10 Misconceptions About Japanese Culture Anime Perpetuates

Popular anime have garnered audiences from across the world, but with so many inaccurate portrayals of Japanese culture in these rapidly growing series, it's no surprise that some people have formed warped ideas about what it is really like in Japan. The truth is that stepping one foot into Japan would quickly reveal how Japanese culture is different than anime. It's not all love, quirky hair, and short skirts: there are plenty of anime lies that make people think Japan is way different than it actually is.

Considering the fact that anime is the first introduction to Japanese culture many children have, it's important to set the record straight about what Japan is really like. This list details what anime gets wrong about Japan and why it matters.

Photo: Kyoto Animation

  • Japanese Culture Embraces Homosexuality

    Homosexuality is prevalent across Japanese anime in many forms. Some animes simply prod at the possibility of a same-sex relationship, such as Grell’s request to do “vigorous exercises” with Sebastian in Black Butler, or they openly include same-sex relationships, such as Utena and Anthy in Revolutionary Girl. Utena and Anthy are even seen kissing in the opening sequence of the anime while the movie completely rejects the idea of trying to cover up the relationship between these two female characters.

    The frequency of these depictions in Japanese anime caused the country to be one of the first stops for Viceland’s Gaycation series, which explored LGBT communities in other countries. It turns out that homosexuality is merely fetishized in Japan but not necessarily embraced or welcomed. In "Selectively Out: Being a Gay Foreign National in Japan," Elizabeth Ogata discusses how many homosexual people in Japan still marry people of the opposite sex because they fear the social repercussions.

    Even Gaycation takes viewers on a journey into one of Japan’s unique industries - renting friends and partners to keep up the façade of heterosexuality. It’s also important to note that a municipal government in Osaka became the first governing body to officially declare support for the LGBT community only about three years ago. 

  • Japanese Students Wear Colorful, Vivid Hairstyles

    It would be quite the challenge to find an anime that doesn’t feature students with a variety of vivid hair colors. Students with pink or green hair can be spotted in Baka and Test, and Sailor Moon even gives us a teal-haired student in Ami Mizuno, who is better known as Sailor Mercury. While the average viewer might not expect Japanese students to don hair colors this extreme, the reality of school regulations in Japan is rather jarring. The average school has strict rules about hairstyles and color and, in some cases, even natural hair colors might be frowned upon.

    Harry Wray’s Japanese and American Education: Attitudes and Practices reveals that many schools have dress code inspections and one Okayama school required more than 130 students to have their natural hair color dyed black due to their brighter brown and blonde hues. 

  • Japanese Girls Wear Risque School Uniforms

    There is one thing that seems to be consistent among popular anime that feature students in uniforms: the girls’ uniform skirts are really, really short. Bakemonogatari, Clannad, Kill la Kill, and countless other anime all feature female characters in school uniform skirts that are so short that the slightest breeze or attempt to run up the stairs immediately reveals their panties. Danny Choo, creator of Culture Japan and director of Japan Mode, explained in a blog post that the average school uniform skirt in Japan hits at or just above the knee.

    He also spoke with school administrators that revealed some girls will roll the waist of the skirt to create a shorter length but this is frowned upon by school administration. Disrupting Japan host and Japan-based entrepreneur Tim Romero also explains that many female students in Japan have a uniform skirt for school and another far shorter skirt that is worn after school and is typically the one portrayed in mainstream anime. 

  • Most Minors in Japan Live on Their Own

    Tokyo Mew Mew’s Pudding lives alone since her mother is deceased and her father is away on a lengthy business trip. Seiji of Midori Days lives alone because his parents are traveling abroad. Sword Art Online’s Shino moves away from home in an attempt to have a fresh start. The list of anime adolescents and teens that live alone despite their parents being alive and well is long and extremely misleading. The National Council on Family Relations explains in “The Family in Japan” that Japanese culture is very family oriented and multi-generational households are still common.

    This means that even if parents were away for business trips, it’s likely that grandparents and even great-grandparents would still be present in the household rather than leave a minor to care for the household alone. In regards to extensive travels, employees in Japan actually take very few vacation days, which means it would be hard to find teens at home alone because their parents traveled the world for weeks at a time. 

  • Wealthy Students Are Driven to School

    Wealthy Students Are Driven to School
    Photo: GoHands

    A variety of popular anime portray wealthy or just incredibly popular students driving to school or having servants that drop them off at school. The very first episode of Seitokai Yakuindomo shows Shichijo Aria being driven to school by her maid. While this does help drive the point that Shichijo is an affluent character, it's rather unrealistic considering the strict school policies regarding transportation for students.

    Byron Kidd, founder of Tokyo By Bike, explains that the average school in Japan actually prohibits parents from dropping their kids off at school. Some schools also ban students from driving themselves and therefore don't even provide easily accessible parking for students on school grounds. The average mode of transportation for a student would be to walk to school, ride a bike, or take the train. 

  • Japanese Shrine Maidens Perform Major Spiritual Duties

    Shrine maidens, or miko, are often portrayed in anime performing exorcisms or demon summonings, like Izumo Kamiki in Blue Exorcist. All supernatural exaggerations aside, however, shrine maidens would rarely have such huge responsibilities placed on their shoulders. Shrine maidens typically took care of the mundane duties that came with caring for the shrine grounds, according to Volume I of Lafcadio Hearn’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

    These duties ranged from general upkeep to performing ceremonial dances. Tasks like exorcisms were typically left up to the actual priests.