There is a joke that my friend once told. “How do you blind an Asian?” she asked, to which we gave her a confused look. She grinned and answered, “With dental floss!” All of us got the joke right away and I’m guessing you did too. Almond shape eyes that almost appear to be tiny slits on the face when smiling is one of the stereotypical facial characteristics plastered on Asians. We use these visual characteristics to label people into different racial category at a glance, thus it can be said that race is not only socially constructed like many scholars say but race is also visually constructed.
In her article “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference”, Terry Kawashima mentions that Sailor Moon looks “white” to some viewers and “Japanese” to others. She concludes that the reason why this is the case is because “we are culturally conditioned to read visual images in specific racialized ways” (Kawashima 2002, p.161). In other words, Sailor Moon looks just as “white” as she does “Japanese” and how we interpret her is based on our own cultural context.
Though, the fact that some people read Sailor Moon as white is understandable considering that her character design consists of the Western trademark blonde hair and blue eyes. Even in an anime where the hair and eye colors of the characters ranges from one end of the color spectrum to the other, when a Western character is put on the screen more than half the time he or she will have that exact hair and eye color combination. Take for example, the Western characters from Free! Eternal Summer. The Japanese characters have hair colors ranging from yellow to black, but all the Western character hair colors are limited to different shades of yellow and brown. How about comparing the facial features of Alex Louis Armstrong to Ling Yao from Fullmetal Alchemist? Isn’t it clear that Armstrong is drawn to represent your typical Western face and Ling as Asian? Why are we so fixated on these stereotypical appearances that they are also reflected in art and media?
Kawashima says that “certain features are highlighted and others suppressed or ignored to ensure a coherent result” (2002, p.164). Perhaps this highlighting of specific facial features and simplifying them is true. Perhaps this is the reason why we tend to say “they all look alike” when we talk about people from different races. I have lost count of the number of times when my friends look at a Korean idol group and say that they can’t tell the members apart. “The other race affect” says that we can recognize diversity in our own race but not with others. Daniel Levin, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State University, says that “the problem is not that we can’t code the details of cross-race faces—it’s that we don’t.”
Let’s face it, despite the fact that we know that these stereotypes exists some of us, for example, don’t like being told that all East Asians look the same. So just because “we don’t” doesn’t meant that we can’t try.
Kawashima, Terry. 2002. “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference.” Meridians 3(1): 161-90.
It is easy to recognize Japanese Manga characters from their exaggerated round eyes, small nose, spindly legs and colorful hair. These features that are generally common for most Japanese readers confuse Western readers sometimes because in their eyes Manga characters look like Caucasians but Japanese. In Kawashima’s article, many Westerners consider stylized Manga figure as an expression of “trying to be white” and the idea of “becoming white” is a product of cultural imperialism since the white people were historically dominant in the world. They even express their sympathy to “Asian people” who try to become white by stating that their should stay who they are but not constrained to racial hierarchy thinking. In fact, the thought of regarding Manga figures as white or trying to be white is a symptom of visual production of race and racial privilege thinking.
Different from Western viewers, Japanese readers naturally regard Manga figures as Japanese, blonde hair and round eyes are nothing more than exaggerated factors of Manga, as well as spindly arms and legs. In addition, colorful hair and round eyes are widely used for highlighting distinct personalities and showing emotional performance in artistic works, same as characters in Disney cartoon who usually have oversized head (eyes too) and disproportioned body. As a Chinese reader, it never occurs to me that these characters look more Caucasians since they do not even look like man in reality with their unbelievable shape of hair and limbs thin as stick. The reason why Western viewers especially tend to think Manga characters as white, as Kawashima pointed out, is that they usually hold stereotype of “Asian look” in their mind. In their and mass media’s views, Asian look should be flat face, small and slanted eyes, yellow skin and straight black hair which are actually not correct (see the Disney movie Mulan as a example). In the American drama, The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon’s mother carved a smiling face on a pancake she said “his eyes are little thin but pretend him to be Chinese”. It is really common to see stereotype of “Asian looking” face in mass media, thus it would not be surprise to understand why Westerner viewers cannot accept Asian face with round eye and lighten hair naturally because that against their typical expectation of Asian people. Exactly as Kawashima discussed, the idea of “Asian looking face” or “what Asian people should look like” is a process of picking and ignoring certain features as standards to create and evaluate race. This fixed mind-set is artificially and socially constructed, rigid characters in films, cartoons, dramas are outcome of it and also reinforced it. Even though, mass media are far less racial than in the past but stereotype still exists.
