I came across an interesting new column in the Daily Yomiuri earlier this week, U.S. Culture: lessons from the classroom ( this week column was "Anime gives U.S. students window on Japan") by Kimiko Manes. Manes makes some itneresting obsevations about her students and the differences between American and Japanes culture:
Japanese living conditions they see in anime must be a big culture shock for them. However, what seems to perplex my students even more is Japanese psychology, as the characters operate on a different value system. In human interactions, they operate with different moral norms. There seems to be a difference in religiosity as well. As most of my students have grown up in a culture that ties morals and religion closely together, they sometimes fail to understand where the Japanese sense of morality comes from.
There is no singular "God," but morals clearly do exist. What kind of society is this? What kind of place is Japan? They feel the difference viscerally; they crave answers. Thus, they register for Japanese class at the community college.
As for the allure of anime, an interesting answer was "because it's uncensored." The expression in anime is quite different from Western logic and customs; this is how it might seem to them. This genre normally portrays a Japan that is not religiously oppressive in terms of human interactions, sex and violence, and therefore appears to be a refreshing paradigm for American youth.
The United States, of course, seems to be an open, free country. But it is surprisingly not so; there are a lot of restrictions. The content of television, films and radio broadcasts is subject to constant censorship from audiences that are very sensitive to moral values. Americans seem to form a committee for any sort of problem. These committees, ubiquitous in the United States, supposedly represent city residents for any given issue, and try to influence policy on a specific facet through government action. Anime, at least for now, does not have to deal with such pressure.
Generally, Americans believe that they have a right to express their opinions; meaning, if they do not like something they have a right to complain. They believe that eliciting both sides of the story is justice, and mistake this as democracy. They understand that whatever statements they make, they have to be responsible for their implications. If you see the United States as the realization of the ideals of the Puritans who came to the New World to escape persecution in Europe, one can comprehend this tendency. Unfortunately, nowadays--although this is my perspective--it seems that the act of taking responsibility has been forgotten. Yet many Americans continue, sometimes vehemently, to insist on their sole righteousness.
When students find errors in the text that I have written, they proudly report, "Sensei, this is wrong!" I reply with a smirk, "Oh, that's not my fault. It's the computer's fault." Seeing that they are smiling wryly, I elaborate, "I learned how to blame others for mistakes after I came to the United States!" The whole class erupts in laughter. "You learned fast!" someone might quip. This is when I have to voice my admiration for Americans--they are open enough to excel at the art of humorous self-deprecation.
Living in the United States, I experience cultural clashes on a daily basis. I have an ongoing interest in societal issues, and have observed how changes in fashion, customs and laws have affected how people speak and interact with each other, contributing to what one might call Zeitgeist. However, as a teacher who interacts with college students and those in the workforce, I have begun to gain a deeper insight into understanding the American psyche, and on extension, American society. When expats in Japan get together for drinks, I am told, Japanese customs and behavior are discussed endlessly. People, by nature, take similarities for granted and become curious of things that are different. In this column, which I will write monthly, I would like to voice my observations as a Japanese woman living in the United States.
In particular, I do notice that Japanese often refrain from giving their true opinions in conversation and sometimes I find it annoying that Americans often give you their opinion whether you want to hear it or not.