Instabae インスタ映え

Shinjuku Station, in Tokyo, is the world’s busiest train station by commuter volume with some 3 and a half million passengers passing through daily. Within the station is a thin offshoot that allows commuters to move between the South and West exits at ground level rather than traverse the warren of subterranean passengers below. This slick thoroughfare is called the Mosaic Walk. Home to a smattering of stylish gift stores and restaurants it provides a glittering respite from the austere environment of the station proper. Some of the ways it does this are seasonal shop displays and the use of vibrant LED lighting, known in Japan as: イルミネーション “illuminations”.

Illuminations are part of a culture of night-viewing that occurs in Tokyo at places like Roppongi and Yokohama. Lights are arranged to create a pleasant atmosphere, and sometimes  form a dynamic show in which the colours change and dance. Illuminations complement the lightscape of the city by creating a focal point and/or background for photographs. In the case of the Mosaic Walk,  a tunnel of pale purple lights was used to create an enticing and evocative atmosphere. The author recounts:

On the other side of fashionable eateries and cosmetic stores, I noticed an inviting purple glow coming up in front of me. Rows of lights had been strung up overhead to create a sparkling lilac tunnel running the 30m length of a gently sloped down ramp. I found myself walking slower as I took in the scene, and, almost unthinkingly, pulling out my phone to snap a picture, as if not recording this sight would somehow be a lost opportunity. While some commuters continued to pass through the tunnel unfazed, many, especially young girls and couples, stopped in order to pose and take pictures. As I framed the vista on my phone screen I heard a young male commuter comment to his companion using the conspicuously articulated phrase: “Instabae”. What did this mysterious term mean? It undoubtedly pertained to the scene around us and its relationship to social media, but in what capacity exactly? In front of me, two or three groups shuffled around purposefully in order to catch a photo of themselves amidst the lurid background. Meanwhile, I adjusted my own screen in order to catch a suitable reminder…

In Japan “Instabae” has a meaning that is distinct from “social media boy/girlfriend” as it is used in English. In Japanese:

インスタ : Instagram  +   映え : to pleasantly stand out or be eye catching
=   インスタ映え : Instabae

Literally, “Instabae” means to be Instagram friendly. The term can be broadly applied to a place, person, thing or situation given its ability to draw attention on social media.

Commentators have noticed the relationship between Instabae and consumer trends, particularly as pertains to the demographic of young women. Recent news articles in Japan have discussed the rise in popularity of night pools as a focal point for social media photography (Japan Times, Aug 2; Mainichi, Sep 17). These articles explain how hotels and other venues have been promoting pools as a night time gathering for young people. Through the combination of attractive lighting, colourful pool toys and a lively, liminal atmosphere, the pools are an attractive place to take photos for social media.
Quotes from pool-goers read:

It feels like something out of the ordinary, and I’m happy if I can post something on social media and can get more followers,” 22-year-old college student (JT)

It’s just cool enough that I don’t have to worry about my makeup being ruined by sweat. Just tonight I’ve taken 500 pictures, and I’m going to post only one after careful selection,”  23-year-old woman (Maininchi)

From the articles it can be seen that the pools fulfill a role as an impressive setting for online self-presentation. It is interesting to consider, from a travel perspective, how often such settings need to be encountered and how motivated social media users are to find them. Indeed, the JT article provides statistics regarding young woman who have travelled, “for the express purpose of uploading images to social media.” Assisting in the pursuit of Instabae material is a travel website Snaplace . Its description is roughly translated (by Google) as “Japan’s largest SNS shine tourist information service.” This website provides maps of locations where Instabae can be found and guides for how to take photos. This includes an explanation of 6 types of Instabae subjects: cute and colourful/ fashionable magazine style/ unusual or surprising/ unique / out of proportion/ relates a story.

I have talked about presentational places (places that complement online self-presentation) before, and these night pools look to fit the genre. The term “Instabae” suggests that there are certain common elements through which these locations are formed. It would be interesting to consider further what determines Instabae, particularly in regards to place.


Mosaic Walk

pool 2.jpg

From Mainichi


Japan Times


Tourist sights or sites?

This is an idea. In my thesis, I have unpacked the term ‘sightseeing’ from a semantic perspective, focusing particularly on the ‘-seeing’ part to compare the active and passive meanings of the verbs “seeing” and “watching” respectively. If tourists commonly spend extended periods of time at an attraction and during this time engage in different forms of interpretation and sense-making, such as photography, which extend beyond visual perception, ‘sight’,  why is it we never talk of ‘sightwatching’?

Afterwards, I thought it is also worth discussing the ‘sight-‘ part through a worthy homophone: ‘site’ (think Clifford (1997) with roots/ routes).

If tourism study has moved beyond the visual, as the performance turn contends, to focus more upon the tourists’ sensuous interactions with the terrain and texture of a destination, then it figures that the term sight should be replaced with something that reflects tourists’ embodied interaction with touristic places. Here, a reasonable choice is “site”. A “site” brings to mind a multilayered place which suggests participation, interaction, dynamism: a domain of happenings and human activity; while the predominantly ocular “sight” suggests somewhere to be encountered, visually, from a distance, a place that remains in some way aloof from the visitor. A site is a heterogenuous, participatory environment, home to varied forces and inputs; while a sight exists on a more singular plane, and is usually separated from the viewer, like a famous artwork or museum artefact, by a barrier: physical, invisible or by distance. The site exists at ground level and is ready to be accessed, interacted with and possibly affected by tourists; while the sight exists at a rarefied height and while visible, is not to be grasped by visitors in a physical sense. The site is responsive and mutable to visitor contact: it may be graffitied, dwelled within, rearranged, adapted; the sight is inert, it’s appearance is constructed for but not by visitors, chosen by professional tastemakers. The site is to be interacted with directly, it’s raison d’etre is to invite participation or activity of some kind; the sight can only be touched indirectly, through a representation or souvenir, usually those distributed by the governing body of the sight itself. The site may occur instantly and spontaneously, without prior planning or established rationale and may continue to live it’s (sometimes brief) life along this course; while the sight is always carefully framed in advance, its appearance concocted and controlled to display a deliberate, often fixed image. In sum, the site is a venue of activity; the sight, a distant, mediated image.

In this light, ‘site’ then becomes a much more suitable metaphor through which to locate touristic experience than ‘sight’. As such, to look at sitesharing, rather than sightsharing, takes the focus beyond what is seen: the distinct visual image a particular location provides for tourists and the consumption of an atmosphere created by things seen: postcards, souvenirs, vistas, and iconic images.  Instead “sitesharing” proposes the consumption of a multilayered location which tourists interact with across many fronts, be it the physical topology of the location that is experienced sensually, the virtual destination described across the cumulative tourist narratives online, the official destination configured through promotional material, polished copy and official destination hashtags, or the social matrix of the other visitors at this place: both ones encountered in person and in the online audience, through the talk and stories which accompany tourist experience. While sights still exist, take the presentational places like restaurants or bridges mentioned previously as examples of locations which have been  constructed to be impressive visual backdrops for tourists, the internet is making them more site-like. These places invite visitors to interact with the location even at the same as this interaction is directed toward particular focal points: feature walls, or particular photograph points. The virtual components of these locations are largely built by the narratives of amateur tourists so that the sites’ meaning may be constructed by the guests rather than prescribed by the location itself. Thus, rather than the distant sight, in this era of connected tourism, the matrix-like site, a place of happenings, is a more suitable metaphor for tourism studies.

A simple visual explanation? Here: