I know, the title is a little linkbaity, but we are going to look at a different perspective than most of us hold. Most of us view Japan fondly–after all, we enjoy manga and anime and Japan’s quirkiness. But those things we enjoy can also been seen as a threat to traditional American values. Some of Japan’s values, such as collectivism and venerating authority, clash against American values (individualism, rebelliousness). This is a rather difficult subject to approach because it is abstract, so please forgive me for meandering to and fro. My goal is to hit on the main points and concerns people have about Japanification.
As Andrew wrote, Japan is a country Americans view as familiar yet different enough to be exotic. Of course, this view is deluded. Most Americans will experience a fair bit of culture shock when visiting Japan. Sure, the Japanese love baseball, but the language and customs are quite different.
Americans feel fondness toward Japan because of a sense of ownership, I guess you could say. After all, Commodore Perry forced Tokugawa Japan out of isolation. Japan and America shared a relationship of trade and even held baseball tours. This short documentary from James FritzPatrick from 1937 captures some of the wonder and fondness Americans felt toward Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The video shows Japan as an idyllic place, full of gardens and beautiful girls. The West often views Japan as a second Garden of Eden, idyllic and innocent. It is a rather condescending view, similar to how Native Americans were viewed. The view contains elements of Western superiority. Almost as if the West is a parent watching over a child. After World War II, this view and America’s affinity for Japan only increased. Japan’s successful reconstruction reinforced the parental view many American had for the country. It is an insulting view. The Japanese people did the work of reconstruction themselves. Japan and Europe’s success affects American policy today.
In a danger of getting political: recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempted to relive America’s glory days. The point I’m trying to make here is how the American parental view, with Japan after World War II being the best example, continues to influence today. The view clashes against the reality of Japan and its soft power (Soft power is the non-military influence a country has upon others). Anime and manga threaten this perceived relationship between America and Japan. It also makes many Americans squirm because anime and manga is a conduit for Japanese values. The communication is no longer primarily one way, America to Japan.
Anime serves something of the same role as Travel Talks did. For many Americans it acts as a window into Japanese culture and acts as a form of rebellion. I know of many otaku that use anime to set themselves apart from American mainstream culture. They sprinkle Japanese into their language and behave like anime characters. Such behavior gives anime and Japan a bad name for many American parents. Parents see their teens acting erratically and using strange mannerisms. They see their children dress as cats or other characters. The once-fond view of Japan gives way to fears about Japanese strangeness. Parents see anime and Japanese culture as subversive to “good Christian values.” The past fondness and parental affection felt toward Japan has given away to trepidation.
After all, Japan isn’t a Christian nation. Japan is dominated by Shintoism and Buddhism, and the beliefs and practices filter into anime. This, in turn, filters into the lives of American children and teens. Many Christian parents are troubled by these elements and how some Buddhist and Shinto rituals are mimicked by anime fans. It can be seen as a threat when an anime fan claps hands and says itadakimasu instead of a Christian grace. Even worse for parents is the sexuality found in anime and manga. American society is sexually repressed. Compared to the US, Japan is quite sexually liberal. At least on the surface. Okay, let me digress a moment. Much of what I discuss here are superficial views I’ve encountered. You and I know Japanese culture has sexual repression, particularly for women. But I am focused on pointing out various concerns I’ve encountered speaking with parents of anime and manga fans.
Anyway let’s get back on topic: normal Japanese references to sexuality in anime, such as breast references and casual child nudity, cut against the grain of American values. We have ample sex in advertising, but it works only because it is a taboo. That which is forbidden garners the most attention. For many parents, these different views of sexuality subvert what they consider normal. Casual child nudity (I am not talking about sexual nudity, that is completely different. Japan rightly condemns pedophilia) is taboo in American society. These “strange” views threaten “normal” values.
As a librarian, I often hear concerns from parents about anime and manga. It strikes them as strange and threatening — far different from the pleasant Travel Talks portrayal of Japan. Sexuality in Japan is their chief concern. Well, that and the strange behavior of their teens. Anime is too odd, and they fear that it may undermine their view of American values: hard work and Christian morals. Of course, I don’t view Christian morals as the only set of American moral values, and long time readers will know I approve of anime and manga (After all, that is why JP exists!). But parents have very real fears, and because of these fears, many parents fail to see the good morals anime encourages…like breast groping! Kidding. But as we know, anime encourages hard work, loyalty, friendship, compassion, and the will to succeed. However, these ideals are hidden in anime’s strangeness — strange from the view of American parents.
In any case, the host of demons and critters from Japanese mythology also makes parents feel threatened. When their children spout names of yokai and speak to each other with words parents cannot understand, the exoticism of Japan becomes a divisive element instead of a romantic fondness. Many are hesitant toward familiar Western ideas of magic and fairies. The foreign Japanese stories trouble them even more.
The Travel Talks video and anime, for that matter, distort Japanese culture. Those of us who understand anime and a fair bit of Japanese culture know parents have little to fear. We also know how weeaboos are mistaken in their behavior. And weeaboo behavior exacerbates the fears of parents. However, these fears come from American culture’s mistaken view of Japan. So really, this isn’t anything new. Japan isn’t a daughter country for the United States. Japan has a culture and a history of its own, a culture and a history that is is far different from America’s. But without understanding Japan’s culture and history, fear can rule. Parents worry about anime being a corrupting influence, but most of us know anime espouses values such a friendship and loyalty. The problem comes from lack of knowledge, both on the parts of parents and anime fans. Knowledge is the enemy of fear.
Of course, I write in generalities. I also know parents who are anime fans.
Now, anime does have elements that subvert American culture for the better. You see, American culture is highly individualistic. “I am out for me.” Anime teaches the importance of community, a value we in the US have forgotten. Anime downplays the value of the individual’s deeds. The hero is only a hero because of the support he receives from his friends. Success is a group effort, an idea that is almost lost in American society.
This post is a little meandering. It is difficult to discuss cultural views when you live inside that culture. Subversion–that is, the undermining of cultural values–depends on who you speak to. Where I live, anime is viewed as porn and Japan is just a far away country that should feel grateful to the US for not punishing it for WWII. So anime is seen as a threat by many or, at the least, a strange cartoon. The rebellious antics of anime fans does little to change the view of parents. Only a few think of Japan in more depth than the Travel Talks short portrays. Only a few think of anime as a medium for storytelling. The sexuality in anime makes Christian parents squirm. Never mind the hyper sexuality in American media. Anime sexuality is seen as corrupting because it is foreign. Likewise, Japan’s “pagan” elements as seen in anime threatens views of Christianity and the idea of the United States as a Christian nation.
Luckily, these views are waning. Manga and anime are prominent features in libraries. Although they are also often challenged by concerned parents.
What about your area? How do people view Japan and anime? Are you one that gives your parents gray hairs?