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Why do the Japanese draw themselves as white? (thesocietypages.org)
186 points by soyelmango on Sept 14, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

The post makes a good point, but it does overlook the fact that the "Godfather of Anime", Osamu Tezuka (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osamu_Tezuka) was heavily influenced by Walt Disney and American animation.

For instance, the Wikipedia article notes: "The distinctive "large eyes" style of Japanese animation was invented by Tezuka, drawing inspirations on cartoons of the time such as Betty Boop and Walt Disney's Bambi and Mickey Mouse."

You can see how Bambi was drawn with large eyes here: http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=bambi

You can see Betty Boop here: http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=betty+boop

You can see Mickey Mouse here: http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=mickey+mouse+classi...

You can compare the style of those eyes to Tezuka's Astro Boy, first published in 1952: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AstroBoyVolume1.jpg

Those characters have big eyes and foreheads for two reasons.

Firstly, to make them cuter... like babies. All baby humans have proportionally big heads/eyes to the rest of their bodies and we're hardwired to think of those characteristics as simpler, cuter, and deserving of our attention.

Secondly, to give the animator a face that is both simpler and larger which makes it much easier to draw expressions

These two things make it much easier for the audience to relate to the animated character and for the artist to draw it

Yeah, in fact, Steven Jay Gould wrote a great article on how "As Mickey became increasingly well behaved over the years, his appearance became more youthful. Measurements of three stages in his development revealed a larger relative head size, larger eyes, and an enlarged cranium--all traits of juvenility." As he puts it, "Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features."

full article: http://www.monmsci.net/~kbaldwin/mickey.pdf

This would explain the glut of sites such as cuteoverload.com

I once took a Psychology course which had another explanation for the large eyes. Apparently, when humans are sexually aroused, their pupils get larger. This makes people with larger pupils more sexually appealing, leading to all kinds of tricks to making your pupils larger (for example, candlelit dinners; also, in some older civilizations, women used to use eyedrops to make their pupils larger).

All of this leads to people thinking larger pupils look better, and in the case of small cartoon characters, look cuter.

The eyedrops you refer to are belladonna, Italian for 'beautiful woman'.

The intro from the Wikipedia entry ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna ) says:

"It has a long history of use as a medicine, cosmetic, and poison. Before the Middle Ages, it was used as an anesthetic for surgery, the ancient Romans used it as a poison (the wife of Emperor Augustus and the wife of Claudius both used it to murder contemporaries) and predating this it was used to make poison tipped arrows."


"Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered attractive."

And all of a sudden I want to give my wife a candle-light dinner.

I agree, manga characters are as white as Bambi is.

But that doesn't mean that large eyes means white. Black people generally have characteristically large eyes too.

anime characters clearly aren't black though

Some of them clearly are. Like Brezhnev from Dulalala.

If for any reason you've got safe search off, you've been warned.

Nothing too bad appeared.

At one panel, some anthropology academic/author was talking about the influence of "I Dream of Jeanie" and "Bewitched." Since we destroyed a lot of Japanese infrastructure, the cheapest way to broadcast television in Japan for many years was to dub shows from the United States. Supposedly, an entire generation was imprinted with dubbed US TV. The magical girl genre traces its lineage to those two shows.

Combine the Tezuka/Disney influence with this, and the human instinct to regard large eyes as signals of childhood and cuteness, and the result simply makes sense.

In any case, "Asian" features aren't always as pronounced as westerners imagine them to be. There's not that much genetic distance between the so-called races. "Black" in the US is actually a hugely diverse group all by itself. (There was a Newsweek cover that demonstrated this nicely a few years back.)

(The protagonist of Golgo 13 is said to be indeterminately Spanish or Japanese.)

I don't see the connection (and I don't think there is one) between large eyes and white people.

If you look at anime, people of all colors have pretty much similarly sized eyes, white characters or Japanese characters. If the Japanese really perceive white people to have large eyes, then you would expect to see white people in anime to have larger eyes than Asian characters. That's not the case.

Large eyes is a style in anime in general (as Sukotto explained) and has nothing to do with race.

"If the Japanese really perceive white people to have large eyes, then you would expect to see white people in anime to have larger eyes than Asian characters. That's not the case."

chinese people often have slits for eyes

This phenomenon is acknowledged enough by the Japanese to where it has a name: it's called "mukokuseki" which is Japanese for "no nationality". Basically it amounts to this: characters are drawn in an ethnically neutral way so that they have universal appeal, and it makes it easier to export these media works into foreign markets. Maybe the foreign markets thing was not a concern in Tezuka's early days, but it certainly is now.

Just a thought, but how is drawing them white ethnically neutral? It seems like something more beige/brown would be, seeing as how most of the world as tan-skinned.

I think it's largely because the page is white. How do you color someone beige/brown in a black-and-white medium? Specifically black and white, not grayscale.

A question to you: What is it that makes them drawn specifically white, other than eyes? Is it only the fact that they're on a white background, or is there more there that I am missing.

No that explains it. I guess I was assuming they were drawing them in color to begin with and that they were scanned into b&w.

I have always pondered this question so I quickly went to the link and was confronted with a really weak and half-baked argument. First, this is not a question of American audiences; I'm not American and love anime but they don't look Japanese to me either.

"The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed." This may be true but it has very little to do with anime. As others have pointed out (i) anime artists have been influenced by their Western counterparts (anime is not a traditional Japanese art form, you know) and (ii) commercial considerations play a role, i.e. very Japanese looking characters would have less appeal to a large audience.

