Life Imitating Art
I Thought This Was Just A Movie
Copyrighted © November 28, 1992, by Curtis H. Hoffmann.
Converted to HTML (with permission) April 27, 2003, by Rob Kelk
Permission is granted to cross-post this file in whole to other computer networks (in fact, I'd be very happy if someone would crosspost this to Fido.) This file may be re-printed in a fanzine or
newsletter as long as I'm notified, in exchange for a copy of the issue this article appears in. This article can not be altered, or re-printed in a for-profit magazine, without permission.
Maiko Covington once wrote a series of textfiles for R.A.A. that described growing up in Japan, and life in high school. A lot of that information is embedded in many anime series and OAVs (from
Ranma ½, and KOR, to Project A-Ko and Battle Royal High School. Since I've come here in June 30, 1992, I've noticed a number of things that
are integral to Japanese life and culture that, if they haven't slipped into anime or manga already, are bound to do so eventually. Some of these traits are so firmly ingrained, that they appear
simply as a matter of course, and not because the director consciously chose to do so.
Added: Speaker Trucks (add.)
Fashions (shoes, add.)
- Suffice it to say that nearly any voice you hear in anime can be found on the train or subway. Some girls really do seem to be singing when they speak. Stretching out "ha -- i," or
"De -- su" in a sentence to give it a sexy feeling is relatively common in these cases. This can be found most often with receptionists, and elevator operators.
Sou Desu Girls
- Women still play a subservient role in Japanese society, and this is commonly visible on TV, where the women on a game show (or when they appear as panelists,) are there strictly as eye candy.
When any man says something, the girls (or attractive, scantily-clad young women) will react as if the guy had been very witty and deep, by replying with "Sou Desu Ne," in a properly impressed
voice. In these cases, "Sou desu ne" has no real meaning. But, because it's so common to hear, they've become known as "Sou desu girls."
During sports shows (and especially during the Olympics coverage,) you'll have two or three guys acting as sports announcers, and they'll reply with "Sou desu ne" to whatever their partners
say, even more often than "Sou desu girls" do. Prompting me to call them "Sou desu boys." Examples of this pop up in Yawara.
Ho ho ho
- When you watch a show, or read manga, and a female character laughs out loud, you may notice that she covers her mouth and the sound is "Ho ho ho." In Japanese, certain sounds are used as
verbs, and "ho ho ho" is one such example of this ("ho ho ho suru" means to laugh in a feminine way.) Further, each kind of laughter conveys a certain emotion (as it does in English.)
"Fu fu fu" normally is an evil laughter coming from the villian. Women laugh with "ho ho ho," which causes the mouth to be open less than it will be with "Ha ha ha." But
opening the mouth wide is still considered to be impolite, so she'll cover her mouth with her hand or a fan at the same time. Examples of this occur in nearly every series ever made.
Pachinko Parlors and vending machines
- These are everywhere. The parlors have lots of neon and florescent lights, and are very noisy when the doors are open. In a business or entertainment district, you'll find them every couple of
blocks. The addiction to pachinko gambling is the same as for other forms in Las Vegas. But the odds against you are worse, and most parlors have some kind of links to the yakusa. The only sight more
common than a parlor is a vending machine
You can not gamble for money, so you cash in your balls for some kind of trinket or candy bar, which you then take to an office next door to trade in for cash. Pachinko machines can be set to change
the odds of winning. Usually, the odds of losing are very high, but when a parlor brings in new machines (happens a couple of times a year, I'm told,) it will have a "grand opening day" and a
number of machines will be set to improve your odds. So, the best time to play is when a parlor has one of these special days.
The odd thing is that pachinko parlors don't appear often, unless it's in a manga story running in a magazine dedicated to pachinko players. However, they do show up consistently in the Maison
Ikkoku and Cooking Papa anime, and to some extent in other manga.
Vending machines can be found in the oddest places, and are usually only on the streets, 50 feet apart. They sell everything, from soda, cigarettes, and cup ramen, to disposable cameras (found at
tourist sites,) kilo bags of rice, dirty magazines, and condoms. Just about the only thing you can't buy from a vending machine is candy. With the recent attempts to import frozen sushi into
Japan, we may expect to see sushi vending machines in the next couple of years.
