When I watched the first episode of Hanayamata, I wondered how foreigners are portrayed in Anime stereotypically. I think there are several reasons why authors/creators decide to do so in their works.
In Japan, foreigners are typically referred to as 外人(がいじん) or 外国人(がいこくじん), which means foreigner or outsider. While these words refer to people who are not Japanese, most of foreign characters shown in Anime are usually Caucasian and portrayed stereotypically. For instance, an American character may be tall and have pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes while behaving stereotypically such as being obsessed with various aspects of Japanese culture such as Anime, Manga, etc. Patricia Martin from Lucky Star is a good example of this. She came to Japan in order to learn more about Japanese culture.
On the other hand, there are other characters that are half foreign and half Japanese. Some examples include Izumi Shinku from Dog Days, Ayase Eli from Love Live and Shijou Takane from The Idolmaster. Even if they have distinct features such as different eye and/or hair color, they are not treated any differently compared to a foreigner.
While there are many shows that have foreigners, I felt that the reaction Hana receives from her classmates and Naru in Hanayamata was interesting. When Naru sees Hana for the first time, she sees her as a fairy and perhaps not being from Earth. However, when Hana tried to recruit members for her Yosakoi team, her classmates are reluctant or scared of interacting with her.
Appearances aside, I think the main reason natives treat foreign students coldly mostly have to do with differences in upbringing and expectations. Some can argue that Hana’s view of Japan and wanting to reach out to other people eagerly to do Yosakoi is a bit rosy. However, it depicts a harsh reality that transfer students or people returning to their native country have to deal with. Sure, transfer students are usually treated as a big deal, but I think the main reason her classmates acted cold towards her is because they are not used to her enthusiastic and open way of interacting with others. They are used to having friendships develop gradually.
Moreover, this reaction is not unique with foreign characters in Anime, but it also applies to people who are born overseas in real life. Japanese Brazilians, which is currently the biggest overseas Japanese population, have a hard time in Japan because they are treated as a foreigner despite their ethnicity. Even though they look Japanese, natives prejudge them thinking that they can’t speak Japanese fluently and therefore, might look down at them besides their differences in upbringing. While Hana is an American that came from Princeton, New Jersey, I feel that a parallel can be drawn as she faces the same prejudices in regards to their proficiency in Japanese and having difficulties in some school subjects just like Japanese Brazilians. The only big difference is that Hana was able to make a good amount of friends. As a result, she is able to make her dream become a reality and overcome some difficulties a foreigner would have face.
While there are other shows such as Ikoku Meiro no Croisée, which covers the opposite spectrum with a young Japanese girl trying to live in France, it’s interesting to see how foreigners are portrayed stereotypically considering that Japan’s population is mostly homogenous (with a small percentage coming from other races) and because of that, they don’t have much exposure to people from different races. Although many shows that have foreign characters use them for comic relief, others like Hanayamata and Ikoku Meiro no Croisée use them to show the struggles a foreigner main character would face living overseas.
With that, what are your thoughts on how foreigners are depicted in Anime? Do you think they can be portrayed better? Feel free to share some of your favorite foreign characters in Anime.
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4 Comments… read them or add your own.
Speaking of “Ikoku Meiro no Croisée”, I wrote about that at length here: http://www.ganriki.org/article/croisee-in-a-foreign-labyrinth-japan-through-a-glass-un-darkly/
I had similar thoughts about this show, but in a different vein — mainly, I thought about how it was a commentary on how an “outsider” was reintroducing a Japanese person to a part of what ought to be their own past. I want to see how the entire show plays out, though, but so far it’s been a curious experience.
While I mentioned some stuff about that show, of course there are some differences between the two shows for the fact that it wasn’t set in Japan. But i’ll check out the post when I have the time.
You’re right on the mark with how Japanese artists/writers depict foreign characters. From what I’ve gathered, such things you’ve compiled in your post pretty much exists everywhere in the world – the prejudgment of minority foreign populations. In cartoons and animation, society sort of raises us with the mindset of a “default human” for a particular group (in America, despite being a melting pot, it’s usually Cacausians), where we usually need some sort of exaggerated identifiers – be it appearances (i.e. line-eyes for Asians or something) or mannerisms – for every other race in order for us to not see them as the “default human”. (I go on about a similar debate in one of my posts, here: http://theotakuspot.animeblogger.net/2011/11/09/why-do-the-japanese-draw-themselves-as-caucasians Aside from a few trolls and an SJW that made me lose my cool, it started out with some decent discussion)
My least favorite “stereotype” is when they lump Americans and Europeans together. This is not an anime example, but it’s from a Japanese visual novel game: in the Japanese versions of Ace Attorney, Gyakuten Saiban, Gou Karuma (Manfred von Karma) and Mei Karuma (Franziska von Karma) were Japanese characters that worked/were raised in the United States and came back to Japan (and thus had foreign mannerisms…. and villainy), but they come across as…well, European in their style of dress and so on. And in some anime/manga, American characters are shown to openly kiss as a sign of friendship or maybe even as a sign of hello at the least, which obviously isn’t true in American society. The whole America = Europe thing when it comes to “identifiers” is my personal pet peeve.
Anyways, my favorite “gaikokujin” anime character has to be Karen Kujou. Her broken Japanese is absolutely the cutest and I can’t get enough of her Union Jack parka. Other notable characters for me would be Li Syaoran and Lu Meiling (both are Chinese) from Cardcaptor Sakura, European and Chinese characters were treated very accurately and respectfully by CLAMP in that series.
While I don’t have much to add since you pretty much summed everything up, it’s true that prejudice is everywhere in the world for the fact that not everyone have a lot of exposure to other races, which also shows up in media as well. Sure, America has the luxury of having a diverse society, but at the same time, racism still exists (Ferguson, MO is a prime real-life example).
While some shows depict stereotypes badly as seen in your examples, if done right or an interesting way, it can make the story more entertaining.