But forget about that and just think about the argument to see how faulty it is: In its essence it is trying to show how lop-sided white Westerners see the world but it itself is also very prejudiced. Do you think when a Chinese person looks at an anime character they think it's Chinese (because "otherness" isn't marked)? This sort of thinking is typical of a lot of mumbo-jumbo that comes out of English departments under literary criticism. If Japanese didn't have to mark "otherness", why are the characters in traditional Japanese paintings look very Japanese (slanted eyes, hairdo, etc.).

In the end the article states: "Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else." This is another common tactic: when someone raises a problematic viewpoint, label them as racist, misogynistic, or worse (e.g. see the Summers episode).

How can you explain that a lot of Japanese women go through cosmetic surgery to get rid of the slant in their eyes to make them look more Western? Why is baseball so popular in Japan? Japan has had a long love/hate relationship with the US (and Westerners in general). I'm not saying some form of American idealization is at the heart of anime styles but I think it has definitely influenced it.

EDIT: For similar over the top ideas about race and culture and to see how politicized the debate can be, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_race_controver...

Honestly, Japanese anime characters do not look western to me. They look Japanese, but that's probably because I'm used to seeing them in anime! I don't see how classic Japanese drawings have anything to do with it; different styles of drawing grew up in different cultures, I expect, and not just because of the different look of people from those culture.

As for the baseball question, I don't think it makes much sense. Soccer is popular almost everywhere in the world except in the United States, so it's obviously not a Western thing, and there are other sports highly popular in some countries and not in others. It has more to do with history than with any fascination. For example, cricket and snooker are extremely popular in countries that used to be parts of Great Britain, but that's just history, not any "worship" of England.

Small correction : Great Britain refers to the group of islands also referred to as the British Isles. Great Britain is a geographical reference. The full name of the UK is 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. Hence 'British' is a generic term for anyone from the British Isles, although it tends to be used to describe English people, though technically Welsh and Scottish people are also British. This is similar how 'American' refers to citizens of the United States, even though technically anyone from Alaska to Argentina is American.

So you can't be a former part of Great Britain unless there is some major tectonic activity!

The correct term would be 'former British Colonies', or perhaps, beter still, 'former members of the British Empire' or even 'Commonwealth nations'. Even these have problems because most of the Northeast USA was once part of the British Empire. And, curiously, Canadians never really went for Cricket despite still being in the commonwealth. I guess it's difficult when the fields are under snow for half the year.

Your point stands - cultural traditions can take root in any place, and don't necessarily imply a worship of the parent culture. It probably has more to do with a filling a cultural need with a pre-created product than anything else. You could reverse the trend and ask why so many young people are into the 'import' car scene : which generally means Japanese cars. Is this a worship of Japanese culture or just young people finding that Japanese performance cars are cheaper and more accessible?

If we're going to be nitpicky and irrelevant, "Great Britain" != "The British Isles".


The comment wasn't meant to be nitpicky and irrelevant. Was just meant to be an interesting sidebar into the discussion of the term 'Great Britain'.

I guess I should have used a different tone or something. All my other comments I've done expanding something like this have generally been well received, so I'm at a loss why this one was taken so badly. Maybe it was the parent thread.

No sure why this is downvoted - it's correct, and it appears that the parent is confusing Great Britain and the former British Empire (where the popularity of cricket is widespread).

> How can you explain that a lot of Japanese women go through cosmetic surgery to get rid of the slant in their eyes to make them look more Western? Why is baseball so popular in Japan?

Double eyelid surgery isn't exactly about making the eye bigger. It's to emphasize a small fold between the eyelid and the Epicanthic fold. It's considered beautiful to see just a small sliver of the eyelid from underneath the fold, and in many East Asians, the fold tends to grow too low. Additionally, as people age, the skin of the fold tends to sag and people may want some of it removed in order to open their eyes up.

From wikipedia "The procedure of reducing or removing epicanthic folds is epicanthoplasty. It is now an extremely rare procedure. Blepharoplasty, however, is not an uncommon form of cosmetic surgery in East Asia. The use of "eyelid glue" or "eyelid tape" (sometimes referred to as "eye glue" or "eye tape") is used to create the appearance of the "double eyelid" by finding a "natural fold" in the eyelid and tucking it in and holding it with an adhesive."


"why are the characters in traditional Japanese paintings look very Japanese (slanted eyes, hairdo, etc.)."

So modern anime characters should look more like traditional Japanese paintings?

"How can you explain that a lot of Japanese women go through cosmetic surgery to get rid of the slant in their eyes to make them look more Western?"

Citation? How many is "many"?

"Why is baseball so popular in Japan?"

Because they're better at it now than Americans?

Here's (http://www.bellasugar.com/Jessica-Simpson-Eyelid-Surgery-Pri...) a recent link on how popular double eyelid surgery is in Korea and Japan. I don't have the hard figures but I would guess that this procedure would be much more common in Korea and Japan then in China since these populations are more affluent and were heavily affected by US presence.

As for baseball, most everyone agrees this is a quintessential American game, some authors have even suggested that it reflects the American spirit. To people from other countries it may seem slow and pointless. If you disregard Cuba, which has close ties to US historically, AFAIK the only non-American culture where baseball is very (or even on the average) popular is Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball#Popularity_and_cultura...).

This is not completely accurate. Korean culture had basically no Western contact before the 1870s. There are Korean and Chinese accounts (ie Chinese envoy's accounts of Korean life) dating back to the 1100s describing Korean concepts of beauty.

