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:
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.
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…
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.
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). 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.
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. It is more common in men than women. 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!