The Japanese Slang Everyone Is Talking About Is “Oya-Gacha”

The Japanese Slang Everyone Is Talking About Is “Oya-Gacha”
Capsule toys only cost a few bucks. Children cost much more. (Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP, Getty Images)

In Japan, gacha machines are those ubiquitous capsule vending machines that dispense random prizes. The concept hasn’t only evolved into video games, but also into Japanese slang oya-gacha. What parents you get, like random items, are really the luck of the draw.

Oya-gacha, or “parent gacha,” is currently a big buzzword in Japan. As Abema explains, the idea is that children do not get to choose their parents. Some might get ideal parents, and the slang would be, “I won the parent gacha,” while those who did not could say they lost it. Not everyone can get the super rare, powerful items in gacha games — or in real life.

Online and on Japanese television, there are arguments for and against the term. Website All About, for example, asked if oya-gacha was rude or disrespectful, because it shifts the blame from the kids to luck so they’re not at fault for how they lives turn out. They just drew bad parents. Others say the term underscores obvious disparities that are based on wealth and opportunity.

(The opposite of oya-gacha is ko-gacha or “kid gacha,” with parents lamenting their children.)

As in many countries, the financial burden that is put on parents is immense. It’s expensive to send children to cram schools, which are seen as a necessity to help them gain admittance to top high schools and universities. In Japan, families with higher incomes are better able to do this, providing opportunities for their children to enter better schools. Nikkan Span reports that over sixty per cent of Tokyo University students come from homes where the average family income is above $US86,000 ($118,448). That’s nearly double the national average of $US46,372 ($63,868). Abema adds that only around ten per cent of Tokyo University students come from homes with family incomes of less than $US32,000 ($44,074).

Japan has a large middle class, but that doesn’t mean it lacks sharp class differences. This is a country that has historically had a highly stratified society — and even an “untouchable” class that is still discriminated against.

Those who have become successful, no doubt, put in hard work, but as one commentator on Abema pointed out, sometimes those people mistakenly think they did everything by themselves. Wealth and opportunity are generational. They create cycles and headstarts.

The Japanese entertainment industry is filled with the children of celebrities. As in the U.S., many, if not most, of these oya-gacha winners are simply famous because their parents are. But these aren’t the only winners. It could also just mean being from what’s considered futsuu in Japanese — or “normal.”

In an article on Diamond Online, Hiroyuki Nishimura, founder of 2ch and current owner of 4chan, pointed out that nearly everything in life is gacha. School, work, and marriage all have a luck component, explained Nishimura. That doesn’t mean everyone realises this. “Essentially, those in good circumstances don’t show gratitude,” he said. According to Nishimura, those who are born into regular families, live regular lives, and are able to buy regular things do not feel like they’ve won the oya-gacha.

Continuing, Nishimura explained that the reason why the word “gacha” is used, he added, is that the central premise is dissatisfaction. If parents are alcoholics, dishonest, or bullies, the way to avoid this psychologically, is by writing off the family situation to a bad oya-gacha. “Because of that, I think it’s incredibly arrogant that those blessed with normal lives and families are saying the term oya-gacha term is rude.” For Nishimura, winning the oya-gacha doesn’t mean being the elite of the elite, but rather, living a regular life.

“This question is for those who realised they’ve lost the oya-gacha, what kind of life are they going to live?” asked Nishimura, adding that video games are more interesting on hard mode. Filial piety is not necessary, and many have cut relations with their parents, he added, saying that those suffering abuse need to reach out to organisations for help. “For the time being,” said Nishimura, “start living for yourself.”

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