Large eyes were considered beautiful and makeup manuals for women showed them how to accentuate their eyebrows and make eyes larger and rounder.

I am not crazy about the original article but have th agree - here - with the point he made. Do not assume that because they are making their eyes larger and rounder it is because they want to look Western. It is because larger rounder eyes have been considered attractive for a long time in the culture.

As did paler skin I believe - but again not because of a Western Caucasian model. The foreign influence for these ideas would have been China, probably Confucian ideas.

The Japanese were not as isolated from the West as the Koreans were but I would not be surprised if there were older indigenous models for beauty as well.


Baseball is more popular throughout the Caribbean and Latin America than it is in the U.S., and many of the best major leaguers come from there. During the World Baseball Classic, most of the biggest names were playing for countries other than the U.S.

And Japan won the tournament, both of the times it has been played so far. The best U.S. finish is fourth.

I see the U.S. relationship with baseball becoming similar to that of England with soccer. We may have invented the sport, but that doesn't mean we're the best at it any more.

Hmm, it's hard to agree with this. I think you're equating success in world tournaments with professional level of play, which may not be the case.

As a case in point, consider the recent FIBA World Campionship: Turkey played the final with US and gave it a run for its money (at least at the start of the game). Serbia was awesome, too. The US Team didn't even make it to the final in the previous three times (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIBA_World_Championship#Results). Now, that doesn't mean that the level of basketball in these countries is better or on par with the one in US. It just means that the very good pro players see this as a waste of time and money (and chance to be injured) and don't go. I bet a similar reason applies in the case of baseball.

US has the best players at every position in basketball, hands down. Not quite the same in baseball but you could produce a dominant American team. But might not have the best team always. I think there has been a decline in US baseball and basketball as team sports.

I am not sure I could empirically prove it though. I find it hard to sit through an actual game in any major US sport, though I find myself still following the NYC teams I grew up with (Mets, Giants, Knicks).

"US has the best players at every position in basketball, hands down."

I'd take Pau Gasol over any U.S. big man. That's probably it, though.

Yes true - or perhaps Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime or Tim Duncan maybe... not quite as absolute as i made it

In basketball, also, the level of play has come much closer to the U.S. level. The U.S. did not win the FIBA tournament since 1994. They lost in 2006 with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. It's also important to note that several of the best non-U.S. pros sat out this tournament, also. Notably, Pau Gasol, the second best player on the champion Lakers and probably the best big man in the world right now.

The U.S. had to rethink the way they ran their national program after getting embarrassed, getting more continuity with players committing to multiple years. Wade, James, and Anthony came back after losing in 2006 to put on a dominating performance during the 2008 Olympics. I was extremely impressed with how this current team was put together, because I thought they would have trouble handling the much taller teams they would face. Instead, the U.S. smaller but quicker and more athletic players created trouble for the taller teams they faced by stealing the ball and getting out for dunks and layups. Also, Kevin Durant is a beast.

In short, I actually believe that the quality of U.S. basketball got better as a response to the improvement in the international game and the realization that it was not a glorified exhibition. That's quite the sea change from what the original Dream Team faced in 1992.

Back to baseball, here are the 2009 rosters.


Just clicking around, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are loaded with many of the most famous MLB names. The U.S. is, too, but most of the biggest U.S. baseball names I'm familiar with are on there, and they lost any way. Japan has several major leaguers and of course they have the second best professional league in the world (I don't think there's much dispute about that).

So I think with basketball we have re-asserted ourselves as the dominant world power, but only with a renewed dedication and commitment to get back to that place. I still stand behind my argument that the quality of baseball player development is now better in some other countries than the U.S. This is very much like the English Premier League, considered the best league in the world, and with many English stars, but not enough to make England a dominant football power.

And yes, maybe I think about this stuff just a little too much. :)

Do you really watch a lot of baseball? The American roster there looks pretty crappy. They have Jeter (thank god) and a couple other big names but where's the power? Where's ARod? Pettite? Halladay? Teixera? Cliff Lee (god I hate him for how awesome he was in the 09 WS)? Sabathia? Buerhle?

I think the entire setup is bullshit though. You get a bunch of guys who don't really want to be there to play in an "all-star" team that, for some reason, is assumed to have any unit cohesion at all. You're better off just playing championship series in every country and then playing the winning teams, regardless of nationality. I think "The Yankees" is a better team than any "All-Star" bullshit they come up with.

Hmm. I guess it's clear, then, that I watch a lot more basketball than baseball. I do remember, though, this weird thing with ARod not being able to decide which team to play for.

I'm a sucker for international tournaments. I guess I just like the idea of professional athletes organized around something other than who is offering the highest salaries at the moment. I think the U.S. is just starting to come around on the concept.

Hmm, it's hard to agree with this. I think you're equating success in world tournaments with professional level of play, which may not be the case.

As a case in point, consider the recent FIBA World Campionship: Turkey played the final with US and gave it a run for its money (at least at the start of the game). Serbia was awesome, too. The US Team didn't even make it to the final in the previous three times (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIBA_World_Championship#Results). Now, that doesn't mean that the level of basketball in these countries is better or on par with the one in US. It just means that the very good pro players see this as a waste of time and money (and chance to be injured) and don't go. I bet a similar reason applied in the case of baseball.

Basically true that baseball is US, Caribbean, Korean and Japan. But some interesting players from Mexico, Canada, Australia and Europe belie some spread. Frankly I would not think it could spread...

