The Heisei Era commenced after two gods fell in rapid succession. The first, Emperor Hirohito, was no longer officially a god, having repudiated his quasi-divine status under the terms of Japan’s surrender in World War II, but he remained god-like in stature. His January death in 1989 at age 87 signaled the end of a Showa past both turbulent and glorious. It drew global attention from the world’s leaders and media, but had been widely anticipated in Japan.
The other fell just one month later, in February, and his death shocked the nation. Osamu Tezuka, the beloved “god of manga,” died of stomach cancer at the age of 60. News of his declining health had been kept secret, as was then customary in Japan. Tezuka was a prolific workaholic and omnipresent television personality. He was also a licensed physician. Almost no one expected his sudden passing.
The two deaths would augur a new life for Japan’s twin pop culture media: manga and anime. Both would find global audiences in the Heisei years that were previously unimaginable, resulting mostly from the intensifying appeal of the kind of Japanese creativity and innovation that Tezuka had pioneered, but also from the increasingly cheap and easy access to Japan’s cultural products made possible by rapid advances in technology.