Most anime doesn't show vending machines much, partially because it's the same thing as product endorsement (but you can still find them in Assemble Insert, and Video Girl
- These are an odd feature of Japan, and I haven't seen them used in anime or manga yet (but just give it time.) Basically, many Japanese have learned some form of English in high school, but this
is just a matter of memorizing words, and not understanding the language itself. (Which is why you'll see animators making so many spelling errors in their background signs.) So, the only
option is to find gaijin to practice on, which is kind of difficult, especially because the Japanese are shy, and afraid of being embarrassed. However, in a conversation house, the gaijin are mainly
there to talk to the Japanese, and vice versa. Gaijin are admitted free (to lure them inside,) and the Japanese have to pay about 1000 yen each per night. (1500 yen at Mickey House, the one I
frequent.) Coffee and tea are free, beer and soft drinks cost more than if you bought them from a vending machine, but less than if you were in a bar.
These are great places to meet unusual people (both foreigner and native) if you happen to have the time, but most are open only from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM, and you'll only find them in the bigger
Drinking and Smoking
- I don't need to say much about this. Most older people don't smoke as much as those between ages 15 and 40. You can find salespeople giving out free cigarette samples in front of department
stores in Tokyo -- to school kids as well as to adults. Nearly everyone in the above age range smokes in Tokyo (from what I've seen,) including most women. Many are chain smokers.
Drinking is considered a form of bonding, both between groups of men and of women. One person will be designated the official drunk for the evening, and the rest of the group will pour alcohol
(normally beer) down the guy's throat until he or she passes out. Then the rest of the drunken group will try to drag their friend home -- stopping occasionally to either piss against a wall on the
street, or to throw up on the sidewalk.
Smoking appears much more often in anime than drinking, but both are shown often in Maison Ikkoku.
Rigged News Interviews
- Simply put, someone will be stopped on the street, given a script to memorize, and when the camera rolls, will be asked to "voice their opinion" on some subject. Afterwards, the person will
be thanked, and given a present and sent on their way so that the crew can find the next "man on the street" to question.
Several scandals involving rigged "investigative reports" have surfaced recently, and I've received second-hand stories about people that have gone through this themselves.
When you watch a show where a news reporter is on the street and her (usually a her) interview is blown, keep this in mind. She acts just like a carefully rehearsed operation has to be re-shot.
- Maiko Covington described the life of a schoolkid in Japan, in great detail, and is an excellent source of additional information. Some of that info deals with the wearing of school uniforms,
which is something nearly every kid has to do here. School life is very regimented, and often can become insane (Ranma ½ contains more real-life examples than you may expect.)
Every school uniform suit and dress you see in manga and anime can be found on the trains, on the city streets, and in stores.
The most popular outfits in manga and anime right now are: For boys -- the dark blue (or black) quasi-military jackets and pants, with a lighter-colored shirt underneath; the high, stiff collar, and
gold-colored buttons. For girls -- the sailor dress (either in white with blue trim, or blue with white trim. Refer to Rokodenashi Blues for examples of the boys' outfits, and
Sailor Moon for that of the girls.
Hip Boots and Kimonos
- The Japanese have a very odd fashion sense. Although kimonos and geta (wooden sandals) are only worn for special occasions nowadays, you'll still see them a few times a week in Tokyo.
Businessmen sometimes wear thong sandals with their three-piece suits, and it is still possible to see someone in yukata (the equivalent of Japanese pajamas) and geta walking down the street. If you
stay in a capsule hotel, everyone there will be wearing the yukata supplied by the hotel.
Basically, the reasons westerners wear clothing is not quite the same as for the Japanese. Women don't wear slacks all that often, so when it gets colder in the winter, you'll see them in short
skirts and knee boots (or cowboy boots) -- the boots are for keeping the legs warm, and that's about it. So, if you think that any outfit worn by anime or manga characters is weird, keep in mind that
something more outrageous, or tasteless, is being worn in Tokyo at this very moment.
Further, what westerners would consider garish and gaudy will show up quite often on the way to work on the woman next to you: patterned stockings, nylons with small designs beside the ankle, and
shoes with designs, florishes, and finishes that make them nearly impossible to clean when dirtied.
- This isn't as common in real life as it is in anime, but just go to Yoyogi Park on a Sunday, and you'll see some hair styles that are wilder than many of those in your favorite TV series or OAV.
Usually, it's high school and college kids, but some women have dyed brown, or bleached white hair. The sculpted style of the punk high school mangas are common in real life even for young
- Normally, you'd expect a wide variety of faces in real life, and that's what you'll find in Tokyo (even if you don't include gaijin.) Of course, that variety is lacking in anime. But, the
important thing to notice is what happens when an anime character is drawn in ¾ profile. Sometimes (and I've noticed this in Omoide Poroporo,) the face will appear distorted, with
more of the far-side eye and cheekbone showing than one would expect. Thing is, the anime representation is actually correct in this situation.
