2005年10月11日 火曜日

Anime and Learning Japanese Culture

by Mizuko Ito

Features, Japan Abroad, Language, Movies, Television

In her master's thesis submitted to the East Asian Studies Center at USC, Annie Manion argues that among college students in the US, anime has become one of the most important drivers of interest in Japan and Japanese language study. Drawing from surveys and interviews of students taking Japanese language classes and anime club members, Manion suggests that "there is a good deal of overlap" between young people studying Japanese and those involved with the anime fan community. Over half of Japanese language students cited "understanding Japanese anime, music, etc." as one reason they are taking a Japanese class.

... over the last few years the type of student interest in Japan has been changing. Where in the past Japanese language programs attracted people interested in learning about Japanese economic growth and business practices, recently Japanese language students seem more interested in Japanese culture. A recent article for the Wall Street Journal addressed the trend, saying that in the past nine years, the majority of Japanese language students at the University of Georgia are no longer international business majors, but rather Japanese culture fanatics.

In line with other research by scholars such as Susan Napier or Anne Allison, Annie has found that national origin is not necessarily what atracts young people to anime. But she has also found that once someone becomes an anime fan, they often develop an interest in learning more about Japan. "The fact is that people who like anime, depending on their exposure to Japanese culture, tend to like many aspects of Japanese culture, from popular to traditional, as well, and develop at some point either the desire to learn Japanese or visit Japan."

I had been hearing a lot of anecdotal information from faculty and students at USC about how the tide has shifted in the kinds of interests that bring young Americans to an interest in Japan. While anime is not the only type of Japanese popular culture that has gotten interest among American children and youth, it is probably the most dominant. Annie's thesis makes a strong case about these trends. She also argues that it is high time we took anime seriouly in the academy as an ambassador for Japanese culture. She notes that anime continues to be marginalized in the US despite its broad appeal among young people. "Because of this many young people are not encouraged to pursue their interest in anime, and it is still uncommon for anime to be used in formal classroom settings as a means to teach about Japan." As a member of the academy who is researching and teaching about anime, I couldn't agree more.

Download Annie's thesis

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2005年10月11日 21:28


the love of Japanse culture by Westeners (beleive it or not I'd argue it's more fierce in England and Australia than in the U.S.) has also lead to gaijin houses in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukouka where tourists crash during their 90 day visa stay and proceed to work semi-legally while looking for a full time job teaching english, working for a design group, etc. It's also rather amazing how much of their own money they spend for 200,000 yen a month. In other words, Japan could have a healthy in flow of qualified college educated graduates if it wanted them.


Anime will certainly attract new people to learning about Japan's language and culture, but they generally don't stick around for longer than a single semester or year. That's exactly why there are often hundreds and hundreds of students in lower level Japanese classes, but only a handful actually go on to take higher level classes.

Fans of anime often become over-confident in their abilities because they've already been involved with one facet of the Japanese culture. They walk into the Japanese classroom assuming they will do well because they've memorized various catchphrases from their favorite shows (e.g., they think people in Japan actually say things like "ja ne! utsukushii bakayarou"). When they realize there may actually be a challenge associated with learning Japanese, and that what they've learned from anime probably won't help them in the classroom at all, they often give up entirely.

3- David

One wonders how many of these students are, or ever get, interested in aspects of Japanese other than anime and manga. Anime's well and good and manga can be fun, but I hope these students' interest in Japanese culture isn't limited to this narrow pop-cultural speck of the wealth Japanese artists have given us.

Are they also investigating Japanese literature and film? Are they exploring Japanese literature and film created by dead yellow males and females? There are riches there--Kobo Abe and Tanizaki, Ozu and Teshigahara--which they would be much the poorer for missing.

4- Elijiah

Japan is the best place in the world!

