When people try to learn about a different country’s culture, one of the first places they’re likely to start is that country’s entertainment and arts – be it literature, music, or whatever you find airing on TV. Which isn’t a bad idea, and this holds no less true for Japan, given the volume of anime, manga, drama and music that makes its way over the oceans to distant lands.
The problem is, while it may provide you with a glimpse, or a little bit of insight, its very often short of the bigger picture, and what one needs to remember is the fact that:
1. It’s entertainment – meant to entertain its target market, and
2. Its target market are people who can easily tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. For the most part anyways.
And many people base their knowledge of Japanese culture, daily life and customs on what they see in anime. So when someone asked the question over on Quora, answerer Martin Schneider provided some interesting examples of things that you’re likely to see in anime which doesn’t really happen in everyday life – some of which I’ll paraphrase here.
1. Students using informal/relaxed speech with teachers
While someone with no knowledge of Japanese isn’t likely to pick up on this easily – well, it does happen a lot in any school-based slice-of-life anime. Almost all the time, as a matter of fact. But it’s actually pretty rare; it’s the exception rather than the rule. The exceptions depends on the teacher who might be especially relaxed, or in some cases, delinquents or drop-outs who are more or less determined not to show any kind of respect.
2. Magical-girl miko
Japanese miko are not magical girls who run around purging evil in their spare time. Yes, they exist, and they have various ceremonial functions, along with the more tedious tasks of keeping shrine grounds in good order. But exorcisms and other high-level duties are typically carried out by the priests. At the same time, shrines aren’t exclusively populated by miko – there will always be a priest around. According to Martin, however (and I’m inclined to agree), old men don’t really appeal to the target audience.
3. Rich kids getting dropped off at school
Start counting off anime series that feature a rich ojou-sama who gets dropped at the school gate in sleek cars driven by a suited, shade-wearing driver – and I bet you’re going to run out of fingers (and probably toes) very quickly. They exist most of the time, and nine times out of ten, they’re the student council president. But I digress …
Japanese parents are big on fostering independence in their kids, and as part of this, students are generally in charge of getting themselves to school by whatever means necessary. The trope exists to confuse and baffle watchers with the existence of these rich-girl characters.
4. Terminally absent parental units
A common element in anime is that of parents not being around – they’ve either passed on, gone overseas for work (taking their better half along) or they’re on extended vacations that never seem to end, leaving their brood to fend for themselves. Despite what was said in the point above, I figure there’s a limit to the amount of independence kids are expected to acquire while in school.
So, unlike your favourite harem romance, the parents are most probably still around, making sure the youngsters do their chores and finish their homework.
5. Those swimsuits and gym-clothes
The frequent appearances of those rather odd swimsuits (sukumizu) and bloomers (buruma) that seems to be a natural fact of any PE session (or beach episode) might lead one to expect that these are the required uniforms at schools – but while these were once used at schools, the truth is that they were both phased out well before the turn of the century. Items like the sukumizu stick around because for some reason people are fascinated by them (it’s a common trope after all, to stuff either the least developed, or most developed girl of the potential harem in one) for reasons I could never quite understand.
In this day and age, the old-style one-piece that had the strange skirt has been replaced by more conventional one-piece. The same goes for the buruma, which was phased out and replaced by more conventional shorts.
6. Maids and maid-uniforms
Housekeepers are a thing, but you’re not going to see them running around in those French-maid outfits. As a matter of fact, the only place you’re going to find them is in maid-cafes, or running around Akihabara advertising maid-cafes.
7. Huge Western Mansions
Staying with the rich kids, another common element is the existence of large Western-style mansions with massive gardens. Japan is a pretty crowded place, and the space for that kind of thing simply isn’t available. On the other hand, you will find some of the large, old-fashioned compounds that also appears in anime quite regularly, but for the most part they exist in the more rural areas.
8. Rooftop romances
Another staple of especially school-life anime, the roof is place to confess, have lunch, or generally just consider the state of the universe while staring at the setting sun. And it’s also the delinquent’s go-to place to have a nap when classes become too much to deal with.
Unfortunately for your budding fantasies, however, the school-roof is pretty much always off-limits, and any doors leading to the roof kept locked.
9. Character names
They don’t always mean what you think they do. A little while back I posted a video by a couple based in Japan that examined where character names come from, and what they mean, and you can check that out over here.
This little list is hardly comprehensive – there are probably quite a few things you spot in everyday anime that doesn’t quite reflect the reality of what really happens. Do you know of any? Let me know in the comments!!