Monday, July 31

Discovering Japan: Anime and Learning Japanese Culture

Annie Manion
A Master’s Thesis Submitted to East Asian Studies Center
University of Southern California

I recently took a course in anthropology called “Japanese Popular Culture”.

Knowing from my research that there are many students at USC interested in anime, Japanese film, videogames and manga, I expected the class to be full of otaku . I was surprised to find the class was comprised mostly of people who knew very little about Japan, but for some reason were attracted to some aspect of Japanese pop culture, whether it was fashion, music, or as was most often the case, anime. They were not there to learn more about something they already had a passion for, as the otaku I expected to see in the class, but rather to learn more about something they knew hardly anything about.

Since the success of the animated series Pokemon in the late nineties, Japanese animation has been enjoying greater popularity and recognition in America. Known increasingly by the Japanese term “anime”, Japanese animation is gaining recognition as a medium that appeals to children and young people. Anime has had an undeniable effect on American popular culture.

For example, many children’s cartoons, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible have begun to use an anime copycat style, “anime looks [were] leaping from the screen” at last fall’s fashion runways , and Hollywood blockbusters either use animated scenes directly (Kill Bill Vol. 1) or borrow imagery from anime (The Matrix Trilogy).

Though the effect anime is having on the visual style of American entertainment and fashion is easy to see, the implication of anime’s growing popularity for its country of origin, Japan, are much less clear. In the following discussion, I will report my findings on the basis of a poll, and take a closer look at the role anime plays in stimulating interest in Japan, and the ways in which interest in anime and Japanese popular culture are closely related to an interest in Japan.

It is in fact difficult to tease the two apart from each other, since it is impossible to participate in anime fan culture, except at the very shallowest level, and not be exposed to other forms of Japanese popular culture and traditional Japanese culture, and thereby be encouraged to explore them further. Anime and its relationship to interest in Japan are useful to consider in the context of teaching and learning about Japan. At the very least, one would think that a medium as easy

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