I like the World Baseball Classic and I would attribute in part the lack of American success because the MLB players are in the beginning of their playing year when the tournament takes place. In his glory years Lance Armstrong did not win too many spring races because he was looking to peak in July.

I think the American players in the WBC are just getting into "spring training" mode.

The Asian teams come to play. The last two WBCs there have been really good games Korean vs Japan. MLB players like Ichiro and Hee Seop Choi crashing into walls and sliding head first. In March.

The WBC is great fun and I recommend it. I cannot sit through an MLB game any more...

The linked article says the surgery makes eyes look bigger. They don't say, more western.

They say Blepharoplasty is the most popular surgery in Japan and South Korea but plastic surgery in general is still considered quite abnormal here. Most popular doesn't mean common.

Because they're better at it now than Americans?

Actually, most still agree that the Japanese professional baseball is close but not quite at the level of American major league baseball. The top Japanese players obviously can compete at the top level in the US but most people think that Japan would probably only have enough players for a half-dozen MLB-level teams at the most.

Judging by the number of players imported from Latin America, I think the US only has enough players for a half-dozen MLB-level teams.

In the USA, Baseball is not as popular as a kid's pastime as it once was. Little leagues are having trouble getting enough kids to actually have games...

As I said in a cousin comment, the nationality of the players is irrelevant. I would count non-Japanese citizens playing in the NPB as members of Japanese professional baseball, just as I count Mo as a member of the MLB.

As I noted in another comment, we can compare MLB with the English Premier League. MLB and the EPL are considered the best leagues in the world for their respective sports, but that does not mean that the U.S. and England produce the best players.

Comparing the two leagues, MLB has placed a greater emphasis on the home run (probably because Japanese players are smaller on average than many U.S. and Latin American players). However, that does not necessarily make the Japanese style worse when it comes to winning games. The World Baseball Classic is the only serious competition we've had to compare national styles at the highest level, and so far the Japanese system has won out. Granted, a sample size of two is probably not significant, but it seems all we have to go by.

As I noted in another comment, we can compare MLB with the English Premier League. MLB and the EPL are considered the best leagues in the world for their respective sports, but that does not mean that the U.S. and England produce the best players.

Except that that's never what I said. I said the MLB is a more competitive ball league than EPL. With the internationalization of trade and sports I'm not sure it's terribly important what the nationalities of the players are.

The World Baseball Classic is the only serious competition we've had to compare national styles at the highest level, and so far the Japanese system has won out. Granted, a sample size of two is probably not significant, but it seems all we have to go by.

As a good statistician would say, a result with an insignificant sample size is worse than no result at all because it can fool one (as it did you) into thinking it has any significance at all.

The population of Japan is significantly lower than that of the US.

So what? Most of the players in the MLB aren't of US citizenship. I was comparing American and Japanese professional baseball. The citizenship of the players is irrelevant.

This whole thread reeks of nonsensical, "things-we-cannot-say", Politically Correct, bullshit.

Let us call a spade a spade shall we? Asians have a considerable and measurable white bias when it comes to aesthetics.



Couple the skin-whitening phenomenon with the double-eyelid surgery explosion with the open-air admission of the Asians' who elect to do these procedures that the so-called "Hellenic" features are more desirable than their own - and you have more than circumstantial evidence for the proposition "The Japanese draw themselves as white."

...And that isn't even mentioning the fact that the characters they draw, by any reasonable appraisal look about as white as Christmas in Nebraska.

If the truth offends your sensibilities, then it is your sensibilities that need adjusting.

>> Asians have a considerable and measurable white bias when it comes to aesthetics.

I'd be inclined to think you're painting targets around bullet holes there. There are procedures/products that are designed to make people look more caucasian, but you can't just ignore everything else and call it a bias. To give an example, the practice of wearing yukatas to matsuris is distinctly non-caucasian and far more common than, say, eyelid surgery.

I recommend the author's blog, http://abagond.wordpress.com/

Programmer, West Indian, NYC area, writes 500 words a day on whatever he likes. Also a father. Studied Classical Greek and Comp Sci in college:

People told me studying ancient Greek was a waste of time, but I learned far more about life and the world from the Greeks than from anything in computers.

I read a few posts and enjoyed them all.

I think it depends on what you consider white. If you are just talking about the color of skin, Japanese are as white as Europeans. In fact, my personal view is that they are closer to white, European's skin color has a pink tone that you can't see on Japanese people.

Europeans have more pheomelanin than Japanese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pheomelanin#Pheomelanin). A clear indicator of this is to check the softer skin tissues, like the lips and nipples. Europeans tend to be pinker in these places, not browner like most humans.

Reminds me of a funny story a professor told me. Back in the days of apartheid, someone told a Japanese friend of his that in South Africa, that he'd have the same status as a "white", to which he retorted "Why would I want to be white?"

Relatedly, "Asian" is a category which exists in America a heck of a lot more than it exists in Asia.

(I was helping one of my friends with a grad school application. He got to race, asked me why a school would need to know this -- silly Japanese person, how would we run our racial discrimination departments without sorting you first -- and couldn't find Japanese on the menu so he picked Other. Quote, "The closest I saw was Asian American, but I think that's for Chinese people, right? Whatever, I'm certainly not American.")

I never considered Oriental a pejorative (heck, I called myself Oriental back then) until I was corrected by my American cousin who was taking Asian Studies in uni in the late 80s: "We're called Asians. Oriental is considered offensive."

