[Anime Culture Monday] The Ita Bag Phenomenon in Japan

Many anime fans are happy to show their devotion to their favourite characters and series by filling their rooms with wall scrolls, figures, posters, pillows, and more. And when they go out, they’re happy to wear an anime t-shirt, or have a bag with a button or keyring on it to show the world what they like. But what about the exceptionally devoted people that can’t get enough of their favourite characters? What if you want to show everyone undeniably just what your obsession is? While it’s not an option to take your body pillow and your giant wall scroll with you everywhere you go, Japan has a new solution for you – introducing the ita bag.

The ita bag phenomenon has been quickly spreading across Japan in the last year. So what is an ita bag exactly? They are bags (any style of bag is okay) that are completely covered with anime – and we mean completely covered. Most commonly, ita bags are all about one character, or at least only one anime or game, though occasionally they will have many. Ita bags are written in Japanese as 痛バッグ, which literally translates to “aching bag.” This is because ita bags are so over the top otaku, and so obviously obsessed, that they are meant to be painful to look at! Whether it’s can badges, buttons, keychains, phone charms, or even plushies, ita bags leave no question about who your favourite character is and what you’re all about.

As ita bags sweep across Japan, they have changed and adapted a lot depending on the people carrying them, which is one of the things that makes them the most interesting. They have become very personal items that are always undeniably unique from one another. So where did this craze come from? How has it changed since it started? And where is it going today?

Welcome to the ita bag phenomenon!

So where exactly did ita bags come from? They started showing up a little over a year ago, especially in areas of Tokyo like Ikebukuro and Akihabara that are known as anime merchandise hot spots, mostly being toted by girls wanting to show their love for their favourite member of Uta no Prince Sama or Love Live!. Like everything, it started off small, and then the effect snowballed. While Uta Pri and Love Live! remain extremely popular choices for ita bags (probably in part due to the large availability and range of merchandise available for them), other anime started to become popular choices as well. Most sports anime can be seen represented on ita bags, alongside the extremely popular mobile game Toukan Ranbu, Osomatsu-san, and more. The more popular the anime or game, the more likely you’ll see it represented on an ita bag, but fans of even less popular things have started to represent as well!

In only a year, an entire culture has sprung into existence around ita bags. On weekends, it’s not uncommon to see groups of people standing around outside arcades or in parks with boxes of unwanted buttons and keychains they have won with the wrong character on it, hoping to trade for the one they want to collect. A lot of anime shops and arcades have started hosting ita bag contests for fans to compete to see who is the most devoted to their favourites. Second-hand merchandise shops are selling bundles of products that are all the same character for a low price as a “starter park” for beginning to build an ita bag. And this is only the beginning – we will have to wait to see what else happens from this phenomenon!


The Market Capitalises

Considering the possibility of getting an ita bag yourself? Well luckily, the market has noticed this trend, and as can be expected of capitalism, some brands have really started capitalising on it! While of course any bag can be used as the base for an ita bag, some merchandise is actually quite expensive, so you might want to protect it rather than risk a button getting scratched or a keychain broken. A lot of shops in Japan have thus started carrying clear plastic tote bags that are meant to go over another tote bag to protect anything on the inner bag, while still showing it off to the world!

Going a step further, stores like WEGO, a popular Japanese street brand, have been selling bags that have small windows built into them that make great bases for ita bags! The original ones have heart-shaped windows, perfect for showing your devotion to your favourite character, and come in a wide variety of colours. More recently, WEGO and a few other Japanese street brands like Mise Tote, Itamate, and MyColle have been making other backpacks and bags with square and star windows as well as large tote bags that come complete with the clear plastic bag over them already. These bags are becoming more and more common on the streets across Japan all the time, and are great for making sure that exclusive pin you finally got your hands on doesn’t get lost or damaged while giving you the chance to show it to everyone.

Unfortunately, these base bags are a bit harder to find outside of Japan, but if you can use Yahoo! Auctions or Rakuten, you can find them easily enough. Otherwise, grab your nearest bag and don’t let anything hold you back from decorating it to your heart’s content!


Today’s Streets

So are Japanese fans carrying their ita bags everywhere? Not really, no, and for good reason – most of them are quite large and bulky bags, and quite heavily weighed down with an impressive collected of merchandise, after all. They aren’t the most ideal for the crowded trains in Tokyo or Osaka, and can get a lot of judgment from the average salaryman on his commute. Most fans carry their ita bags specifically when they are going to an anime event, or are in an anime district like Ikebukuro in Tokyo, or Namba in Osaka. Of course, we can’t speak for everyone, and it’s not entirely uncommon to see one elsewhere especially in the big cities, but if you’re in one of the anime areas, you’re likely to see a lot of them.

