Unseen Japanese Culture References

Anime quite often acts as a window into Japanese culture, something that is kind of hard to penetrate otherwise because of the language barrier. English dubs are usually terribly made and completely scrub much of the cultural references, as the perception of the west can sometimes be that anime is intended for children (Katame, 2015). Because of this the rise of subs has gained rather large momentum, in Australia Mad Man Entertainment takes a more modern approach recognising that it is intended for all audiences.

What I’m interested in is is the aspects that remain in dubs, the moments that are Japanese but aren’t scrubbed out because of the lack of context. These aspects I have given the description of being “softly Japanese”, traits and tropes that aren’t completely foreign to western audiences and as such survive the cutting floor. These aspects can be visual, which are usually are a lot harder to cut out, or dialogue/story which can be very easily changed to suit different audiences. An example of something that is softly Japanese would be the tendency for main characters of high school age to have no parents, which is seems like a rather arbitrary aspect until you consider that a large amount of people in this age bracket are parent less in Japan proportionally to the rest of the world (Bricken, 2013).

There are so many of these sort of hidden things that exist in games, music , anime and film from Japan that seem completely normal until you learn more about the context. The first time I noticed this was when I realised that every rich and popular female in anime has blonde hair. From talking about this with friends we figured that this might some internalised racism which upon investigation seems to be born from Japans ideals of westerners which at the time were very much American and wealthy (Dixon, 2015).

Cardcaptor Sakura contains somethings that fit this bill, such as costumes which are which are very harijuku girl even though the series was before the western fascination with the fashion trend (Farley, 2015). The prevalence of gymnastics in physical education is another one of those things that isn’t particularly strange at first glance but makes more sense upon knowing Japanese sporting trends that contributed to this.

Games like Pokemon have different examples of undetected Japanese culture. Pokemon like Castform, Chingling, Darmanitan and Shiftry have all specific references and point of contexts that give a greater understanding to Japanese culture (Hamilton, 2012). Harvest Moon, a farming game simulator, is actually more intended to represent a certain type of lifestyle with Japanese culture. The simplicity of life is presented as idyllic, with festivals marking the seaons and sprites that control the weather. The title itself is in reference to this type of culture known as tsukimi (candypapa, 2014)

These cultural identifies are the parts that we as a western audience are exposed to without knowing. They at first seem like banal oddities but upon further investigation unfold into rich cultural meanings that could have been the central aspect of a beloved series.


BFW – The Rise of Harajuku Fashion in the West. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.brightonfashionweek.com/blog/harajuku. [Accessed 25 September 2015].

candypapa. (2014). 平成26年住吉大社観月祭. [Online Video]. April 12. Available from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X371xoBUdA. [Accessed: 25 September 2015].

Common Anime Tropes That I Dislike | Grand Punk Railroad. [ONLINE] Available at: https://omisyth.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/10-common-anime-tropes-that-i-dislike/. [Accessed 25 September 2015].

Completely Annoying Anime Cliches. [ONLINE] Available at: http://io9.com/10-egregious-anime-cliches-498788300. [Accessed 25 September 2015].

Japanese Anime Fans Are Growing Tired Of These Tropes. [ONLINE] Available at: http://kotaku.com/5966163/japanese-anime-fans-are-growing-tired-of-these-tropes. [Accessed 25 September 2015].

Japanese Culture in Pokemon by Kenny Hamilton on Prezi. [ONLINE] Available at:https://prezi.com/smsidbpuu6pd/japanese-culture-in-pokemon/. [Accessed 25 September 2015].

Top 10 Worst English-Dubbed Anime. [ONLINE] Available at:http://shinzuukatame.hubpages.com/hub/Top-10-Worst-English-Dubbed-Anime. [Accessed 25 September 2015].


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