In the 90s, I was totally baffled by the popularity of the 'Azn' movement.

I don't understand how your anecdote illustrates your point. He looked for Japanese first, then Asian. The problem was the "Asian-American". I assume if there was an "Asian" option he would have picked it.

(Yes, I know that in Japan "Asian" almost always mean "Asia - Japan", but I think a college student wouldn't fail to realize that outside Japan, "Asia" does include Japan.)

This reminds me of the trouble I have with "African-American". I often have no idea where someone's cultural, racial, or national background is, and I believe it would be rude of me to presuppose a particular country. Anyway, the problem usually comes up when I'm trying to describe someone to someone else (physically, I mean). I mean, if I work with three people who are black and 50 who are not, there is an obvious way to narrow down the description. Same as of they had another distinguishing characteristic. If I (a rather white guy) were the odd skin tone out I'd fully expect to be described by it.

I understand the idea that a person is not defined by their skin color. But, really, I'm generally not talking about someone else's background as much as I'm asking a third party if they know them.

More on topic, it would seem that a good artist specifies a particular cultural background for a character if it enhances a story. Otherwise, it is often the case that any cultural baggage is brought by the viewer/reader.

This reminds me of a story that my friend told me from when she was at college.

The daughter of the ambassador from Jamaica was a student at the college, and she was being interviewed by the student newspaper as an interest piece.

The interviewer apparently asked her how she felt being an African-American at the (predominantly white) college.

The interviewer could not fathom why the daughter (being neither African nor American) was upset by the question.

That, and living in a foreign country has pretty much made me give up on the PC-ness that American creates. I'm as white as the Whitey-white white, and I feel that no one could be faulted for telling me otherwise.

Interestingly enough, when I tease my wife about our (half-hungarian, half-japanese) daughter about being part of "Team Whitey," she always responds by saying that our daughter is part of "Team Yellow."

While horribly non-PC in America, it brings into light the amount of power that words like that have, and how they have almost no power if there's no history or culture backing them.

Thinking about it further, I find it interesting that "Team Whitey" sounds perfectly fine and dandy in an English context, while "Team Yellow" seems racially insensitive.

Strange what a single color-change can make.

-- END Random rambling

The interviewer apparently asked her how she felt being an African-American at the (predominantly white) college.

The interviewer could not fathom why the daughter (being neither African nor American) was upset by the question.

Since when are black Jamaicans any less African than black United States-ians?

Just out f curiosity, what kind of people are asking this question?

I've been an anime fan for years and this question has legitimately never crossed my mind despite being cynical and critical of almost every single factual inaccuracy I come across.

Interesting article all the same!

Wehn I was into anime (about 5-15 years ago), it was a very, very common question from any "outsiders" who came into contact with the (then much less mainstream) medium.

I had the same question. I didn't think it was a big deal, since I figured that other people ask the question and it just never occurred to me. Then I came across the last sentence of the article:

"Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else."

After that kind of sentence, I really expect some evidence that someone, somewhere has this view.

Look at this: http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en#sclient=psy&hl=en&...

What's the point. I bet there are a million bigots, immature kids, and ignorant people asking questions on Yahoo Answers. Unfortunately every country has people like this, it's not exclusive to one area.

Let's just all read this and decide collectively that Yahoo Answers should never again be used as debate source material: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100317231952AA...

You are right. edanm asked for some evidence that there are idiots who think Japanese worship white people. It seems there are many, so the article really targets an existing problem. That's the point.

I was specifically looking for evidence that scholars believe this. I don't doubt there are idiots who believe all kinds of things!

And by the way, what's up with the people posting that Yahoo! question? If it's not a joke, I'm seriously worried about the state of humanity.


"The ultimate reason for the lower Japanese body esteem may perhaps concern broader cultural and historical perspectives. Being part of the West, but non-Caucasians, Japanese people seem collectively to experience high incongruence between their Western-oriented bodily ideals and the perceptions of their own body. "

Japanese body image: Structure and esteem scores in a cross-cultural perspective by Rotem Kowner, University of Haifa, Israel, in: INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY, 2002, 37 (3), 149–159


Fair enough

The funny thing is that Scott Pilgrim [+] looks Japanese to me even though he is a very Canadian hero.

[+] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Pilgrim

Scott's eyes in that image resemble those of Link from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In most drawings of him they are rounder.

Oddly enough -- in 2001 some test footage from Wind Waker was released, showing a Link with some very almond-shaped eyes. The appearance of Link was retooled so they look less almond-shaped and more mukokuseki.

The cover of the first volume isn’t really all that representative, that’s right. Here is a page from the fourth volume: http://www.scottpilgrim.com/images/previews/v4pre/v4pre__027...

Putting "why are anime characters white" turns up a large number of hits so evidently it is an actual question out there. When the show has giant robots and aliens it never occurred to me to wonder what race the humans were.

Exactly. I was baffled by the title. Anime characters never ever looked like "white" (Caucasian) people to me.

Me too... as he says in the article, the white people are obvious because of their exagerated features... I've never thought the rest of the characters were (well... never found myself wondering about race as I watch them at all really).

Me. Yesterday.

Never thought of it this way, either, and I'm not white.

I'm going to give what is probably a very contrarian view here: scientific studies show that Caucasian features allow for a higher standard deviation than Asian features. (That is to say, both Asian and Caucasian test groups think two randomly-sampled Asians look more similar than two randomly-sampled Caucasians.)

