Learning About the Japanese Lifestyle Through Anime

  • Anime, as we all know, plays an important role in the lives of Japanese. When you say the word “anime,” the first word that comes to mind is “Japan/Japanese.” But first of all, let’s start with the basics – what is anime and how does it differ from regular cartoons?

    What is anime?

    Anime is a short word for animation, written in katakana in Japanese as it is a foreign word by origin. Anime is a form of art that refers to the Japanese animated movies, not all animation. However, anime in itself includes different genres, just like films or books do. There’s drama, comedy, slice of life, supernatural, erotic and so on. In some English dictionaries, anime is defined as “Japanese-style animated film or television entertainment” and/or “a style of animation created in Japan. Even if you are not interested in anime, you can easily notice that the Japanese animation style and artwork is very different to the Western one.

    What is the difference between Anime and Cartoons?

    If you like anime, you’ve been asked this a thousand times.
    If you don’t, you’ve been probably wondering about this.
    Essentially, one can say there is really no difference between the two as types of entertainment. Formally, any method that imitates an action on the screen is called an animation. Both anime and cartoons are animated entertainment shows, either serialized or as feature films.

    One can also say that they are different kinds of the same thing. Both cartoons and anime are hand-drawn still images or hand-drawn comical short animations (recently also computer drawn/animated, but that’s a whole different controversial topic).

    Yet, anime and cartoons differ with their visual characteristics (including facial features/expressions), concept (cartoons are usually light-hearted while animes can be anywhere from children friendly to gory and +18), and subject/theme (cartoons intend to bring laughter and humor while animes mostly focus on life issues or human emotions and sometimes have violence or sexual context).

    This has been slowly changing, with the increase of adult cartoons in the West that tackle politics, controversies, violence and so on. Take for instance Southpark, Bojack Horseman, or Rick and Morty. However, the difference in visual style persists, as well animation techniques and voice acting. Anime tends to be more polished and perfected, whereas cartoons are crudely drawn and animated, focusing more on the story ad dialogue.

    Finally, the cultural differences are always obvious, from the way the characters speak, to what activities are shown. A famous example is that blood is usually censored in Japanese TV, while it is copious in American TV. On the other hand, anime characters can be shown smoking in Japan, but their cigarettes are censored when the same show is broadcast in the US.

    Anime as a reflection of Japanese lifestyle

    We all know that watching the right genre of anime gives us an idea about the daily lives of the Japanese people. Sometimes even supernatural anime about fighting demons has scenes at school or at home that are remarkably realistic. From how they eat to how they treat people, we see a lot of daily life shown in Japanese anime. Also, various uniquely Japanese activities are featured in anime. For example, the animes Kimi ni Todoke and Toradora (both rom-com anime) show a school festival, a Japanese cultural event that is iconic. Many animes also show summer firework festivals or religious matsuri festivals, that even when unrelated to the action are shown in great and true detail. Anime taking place in modern times also shown Japanese Christmas and New Year, showing us the cultural practices of the country.

    Japanese foods are always present in anime. Actually, I’ve never seen an anime that would not feature at least one Japanese food. There’s always a certain episode in which they eat onigiri or bento. In the anime School Rumble, Curry Rice and onigiri is the common meal you can encounter through all the episodes, while in Naruto he constantly eats ramen. Ghibli animes are also well known for long and beautiful cooking scenes.

    Prevailing attitudes and personalities of the Japanese can also be seen through anime. Since it came from Japan and the artists are/were Japanese, then most likely the attitude and personality of the characters are alike to the majority of Japanese people. Very often anime try to teach a lesson, or show traits that society values like friendship, helping each other. self-sacrifice and so on. Of course, the amount of positive lessons depends on the anime genre, but even in fantasy, the heroes tend to be having distinctly Japanese values.

    Finally, watching anime subs can help you learn a lot of the language too – especially pronunciation and using the words in context.