B-kyu boom: The magnificence of the mediocre

August 5th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

“Not exceptional, not bad, just middling” is one definition of the phrase b-kyu (b class), but this term has lately come to mean so much more. From B-kyu gourmet to B-kyu sightseeing, B-kyu fans are appropriating the phrase to mean something more positive, which ranges from “no frills” to “fabulously kitsch.” With the recent release of a new book, the latest B-kyu mindset is being applied to toys.

Wikipedia Japan states that the phrase B-kyu has its origins in the English term “B movie” — a subpar, cheaply made film. Just as in the West, B-movies also have ardent fans in Japan who embrace the term. B-kyu moviegoers relish the celluloid output of directors such as Yoshihiro Nishimuru, who delights them with lashings of blood and guts in titles such as “Tokyo Gore Police,” “Suicide Club” and “Machine Girl.” If you also have a fondness for bad dialogue and blood splatter, check the B-Class Movie Blog.

The biggest B-kyu craze since B-kyu movies has been the B-kyu gourmet trend. While you might think this is all about retro food such as cheese and pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks, you’d be mistaken. B-kyu gourmet simply means no-frills home cooking that utilize local ingredients. The trend even has a B-kyu gourmet cooking competition called the B-1 Grand Prix. Convenience stores have got in on the act too, with Circle K and Lawson both bringing out special B-kyu meals for limited periods.

But B-kyu hasn’t totally lost its kitschy connotations. Being a B-kyu fan entails seeking out stuff that doesn’t register on most people’s radars. We really love the B-kyu sightseeing website, which features great suggestions on weird and wonderful places to visit. A quick browse through entries for Tokyo brought up a fabulous shop in Akihabara that is heaven for fans of instant ramen, as well as the Toto Toilet museum.

The latest B-kyu movement is focused on the B-kyu toy, or the Fukkutoi, as it’s also been dubbed by the author of a book on cheap plastic toys. “Super B-kyu Transformating Robot Great Battle Dagangu” was published on June 18 and features full color illustrations and commentaries on a variety of cheap plastic playthings. These products, which faithlessly copy the merchandise of bigger toy companies, can be bought in gas stations, souvenir shops and near the cash registers of family restaurants across the country. Until recently, they hadn’t really caught the attention of hardcore adult toy fans, but perhaps it’s time for this cheaply produced tat to emerge from its place in the back of the toy cupboard and enjoy its moment in the spotlight.

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