When you have 10 or 20 characters, and want them to be recognizable at a glance (for brand ownership), even when appearing completely out-of-context alongside characters of similar ages and styles from other series, and even when drawn minimally and potentially badly by a subcontracted art studio--it's logical to make them whatever race has the widest "visual range." It's also logical, for the same reasons, to give them technicolor hair.

Something I learned in a journalism class relates to this: "I'm going to give what is probably a very contrarian view here: scientific studies show that Caucasian features allow for a higher standard deviation than Asian features."

Don't just claim "scientific studies say X;" cite studies Y, Z, and A. I'm not saying that your claim is wrong, but it sounds implausible to me, and I suspect that, if such studies exist, they probably indicate that whites find it easier to differentiate other whites and Asians find it easier to differentiate other Asians (I'd be curious: are such studies done solely in the United States? If so, they'd be worthless).

You're quite right, of course--but I think that, in any case where the person actually has access to a study they mention (and isn't, say, typing this reply on a phone while in gridlock on public transit), they would simply cite it, as it would strengthen their argument at no cost. Thus, you can take any assertion, including mine, that mentions that "studies say", as simply positing that there could be studies of such a type, and exploring the any implications made possible by that assumption.

In this particular case, I believe the best I can give you is that I heard it from a science podcast of some sort.

If you want greater variance, why stick to a single subgroup when humanity as a whole will always be more variable?

What struck me as odd in Asia were all the skin whitening products. Even regular cosmetics had "Whitening" plastered over it.

You see a lot of that in the Philippines especially. Everyone wants to be as white as possible, so they carry umbrellas to block the sun, and use whitening lotions and soaps. Contrast that with the US, where people want to be tan, to the point of using tanning salons and spray-on tans.

Up to about 100 years ago, this was common in Europe (and probably America) as well: when 90%+ of the populace were poor agriculture workers, white skin was a status symbol. This eventually reversed when most work moved indoors, and a tan became something acquired on vacations.

The open question is why Japan, as dominated by clerical work as any other fully industrialized country, still retains the ideal of white skin. OTOH, it's a generational thing there as well: deep, fake tans are quite popular among school-age girls (and guys).

Some examples of the extreme fake tan style that peaked around 2000 (ganguro): http://www.yopress.com/japanese/japanese-style-extreme-tanni...

Yes, I'm Filipino and light skinned, and the first thing people notice about me when I'm there is how light skinned I look. They associate this with beauty. People over there have this obsession with being white, with all the heart throb celebrities looking light skinned and "mestizo," and all the comedians and funny characters looking dark and more malay.

How's this for irony...My fiancee is Filipina, and she has become more tan since living in the US (we go to the Caribbean about once every two months). When we went to the Philippines this past May, she got lots of compliments on her tan from Filipinos. It turns out that her tan skin and the fact that she's with me (a light-skinned Black American) made her look more American, so being tan was more desirable in their eyes.

That is indeed ironic. I've never heard of Filipinos complementing on how tan someone is, though there is a certain shade of tan called "kayumangi" that sort of exemplifies "Filipino Beauty." Filipino views on the various shades of skin color can get kind of confusing.

I had initially assumed that whitening creams were used to create a caucasian look - an idea which I found quite repulsive. When a friend explained that it was to mimic the appearance of the upperclass, whose skin colour contrasted with a labourer's, it began to make sense. When thought of as a status enhancer, it doesn't seem that disimilar to tanning..

It's funny, a friend of mine asked me why "all Japanese people want to look white" as I am from japan (I don't look even a little bit white, let alone Japanese). The fact is that paleness has been associated with beauty there since before they knew that Caucasians even existed. So I don't particularly have an answer, but it's clear that it's not that they want to be white because Caucasians are white.

+1 for not looking Japanese.

A former hostel-mate of mine was Japanese and we would hangout with the Japanese expats in Shanghai. 100% of the time, Japanese people would speak English to him. I forgot where exactly in Japan he is from, but he said everyone in his home town looked like him, but Japanese people elsewhere would assume he is something else; 6.4 tall, full beard, and looked a lot like Tarkan, the Turkish singer:


A year later when I went to Japan I found out how unusual looking he was.

Lighter skin is universally more feminine. In any ethnicity the women are lighter skinned and usually have lighter hair. Observing women using skin whitening products and dying their hair does not necessarily lead to some class/race social analysis. It can be fundamentally the same thing as using lipstick to emphasize the natural female tendency of darker and fuller lips.

When I lived in Korea it was explained to me that farmers and peasants had darker complexions because they were out in the sun all day. Having lighter skin was a matter of class distinction, and it had nothing to do with Western influence.

That argument strikes me as disingenuous. Being fat used to be a class distinction (poor people couldn't afford to be fat) but it's not popular today. I suspect preference for lighter skin color is more self-racist than people like to portray (even to themselves).

Actually, lighter skin used to be an issue for westerners too. Lighter skin suggested the same thing as it did in Asia and tanned skin was looked down upon. Recently, with the massive changes in the economy over the past hundred or so years, tanned skin has begun to demonstrate leisure and wealth more than paleness, so the situation has reversed. Korea and Japan have modernized much recently than America and the West so that could be the reason.

I think the preference for lighter-colored skin in China dates back to when they thought westerners were ugly, smelly barbarians. That isn't to say that modern perceptions of whites as modern and superior isn't a factor now, but it is a relatively late influence on the phenomenon.