Terry Kawashima. 2002. Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference. Meridians 3(1):161-190.
I have been a big fan of Manga and Anime for as long as I can remember. I always admired how the Japanese style of drawing cartoon characters was different from that of popular western comics and animations. The characters in Manga and Anime have always stood out because they are unique. That is, many of them have exaggerated and flamboyant features and this always stood out for me and many other fans alike. Never did it ever occur to me that the way the Japanese creators illustrate their artistic work had significance on how race and ethnicity is viewed or construed in Japan.
As I began to read and watch more Manga and Anime, I began to notice how non-Japanese characters (people of color, specifically of African origin) were drawn and represented and many of them had very stereotypical characteristics. This can be seen in their dressing style, behavior, speech patterns and activities they are engaged in. One such character is ChocoLove McDonell (pictured above) from the manga and Anime ‘Shaman King’. Where do I even start with this … His name is CHOCOLOVE!!! The character is an African American who has his hair in an afro, has exaggerated lips and wears an African wrap on the lower half of his body. Ohh and his animal spirit is a Jaguar! Many other non-Japanese characters are as controversial for example Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball and Jynx from pokemon who both appear to be in black face, Staff Officer Black and Killa from Dragon Ball, Bugnug or ‘dark eyes’ from Crying freeman et cetera. The characters mentioned are all African American with the exception of Bugnug (which means Ant-Eater apparently) who is the leader of the Askari (Swahili word to mean soldier) which is an African revolutionary organization. Bugnug is first introduced to Crying Freeman manga readers when she launches a surprise attack on Yō Hinomura who is the main character. She is illustrated to look ‘exotic’. She is beautiful with long curly hair but is muscular and masculine in her behavior. It is impossible to compare her to the other Japanese females in the same manga as they seem more fragile and feminine.
During the battle with Yō Hinomura (Crying Freeman), Bugnug is completely naked and only carries a blade. When she is finally defeated by Yō Hinomura, the two become allies and she later on gets his assistance to defeat a coup d’état in her organization. It seems as though the creators of this manga and anime went all out to display Bugnug’s supposed ‘Africanness’ by naming the character Bugnug which they go on to translate as Ant-Eater, having her fight naked, which I believe represents a kind of primitiveness and then including a coup d’état in her storyline which occurs within her revolutionary organization. So this leaves me to question why some characters of African ancestry are represented in this manner in manga and anime. Do all the people of African ancestry have these characteristics and why have these stereotypes been continuously perpetuated?
When trying to answer these questions, it is important to note that Japan has always been a homogeneous nation and this has created a kind of distance between them and other cultures from many parts of the world. Thus, a lot of what Japanese people know and perceive has been spread through western media which is dominated by America through entertainment, news, music et cetera. In the article ‘What does “American” Mean in Postwar Japan?’ by Yoshimi Shunya (2008) he writes that,
From the late1950’s onward, “America” was distilled as a uniform image with even greater power than before to gain people’s hearts. ..Until the early 1950’s the word “America” was simply invoked as a model to be emulated… “America” also came to be associated with the “pop-culture” of Japanese youth. As “America” became less direct, more mediated, and increasingly confined to images, it conversely became more interiorized and its effect on people’s consciousness became deep. (Yoshimi Shunya, 2008)
This exposure has been both positive and negative in that it has opened up Japan to other cultures and has made the Japanese people more aware of the differences between their cultures, traditions and those of people from other parts of the world but has also promoted the adoption of negative stereotypes thus most of what the Japanese know are imagined racial distinctions that have been created and promoted by the western media.
As I come to the end of this blog post, I would like to point out that not all black people are represented stereotypically in some of the Manga and Anime works and some Japanese characters have even been made to have darker skin tones or even display several characteristics that one would categorize as being black. An example that comes to mind is Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk!
