Watching culture from the outside in and the uniqueness factor

By | May 27, 2014

Many of us are into cultures from a certain foreign country, and feel that many things produced from that country are funny, interesting, or thought-provoking. Or maybe you’re a general culture nut and feel all the world’s cultures have something unique to offer.

In my case I’m still very enamored with Japan and Japanese culture, but there are other countries I’d like to turn my attention to someday. When I first saw Japan’s anime over 15 years ago I said “Wow, this stuff is so amazing  – how did they think of this?” and I marveled at how different it was from the American cartoons I had seen up to that point. Based on my limited experience, I felt Japanese animation was more serious, had better art, and was somehow unspeakably unique and creative. I could start watching practically any series out there and enjoy myself for hours on end.

Jump forward to the present, and things have changed quite a bit for me. While I still do watch anime now and then, it’s harder for me to stay interested and there are many shows that just don’t catch my eye from the first few minutes. So what happened?

Surely, I’ve aged quite a bit and some might have said matured, so that “cartoons” are no longer appropriate for my age group. But I don’t feel that is the real issue here.

Instead, you could say I’ve simply gotten tired of Japanese anime, or more accurately gotten used to it. How could one ever get used to a form of entertainment and expression which is so “unique” and “creative”?

Herein lies the connection to this article’s main theme, which is that when observing a culture from the outside in – meaning when you aren’t a part of that culture – you have a certain bias towards many of the products of that culture. With a country like Japan that has been culturally separate from most of the world until relatively recently (~200 years ago), there is a large base of history, practices, ideas, and ways of expression that are naturally different from other countries.

But the more you engage with that country, whether it means living physically within it’s boundaries or consuming a great many of it’s products from afar, you become more attuned to how they do things. Patterns start to emerge, such as certain art styles and certain commonly-used character personalities. Just like your own culture, at some point you say for the first time “This is cheesy!”, and that realization is an important step on the way to truly understanding that country’s culture.

This is generally a good thing since it gets you viewing other countries closer to the way you view your home country. It also may spur you to branch out into other areas of interest, like Japanese dramas or even something like classical Noh theater (using Japan as an example).

Of course, some of us will stubbornly stay fanboys (or fangirls) towards a certain product or type of media, and thats OK too (:






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5 thoughts on “Watching culture from the outside in and the uniqueness factor

  1. JB

    Honestly, I’m a bit confused by this post. To me, the first part sounds like that many people become intrigued by Japanese media because it’s shiny and foreign and that becoming desensitized to the shiny eventually leads to understanding.

    I could be totally wrong. Could you perhaps expand on the difference between having “gotten tired of” and “gotten used to” Japnese anime and/or the paragraph that begins, “But the more you engage with that country…”?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      I don’t quite understand where your confusion is coming from (possibly a lack of examples in my post), but I’ll do my best to clarify.

      Really the key sentence of the post of this: “Patterns start to emerge, such as certain art styles and certain commonly-used character personalities.”

      I wouldn’t say ‘desensitized’ is the best way to put the state after you learn much about a culture, but rather ‘informed’ since you now have more information about how that culture really is.

      I’ll give a metaphor, hopefully it will help explain my point better:

      Imagine you are looking into the window of a building from fairly far away, and you see someone dancing a strange, foreign dance. You feel that dancer is really impressive, and wonder at how different her dance is from all the dances you’ve seen.

      Then you approach the building, step inside, and find there is an audition going on and there are hundreds of dancers with a similar style and costume.

      While each is still impressive, now that you see how common they are it’s less of a big deal. And you realize that many of them are just copying the others’ style and don’t necessarily deserve credit for creativity.

      Hope that helps, at least a little (:

  2. Denny Sinnoh

    You are not alone. I have been hearing a lot similar statements lately.

    In ANY genre, there is a characteristic sameness. However, if you are getting tired of anime, maybe you could view some that are not your usual preference. Perhaps a sub-genre that you do not usually care for. Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.

    … or try to watch an evening of American reality television … you might then be reminded of the reasons you liked anime in the first place. Then … Welcome (back) to the NHK : )

    — Denny just being Denny : )

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Denny, thanks for the comment.

      I have started branching out awhile back into other not-to-popular aspects of Japanese culture and it’s almost always an interesting journey. Anime itself I only watch rarely now, but I’ve been reading alot more manga lately. And as always, I enjoy Japanese novels which provide a larger base of words and expressions to learn than most Anime I’ve seen.

      1. Denny Sinnoh

        I can understand how your preferences can evolve over time.
        I wish I could read Japanese novels. Every once in a while there is an anime I like based on a novel. I watched “Kinos Journey” a few months ago for the first time. I found out it was based on a series of Japanese novels, and I wished that I would be able to read them. Sometimes you do not want a good story to end.
        Look forward to future posts about the manga/novels you find worthwhile : )


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