The world of anime and manga paint an incomplete portrait of Japan. Many of the tropes are so repetitive that it is hard for someone who consumes a lot of Japanese media to understand that these are a sort of collective fantasy. The real world is bit different. To throw some ice water on the party, here on some things that rarely find their way into the media American otakus love to consume.
1. The Japanese are disappearing
With a population of over 120 million, the Japanese aren’t going to disappear overnight. What is currently projected is that the population will be roughly half of what it is now by the end of the century. Want to see what that looks like? Go to Detroit, which has had it’s popualtion fall by more than 50%. That or just imagine 1 out of every 2 people you know don’t exist. I think there is a Twilight Zone episode like that. Whatever Japan looks like in 85 years, it won’t be pretty, unless there are some drastic shifts.
2. Japan is broke.
The Japanese government is the most heavily indebted in the world, and not by a small amount. If you compare GDP (a number that roughly equals what a country produces in a year) to the amount of government debt, Japan exceeds everybody’s favorite economic problem child, Greece, by a mere 50%. How about the immense US national debt? By the same metric, Japan is more than twice as broke as we are. This is an even bigger issue when you factor in the declining population. To maintain current levels of GDP, the country would have to more than double individual productivity by the end of the century. So, even if Japan produces twice as much per person, they will still not make a dent in their debt rate.
3. Being an adult in Japan sucks
You don’t have to watch too many anime or read too many manga to realize that a very large number of the stories are set in high school or even middle school. This seems strange to those of us that were raised in the US, where high school is often a less than pleasant experience. Why does high school, specifically the 2nd year (11th grade in the states) show up so much? The answer is a bit painful. The Japanese are obsessed with high school because it is downhill from there. 青春, or seishun (youth), is a common theme in Japanese media because it is as good as their life generally gets. As adults, the Japanese work long, often unpaid hours http://www.ilo.org/global/statistics-and-databases/WCMS_087918/lang–en/index.htm They don’t interact much socially and their lives are pretty rigid. There’s generally not a lot of romance or adventure or much of anything that makes for a good story going on over the age of 17, so that’s where so much of their media is set.
4. Japanese women aren’t allowed to be badasses
The strong, confident, sword wielding Japanese school girl would surely make a great CEO someday. Except that Japanese women rarely rise to management positions, no matter how competent they are. The World Economic Forum ranked Japan 104th out of 142 countries in Gender Equality in 2014. According to research by Teikoku Data Bank Ltd, women hold only 6.2 percent of the managerial posts at Japan’s companies. Women, no matter how capable they are, are expected to stop working and crank out some babies. Strong heroines are such a mainstay of anime and manga, that I had always thought that Japan would have been a very forward thinking country when it come to gender roles. Nope, just another example of the gap between reality and otaku fantasy.
5. The Japanese don’t like sex very much
Some highlights from a 2011 report from Japan’s population center.
• Extremely high numbers of Japanese do not find sex appealing. 45 percent of women and 25 percent of men, ages 16 to 24, are “not interested in or despised sexual contact.”
• More than a third of childbearing-age Japanese have never had sex: 39 percent of women and 36 percent of men, ages 18 to 34.
The large amount of fan service in anime and manga would lead you to believe that the Japanese are obsessed with sex and sexuality. Sexual imagery certainly pervades the media we see. I could wax poetic about the gap between the fluffy voyeuristic nature of common fan service and real erotic sexual initmacy, but this is something that seems to go deeper than that.
Caveats and Disclaimers:
First of all, I am not trying to paint a complete picture of Japanese society. I am talking about things you don’t see in anime and manga. I do not mean to be smug or condescending. Every country has issues. Secondly, I know that the above topics do occasionally find their way into shows we watch and books we read. The population problems and the plight of the salaryman in particular make occasional appearances. It is possible , however, to consume a large amount of Japanese media and never see a refrence to any of these issues. Lastly, I made a lot of large generalizations. No country the size of Japan can be summed up in just a few paragraphs. If you have issues with this post or have an antecdote that supports or refutes what I’ve said, feel free to add a comment. I’m curious what manga and anime fans make of all this, so any input would be welcome.
I can’t shake the notion that all of these are connected. Unhappy people don’t raise families, and they don’t interact. A country that is working itself to death, sometimes literally, to pay off it’s debts has little time for grown up (or adult, for that matter) adventures. An economy that only utilizes half of it’s available talent cannot hope to compete with the rest of the world for very long. If Japan can be saved, it will have to be by Japanese women. The question is, will the men in power allow them to do it.