In conclusion, I believe that as Manga and Anime continue to spread and attain wider audiences, their popularity will help raise awareness on how race and ethnicity is viewed in different parts of the world and this will in turn create a better understanding of these different cultures and ethnicities.
Shunya Y. (2008). “What Does ‘American’ Mean in Postwar Japan?” Nanzan Review of American Studies 30:83-87
Japanese animation has become one of the most influential cultural media in the world. It not only exports the interesting stories, but also expresses the Japanese values to the world. One of the phrases which appears in most animations moved me and maybe many others a lot, what I think is the core value of Japanese culture is that “the human being cannot live alone”. Due to that, no matter what type of the animation is, Japanese value always tells us the importance of being connected with others. However, to think of the situation that Anne Allison wrote in Precarious Japan, the real Japan society has been losing this core value of connection. Some of them “have been abandoned or estranged from their families”, who will be discussed following are called “denizens” or “refugees” in her book (Allison 2013:59).
It is known that “denizenship” and “refugeeism” mostly describe the migrants and foreigners, but in Japan, people “who get stranded inside their own country with access to a secure job, stable home, or normal life”, and “without a place or space where one feels comfortable and “at home”” are also called “refugees” (Allison 2013:47). However, under the constitution of Japan, all citizens have the right to enjoy the basic life, which means living healthily and getting basic insurance. While seeing the current situation in Japan, many people work to earn money which even cannot afford the housing, enough food; even if the low payment and bad health condition, the government refused to pay the insurance. Moreover, some people work but “felt superfluous: unvalued in the work” and “voided of worth or recognition as a human being” (Allison 2013:64). They felt it a hardship of living because of lacking of human relationships or no belonging.
However, as what most animations show and the reality that people need “social recognition, human belonging”, and people “relay on others for self-confirmation”(Allison 2013:67), some of those who lose the connection with the society chose to kill others to prove his own existence, such as “Akibaken musabetsu terojiken”; some of them transferred their worries of insecurity of life to dissatisfied and then “join right wing association for the national belonging” (Allison 2013:63). In Japan, “net right wing” and “hate speech” are raised, but the truth is that it is hard to master the true information. Due to that, I think that if it is difficult to say the denizenship and refugeeism lead those people seek belonging to these groups, though some groups are good.
Therefore, in my opinion, denizenship and refugeeism will not lead people to seek belonging elsewhere, although it looks like so. Firstly, I do not know how people even cannot feed on themselves have the flexibility to join some groups, of course, if entering these groups can give them some benefits. That is the economic factor which makes those denizens join the groups. Secondly, I do not deny that it is very important to be recognized and belong, but I think that like people born alone and die alone, why they cannot live alone? If join to some groups or being recognized by the society is just self‐satisfaction? Some people, like Hitler or the leaders of right wings, use people’s desire of being recognized to do some bad things. Then, in these case, do they really take back their respect of human being?
In conclusion, I think that government should mainly take the responsibility to make sure the security of them, and take their respect back. What it means is that to join some groups is not enough and easy to be paranoid, the best way is to make them get back to the society.
English: Peace Park statue A life size bronze of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who survived the Hiroshima bombing, but later died from radiation sickness at age 12. Children visit the park and bring origami cranes to the statue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Sheena Sasaki
When does education start? The official education may start from the enrollment of elementary school; however, education itself has begun long before. One of the educational tools for children under age of elementary school is picture books and verbal stories. It is not rare to see the scene where mother is telling bedtime stories to her children. The story and picture book the mother chooses deeply influences the children’s education. This post focuses on three well-known bedtime picture books/stories in Japan, and examines the influences of the picture books, stories, and the character of the story to shape children’s beliefs and education.
How do Japanese children learn morals and values, and why do they decide to follow such social rules? Without a question, a person or people who raised the child would significantly influence shaping the base of the child’s moral belief. My mother used the picture book, Ehon: Jigoku by Tsuguo Miya (1980) as part of moral education. The book vividly illustrates many different parts of jigoku, the place similar to the underworld of Greek mythology. In this place, dead people are judged by Enma-daio, the judge of jigoku, about their behaviors when they were alive. Ehon: Jigoku uses very detailed and brutal pictures to graphically explain how the dead are punished for certain bad conduct and crime. Miya (1980) writes in the preview that the purpose of Ehon: Jigoku is to embed the idea “death is very fearful” into children’s mind since fear against death may be coming from human instinct, however, is possible to strengthen through education. He continues that people who lived during the period with underdeveloped medical science taught their children to stay away from danger and to feel deep attachment to their lives by showing pictures telling stories of jigoku. Thus, Miya (1980) concludes that the book may be one of the sagacities that ancient Japanese have created.
