I like to think of myself as not entirely uncultured but there is always going to be a bit of a culture clash when I watch anime. I think that’s true for a lot of western viewers. The social reality we live in as well as the history, traditions and beliefs we grew up with are bound to affect how we take in our entertainment. When an author writes a story there’s all sorts of things they take for granted. For instance if a large male character goes grocery shopping in a ball gown, that’s an odd and maybe comical scene but only because our social conventions skew against it. There was a time where a similar scene would simply have been used to mark the character as an aristocrat.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with interpreting a story within your own context but I do get curious about the world it was crafted in. For instance I’m vaguely aware of Japanese mentality and biases regarding gender, visible minorities and foreigners. I’m somewhat acquainted with the myriad of social conventions and norms expected of anyone within Japanese society and the general consequences of breaking with said taboos or conventions.
But for all of that, I’m almost entirely ignorant of Japanese class constructs. I know they exist. I assume they are somewhat rigid and complex because…well because most of what I know about Japanese social mores is a little rigid and complex. It’s possible that my perception is outdated.
Anywho, we all know that there’s an elaborate social hierarchy present in almost every level of Japanese society. It’s most obviously expressed through the multitude of honorifics one can use depending on who they are addressing but it can be seen through the language as well. Polite forms of Japanese can easily be considered as their own dialects. It dictates actions and reactions and really defines relationships. But what are these class distinctions based on?
One that I know is “age”. Unlike the youth cultures of North America, Japan still has a healthy respect for seniority. As such people that are older than you or have been working at a place for longer, automatically outrank you. But what about money? Just plain old wealth? Who do I owe *more* respect to, the guy that’s a few years older than me in school or the kid in my class that comes from an obscenely rich family? Does education matter at all and if so is there a bias. For instance does a scientific background prime over an artistic one?
What of reputation and nobility? Can tracing your bloodline back to some ancient renowned general or emperor give you some instant cred or is it a neat factoid to whip out at a party and nothing more?
It’s not that you need to know the answers to any of those questions to understand and appreciate anime. However appreciating the social context of a story can add another layer to it, which is.. cool… Guys, I really don’t know why I had ever considered myself a decent debater. I think I just exhausted my opponents.
All right, I’ve already cluttered half the post with vague questions. I believe it’s about time we go find some answers. Disclaimer, for today’s post my source will be “the internet” as such the integrity of the information cannot be guaranteed. Please learn responsibility!
The few articles I read were more interested in the behaviour and integration of Japan’s economically elite into greater society than the other way around. One thing that was stressed though is that the Japanese **upper class**, keeping in line with general Japanese tendencies towards modesty and discretion, does not tend to flaunt their wealth.
It is therefore fairly difficult to even know that someone is from an advantageous family situation unless you know them well or they are downright famous. This fact alone should skew perception towards a more indifferent regard for money.
I’ve been using the notions of wealth and social class pretty interchangeably so far and I fear we’ll run into an issue of semantics. For the purposes of this post alone, I’m referring exclusively to earner class or tax bracket when discussing Japanese Class structure. I know that Japanese society is in fact extremely complex and moreover, evolving when it comes to social conventions and norms, and I’m not pretending to understand any of it. But let’s get back to money.
From what I was able to pick up, it seems the Japanese in general are a bit more relaxed when it comes to issues of money than in western or even european society. A growing rich poor gap in the country is slowly changing that mind you but traditionally, money was just one element to bring you clout and by far not the most important one.
If we go back to my earlier question of how much riches weight in comparison to age, social service, academic achievement and so forth. The answer is probably about the same to slightly less. Or for comparison, the reputation and respect you can get just based on how much money your family has (especially if you didn’t earn it firsthand) is less than in most other parts of the world.
This sort of fits in with what I’ve seen in anime. You will occasionally see insanely rich characters but no one knows about it until they go visit their house or something. The riches in question can be used to help the plot along on a practical basis but rarely come with much influence beyond the ability of bribing people, and other characters’ attitude rarely changes at all with the reveal of someone being well off. It’s just a trait that gets less dramatic build up than finding out a character is older than another.
This is pretty different to how we’ve come to view and represent money in North America. We’ve long been a merchant class society with a relatively short history so it makes sense that money would be an easy way of defining societal success and worth. We just don’t have that many other things to go by.
It’s nice to see a healthier and more relaxed attitude towards wealth. Especially coming from a place that’s not exactly renowned for being relaxed. This is mostly conjecture though and the attitudes might change quickly. If you have experience living in Japan, let me know, is money an important factor? How is class structure defined?