Social Projecting and Self-Stereotyping in Japanese Media – OWLS April Blog Tour | Colors

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Hello! I’ll be talking about social projecting and self-stereotyping in Japanese media (anime in particular) in this post.

But before I jump into that, allow me to say thank you for visiting this blog. It’s quite likely you found this post because of the OWLS April Blog Tour. I highly recommend you visit Arria Cross’ blog, Fujinsei. Arria preceded me on this Blog Tour with Racewashing in “Attack on Titan” Films & Other Adaptations (OWLS Blog Tour) and you should really give it a read. Following after me is Katrina Sade. Make sure to check out her OWLS blog post when it comes out!

The prompt is as follows:

April’s Monthly Topic: “Colors”

We are all part of one race, the human race. “Colors” refers to people of color in anime. For this monthly topic, we will be discussing how people of color or characters of different “races” (a literal alien race) are represented in anime. Some topics we are considering is the dangers of stereotyping, bi-racial characters, and the importance of racial inclusion.

Thanks for whipping that up for us, Lyn!


Like it or not, stereotyping exists in all cultures and societies, including Japan. Not even anime is safe from this practice. This leads to some characters to project their impressions onto other individuals and to judge others according to their beliefs regarding different ethnicities.

For example, there is a character named Noumi Kudryavka (in the series, Little Busters!) who experiences such hardship. Kudryavka, or Kud, is a high school girl who is one-quarter Japanese and three-quarters Russian. Despite not looking Japanese in the slightest (according to anime standards), Kud speaks fluent Japanese and is very knowledgable about Japanese culture. Her homemade Japanese cooking is both authentic and delicious!

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However, some of her classmates fail to acknowledge that she’s very much in-tune and at-ease with Japanese culture. They instead choose to focus on how she looks like a foreigner and how she’s dismal at English.

Because to them, Kud does not confirm to their perception of a Japanese person on two levels: appearance and behavior. She’s shorter than the average student and her hair color is an unusual off-white. As a result, Kud’s peers consider her an outsider and inherently not Japanese. Then again, bringing in hair color when you’re discussing anime characters is a silly move considering how said characters usually have very colorful (and unrealistic) hair colors, but I digress.

Despite being fluent in Japanese (and possibly Russian), Kud struggles with English. Her classmates consider the concept of a foreigner being unable to properly pronounce English ridiculous out of a misguided and ignorant belief that all foreigners must be able to speak English. Be that as it may, they consquently project their flawed perceptions onto Kud and end up designating her as a target to be mocked.

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Tsujigaito Satoha in Saki would be an example of an individual who tries to play up these preconceptions for the benefit of herself and her acquaintances. She is the only Japanese player for Rinkai All-Girls’ High School, a school whose roster primarily consist of overseas students who are studying in Japan on scholarships. Whenever she is not in the spotlight, Satoha usually has a rough, boyish image with long, unkempt hair and a coat cape draped over her shoulders. She resembles a yakuza boss when she’s dressed like this, to be honest.

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Once she plays mahjong on the big stage and in front of the camera, however, Satoha ties her hair up in a ponytail, puts on fake eyeglasses, and wears a sarashi (which is a long strip of cloth that is wrapped around the chest and up to the chest).

Although the reason why Satoha goes to such lengths for her public persona is unclear, it seems likely that she feels like she has to distinguish herself as Japanese. By adorning a ponytail (samurai wore ponytails and who are more Japanese than samurai) and wearing a sarashi (which was traditionally worn by both Japanese warriors and delinquents – the fact that Satoha is wearing a sarashi isn’t visible to the public eye, however), Satoha enhances her distinctly Japanese appearance even further.

As a result, no one will question her lineage, which is important for her and her school because the competition’s rules state that every team has to have a Japanese player as a Vanguard.

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In a relatively recent chapter (chapter 166), the audience and the reporter find out that the Miyanaga sisters have a quarter of non-Japanese ancestry. The reporter is astounded because Miyanaga Saki and Miyanaga Teru have completely Japanese names and look Japanese. Since they conform to her ideas as to what a Japanese person is, the reporter has trouble believing the sisters to not be fully Japanese.

I must repeat once again that guessing at an anime character’s ethnicity based on physical appearance or cues is a foolhardy decision at best. This still did not stop this reporter, however, since she seems to have done just that.

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Labeling an individual out of a preconceived notion is something to be avoided, be it stereotyping or something else altogether. Unfortunately, it remains something that happens on a regular basis in the real world. Please refrain from judging someone before you really get to know them.

