NFTs & Japanese Culture: a rising, diverse community

The Japanese NFT community is in its early days. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the community from the standpoint of cultural exports, namely the mangaverse and gaming.

knack ·  · 05/24/22 ·  5 min

A technologically advanced society like Japan is a natural place for non-fungible tokens to flourish. And while the adoption of NFTs has been slow in Japan thus far, we believe the conditions are ideal for sustained growth and innovation.

NFT’s Home in the East

Japanese values align with the essential nature of NFTs. For instance, omoiyari — awareness and consideration of others — is taught to Japanese school children from an early age. This principle parallels the community building and concern for barriers to entry common to NFT projects. Values like ganbaru (effort) and gaman (enduring) cultivated from years of quality education and broader socialization propel continued learning essential to Web3 technologies and overcoming barriers. 

The Japanese NFT community is in its early days. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the community from the standpoint of cultural exports, namely the mangaverse and gaming.

Anime and the Mangaverse

Japanese animation, known as anime, takes inspiration from manga. Manga parallel the comic books of the Western world from which they arose after World War II. And so we have the term ‘mangaverse’ which plays off ‘metaverse’. The visual nature and rich heritage behind established manga and anime present natural opportunities for transfer into the metaverse in the form of non-fungible tokens. 

Otaku Coin

OtakuCoin presents itself as a community for anime lovers. Otaku is a Japanese term that refers to someone with an intense interest in something, often anime. In the OtakuCoin app, community members receive coins by expressing their adoration for anime, watching trailers, and sharing information to social media. The direct feedback anime studios receive closes the gap between audience and creators.

CloneX: Murakami x RTKFT

One popular mangaverse NFT project is CloneX. According to our data at the time of writing this article, CloneX ranks sixth among collectibles offered on the Ethereum blockchain. RTFKT (pronounced ‘artifact’) and contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami collaborated on this project that blends commercial art, streetwear, and metaverse experimentation in the shape of avatars. The collaboration makes sense because RTFKT is a strictly metaverse brand while Murakami is one of the wealthiest living artists. His name brings instant recognition and credibility to any project. 

Unlike offerings from legacy brands, the CloneX team emphasizes how their creation has been made for the metaverse rather than transferred into it from an historical brand’s back catalog. Their Web3 avatars can be worn by their owners in the metaverse. At the same time, we can see correspondences between Murakami’s earlier work where cute, manga-inspired characters float amid flat abstract landscapes on a swooping wave from Hokusai.

However, in the form of an NFT, Murakami’s work becomes closer to the audience, an extension of its owner whereas his prior work existed as objects alone. That NFTs can drive innovation in the work of one of the world’s most celebrated artists speaks to their generational rarity as a force for artistic metamorphosis.


The cuteness of Clone X avatars comes with an edge. On the other hand, Murakami’s flowers project takes the edge off in bright dot art that calls back to Japanese TV games of the 1970s. There is some menace lurking though. The number 108, which alludes to bonnō, or earthly temptations, counterpoints their colorful exuberance. That same number also serves as a pivot point for the project because the combination of 108 backgrounds and 108 flower images add up to the total 11,664 non-fungible tokens available.

NFT Festa 2022

Held completely in the metaverse in the Spring of 2022, NFT Festa brought together over 500 NFT artists with an emphasis on French and Japanese creators. The week-long event was free to attend and required no cryptowallet. Anyone who could create a project was allowed to submit their data, which argues for the more level playing field of NFTs. Unknowns could find themselves adjacent to a recognized, respected figure in the exhibition!


At the time of this article’s posting, Azuki ranked as the fifth most popular NFT project among collectibles according to our data. Purchase of an Azuki NFT grants a user entrance to The Garden metaverse. At the core of the Azuki metaverse we find the ethos that guides NFTs themselves: 

  • building open communities
  • consciously going against barriers that recur and restrict in the real world
  • decentralized decision making
  • upcoming physical world features

Although Azuki is directly inspired by manga culture, we wanted to precise that the project is not Japanese. It does, however, mark a recognition of the NFT community in relation to this culture.

Blockchain Gaming and Japan

Games are common to many non-fungible token projects. In the very early stage of blockchain gaming, two japanese games were released: My Crypto Heroes and Brave Frontier Heroes by Double Jump Tokyo. But we could say that the approval of the Enjin Coin by the Japanese Virtual Currency Exchange Association in March 2021 opened the door for more projects in the Japanese market.

The Azuki community plans a game for its metaverse and Murakami’s NFT flowers recall the early years of Japanese gaming. Some of those early gaming brands are still in operation. Among them, Nintendo and Sega have voiced interest in NFT projects, though they’ve yet to describe the shape their projects might take. Square Enix, on the other hand, has fully committed to the potential of NFTs, blockchain games, and the metaverse in general

The Enjin Ecosystem

Thus far, Enjin Coin‘s (ENJ) major contribution consists of receiving approval from the Japanese Virtual Currency Exchange Association (JVCEA). ENJ is the first gaming token to receive such approval. It was created by the Singapore-based company of the same name whose gaming platform has over 20 million users.

ENJ”s main strength is that it’s designed with gaming in mind, unlike many other cryptocurrencies. Enjin serves as a common currency across multiple games where players can earn NFT loot.

Square Enix and the NFT ecosystem

We can see from their President’s New Year’s Letter how the metaverse converges with the company’s research and development of AI, XR, and the cloud space. Square Enix’s recent sale of some of their major Western intellectual properties to the Embracer Group for $300 million quantifies the brand’s commitment to funding metaverse ventures, including NFTs. 


Dungeon Siege, a Square Enix property, already features in The Sandbox. The Sandbox is an Ethereum-based metaverse built on NFT collectibles. Within The Sandbox, Dungeon Siege players will be able to buy plots of NFTs of LAND and in-game items like avatars. 

The dynamic between Dungeon Siege and The Sandbox resembles that of the Murakami-RTFKT collaboration: an established metaverse entity and a real-world entity contribute their strengths to exchange benefits that NFT enthusiasts can enjoy. Square Enix has made popular role-playing games (RPGs) for decades, Dungeon Siege being one such title. The Sandbox has established itself as a premier metaverse that has garnered collaborations with Snoop Dogg and SHIBUYA109 Entertainment Corporation.

Preserving cultural authenticity with NFTs

Authenticity carries or sinks many NFT projects. When a nation’s cultural heritage plays a role, as Japan’s does in the cultural exports we’ve discussed here, we argue that authenticity is an even greater concern. NFT and metaverse creators who call back to rich cultural history would do well to build it in as a foundational concern. Likewise for investors. An appealing surface could disguise cultural and historical missteps in a project that attempts to draw on the past without consideration for context.

That said, the mangaverse has been established world-wide and big-name Japanese companies have begun to invest heavily in the metaverse. This is a sound foundation for future collaborations and innovations for years to come in the Japanese NFT market.

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