The book gives the readers a great impact of punishments for certain misbehaviors. Children who read the book may be traumatized by brutal pictures and strongly feel that they do not want to go to jigoku. As they grow older, those children may not believe in the life after death anymore; however, sense that they are being watched by somebody remains.
The key of jigoku is that people are being punished there. No matter how much people deny and hide their bad conduct and crime, the judge knows. As a result, many children behave better to appeal to Enma-daio that they do not deserve to be sent to jigoku. Thus, building sense of being watched by somebody is important to lead children to follow moral and rules. Without that sense, children may misbehave since their mothers are not watching, and such children may accept shoplifting when no one is near and quickly drive away when they runs over a person with a car.
There is a phrase in Japan which means, “there is ear on the wall and eye in the door.” The phrase addresses that it is almost impossible to have privacy since there is always a third person behind the curtain. Thus, Japanese adults tend to care very much about their behaviors in the public and reputations. Although children will not read picture books after they become adults, nonetheless, the sense which had been planted during their youth that there is invisible judge remains. Hence, picture books largely influence children to build moral beliefs and to follow social rules.
In his book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson (1983) states, “to serve the narrative purpose, [the ongoing mortality rate, exemplary suicides, poignant martyrdoms, assassinations, executions, wars, and holocausts] must be remembered/forgotten as ‘our own.’” (p. 206) He argues that people’s memories and images towards history are at many times purposely constructed by the others especially the ones in power. The bedtime stories are also a part of memory construction.
When being taught about World War II, the information given to Japanese children tends to lean towards the Hiroshima bombing. Along with the story of the thousand paper cranes, children are told story of a girl named Sadako Sasaki who survived the bombing itself but passed away due to the effects of radiation exposure.
The story starts with explanation of character Sadako, how she was energetic and healthy elementary school girl. However, she falls extremely sick. Sadako wished upon the paper cranes she folded during her hospitalization that someday she will recover her health. After her death, she became the heroine of a moving tale, as a girl who fought against leukemia and never gave up hope. Today, the story of Sadako is known throughout Japan, and her statue of raising a big paper crane was built as a representation of hope and peace.
However, the story does not end as just the moving tale. Her story overly emphasized Japan as a victim of the World War II, not a fighting actor. Hence, Sadako makes Japanese “remember” about the Hiroshima bombing and the terrifying influence of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it makes the citizens unconsciously “forget” that Japan also fought during the war and killed innocent children like Sadako. With the use of child’s story, the nation cunningly victimized her citizens and successfully represented herself as poor and weak being.
The issue lies where children do not notice the hidden “remember and forgetting” purpose of the story. Their impression would simply be “poor Sadako” as the government has intended. Thus, from youth, people are forced to see and believe an extremely narrow field of vision. They are blinded by the parents, teachers, stories, education, and nation sometimes unconsciously and at many times, consciously.
Bedtime story heroes are also used to serve the purpose of government. Momotaro is the most famous hero from didactic fiction in Japan. The story is very simple. Momotaro, who was born from a peach, decides to rescue a princess from creatures. With his three friends—a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant—Momotaro reaches the island of the creatures, defeats the evil, and becomes a hero.
The message of the story is similar to Ehon: Jigoku that the evil will be punished. Additionally, the story also holds the message righteous justice wins. Children are taught from the story to help others. However, this hero was used by the Japanese government in propaganda films during World War II.
Momotaro no Umiwashi and Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei were both directed by Seo Mitsuyo and released consecutively in 1943 and 1945. The earlier movie, Momotaro no Umiwashi is based on the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The main character Momotaro attacks the island of the evil with air force and results in victory. The second film Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei illustrates the civilization and colonization of Japan with musical. The hero Momotaro defeats the creatures controlling over poor animals, takes land away from the evil, and civilizes the animals.