If you feel compelled to act a certain way, then feel free to do so. But only if you genuinely believe this reflects your true self and only if you are not doing this out of some desire to live up to people’s expectations. I know that this conflicts with Satoha’s actions and motivations, but that is my stance on the matter and what I wished to convey with this inadequate post. Hopefully we all can learn from these examples and not repeat their mistakes.

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34 comments on “Social Projecting and Self-Stereotyping in Japanese Media – OWLS April Blog Tour | Colors”

  1. I enjoyed reading this and how you tackled both wrongheaded assumptions we can make about a person and someone even striving to be more like an image rather than who they really are. The one that always comes to mind for me is Yu-Gu-Oh abridged series’ version of Bandit Keith and how he always just proclaims “America!” with a red, white, and blue bandana on his head.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent post! You really hit the nail on assumptions. We live in a world where we rely on seeing appearances based on looks in first glance. We need to learn deep inside someone before we assume.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Although I generally agree that stereotypes are something to be avoided, in many instances they cannot. And this is coming from personal experience, having grown up in several different places around the world and being exposed to many different cultures. Racial differences aside, our approach to human interaction is heavily dependent on our upbringing, so as much as we can assume that the Japanese are “xenophobic” or that they have these preconceived notions as to how one is supposed to act — that goes for pretty much everyone. And you can’t blame someone if they feel a certain way, because that’s what they’ve been exposed to.

    Because I think the underlying problem with stereotypes isn’t so much that we feel offended by their existence; rather, we fail to take the next step and question why they’re there in the first place. Little Busters! may be poking at something familiar to most Japanese, but why do they have the idea that all foreigners only speak English? Do the authors, themselves, even understand why such a notion exists?

    And the only way for people to break out of further propagating stereotypes is to understand where it’s all coming from. Which is why I discovered, through experience, that sometimes you just NEED to address the elephant in the room. It’s just a matter of how you approach it. And you’ll be surprised, depending who you talk to, that the origins of some misplaced assumptions are actually far more personal than you think — the societal structures that promote this behavior is just a convenient excuse.

    So what I’m trying to say, basically, is that stereotypes ARE bad to some extent, but what’s worse is how this can potentially break down communication between cultures — creating elephants in the room that prevent us from understanding one another more deeply. I believe anyone who is against stereotypes has to embrace the possibility that that racist twat online, or that obnoxious white supremacist, has some story to tell that would explain their unhealthy attitude towards people besides them. It’s a hard thing to do — really it is — but no one said understanding one another is an easy thing to do. It requires communication, understanding, and when the answer comes to light, a huge amount of tolerance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm I totally agree with what you said here. It definitely isn’t as black-and-white as I’ve portrayed things in this post.

      Maybe the writers of LB knew the notion that foreigners only spoke spoke Japanese is flawed, but I couldn’t say. This could be an example in which the characters are shown to be deliberately ignorant.

      I can give them the benefit of the doubt, sure. I guess communication is key here (as usual) because I would not know what to think if they are unwilling to talk about why their thought process encourages such behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, another comment (sorry, I’m so talkative atm). I tend to be a little careful with fan translations and take them with a grain of salt. The example you gave above with the reporter from Saki, for example, has her saying “I can’t believe it!”. Now I don’t know what the original line of this is, but I’m assuming it’s along the lines of 知らない (shiranai, lit. “(not) know”), which in a more neutral context, simply means “I had no idea!”

    It’s curious to note how a very subtle choice of words colors the speech to express either surprise born from stereotypical exemption (“I can’t believe (they have non-Japanese blood)!”), or surprise out of obliviousness (“I had no idea!”). So sometimes, I guess the stereotypes may also come from the translators/localizers, themselves.

    Just something to think about (that made things needlessly more complicated). 😉

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    1. Being talkative is good!

      You definitely have a point regarding the translation’s accuracy. I actually decided to go back and double check what the original said.

      “宮永姉妹ってクオ-タ-!?
      うそっ”

      My elementary Japanese skills inform me that the reporter is expressing disbelief that the Miyanaga sisters are a quarter non-Japanese and blurts out, “That’s a lie.” Maybe she is overreacting.

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      1. うそっ does mean “a lie” literally, but that small っ makes it the more casual expression expressing surprise. It isn’t so much that she can’t believe it in that it’s hard to take at face value alone. “I can’t believe it” is actually a good translation for that, but take note at how it colors the speech to make it seem like there’s just no way the Miyanaga sisters could possibly have mixed blood. It’s a little less charged than the English, but not to the point that the reporter is being judgmental (i.e. she can’t believe they’re not pure-blooded Japanese).