Certain Asian races have flatter, broader faces than Caucasians do. Therefore, their ¾ profile will show more of the far-side of the face than you may be used to.
- Anyone that's watched anime, or read manga, knows what this is. Part of the excitement comes from the fact that pubic hair can not be shown in any media in Japan, so all most Japanese see in
magazines, or on TV, are panty shots. Also, very short skirts are fashionable now, so the opportunity exists in real life. Therefore, when one does get to see a woman's panties on the train, or
elsewhere, it's a quick cheap thrill.
Problem is, I only hear about other people seeing this regularly on the trains. I personally don't consider it to be as common a phenomenon as it appears to be in anime and manga.
Trains and Subways
- The most common ways of going from point A to point B (not counting walking and riding a bike.) Everyone in Japan is familiar with the insides of a train station. So when you see a train
station, or people waiting on a platform, in a manga, keep in mind that a lot of one's time is spent in Tokyo doing just this. The movie Omoide Poroporo has some fantastic
scenes involving the insides of trains and stations that are exactly what you'd find in real life.
Train tickets can get expensive, and it is a lot more cool to have a rail card (like a phone card, but used for buying tickets.) You don't see this cropping up as often in manga or anime, but just
- You can see these quite often in the episodes of Yawara where Yawara's father is out eating. Basically, it's just a food cart that will be rolled to some street corner, and the
owner/chef will cook up some ramen or udon. It's a little more expensive to eat at these, the food is greasier, and they can only seat 4-5 people -- but they're very popular with drunk salarymen
later at night, when they need something to eat and all of the regular restaurants are closed.
- Most R.A.A. readers will be familiar with the credit card-sized magnetic card with a picture on one side. It's used for making phone calls, rather than using 10 yen coins. Animate Shops in Japan
also have collectors cards featuring some great artwork from Ranma ½, 3×3 Eyes, Patlabor, and nearly everything else.
One result of this type of technology is the fact that these kinds of cards are also being used for buying train tickets, and a couple of other things. Japan does not yet use credit cards much, but
machine cards are showing up in odd places. You'll see them in manga and anime pretty soon, too.
Manga and Anime
- These two forms of entertainment are so all-pervasive as to become self-referential: you'll often see characters reading manga in the manga, and (with Project A-Ko) characters in
anime going into a theater to watch an animated movie. It's even gotten to the point where references appear in other forms, like when a character in Twinkle^2 Idol Star is shown wearing
a Sailor Moon t-shirt.
- In and around most train stations, you'll see little kiosk shops selling bento box lunches, manga, snacks, and beverages (like Calpis Soda, Aquarius Neo, and Pocarri Sweat.) If a manga or anime
contains a sequence on a train platform, chances are you'll see at least one of these kiosks.
- Nearly everyone in Tokyo will walk around wearing little earplug speakers and listening to a walkman. It becomes a habit to put in the earplugs before you put on your shoes to go
outside, and it's so common that when the closing credits for Dragon Ball start running, you may not motice that Buluma is wearing a set while gazing out the window into the rain.
- During the spring and fall, is the rainy season. This can stretch on for weeks, without a stop, and has entered the deepest part of the Japanese psyche. So much so that rain itself is often used
as a plot element. When a major character dies in anime, the skies will open up in a downpour as a symbol for peoples' sadness and sense of loss. Borgman: Lover's Rain carries this
concept a step further.
- Tokyo is a filthy place. Garbage is tossed into the street, trash bins are filled to overflowing, and uncollected garbage bags can sit in front of houses for several days on end. Garbage also
includes: discarded bicycles, working electronics (tossed simply because the owner bought a newer model,) and used manga phonebooks. This is one element of Tokyo society that doesn't appear much in
anime or manga (although it's hinted at in Akira. However, one side-effect of this is that any commuter that doesn't want to buy a copy of a manga phonebook can simply wait to find it
either on the overhead carrier racks on the train, or in the trash bins on the platform or in the station itself. And anyone too cheap to buy something, stands a good chance of stumbling across it in
the trash behind an apartment building (this way, a character could furnish his entire apartment without spending a cent.)
People and housing
- Tokyo is a crowded place, and most people stay in apartments (often sharing them with friends or family) rather than living in houses. Yet most anime and manga characters living in Japan have
their own houses (or like in Video Girl Ai,) live alone in a huge apartment with lots of expensive electronics. Usually, this is just a case of wishfulfillment on the parts of
the directors and audience. Most stories with an urban setting have examples of this.
