The Portrayal of Black People in Manga and Anime

by Allan Kastiro

UntitledI 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 pokemonapparently) 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.

bugnugDuring 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)

slamdunkThis 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.

Reference

Shunya Y. (2008). “What Does ‘American’ Mean in Postwar Japan?” Nanzan Review of American Studies 30:83-87

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KFC and Christmas cake – Christmas in Japan

by Michelle Liebheit

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„Let’s make a reservation for the best Christmas.“ (KFC Christmas advertisement, 2013). Source: http://www.kfc.co.jp/xmas/?utm_campaign=xmas&utm_source=kfc

It is December and like every year this means that Christmas is coming soon. The city is more crowded than usual, packed with people looking for presents. The shops downtown are playing Jingle Bells endless times, and from everywhere Santa Claus and his reindeers are smiling at you. A giant Christmas tree is displayed in the central station and when it turns night, all the Christmas illuminations come to light.

So which city do you think this is? New York? Berlin? Or is it London?

No – I happen to be in Kyoto, Japan. However, this description could easily suit all major cities around the globe. You might say: This is globalization! But what is this word actually and what influences does it has on Japanese culture? In the following I want to analyze this question with the example of Christmas in Japan.

Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, although the 23rd of December happens to be one, as for being the present emperor’s birthday. While there is only around one percent Christians living in Japan, Christmas has received great approval. However, since Japanese Christmas does not consist of going to church, listening to the sermon and watch a nativity play before having dinner with your family, Japan has developed some unique elements itself.

Due to a clever marketing campaign dating back in 1974, KFC successfully established its fried chicken as the perfect Christmas dinner in Japan. Nowadays for Japanese people, Christmas equals a bucket of fried chicken from KFC just like New Years is associated with the especially prepared and in boxes presented food called “o-sechi ryôri” (おせち料理). Promoting this idea, even KFC’s figurehead Colonel Sanders, whose lifelike stature stands in front of each Japanese store, will be dressed in a Santa costume around Christmas time. Due to its popularity, people even need do reserve their KFC Christmas dinner at least a month prior to the event. KFC makes twice as much profit in December than in other months.

Another unique Japanese Christmas dish is the Christmas cake (クリスマスケーキ), its most typical type being a sponge cake decorated with whipped cream and strawberries. It is usually picked up by the father of the household. By the 26th prices drop immensely and shops are trying to get rid of their left stocks.

Even though Christmas became a “big hit” in Japan, other Christian holidays like Eastern remain rather unnoticed. Japanese have been picky in choosing what to borrow from foreign countries – apparently most, when it comes to holidays. In class we talked about how some movies are successful around the world, whereas others are not. In this case, action movies seem to be the most “translatable”, since they usually do not have a lot of talking and shooting with guns unfortunately seems to be universally understood. Converting this to our look on foreign holidays in Japan, is it simply a failure of marketing that Eastern has not been as well received as Christmas in Japan, or what are the factors for successfully making a society celebrating a non-native holiday?.

As Millie R. Creighton writes, a holiday successfully promoted by Japanese department stores needs to “accord with Japanese ideology, or serve a particular function in contemporary Japanese society” (1991, p. 683). So even though Christmas came from a different religious background, it still transports a deeper meaning Japanese can relate to: Christmas is all about love and giving. These are values that are universal throughout different societies and Japan is a living proof for this. The holiday has been domesticated and the important male figure is Santa Claus and not Jesus. Of course, this is not a Japanese phenomenon only. On the other hand, Eastern still concentrates more on the historical figure of Jesus and therefore might not seem quite appealing to people with different believes. Other examples of successful holidays in Japan are Mother’s and Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day.

This example shows that globalization is not about making everything the same. Societies adopt particular parts of foreign origin and create a version that suits them best. Through globalization ideas, things and people can easily spread and move from one place to another on earth, but what is being accepted and what is being rejected is still up to society and its values.

References

CREIGHTON, Millie R. “Maintaining Cultural Boundaries: How Japanese Department Stores Domesticate ‘Things Foreign’”. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No.4, 1991.

HODKINSON, Alan and STRONACH, Ian. “Towards a theory of Santa. Or, the Ghost of Christmas Present“. Anthropology Today, Vol. 27, No. 6, 12/2011.

QUIGLEY, J.T. “A Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan”. The Diplomat, 12/2013. http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/a-kentucky-fried-christmas-in-japan/

Borderless Culture

by Ayaka Nakamura

When I asked foreign friends a question, “what is Japanese culture?” many said, samurai and kimono that are related to traditional Japanese stereotype, and Japanese people also often say Japan is a mono-cultural traditional country. Yet, I think Japanese culture contains many foreign origin customs and is ever-changing. However, although it is difficult to differentiate a multicultural country from a global country, Japan is not enough globalized to be capable to accept people who have different cultures.

One of the most frequent answers to the question, what is Japanese culture, might be kimono. There is no doubt the traditional clothes is a part of Japanese culture, and many Japanese wear them for festivals and various ceremonies. Yet, kimono is not Japanese original or only-Japanese culture. Similar style wears were used over Asia, and Japanese people actually imported pre-kimono clothes from China and Korea. Then, how about Zen culture? Japan has five famous Zen temples where sophisticated monks created poetry and paintings, and the word, Zen, is widely known as a Japanese culture in the world. Yet, Zen was happened in India and was brought to Japan much later. Although both kimono and Zen are not originally from Japan, they are part of Japanese culture.

In addition to these pan-Asian cultures, Japanese culture contains Western cultures, too. One will hear the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, by a European composer, Beethoven, on the last day of every year in Japan. Playing and singing the Symphony No. 9 altogether is a Japanese ending year custom, and people eat soba noodles listening to it. Moreover, how about shaking hands? Is it not a Japanese culture? Although touching someone’s body part would not fit into Japanese polite manners, shaking hands became a common way of a greeting especially in business, and most of all Japanese know what shaking hands means. From ancient time, Japan integrated many foreign cultures into its own culture, and people are not aware of their non-Japaneseness as cultures are invisible.

However, instead of accepting foreign cultures, Japan is not capable of having people who have different cultures yet. If accepting people is about globalization, then Japan has not globalized enough. Although many companies expresses they need “global” people to work with, they would not hire a Muslim man who can do a great work but who needs to have praying time five times a day. It would still take time for Japan to stand at the global stage. Yet, I believe it is not impossible, and Japan can be a more multicultural and global country. For the change, Japan definitely has to deal with some overdue customs, such as treating women as tea servers and recruiting only Junior students, that would cause a delay in the global business race.