Does Japanese culture have a self-hatred complex?

I was reading an article the other day about how Japanese comics have negative portrayals of Koreans. What was so interesting was that the Japanese were being portrayed as blonde-haired, blue-eyed and definitely Caucasian looking, whereas the Koreans were portrayed as basically the way that the Japanese actually look - in other words, as Asians and not as cartoonish depictions of WASPs.

Even when I was a kid, I wondered, “why do all these Japanese comics have people with huge eyes, but the Japanese themselves have narrow eyes?” But it’s not just the eyes, it’s the blonde hair, the sharp pointy noses, the gigantic breasts (which Asian women are not usually known for [I’m lucky enough to have one of the exceptions as my girlfriend]) … to my eyes, most of the characters in these Japanese comics look as distinctly un-Japanese as someone could possibly look.

My first thought is that they are simply emulating American cartoon art because America had cartoons before they did. And this would seem logical. (Although it doesn’t address why they are portraying their enemies, the Koreans, as Asian while denying their own racial features and hoisting the Caucasian look as the ideal.) However, take a look at this Japanese block print. This guy’s nose definitely does not look like anything I’ve ever seen on a Japanese person or any other Asian. And this isn’t the only one. There are lots of old, old Japanese paintings depicting people who really do not look very Japanese.

Am I reading too much into this or is there a streak of self-hatred in Japanese culture?

The Sequential Tart website has an excellent series of articles addressing the fact that many anime characters don’t look, well, very Japanese. Here’s the first article, the second article, the third article. The reasons are many – partly because the drawing style, with big emotive eyes and tiny noses, is borrowed from American animation, and partly because anime and manga employes a number of visual shortcuts to a character’s personality and weird hair and eye colors are part of this.

What you’re seeing are simplified drawings of human beings, without exaggerated racial characteristics. The average Japanese would look at those pictures and assume they are Japanese characters, simply because they lack any specific features to suggest otherwise. A Caucasian looking at those same pictures would think they look like Caucasians, for the same reason.

But what about the whole Korean=Asian=Bad and Japanese=Caucasian=Good portrayal? Man I wish I could link to the article. It was in the New York Times, but I don’t have the online subscription.

I believe this premise is false. Japanese characters are drawn as neutral, without racial characteristics. Korean characters are drawn with exaggerated Korean characteristics, which to non-Asians look like a generic Asian characteristics.

Of course I don’t deny that the Japanese like to associate themselves with the Western culture, and distance themselves from the Chinese and Koreans. But in this case I think you (and/or the author of the article) are reading too much into it. If you took an American comic strip with Caucasian and Hispanic characters in it, and showed it to a Japanese person, I bet he/she would think the Caucasian character looks Japanese and the Hispanic character looks “foreign”.

I dunno…I think that Japanese just don’t care for Koreans very much.

Case in point: the soon-to-be- ex-Mrs. Bizzwire was born and raised in Japan. Her parents are from Korea, so even though she was born and raised there and went through the Japanese educational system, she was never considered a Japanese citizen, and carried a passport from Korea.

Nonetheless, to this day, 20 years after coming to America, when people ask her about her ethnicity she sidesteps the issue by saying “I’m from Japan,” and letting people make their own assumptions. She’d be mortified to admit that she was Korean.


To expand on what scr4 said, if you look at a manga or anime depiction of a western person, they tend to look very different from the rest of the characters. Typically: very large noses, kind of ‘pleasant yet vacant’ expression, and very distinctly blue eyes (if it’s a B/W manga, they have an extra set of lines in their eyes to represent the blue irises, which ends up giving them a crazed look). The voices are also usually pretty distinct: heavily accented, semi-broken grammar, and over-use of ‘watashi wa’. IOW, how most westerners speak Japanese.

One thing to note that is while the characters have a neutral look, period Anime often have characters with “normal” hair colors. For instance in Inuyasha, the only characters with unnaturally colored hair are the demons. Regular people have black hair, or brownish hair (I can think of only one character at the moment who isn’t a demon and has non-black hair, Hojo, a classmate of Kagome). However, in more fantasy anime, colors will be all over the place.

But, haircolor and round eyes is a poor indicator of how the Japanese see themselves. I always found it odd that westerners accuse the Japanese of unrealistic cartoon portrayals when there are women who hardly look like Betty Boop, Marge Simpson, or Olive Oyl. I mean, if we were to look at American comics, do Americans see men as massively muscled, and the women with tiny waists, big hips and huge breasts?