Addressing specifically your comment on being fat: this could be explained by the fact that getting fat is no longer expensive.

Yes, and the "best" whitening products are made in Japan. Fair skin is often considered a desirable thing among many of the Asian cultures.

A distinction needs to be made. Most of the Asians using whitening products aim to get the skin to #ffffff, not the color of caucasian skin. Caucasians are a few tints darker than #ffffff.

#fff would make a great brand-name in a nerdy nonsensical nike swoosh kind of way

[Edited from one of my comments ( http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/08/30/guest-post-w... ) at the article]

Many people want to show that they have the financial means to enjoy leisure - whether that be because you’re well paid enough to take holidays, or because you employ others. Most of the westernised world aims to get a tan - it shows that we have the means to go to far away sunny places and laze in the sun. Conversely, in Asia, a tanned skin is what you get from labouring outdoors (farming, for example), and so light skin is a sign of a leisurely life.

And if you can’t afford a leisure lifestyle, you can buy the appearance of one in a bottle: fake tan, or skin bleacher.

True, but this is not unique to Asia. In Middle east and parts of Europe I've seen a similar attitudes, especiall towards beauty in women. Also in the US, "redneck" is used as a pejorative term.

'"redneck" is used as a pejorative term.'

Right, because it refers to the guy with a red neck and bright white chest when he takes his shirt off, because he actually is working outdoors properly dressed for such work, not on a beach somewhere getting a leisurely tan. Thus, a red neck indicates working class.

Actual red necks, of course, seem to use it as a term of endearment and solidarity, much as other epithets have been co-opted by their targets.

What about the eyelid surgery that is all the rage?

I think this is certainly an example of real people aiming for a western ideal of beauty.

However, a quick google search http://bit.ly/bHOnEC doesn't show a particular bias for double or single eyelids in anime.

Simple because paper is white?

Your common sense reply shows how easy it is for us to get distracted by issues of race, culture, westernization.

LOL. Japanese paper is white too ...

I'm with you. I always thought it was a cost issue and saved you time since you didn't have to fill in the skin tone with ink.

I think I read once that Asian people pay more attention to the eyes than other facial features when they are reading emotions. The hypothesis was somehow based on the fact that the emoticons Asians use tend to mostly show the eyes. Since it's difficult to show emotions on a cartoon, perhaps drawing big eyes started as a way to make it easier for the artist to express anger, happiness,... on what they drew.

They might look whiter than Asian, but it probably has nothing to do with Asians wanting to be white. You can probably test what the OP said by asking a villager in Africa which race those cartoons belong to assuming he's seen an equal share of whites and Asians.

Everyone pays attention to the eyes when they are reading emotions. That's why eyes are called "the window to the soul."

No, he's right. There is at least one eye-tracking study that shows that people from Asian cultures pay greater attention to the eyes when reading expressions. Relative to the Asians in the study, the Caucasians relied more on other parts of the face.


It's not clear whether it might be influencing different art styles, though.

I have to admit, I always wondered why Naruto was a blue-eyed blonde white kid. This article helped me consider some of my own reasoning. I had just assumed Naruto had characters that reflected a mix of races instead of one race. The last sentence of this article is offensive though. It's a derogatory generalization. Personally it doesn't matter to me what the characters look like and I don't see why someone relating to a character is a negative.

Actually, he's blonde for the same reason that a lot of male ankle protagonists are: because, as an asian teenager, dying one's hair blonde and showing up starkly against a sea of black hair marks you as rebellious--and thus, in Japan especially where "the nail that stands up gets hammered down", gets you treated with a bit more disdain by both peers and elders. For younger kids who feel out of place for all the regular reasons of childhood and pubescence, a naturally blonde-haired character feels like someone they could identify with.

(And, in case anyone is confused: iPhones don't know the word anime.)

This "article" seems to be very light on basically anything. Especially facts. How much karma does it take on HN to vote things down?

I was okay with it until here:

"Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else."

It's a red flag when you preemptively declare all of your opponents racists before they've even had a chance to respond.

Maybe someone will disagree for a non-racist reason? Just maybe?

Well, that's inflammatory, but what if it's true?

Because it is such an inflammatory statement, it should be better supported, if that was the author's main point, or omitted, if it wasn't.

There's something else at work, though. I think that as soon as many readers read "racist", they mentally shut down as a defence mechanism.

"B ... b ... but it's an axiom that I can't be racist, so any argument that might cast me as racist must be wrong, without further consideration." It's the same thing you're arguing against.

I read your reply earlier and didn't quite get it, but I think now I see your point.

My response would be that it's okay to unequivocally declare a class of arguments as wrong. "Wrong" in the sense of a bad argument that doesn't hold up, it could still (coincidentally) reflect the correct position. What the author does is different though, he simply declares an entire side wrong on the assumption that they all must be using a certain class of arguments.

But the example you offered does demonstrate an equally important point: There are correct and incorrect reasons to rule out a class of arguments. Clearly "if this were true I'd be bad person, therefore this is false" is one of the bad reasons. The technical term is "argumentum ad consequentiam": appeal to consequeces.

So you're absolutely right to preach caution here.

It's not racist as in kkk-style, overt hatred of another race, it's more like culture-blindness, or ignorance, or a misplaced belief that one's culture is dominant in an area where it is not.

I'm not complaining about the type of racism, but the general trend of presupposing that all arguments against you will be of a certain misguided type and therefore illegitimate.

Like if I said "Mac is better than PC, and if anyone disagrees with me, it can only because that person is a pedophile". Obviously that example is unrealistic, but you see the issue.

