I was going to write this as part of my Halloween post series. The idea was simple enough, see if there is a significant difference between common fears based on location and then try to make a correlation with what we see in anime. However, as I started to research the post, it sort of went off in a much more serious and *political* direction than expected and I quickly realized this wasn’t quite what I was going for. Since I still thought there might be an interesting post in there (and honestly I just got a little curious about the results), I decided to simply put the post aside for the moment and get back to it later.

In retrospect, I should have simply researched common phobias instead of common fears. That would probably have solved the problem. Tell you what, if I have time (and space), I’ll throw that in as well .

First, let’s start with what I found on fear:

Hellsing Sera is scared
Integra has the least screen time of any of the main characters

Even though we are all human and fundamentally share that experience, there’s no denying the fact that we are also products of our environments. When I set out to put this little post together I had one simple goal, to find out whether Japan as a nation had any distinct or unique fears and whether these national fear trends influenced anime in any way.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised went it it went in an unexpected direction.

I was operating under a few misconceptions which may seem silly to you but are rather prevalent. One was that we all share some type of connected primordial fears and ultimately, what scares one person is substantially the same as what scares everyone else. I was also going the old assumption that nothing is scarier than the unknown/unseen. Turns out, I was pretty wrong on both counts.

Let’s tackle point 2 first as it sort of explains point 1. This notion of an unimaginable horror sounds dramatic but let’s face it, if I can’t imagine it, I ain’t scared of it. I ain’t even thinking about it really. That’s what inconceivable is. And although fear of the unknown is definitely one of the base phobias we all tend to share, in every day life, most people will worry about things that have happened before or at least things they have heard about. And that’s going to seep into our fiction in some ways.

anime landscape.jpg

For instance, in many African countries, fear of AIDS and epidemics is one of the greatest preoccupations as they have had to deal with quite a few, and recently at that. Nuclear war is a concern in hawkish Russia that has an openly militant policy which is communicated to the population. Up here (Canada) as well as in China and parts of South America, we are getting very worried about the environment, with huge farming industries that have seen the very visible effects of environmental changes on production and profit, and unusual weather systems also makes the changes more readily visible to the common populace. For instance fall is being slowly drained of colours and polar bears are actually walking through our northern towns.

A lot of the world fears the U.S. while it seems that right now it’s sort of reciprocal. With demographic divides and tension being at the fore front of a lot of US citizen’s minds.

As for Japan, they also fear large scale war. I guess I can’t blame them for that considering the nation’s history. The internet tells me that right now though, they specifically feel uneasy about China’s influence and growth and what it could mean for them.

Surprisingly enough though (at least surprising to me) this article tells me that Japan’s number 1 fear is cyberattacks from other countries. A reasonable fear, I’m just wondering why other countries aren’t more afraid of that…

Hatsume Miku with computer.jpg
I know I should be scared but I love it so much!

So will this somehow show up in anime. Are we going to see more hacker villains? Sure Psycho Pass fits the theme but that’s just going along with the established universe.

I can’t say I’ve noticed it so far but I have notice something else. Namely, stories about racial divide and inequality are rather common in American entertainment these days but still not that present in anime. We do get a lot of environmental story lines in our little Canadian shows but again, aside for Myazaki movies, it’s not a very common theme in the Japanese media I’ve consumed.

But smartphones are. Although not stories of cyberattacks per see, I’ve seen a few shows (most notably Sarazanmai) that deal with the more unfortunate side effects of an increasingly digital society. If we really stretch it, we could also see anime’s fascination with isekai, which almost always bring us into a pre-technology world as a slightly technophobic reaction. Yes,  these are stables of fantasy as a genre but there sure are a lot in anime.

In fact, there are very few anime that completely embrace technology as a pure positive in every day life. Now to assume that this is due to a general national cyber unease, is a bit of a stretch, but it could be a factor and I think that’s interesting.

As for phobias…unfortunately I could not find any data on region specific phobias. I found a lot of lists of most common phobias and the like but nothing that would allow me to compare from one country to the other.

demonslayer older borther spider
basically everyone except me is afraid of spiders…I’m afraid of butterflies…

However, I did discover one thing: Taijin kyofusho.

Wikipedia describes it as such:

Taijin kyofusho (対人恐怖症 taijin kyōfushō, TKS, for taijin kyofusho symptoms) is a Japanese culture-specific syndrome. The term taijin kyofusho translates into the disorder (sho) of fear (kyofu) of interpersonal relations (taijin).[1] Those who have taijin kyofusho are likely to be extremely embarrassed about themselves or fearful of displeasing others when it comes to the functions of their bodies or their appearances. These bodily functions and appearances include their faces, odor, actions, or even looks. They do not want to embarrass other people with their presence. This culture-bound syndrome is a social phobia based on fear and anxiety.[2]

The symptoms of this disorder include avoiding social outings and activities, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, panic attacks, trembling, and feelings of dread and panic when around people. The causes of this disorder are mainly from emotional trauma or psychological defense mechanism.[3][4] It is more common in men than women.[5] Lifetime prevalence is estimated at 3–13%. (link here)

To which I say, sorry Japan, but just this once, you are not special… I have seen, dealt with, and come across these exact symptoms and types of social anxieties everywhere I’ve been. And I’ve been everywhere. If being uncomfortable in social situations and afraid to make a fool of yourself in front of others is Japan specific, well I might be Japanese. As for being afraid of displeasing others with our appearance, I can go into a rant about why the cosmetic industry is one of the most lucrative ones in the world but I’m pretty sure I’ll bore you all and myself in the process.