Studio Alta: And other environs
- Basically, an artist writes, and draws, what he (or she) knows, and most Japanese artists only know about Tokyo. Therefore, when you see the insides of a train station, the xerox copy of a street
intersection, or any other hyper-realistic image of some location, chances are you are looking at some place that the Japanese audience sees all the time in real life. Shinjuku has been rather
popular in certain manga lately, and the big landmark just outside Shinjuku train station is the multi-story-tall TV screen on the front of the Studio Alta building. Many people will gather in front
of the station to watch music videos, or commercials; this is a good meeting place for people getting together to do some shopping, or to see and be seen.
However, the key to Tokyo is the Yamanote train line. This is one big loop that starts from Tokyo station, and runs northwest through the following stations (takes one hour.) Anyone that spends any
time at all in Tokyo will become very familiar with the Loop, and any manga that shows place names, or train stops, will probably be employing part of the Yamanote Loop.
| ||Tokyo|| ||(The Imperial Palace, part of the Ginza, business buildings)|
|Akihabara||(the electronics district)|
|Okachimachi||(site of Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo, and home to many homeless Iranians)|
|Ikebukuro||(Shopping district, home of Animate, Manga no Mori, and the world's biggest ugly city-building: Sun Shine 60)|
|Takadanobaba||(many schools, and used bookstores)|
|Shinjuku||(Nightlife, shopping, Anime Pero, and Animec)|
|Harajuku||(Yoyogi Park, many weird people, street bands, trendy shops)|
|Shibuya||(Home of AnimEigo, shopping district, many love hotels)|
|Ebisu||(Two conversation lounges)|
|Yuurakucho||(The Ginza area, and closest station to the Comiket site)|
|Back to Tokyo Station|
- A common image on TV -- evoking the concept of 'Big Brother,' are the trucks roving that streets and blaring 'good-speak' messages to the people. And you will find these in the big cities in
Japan. There are several versions, and they are all very loud:
- Various political parties will have vans with slogans on the sides, and a little stage platform on top. The van will be parked near a train station, the speakers will stand on the roof, and spout
political (or anti-government) speeches.
- The best example of this I've seen are the sweet potato vendors. They have small covered pick-up trucks, with a smoker-oven in the back and the speakers on top. There's an endless-loop tape
belting out the fact that he's there selling his goods. The Japanese version of ice-cream trucks.
- Certain large stores will have a big video wall over the door, and huge speaker stacks along the side. Endless commercials will be played, and can be heard from blocks away. The best example of
this is the Fuji film store in Ikebukuro, which has 10 very funny Fuji color TV ads on in a loop.
- Megaphones and hand-held loudspeakers are very common, and you can come across them in front of most department stores some time during the week, and in train station lobbies where station employees are hawking train cards.
Short People Ain't Got No Reason...
- Japan is actually a mix of several races, (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese) and it's rather difficult to tell them apart since the racial mixing has been taking place for hundreds of years (Japan
invades Korea, the Mongols invade Japan, etc.) The result is an interesting conglomeration of people milling about in Tokyo. The best part though, is that since Japan has been more prosperous of
late, the current generations are growing much bigger and taller than their parents.
So, within 5 minutes in Shinjuku, you can see a withered old lady barely 4 feet tall with Chinese features, and a hulking giant of a Japanese towering well over 6 foot. But the average height is
still around 5'8" for men, which partly comes from the fact that the average is closer to 40 years old. Either way, while the common perception is that Asians are a small people, that is
- In the West, creativity is highly prized, while individuality is condemned in Japan. At least, those are the stereotypes, which have a strong basis in fact. In some schools, Japanese students
with naturally brown hair are told to dye it black to match everyone else. All primary, junior high, and high school students are required to wear school uniforms both while in and out of class.
Adult men are expected to wear business suits under normal conditions. Etc.
Note: The stereotype breaks down, because most Americans really don't like to see unusual behavior in normal life. How often can you expect to see a computer salesman with a purple mohawk? Or a
business-suited kid milling around with his street punk friends?
And it's breaking down in Japan, where people are protesting against Shin Kanemaru, more street punks are appearing in the trains, and a growing number of artists are trying things that no one else
has in the rest of the world.
For a long time, anti-establishment heros have starred in manga and anime (with the renegade food critic of Oishinbo as a prime example,) as a kind of protest that salarymen could quietly
join in on. And now, the numbers of anti-heros are becoming even more prevalent, and the current generation of Japanese are working to change situations that they don't agree with. While, in the
States, people are becoming much more conservative. Go figure.
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