Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Animal Crossing (A Cultural Sentiment)

I found something out recently that kind of surprised me.

Animal Crossing, a series of games that originated in Japan and was then taken to the west like most video games, features a character called "Booker" -- an English bulldog that seems socially awkward and withdrawn. His refined behavior is shown through his aversion to talking and speech disfluency. A first impression would just tell you that he isn't confident (which is ironic because he's a police officer/security guard in the series).

It actually originated in the Japanese version of the game. The canon description is that Booker was actually not a native Japanese speaker, and so he was self conscious about speaking Japanese in fear of messing up or using the wrong words and being made fun of or criticized for not speaking Japanese fluently.

The fact that he's an English bulldog might hint to the fact that his native language would probably have been English. They then kept that story as being canon when it was taken to the western market. I assume the reverse, if the first part were true, is that Booker's native tongue is now Japanese.

I think this is very telling of a few things. First of all, it shows that the appeal to sympathy used in the video game reveals a lot about some interests in Japanese culture. It shows that they, like us, are interested in showing that there are human aspects to people that seem "abstract", like foreigners who don't speak our language as fluently as we would like them too.

But secondly, and most importantly in my eyes, is that contrary to popular belief, Japan has a need to teach these things.

I have deep reservations concerning the world and how they perceive Japan, and it goes to a little bit of data that most people are aware of: That Japan is "98.5% ethnically Japanese", and would therefore be homogeneous.

This number is very misleading.

The truth is that on the Japanese Census, "ethnically Japanese" just means anyone who has permanent residence in Japan. That means that somebody from Britain who came over to Japan and obtained permanent legal status would classify as "Japanese", and not "Other".

Japan has millions of immigrants.

And with this bit of information about Animal Crossing, it seems that immigration is so existent, that they need to include these minor tolerance teachings in their common media.

I guess the important take away from this is not to project our understanding of ethnic division onto other countries. The Japanese don't really care where you're from, so long as you speak the language, or at least try to. I had no issues while I was there. If you're a legal citizen and contribute to their society, then by all means, you're Japanese to them.

It's something important that people should realize. We're not the only ones who deal with foreigners and immigrants. We're not the only ones that try to be tolerant. It happens everywhere.

Culture, however, portrays it differently, and thus when looking from the perspective of an outsider, you might not understand it.

I wish we (and the US) could, like many countries, simply adopt the standard for Census data to calculate based on nationality, and not "race/ethnicity" (especially since we've got those classifications wrong anyway). It would help with our racial issues, at least based on how it worked in Japan.

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