This said, it is nice to have a fancy word for all the insecurities that can plague us. And I have definitely seen anime characters freak out over social situations a lot. But I’ve also seen live action characters from all over the world do the same thing in slightly different ways.

Well that’s all I got for you today. It may not be hard proof but there are still a few interesting parallels. I wonder if we’ll see more in the future!

Shed Light Rini
stay safe!

27 thoughts

    1. Yes she is an avatar for me being scared by how little screen time integra has. It was a long walk for a poor joke…I don’t blame you

  1. Interesting post! Thanks, I learned something new again. I can now identify as someone with Taijin Kyofusho, which sounds way cooler than simply identifying as being socially insecure.

  2. Pretty much any serious mecha anime has always been a huge fan of the anti-war message, so the fear of large scale war in Japanese culture is definitely a thing. I do think Japan, moreso than any other country, features socially anxious protagonists that feel believable but at the same time, not necessarily victims.

    1. I don’t know. That sort of describes pretty much every single classical heroine in both European and American tales.

        1. Disney princesses are still a mess of insecurities. I mean Frozen was essentially all about that… This said, it may be a more feminine trait in western fiction while it’s a more masculine one in anime

    2. I’ve always tied the anti-war message in mecha shows to a general fear of the bomb, especially when you look at older shows. It left a definite mark on the Japanese psyche in general.

  3. These are interesting points, especially about that “Japan-centric” fear that isn’t really specific to Japan at all. It could be that because Japanese culture is more group-oriented than individualistic, those who are different and socially badly adjusted stick out far more than they do in the West.

    One big fear Americans have is cultural change, something you can see taking place in our politics right now, both that change and the reaction to it. I guess that’s not specific to us either, though.

    1. But it does seem very timely in the states right now. Canada doesn’t have much of a cultural identity but Quebec went a little crazy with “protecting the French language” at one point.

  4. Loved this take on psychological research! Using anime as a jumping-off point for fear never actually came to mind. I’ve been looking for more ways to use my degree in tandem with anime so this was actually very enlightening on a wider level. Thank you so much!

    1. Oh my – you just made a fan. I love the combination of anime and psych work. If I may make a request, portrayal of OCD in anime!

      1. I’d love to! I’m just finishing up some other stuff first- Which actually means it’ll be awhile so it might land in December… but I’ll get to it!

  5. Very interesting post. I think your initial assumption about there being some base fears that humans all share on a primordial level might not be entirely inaccurate though, at least if we look at the type of fears that are more likely to develop into phobias. Statistically speaking, there are higher instances of people developing phobias of things that would have been threats to us in the environment that we evolved in, such as snakes or spiders, then there are of people developing phobias of modern things that pose a possible threat to us in our current environment, such as cars. Even though, in an urban area, you’re way more likely to be killed or injured in a car accident then you are to even come across a poisonous snake or spider.

      1. Ah, but being rejected by your social group would have been something that would have negatively effected your chances of survival in the environment that we evolved in, so there could be a biological component to why those phobias are so prevalent as well.

        Not trying to say that environmental/cultural factors don’t play an important role in influencing the types of fears/phobias people develop or in how they manifest. I just meant to say that biological factors probably do contribute, on some level, to why some fears/phobias are so common.

        1. Oh of course. Although so far we’ve only mentioned social environnemental ones (from a long time ago but still). I agree it’s still all down to neurochemistry. You can drug phobias in and out of yourself for sure!

        2. I read a very interesting article while I was writing this and I can’t find it now. Basically it said most phobias are learned/acquired behavior. That babies don’t really have phobias but as they grown up and are repeatedly shown certain things in an aggressive light and mostly if they see someone else react with fear to something, they form random associations that certain things are dangerous which become phobias even once they know better. Phobias are contagious in a way. So they would be both environmental and biological?

          1. Phobias are definitely something that are acquired/learned based on experiences people have. I don’t think they are something that are innate or that develop spontaneously. But I think there is evidence that suggests that biological factors make us more prone to developing phobias of some things. Basically both environmental and biological factors are playing a role, though you’re right when you say that a persons lived experiences are the biggest contributing factor. Human psychology can get pretty complex, which is why I find it so interesting 😉

            1. Looking back at our conversation I think I may have worded my initial comment poorly. I didn’t mean to say that phobias themselves are innate. Just that there are some innate biological factors that are influencing things and lead to some common fears and some phobias being more prevalent then others.

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