Japan has a foothold in the foothills

In the diverse multicultural mix that is Woodstock, one country is barely represented in actual physical terms but still stands out for its cultural impact. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to school either. Japan has less than 2% of the world’s overall population, but its creative culture has a disproportionate impact worldwide, with hundreds of millions of avid followers scattered around the globe.

Scratch the surface just a little and you will find a substantial population of Japanophiles (people who love or admire Japanese culture) that exists at Woodstock; almost none of whom are Japanese or have ever been to Japan, but all consume anime and manga — two popular Japanese cultural exports — to the point of disregarding other forms of entertainment.

Why such attraction? According to anime expert and lecturer Takamusa Sakurai, it’s due to “more elaborate story lines and character involvement” as compared to other media.

This is backed up by our own student “experts” who are immersed in Japanese products almost exclusively of other media.

“Each anime and manga has its own meaning, and they put a lot of effort into it. Plus, they make it for many different age groups,” said Khaled Bagh, Class of 2018. By contrast he says, “Western cartoons are made for children.”

Echoing Bagh’s sentiments, Hassakol Panaspraipong, Class of 2019, said, “Western TV shows are mainstream with repetitive themes. Each anime has its own unique story and style which make them much more worth watching.

In fact, the effort put in to create each anime is quite substantial, especially when taking into account that many characters and scenes are painstakingly hand drawn before being animated. This accounts for the level of detail visible in any anime scene.

Over time, fans develop emotional connections to Japanese creative culture. Several say they connect it to memories from childhood.

“In the (Syrian) war, the wi-fi and electricity was bad so I couldn’t watch anything, and DVDs became too expensive. So I started reading manga for entertainment.” said Bagh.

“I grew up with anime,” said Samuel Lee, Class of 2019. “Ever since I was six, and my brother showed it to me, I was hooked.”

But this interest in Japanese creative forms goes beyond simply watching anime and reading manga. To those who claim the title of otaku, a well exposed anime and manga fan, one must watch anime in the original Japanese to qualify as a true fan.

“There’s no emotion in dubbed anime,” said Lee. “In Japanese, there is a much better and wider array of voice actors, and you can feel the emotion in their voices.”

Hassakol Panaspraipong, Class of 2018, added that dubbed anime were like “bad ripoffs” of the originals, and that the original Japanese versions were “much better done and of a higher quality.”

But despite the backlash against dubbed versions by the hardcore fans, popular anime like Naruto and Bleach have been dubbed in multiple languages: such as Russian, Arabic, Malay, and even Polish.

This is a part of the aggressive marketing of anime worldwide, which has resulted in networks in many countries (including India, Syria, Russia, Germany and the USA among many others) taking up anime. This is all part of an initiative by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) called “Cool Japan,” which works to export Japanese culture to the rest of the world, in an attempt to increase Japan’s “soft power” (power of influence) on a global scale.

Here at Woodstock, many Japanophiles have been recently been allowed to take their love of Japan further through the Japanese passage. Ms. Kaori Takeuchi, the teacher of this passage, acknowledges the positive impact of anime and manga on her students, saying, “Some of my students already knew some Japanese through manga and anime and knew elements of Japanese culture quite well (before they joined the passage).”

Ms. Takeuchi also says that anime and manga are important. While she admits that some are “just for entertainment, others display very deep thoughts and ideas from Japanese culture, spreading Japanese cultural understanding worldwide.” She singles out Studio Ghibli films (a major award-winning film studio in Japan) as “having good messages” to show the world.

She also said that anime helps spread important Japanese values that could be a positive influence in the world, such as, “patience and understanding of others, and non-violence.”

Ms. Takeuchi related the uniqueness of Japanese creativity to how they “keep our own culture and language,” saying, “The world today is increasingly globalized, but in some places this comes at the price of losing their own culture, with people learning in different languages in their own country. We manage [to keep ours intact] this by standardizing all basic education in our language, as well as having all textbooks and materials in Japanese. In this way, we keep our language and culture intact.”

If anyone wishes to know more about anime and Japanese culture, please consult the Japanese passage in the quad language department on wednesdays and thursdays.

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