5- Devon Hughes

If I may add to this discussion...
For me, my interest in anime and manga did provide the impetus to learn the Japanese language. But my interest didn't stop growing there and soon I was into many aspects of current and older forms of Japanese culture. This was all jr high, and high school.
I'd say that at age 16, the biggest interests were:
1)Anime and manga
2)Japanese pop music
3)Japanese language
4)Japanese food

But now, at age 24, I am currently interested in things like:
cultural trends in politics (esp youth nationalism and militarism) and fashion, environmental conservation and organic/health food topics, the state of women's/minority/GLBT rights, infrastructure design (especially as Japan technologically modernized, Aikido philosophy, Hiroshima and it's meaning.
In any event, I would just like offer encouragement and some caution to those smitten by anime and manga. There really is more out there. It's ok if that's all you're into, but it is your loss to a) choose to spend most of your time simply consuming it, and b) to see Japanese culture as anime/manga and nothing else.

6- Mariah

Its true that US kids (like my-self) are interested in anime productions,like,yesterday I watched Inuyasha 3 the movie and it was so funny.The drawing are so unige that you never want to take your eyes of it and want to draw just like the anime drawers or better.I luv anime so much and your are right.

7- jericho

I scorned anime and manga in my youth because I saw the stereotypical look of the demographic that is into these things (Dorks as I called them, later to discover the word Otaku). I really couldn't get into it until I discovered that it wasn't that immature, but I have to wonder why such an image is perpetuated. It has to be said that the study of these things must reach an intellectual ripening stage, where admirers can analyze anime's structures rather than say that it's simply cool or awesome.
Now I have some Japanese language skills, yet I fail to explain why I took up the language in the first place. I quit taking japanese intermediate level studies because I couldn't figure out why that country was so damn important to go to. I got nothing to do with it, no bloodlines flow through there, nor do I have business relations with them. Just a youth where I hung out with the Japanese immigrant population in my town.

In some sneaky, indirect way, pop culture has to do with the majority of the influence. Being a culture junkie is more fun and easy than a business jock I guess. I did enjoy the look of their crammed cities, the devices used in their narratives (suicide, writing umbrella and names of lovers on a tree), and their food. But come to think of it I am not as interested in Korean or Chinese pop culture maxims as much as the Japanese ones, despite the fact that those countries have some awesome stuff under their belts. I think they have cleverly taken over western youths minds with their exported image.
That's it! They are an exporter of image! Chinese got the food, Koreans got the film, French got the wine, Iraq got the war, and Japan got the cars, electronics, useless robots, anime, manga, subcultures, a friggn smorgasbord of sharp, un-prosaic objects that they are mass producing and marketing brilliantly all over the world. Excuse my exalt, but I just figured out why I got suckered into loving the country. They are good with first immpressions, and then some.

8- FC

Yeah I agree too lol! I used to be obsessed with anime on Cartoonnetwork back in elementary and middle school. My obsession slowly evolved into a strong interest in Japanese culture. I have replaced anime with Japanese live dramas. It's more realistic and one can learn japanese the way its spoken on a daily basis. I don't think this is just a "phase", and I won't give up learning more about the japanese culture.

9- Tom Robson

Hi there
I have been travelling around South East Asia,Australia and North America for the last 5 months,whilst on my travels ive found a strong desire to learn Japanese.Id say its due to the fact it would be something totally different both linquistically and culturally. Im from England and was wondering if you could help me find a suitable program i could take in Japan,being a begginer.
Hope to here from you soon,

Your Sincerley

Tom Robson

10- Hannah Fitzpatrick

I enjoy anime and manga. I think it gives you a taste of the youth's culture. Not a total outlook on "Japanese Culture" itself. Make for an interesting read. ^-^

11- magus

i saw your blog about this amazing culture and i tought that you can take a look in my blog too, ´couse it´s about brazilian culture =) (i´m from brazil)

and if you can tell me some URL´s about anime i´ll apreciate too.. i really love to watch anime, and many people here in brazil love it too.

thanks for readind.
see ya

12- maina

We're brazilian girls and we liked so much your blog.
We want to get to know more about Japan and the culture of this country. We also made a blog about our country, Brazil. If you could visit our blog and write what do you think about Brazil, and tell us more about your country.


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember Me?