The look and demographic of ita bags have continued to expand as well from when it started. While girls are still predominantly the main demographic, especially with the easy availability of heart-shaped bags and the prevalence of merchandise aimed at female fans, boys have joined in on the trend too. So if you’re a boy who wants to show his devotion, don’t let all those girls stop you! Ita bags are hardly gendered, after all. Another rising trend, especially for series that have a lot less merchandise made for them, is covering bags with the same item over and over again. If an anime only has one pin available for it, fans are buying enough of that one pin to completely cover their bag with the same image – and that’s totally fine. So if you like something less popular and are worried about there being enough variety to use it, don’t worry! It’s just as acceptable to cover your bag with the same piece of merchandise as it is to have a wide variety since the impact is the same. You love that character or that series, and you’re showing it however you can.

And even more recently, another new trend has started showing up in the streets for those who may not want to show their love for anime or games, but instead a love for idols or live actors! That’s right, if idols, musicians, voice actors, or live stage actors are more your thing well, you’re in luck. It’s becoming more and more popular to make ita bags out of the merchandise for these real people as well! The more the ita bag phenomenon spreads, the more people can make it what they want. Disney? Sanrio? It’s only a matter of time before these and more make it into the world of ita bags as well, so whatever you like, you can make a bag for it!


Are You Ready?

So are you ready to commit yourself to an ita bag? Ready to show the world your true devotion to your favourite anime or video game? First, all you have to do is get your base bag! Even if it’s not one of the fancy ones that we talked about earlier in the article, it doesn’t matter. Get a bag that is the right colour, size, and style for what you want to use. Some people even use bags that are already printed with the character or series to help them start with their decorating, choosing instead of accessorizing around the image or logo with their extra merchandise. It’s definitely a great idea for a beginner, especially if you already have the bag in your collection!

Next, it’s time to get the merchandise. If you’re living in Japan, we especially recommend hitting second-hand stores like K-Books and Lashinbang, which often sort their excessive amounts of merchandise by character to make it quite easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re reading this from the West, don’t be disheartened! The internet, anime conventions, and anywhere that sells anime merchandise is the key. There are no rules as to what kind of merchandise you put on your bag, as long as you like it after all! So be resourceful and see what you can create with what you get your hands on.

Finally, all that’s left is to get everything situated the way you like it on your bag and start showing it off. Whether you save your bag for special occasions like anime events or want to use it every day, that’s entirely up to you. Be ready for some stares because they will happen, but so do a lot of great conversations, compliments, and interested questions. You’re wearing your heart on your sleeve so to speak when you carry an ita bag, and it is a bold decision, but carry it with confidence! You’re bound to make some new friends with the same interest as you, or at least be able to share your love with someone that might not have known anything about it before!


As ita bags continue to sweep across Japan by storm, it’s only a matter of time before they become a trend in the anime and gaming community in the West as well. So will you be a part of it? Are you ready to show your extreme devotion to your waifu or husbando, or just your favourite character? Ita bags are the newest and trendiest way to make sure the world knows exactly where your loyalties lie without any question, and definitely are a great way to start a conversation or turn a few heads at the very least!

Remember, your only limit with your ita bag is your own imagination (and perhaps your wallet, some of that merchandise isn’t cheap!) so get out there and start collecting and decorating! Just because someone else hasn’t made an ita bag of it yet doesn’t mean you can’t – after all, someone has to be the trendsetter. Why not you?

Do you already have an ita bag, or are you interested in making one? What character or series would you use if you had the chance to try out this trend? Will you go over-the-top with decorating, or make it more subdued and calculated? How do you think it will go over in the West, and do you think it’s a cool trend in Japan? We want to hear all your thoughts, good or bad, on the ita bag phenomenon, so please leave a comment below!

Jet Nebula

Writer

Author: Jet Nebula

Living the dream in Tokyo, where you can find me working at a theme café catered towards women. When I’m not writing for Honey’s, I’m working on original dystopian science fiction or blogging about Tokyo’s trendy coffee scene. I spend my free time in Harajuku and Shibuya wearing alternative Japanese street fashion. I love video games, J-rock, tattoos, and Star Wars.

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