That's a non-sequitur. In the context of racial appearance of drawn characters, and the incorrect attribution of race based on the viewers biases, it's an appropriate, if somewhat incendiary, term.

If someone counters that Japanese definitely draw white people because Japanese people think Americans are awesome (and there are some arguments of this type floating around out there), then it's a culturally myopic, borderline racist stance.

Sigh. Alright, last try, then I'm done with this time-sink discussion.

Forget racism. I said nothing about whether "racist" was an appropriate term for the kinds of people he has in mind. The problem is in equating "the people I have in mind" with "everyone who could possibly think I'm wrong". The problem is that he has assumed, before anyone has even had the chance to argue with him, that any arguments he gets will be motivated by some particular flaw he expects to encounter. The problem is that he dismisses all disagreement as "racist" before even hearing that disagreement.

Yes, if a bunch of people speak up and disagree with his points, some of them will probably do so because of some underlying racist beliefs. But that doesn't authorize him to declare that everyone who disagrees with him must therefore be a racist. That's wrong, descriptively and normatively.

For example, if I linked to an article where the top 50 Japanese anime authors had explicitly stated "Yup, we just draw white people", that wouldn't make me a racist. It would make him wrong, and me right to disagree. I don't expect to find an article like that, and I find the author's main point in the article quite plausible. The issue is just that there are conceivable legitimate objections (particularly any based on actual evidence, which, as has been noted, this article lacks), a possibility he has refused to even acknowledge with a wave of his hand.

I seem to be talking right past you, but I don't know how to spell this out any more plainly.

Thanks for the condescension.

The author states in the last paragraph that he is referring to the Americans who make that argument. Perhaps that was not clear to you, but it was clear to me.

Bah! Why the scare quotes? You insist on facts, but then don't provide any of your own.

I found the article very interesting. I'm not white. I was raised in and live in a white culture, and interestingly, I make the same assumptions the author attributes to American social conditioning.

It's sad to reject useful or interesting information just because it's not well cited, or perhaps because the author used the dreaded "R-word."

You can't vote articles down you can just flag them as not belonging on the site.

Agree. The basic premise is that we're all sort of racists, and therefore we think any other generic-looking person is just like us. I don't see much data to support his conclusion.

Also, is this question the same as why do British singers sound like Americans in their songs? Just asking...

The assumption of whiteness does NOT make you a racist, any more than the assumption of Japanese-ness makes a person living in Japan a racist. This is not the behavior the author is calling out as racist.

This is a nice thought-provoking article.

Pale white skin has a history here in Japan much longer than anime. Look at geisha for example. On the other end of the spectrum, there were Gangaru walking all around tokyo at one point too:


Japanese women especially are well aware of their skin's natural ability to change color and often treat it as a fashion decision.

A heavily tanned caucasian can be much darker than an asian, latino, african american, etc... I think many westerners would be surprised that caucasians don't always have "white" skin if they actually looked around the world with a critical eye.

cmon, its a little off that when Goku goes super saiyen he turns blond and blue/green eyed, no?

The more a stylized a cartoon character is, thee more it look like you. E.g what ethnicity does this character have: ☺ ? I bet it has the same ethnicity as you!

>what ethnicity does this character have: ☺ ? I bet it has the same ethnicity as you!

It has no ethnic origin beyond unicode. Just like it has no eye colour, no skin colour (no skin), etc.. Am I weird about this?

I really can't say I've ever thought of a stick figure as coming from a particular place or having a particular identity. But then I don't really identify with a particular location, I'm just happy to be in it in preference to other places.

What is striking about this entire affair is just how politically incorrect it is to suggest that East Asians want to look White, whereas, say, to suggest that East Asians want to look African would sound merely quaint. Substitute East Asians with any other 'race', and it's the same story.

Man, have we some issues to work through!

I hope part 2 explains why anime villains are almost always drawn to look like girls and assumed male.

This doesn't explain or even address why the Japanese favor 'large round eyed' actors in ads for beauty products, why darker skinned Japanese women are not featured on TV, and why the current depictions of beauty in Japan eschew many traits common to classical Japanese portrayals of beauty.

It is glaringly obvious that European ideals of beauty have enormously affected the Japanese aesthetic, especially including anime; almost any Japanese person you meet will readily admit to this, to claim otherwise takes willful ignorance.

I know for sure that all of the Manga style drawings DO NOT look asian, so there was a marketing element to it. Seems like Japanese creators wanted to make Manga universal and appealing to everybody - and of course they were successful at it. So, rather than drawing asian looking characters, they have created a "universally appealing" characters. This is equal to "bigger audience".

I am seriously disappointed with how the skin tone issue was blown off in about half a sentence. I understand that there is great variability in Japanese ethnic skin tone, but it seems like the majority of Japanese have a dusky skin tone while the majority of anime characters have a very pale skin tone.

The post features four anime characters. Two of the characters are clearly blonde... and I'm pretty sure this isn't my whiteness just projecting blondeness. Very few Japanese people are blonde. Is it racist for me to notice this?

isn't it less work?

I find it more interesting that the female models you see on billboards and such in Japan are distinctly more caucasian looking than the population: rounder eyes, narrower face.

The popularity of actual caucasian models in advertisements is also interesting.

Cat-like faces or baby-style faces - big eyes, small nose, triangle-shaped with small chin. Everywhere in the world children love kittens. There is no deep psychological, let alone political influences.

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