True Honorable Spirit in 30 Minutes or Less

Over the years, I’ve probably gotten too much exposure to kids’ entertainment from both Japan and America. Because of that, as well as an idle comment made by someone I was talking, to I was recently thinking about portrayals of Japanese/American relations in each respective country’s cartoons and comics, and how interestingly they mirror each other.

In anime and manga, when an American character meets the primarily Japanese main characters, what almost inevitably ends up happening, especially if the American ends up being a friend or ally, is that he is able to understand the “true Japanese spirit” after his fateful encounter. Usually it’ll have to do with the determination and willpower of the Japanese, as well as just how much they can overcome in the face of superior forces.

But in American cartoons and comics, when a Japanese character appears, he almost always emphasizes honor. Honor is the most important quality in a Japanese character in an American cartoon, and there is always a point in the show, typically towards the end, where one or more American characters prove that they are truly honorable in the eyes of the Japanese character.

To some extent I think the American cartoon’s portrayal has to do with the mystifying image of the orient that has been a part of western fiction for centuries, while the Japanese cartoon’s portrayal supports the reassuring idea that, although Japanese people might not be the biggest or strongest, they can make up for that with intangible qualities. In either case however, this idea of winning over the foreigner and showing that, when you get down to it, respectable qualities remain very similar around the world, even if it’s portrayed through the lens of stereotypes and simple stories.

What do you think of this? Am I on the mark? Do you think things have changed significantly over the years so that this is no longer the case?

4 thoughts on “True Honorable Spirit in 30 Minutes or Less

  1. I think you’re very much on the mark. As both an American and a fan of Japanese culture, I alwasy find myself in the awkward position of being just a tad offended by the portrayal of foreigners in both sides, haha.

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  2. I have no idea, really. I haven’t paid much attention to American cartoon’s and especially Japanese characters in said works. If anything, the line should become more transparent with time, so I would assume it has grown thin.

    With “globalization” there will be a necessity for things to be “on the level” because we aren’t going to be familiar with just our neighbors anymore, and writers should be realizing more and more than it’s easy to spot these cultural vanities when spun… Then again, 8 year-olds might not realize it, so who knows.

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  3. I think you’re pretty much on the mark. Since America has such a mix of races and cultures, fiction often portrays them as mystifying to the typical American. Japan, on the other hand, has always been a country made up of a single race and culture, and like you say, while they acknowledge that they’re not the strongest, they have their own special qualities, many of which are common throughout the world.

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  4. I like this imagery – I think I made a similar comment once on my blog a long time ago…Unfortunately, I think the fact of the matter is far more deep seated than you think.

    For the Japanese, there are many things that are inbuilt into them from pretty much birth – duty, honor, saving face at work and most importantly, shame. These things differ markedly depending on the environment – for example, an office man will bow and pander to his boss at work, be civil to his colleagues and associates, but then go off work with the same people to a nudie pub and be the very pinnacle of debauchery.

    The opinion burned into the Japanese psyche (along with “we must kill all the large sea animals”) is that no foreigner, no matter how hard they try will come all the way to understanding our complex inner culture. This is partly true, because noone will tell you about it since admitting you don’t know something is also a form of shame.

    So this portrayal of foreigners is something of a stereotype, though I suppose there could be some infereiority complex bundled in there too for good measure…

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