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This Is Japan's "Sad Keanu" Meme

Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

Shoko Nakagawa is a superstar. She records music, she appears on TV shows, and she even voices Pokémon anime characters. You'd think she would be happy! Maybe she is. But, in this meme, she's Japan's equivalent of Sad Keanu. Awww.

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In Japanese, the meme is often called "Shoko is lonely" ("Shokotan Bocchi" or しょこたんぼっち). "Bocchi" is short for "hitori bocchi" (ひとりぼっち), which means "lonely" or "solitary". The shortened "bocchi" sounds like something little kids would say and, here, carries the nuance of not being good at talking with others.

Years ago in 2006, back when Nakagawa was beyond cosplaying at Japanese Xbox 360 game events and was just starting to go mainstream, she appeared on a big variety show special. When all the other celebrities were standing up and clapping and smiling, Nakagawa just kind of stood there, awkwardly. The image became a meme in Japan.

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Ever since then, photo after photo of Nakagawa on variety specials depict her looking somewhat lonely or sad or gazing off in another direction.

Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
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Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
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Then, there are pics of her in public (well, Tokyo Disneyland), looking lonely.

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Recently on 2ch, Japan's largest bulletin board, one net user compared the Nakagawa "bocchi" meme to the "Sad Keanu" meme in the West.

They're not the same, obviously. However, there is something bittersweet about both.

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Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme

Nakagawa's father, the famed musician and actor Katsuhiko Nakagawa, passed away when she was young. She apparently spent much of her childhood drawing and finding solace in video games and comic books. (Likewise, Keanu Reeves didn't exactly have an easy childhood.)

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That doesn't mean Nakagawa is a gloomy person! She's incredibly chatty and funny on television. And, as with most memes, this is just that: a meme.

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Illustration for article titled This Is Japans Sad Keanu Meme
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But, perhaps, it does have an element of truth: Last month, she uploaded a photo of pasta, with the heading "Bocchi Lunch" (ぼっちランチ) or "Lonely Lunch". Nakagawa's description of the food was upbeat; she always is when she's talking about things she's passionate about, whether that's cats, anime, video games, or bugs. Who cares if she seems uncomfortable around other celebrities on TV? There's nothing sad or lonely about that. At all.

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Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

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DISCUSSION

burnus-malurnus
burnus-malurnus

Dammit! Another enjoyable Bashcraft article. I keep saying (via burners) how much I enjoy Kotaku for the 85% of its name clearly aligned with Japan (I guess that'd be 100% if it's really a portmanteau of "ko" + "otaku", both Japanese terms).

Love culture smash. Love the insight into Japan. I'm based in Tokyo, I work in Akihabara, my skills and influence are minimal. If I were an RPG party member I would be the one relegated to the very bottom of lists, kept out of battles, never equipped with anything but the items the player is afraid to throw away. My life and career in Japan is as a placeholder. So I appreciate seeing a fellow gaijin's insights, especially when they are this fun.

Shoko got on my radar as the girl who puts her mouth on cats. Thanks to Kotaku. When those photos of dead cicada husks in her hair went viral, I also thought of Kotaku and Ashcraft, though I don't think that "news" was broken here.

Bottom line, I am the quasi-jealous reader who adores Ashcraft's relentless and entertaining takes on Japan, informing us of trends, filtering the junk, highlighting the bizarre (want to say "queer" but for a few generations that has been interpreted as offensive and ignorant; probably rightly so).

Super bottom line: thanks, Brian! Keep it up. Hope this reaches your eyes.