        Damn nuances. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This may be a little off topic, but I’m going to jump in here again. There’s also accidental stereotyping/racism (like in this vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN1QTugrQQQ), where you genuinely want to get to know the other person and/or about another culture and spark up a conversation with something you think is relatable but actually comes across as offensive. I was faced with that before (“oh, you must like green tea, right? Here’s some!”), and after pointing it out was told that they were just genuinely curious and really didn’t mean any harm. After that, we became good friends. Similar to what Ed said, it may be a matter of communication.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s totally relevant! Sometimes racism is indeed accidental and we have to work things out with communication like you and Ed have said.

      (I do like myself some green tea, to be honest. Glad to hear you two ended up becoming good friends)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Remy. I hate stereotypes with a flaming passion – I’m sure that comes as no shock to you – but I also admit to once having tried to act a certain way to please others. It wasn’t fun. I was miserable. As in ‘needs therapy’ miserable.

    I’m over that phase in my life but stereotypes still form a very huge part of my life. I live in a culture which is held in a stranglehold of tradition. There are standards of behavior and even the slightest deviation can incur all kinds of comments. It pisses me off even though I know I can’t change everyone’s minds.

    Okay at this point I’m just venting but the point is that I agree with you vehemently that we need to learn not to shove preconceived notions on people and also foster an environment where people are free to be who they want to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, D. Mmm that does sound like a lousy time. I’m sorry you had to go through it.

      Oh jeez. No wonder you are really considering moving away for grad school. Hang in there.

      No no you weren’t venting. I’m glad this post was able to convey that line of thinking (which was my goal but I ended up not being able to revise it revise as much as I would have liked because of nocturnal events that you probably know of).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When I watched Little Busters I found the way the other characters treated Kud to be strange. Particularly her inability to speak English. She’s Russian/Japanese, I’d actually be more surprised if she could speak English with any fluency. Then again, it is kind of reflective of the wrongful assumptions people make on a daily basis so it probably served some purpose even if it just came off as a bit strange.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is very interesting to me. I have friends who are Mexican-American and don’t speak Spanish and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say to them, but you’re Mexican how can you not speak Spanish! This has always been a strange thing to me because we just sit there saying, “The same way you can’t speak Spanish! You aren’t born knowing a language! You’re taught it. Your grandparents came from Germany why can’t you speak German? …Exactly.” Lol It’s interesting to see this is just a problem in our country!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I’m sorry to hear your friends have to deal with such backwards thinking. Nice to read that you and your friends handle the situation quite adeptly, though. #roastedandtoasted

      Hmm it might not be just a problem in the United States, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadly I believe you are right about it not being just a problem in the United States. It seems like no matter where you go in the world there are always certain people determined to try to isolate different groups of people. My hope is that the amount of people like that continue to grow smaller and smaller. Maybe one day we will all truly be accepted for our differences ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Remy, and very true. Wrongful assumptions like these based on stereotypes really happen, unfortunately. I live in Canada which is a very multicultural country so we are careful about stereotyping based on appearances because we might offend others. But of course, I’m not saying that we’re stereotype-free. On the contrary, since we’re very multicultural and allowed to keep our cultures from our mother countries, I’d say that the stereotypes are stronger. We just don’t often voice them aloud, I guess.
    There’s this one time I was standing in line and there was an elderly Chinese-looking man in front of me. As soon as it was his turn, the reception lady didn’t even wait for him to speak but turned her back to speak to her colleague, saying “I need someone who speaks Chinese and talk to this gentleman for me.” Then the elderly man spoke in clear, perfect English. He said, “There is no need, my dear. I think I speak decent English with my 30-year experience as an English professor. And just so you know, you must clarify whether you mean Mandarin or Cantonese. Chinese is not just one single language. Now for my business here….”

    What a perfect retort. I actually applauded. The receptionist was quite embarrassed and repeatedly apologized. I felt sorry for her. I think she didn’t mean to offend, but her wrongful assumption that all Chinese-looking elderly can’t speak English is untrue, just like how the eloquent gentleman proved.

    Anyway, good job in this post, Rem. Keep up the good work. Cheers!

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  10. Really interesting article, Remy. I feel Japanese can be one of the less tolerant people on Earth sometimes. Not out of malice but just because they are used to a certain sense of uniformity. Even among themselves, change doesn’t seem to be viewed as something positive.
    But of course that’s a stereotypical preconception on its own, so this is really a universal thing and we should all work hard to avoid 🙂
    Once again, great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Remy, this is great work from you! While I’ve yet to watch Little Busters (I sure will in the future!), you make me happy, in that the show actually has some quality content that can be applied to our own lives. Stereotyping can be harmless, but often times taken way out of hand. It’s all about having accepting people in our lives who don’t stereotype that will be the best way to combat the mess. Sorry I was so late to the party, but awesome job!

    Like

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