90 minutes of Japanese TV commercials from the 1980s

As I said when posting a Japanese 1980s pop-funk mixtape, I would relish no time-travel opportunity more than a trip back to Japan in the eighties.


Given the truth that that nothing offers a quicker and stronger nostalgia hit that pulling up vintage television commercials on YouTube, I today offer you a 40-minute mix of not music but advertisements, a viewing experience that should get you as close as possible to feeling what it was to be in the Japanese 80s.

Going by these commercials, the must-have products back then and there included the once-mighty Sony's Walkman, Watchman, Betamax video gear and Sony Hit Bit personal computer; a variety of obscure LCD handheld games and cartridge consoles; Gundam action figures; adjustable-height studying desks; Suntory can beer; energy drinks (not just for 21st-century jerks!); McDonald's hamburgers; many different brands of cup ramen; a seemingly endless series of chocolate and ice cream treats; the Toyota Corolla II; Casio's dictionary watch; and a hangover cure called Solmak.

Non-Japanese viewers often expect two things of Japanese television spots: first, a strangeness that borders on total inexplicability, and second, the appearance of Westerners celebrities clandestinely cashing in (or so they thought) by shilling on the other side of the Pacific. But these collections play up neither the wackiness nor the Westerners (though do keep an eye out for John McEnroe, Michael Jackson, and a bobble-headed incarnation of Duran Duran), giving instead a clear but nevertheless entertaining window into life of the Japanese consumer of thirty years ago.

We watch old commercials, of course, as much for their aesthetics as for the history embedded within them — and we usually watch to laugh. These Japanese spots do have their fair share of aerobics-inflected sharp-shouldered sweatshirts, neon colors, and poofy bangs, but I can't they bother me. Technology, in Japan and elsewhere, may have come a long way up since the 1980s, but to my mind, women's style hasn't had a more compelling moment since.