Since both films were animated and used Momotaro as main hero, children and even adults repeatedly watched the film. Pretty characters and comical battle scenes enabled Japanese citizens to watch a war movie without hesitation. However, unlike the original story, creatures were represented in human form, and to be more specific, the Americans and British. The film visually shifted the antagonist from creatures to human foreigners. Thus, children are planted with information foreigners (especially Caucasians) are evil and it is necessary to fight against such evil “people.”
Both films are now considered well-made propaganda films. However, the audiences back in the time did not recognize the films as propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s famous propagandist, once stated “Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths” (Goebbels, 1928, para. 31). His propaganda principle also argued “To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium” (Doob, 1950, p.426). According his theory, a good propaganda movie is one which would not be recognized as propaganda film. Both movies used a popular hero, evoked interest of the audience with animation and musical, and were transmitted through the communication media of film. As a result, a bedtime hero became a propaganda hero.
In summation, before their schooling, children are educated with bedtime stories which construct their core images of the world. Brutal pictures of life after death structures and make them follow the social rules. Additionally, as tool for “memory and forgetting,” bedtime stories based on real events sometimes are used to victimize the nation during wars the nation also fought.
The character of the story may turn into propaganda hero to make children feel familiar with war. At the level of globalized society today, it is possible to break the wall of “memory and forgetting” of nation’s history and education. However, the study of internationalization and globalization is still considered to be “high level” and is not taught in elementary school. Students face difficulty changing the core beliefs that were planted during childhood; the magic casted by the stories strongly remains in heart.
Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York, NY: Verso.
Doob, L. W. (1950). Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda. Public Opinion Quarterly,14(3), 419-442.
Goebbels, Joseph. (1928, January 9). Erkenntnis und Propaganda (R. Bytwerk Trans.). Speech presented at the Hochschule für Politik, Berlin, DE.
Miya, T. (1980). Ehon: Jigoku [Picture book: Jigoku]. Japan: Futohsha.
Seo, M. (Director). (1943). Momotaro no umiwashi [Momotaro’s sea eagles] [Motion picture]. Japan: Geijutsu Eigasha.
Seo, M. (Director). (1945). Momotaro: Umi no shinpei [Momotaro: Sacred sailors] [Motion picture]. Japan: Geijutsu Eigasha.
Now, there is actually prejudice against black people in the world. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that the United States is developing a triracial system with whites at the top, honorary whites follow and collective black at the bottom. Thus, people decide others’ status by skin color, and tend to consider that whites are superior to blacks. Then, why does such stratification happen? Most people think that the reason is historical facts. For instance, in the 16th century, European countries started a slave trade from Africa. This historical fact may be one factor and it leads current situation of blacks. However is it really just historical reasons? I came up with one question, color images also influence on estimation of blacks and whites, don’t they?
In my opinion, most people have images with colors. For example, when we look at red, we feel like hot and passion. On contrary, when we look at blue, we feel like cold, sad, and like that. Then when we look at white color, what kind of feeling is coming up in our mind? Most of us consider it as good, clean, pure and something like these. On the other hand, we tend to consider black color as evil, fear, worry and so on. In fact, the word “white” has meaning that is like guiltiness, blameless and harmless, and one of meanings of “black” is nasty, ominous, surly and so forth. Like this, people basically do not have good impression with black color a long time ago. For instance, in Japanese anime, “名探偵コナン, Detective Conan”, a criminal is always painted by only black color.
In Japan, women try to make their skin whiter, because most people think white skin is beauty. Some people say this is admiration for whites. However is it just for white people? I think there is also admiration for white color, not only whites. For example, a long time ago 8-12 century, in Japan “Heian Jidai”, noblewomen did not even have a chance to meet foreigners, whichever whites or blacks, they put on makeup called “Oshiroi” which is white powder to make their skin white like as you can see from “Maiko” in these days. Thus, the reason why do Japanese people prefer to white skin is not only to admire whites, but also basically to admire white color.
As I stated, images of colors also have a great power to influence on our way of thinking. I think that’s one of the reason why blacks are categorized at the bottom of the stratification in the U.S. and other various countries.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.