But, haircolor and round eyes is a poor indicator of how the Japanese see themselves. I always found it odd that westerners accuse the Japanese of unrealistic cartoon portrayals when there are women who hardly look like Betty Boop, Marge Simpson, or Olive Oyl.


Well, despite the ofdities of the format, most cartoon characters are recognizably western, and usually caucasion. Even Betty Boop was pretty recognizable.

We’d like to. :smiley:

Since we’ve brought up the wild hair colors, is there any good explanation for why blondes are so ridiculously common in anime? Does this look exotic to a Japanese audience, or is it just an easy way to give someone a distinctive appearance, like the blue, pink, and purple hair you also see.

Check out the sequential tart articles I linked to. Goes into a long discussion of this. Short explanation: “blondes are trouble” in anime visual shorthand.

All four of my wife’s grandparents were native Japanese, and she looks “very Japanese.”

Her first reaction when we went to Japan last summer was “wow, a whole nation of Japanese and NONE of them look like anyone I’m related to!”

One of the things that the Japanese adopted along with western culture was hair-dye. Something like 80% of women under 30, and 50% of men in the same age bracket, dye their hair*. Blonde is not exactly a common choice, but it’s not rare either. In fact, anyone who’s been to a big city in Japan can visualize the club hosts standing in the street with their Mod-style suits and teased out blond hair.

  • Okay, I got that from an in-flight magazine, which may not be the best cite in the world. Anecdotally, my experience bears it out, but I don’t have an authoritative source handy.

This book- War without Mercy - deals with race and how it affected the war in the Pacific during world war II. One of the items discussed on the Japanese side was the tendency of Japanese propoganda (for domestic and Asian use) to present the Japanese as essentially the “white people” of Asia, with lighter skin and western style dress, uplifting the poor benighted brown folks from under the oppressive colonial yoke. Taking up the (ever so slightly off-)white man’s burden if you will.

The book also discusses the dilemma that the Japanese had with how best to demonize the west for propoganda purposes. Given that at first contact (if you will) the west was demonstrably superior technologically, it was not realistic to portray Americans and Europeans as the standard inferior subhuman types that propogandists love. Had to settle for harping on our degeneracy and evil/demonic natures.

(Plenty of images of buck-toothed monkeys with coke-bottle glasses from our own creative efforts as well).

I’ve found it interesting that while anime tends to show younger people in, what I would consider, a western/europeon style, that isn’t true for grandparents.

All of the anime grandparents that I can think of are much more “asian” in style. Non-europeon dress, hair style, facial features, mannerisms.

I always wondered if it was self-hating or just White-loving (as opposed to simple western-emulating). When I asked them about what’s up with the cartoons, all the Japanese I’ve talked to pretty much said outright that they thought most Japanese back home kind of have a love-hate relationship with all things Whiteness, mostly love. I’ve never had one say to me, “What? I thought they looked Japanese.” I’ve never been to Japan. I have been to China, and it seems to be a similar situation for them, though probably to a much much lesser degree.

And I don’t buy the argument of the history of animation very much. Atleast half if not most of the video game characters I see over here seem to be clearly White characters. If they’re ambigous, it’s an Asian-White blend ambiguity. Black people on the other hand, are clearly Black. You even had that Final Fantasy 8 game with the clearly Asian girl and White guy that made me go, “What the hell? These are Japanese developers?” In Asian-American/Canadian/British forum circles this stuff is pretty noticable and comes up every once in awhile.

Also, it has been mentioned to me by my Japan-o-phile friends that you see lots of white folks with crazy hair in anime because it’s easier to tell them all apart in a drawn format that way. Same reason you see lots of characters in anime that have blue, pink, or green hair (all of which are not natural hair colors for Japanese people, or any people for that matter. As an aside, from my IRL experience, girls with blue or purple hair are hot. Whoop for being in a sci-fi club.)

What puzzles me is why so many of them look like MSNBC correspondent Chris Jansing.

We’d like a picture of your girlfriend to verify, Argent.

I read a lot of Japanese manga and at first I was confused by the prevalence of blondes. Then I realized (from the color covers and front pages) that what looks like blonde to me is really intended to be a lighter black-brown. Because so many Japanese have similar coloring, small differences stand out. They make a distinction between black hair (colored black in manga) and not black hair (usually left uncolored and appears blonde. Real blondes in manga usually are drawn with highlights to give the impression of shiny, sparkly hair.

Not coloring one characters hair makes the similarly drawn characters easier to tell apart which is why I imagine they color hair differently in anime.