of Green GablesJapan is wild for the bestselling Canadian novel Anne of Green Gables. It has been part of Japan's standard school curriculum since the early 1950s.
The Canadian television series Road to Avonlea (1990 ~ 1996) based on the characters from the book was also big in Japan. Many Japanese tourists make the long journey to Prince Edward Island to see the Green Gables farmhouse every summer.
6. Bob SappBob Sapp was a professional American football player who enjoyed modest success as a K-1 kickboxer in the 2000s.
Sapp has the magic it takes to be big in Japan. There's something about him the Japanese can't resist. In the mid 2000s, Sapp's face was in hundreds of Japanese ads. He made regular appearances on Japanese television where he gained a reputation as a comedian.
7. Bon JoviThe Japanese adore Bon Jovi. They were big in Japan before becoming an international success. All of Bon Jovi's 11 studio albums have done well in Japan.
Bon Jovi is still a Japanese Karaoke favorite.
8. Tommy Lee JonesTommy Lee Jones is well known in Japan for a series of TV commercials he did for BOSS coffee. The commercials are often cited as a real life case of lost in translation.
The commercials take a comical look at Japanese culture — Jones plays an alien who works a series of part time jobs in Japan.
9. MiffyMiffy is a Dutch cartoon rabbit. The Japanese are so crazy about Miffy that many people (outside of the Netherlands and Japan) assume that Miffy is Japanese.
The creators of Miffy and Hello Kitty don't get along.
10. Kit KatIn Japan, candy is competitive. Products come and go on a weekly basis. In order to survive, candy companies must constantly introduce new winning products.
In this environment, very few brands have held on to become candy classics — Kit Kat is one of them.
Kit Kat was a winner in Japan right from the start. Kit Kat sounds like the Japanese phase “Kitto Katsu” meaning "sure thing". As a result, an urban myth developed that eating Kit Kat is good luck.
Nestle has produced over 350 variations and flavors of Kit Kat in Japan from wasabi to green tea. Some Japanese Kit Kat flavors are so usual that they've become popular souvenirs amongst foreign tourists.
11. Randy BassRandy Bass was a major league baseball player who had a mediocre career in the Major Leagues (US). He joined the Hanshin Tigers (Osaka) in 1983 and had the most spectacular run of any American ever to play baseball in Japan.
The Hanshin Tigers have intensely enthusiastic fans. However, they went 50 years without winning the Japan Series. Randy Bass is credited with singlehandedly turning the team around — leading the team to its only Japan Series win in 1985.
Bass won four consecutive league batting titles. He broke several league records.
In 1985, he came within one home run of the league home run record (55). However, in the last game of the season he was walked each time at bat. Strangely, the manager of the opposing team was the man who held the record he was trying to beat (Sadaharu Oh).
Bass is a permanent celebrity in Osaka where baseball fans consider him a god-like legend.
12. Winter SonataWinter Sonata is a Korean drama that became huge in Japan in 2002. It started a wave of interest in Korean pop culture (especially television dramas).
The show's star Bae Yong-joon became a sex-symbol in Japan. His Japanese fans (mostly middle aged women) call him Yon-sama (ヨン様).
(Japanese fans waiting for Bae Yong-joon)
13. 2424 was an American political thriller that aired from 2001 ~ 2010 on FOX television. Japan caught Jack Bauer fever (Jack Bauer was the fictional name of the show's protagonist).