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2019.04.26

Rapid increase in Chinese people changing personality during Japan visit - The secret of the influential force of Japanese animation -

An article published in March 19, 2019

  • Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • Research Director
    Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • [Expertise]
    Chinese Economy and Relations among Japan/China and the United States
1. Chengdu, Sichuan province, is an animation industry city rich in historic culture

Chengdu, Sichuan province, is one of the leading educational and cultural cities in China, with more than 200,000 students graduating every year from the city's universities. Many of these universities are well known as gathering places for the brightest students in China.

Furthermore, being the former capital of Shu-han State during the time of the Three Kingdoms, Chengdu is also a historic cultural city. It's memorial temples enshrine Liu Bei (Xuande), Guan Yu (Yunchang), Zhang Fei (Yide), Zhuge Liang (Kongming), and other historical figures, and is somewhat similar to the city of Kyoto in Japan.

In Chengdu, where many of the younger generation live, the animation industry is one of the ten biggest industries.

When I visited the city in the middle of January, I heard a very interesting story from a Japanese expert on animation who is very familiar with the local situation.

This expert told me that he's recently often heard about the personalities of young Chinese changing after going to Japan for one or two weeks on a sightseeing trip or a business trip.

What these young Chinese all have in common is that they've often been watching Japanese animation since childhood. I'd now like to introduce the unexpected link between Japanese animation and Chinese culture.


2. Japanese animation essentially differs from foreign animation

According to the animation expert I mentioned above, Japanese animation is unique, essentially differing greatly from that of other countries.

In general, foreign animation is characterized by having a cool or lovable main character, a thrilling story or an inspiring drama, which all completes in one episode.

In contrast, Japanese animation is based on unique Japanese comic strips originally drawn on paper. The stories often do not end in just one episode but go on and on.

Additionally, in Japanese animation, the main characters and the characters surrounding them possess well-defined personalities, while the storylines which develop involve complex human relationships.

The main characters, such as Sazae-san, Chibi Maruko-chan, Doraemon, Anpanman, One Piece, Slam Dunk, and Captain Tsubasa, are not just cool heroes or heroines.

There are even lacking-in-common-sense characters such as Bakabon's Papa and villains like Lupin the Third.

In addition, the supporting characters each have unique personalities.

Characters such as the bully Gian in Doraemon and the villain Baikinman in Anpanman are no doubt villains but have personalities that are somehow lovable. Not only that, Baikinman has quite a lot of fans despite his villainous role.

During my visit to Beijing and Shanghai after my business trip to Chengdu in January, I talked about these features of Japanese animation to many of my Chinese friends there, and all of them agreed with everything I said.

A close Chinese friend who is well-versed in Japan told me that if a Chinese person were to create the story of Anpanman, Baikinman would be wiped out in the first episode and never appear again after the second episode.

Not just the Chinese people who were present at the time but also the many others to whom I told the story later all laughed their heads off saying that was exactly right.


3. Chinese people whose personalities change when they visit Japan

According to the animation expert I mentioned earlier, the animation which is unique to Japan can only be created by the Japanese.

Being created by Japanese people, Japanese animation naturally contains Japanese traditional spiritual culture. Some representative examples are consideration, hospitality, and the culture of shame.

As many Chinese people have been absorbed in watching Japanese animation since childhood, their minds unconsciously share and are deeply rooted within the Japanese spiritual culture.

Some examples of such Japanese spiritual culture are offering hospitality from deep within one's heart, paying attentive consideration to understanding other people's feelings, not blaming others but instead feeling remorse and questioning one's own lack of effort when faced with undesirable consequences, feeling shame for going further against one's conscience than the rules required by external uniform standards, and so forth.

Needless to say, even most of the Japanese do not fully practice such spiritual culture in their daily life.

But the Japanese admire seeing others practice such spiritual culture, and many also practice the culture themselves although they may not be perfect.

On the other hand, in present Chinese daily life, Chinese people have little chance to practice such culture.

When the Chinese people, who feel empathy for Japanese traditional spiritual culture, visit Japan on a sightseeing trip or a business trip in their teens or in their twenties, they encounter for the first time the world of the Japanese living in such culture.

And their minds unconsciously and freely start moving with the Japanese people around them, and their empathy for consideration, their hospitality, and their culture of shame that was nurtured in their minds all start taking shape.

They find themselves enjoying spending a pleasant time with people who share the same mind that they've been familiar with since childhood through animation.

The seeds planted in the minds of Chinese people who have grown up watching Japanese animation sprout and flower when directly exposed to the Japanese world. Once flowered, they will not go back to their original seeds.

Since the minds of these people do not go back to their original state even after returning to China, the people around them think that their personalities have changed.

In fact, similar phenomena have been noticed for some time in China.

It's said that while Chinese people who have studied abroad in Western countries return home remaining Chinese, those who have studied in Japan return home as half-Japanese.

When I confirmed this point with many of my friends in China, they told me that it's true.


4. Background behind the influential force of Japanese culture

This is the influential force that Japan has. In fact, not only people from China but also those from the US, Europe, and Asian countries who come to Japan are in no small part influenced by Japan's traditional spiritual culture.

I heard from an American friend, who had traveled in Japan with his children for about ten days, that his children, who refused to adopt good manners and morals no matter how much my friend tried to teach them, turned into different people after returning home from Japan having come to value good manners and morals, even cautioning their parents in reverse.

Summing up what my Chinese friends told me, it seems that Japan's influential force apparently has enormous effects, especially on Chinese people. Why so?

I considered the reason while talking about this theme together with many Chinese people during my business trip to China in the second half of January. I finally arrived at the following answer.

Consideration is "benevolence," the culture of shame is the mentality of being ashamed of one's misbehavior, which is "righteousness," and hospitality is "courteousness." These are all the most valued basic humanistic ethical norm in the Chinese classics.

Incidentally, "wisdom" is valued in all countries, and those equipped with "benevolence," "righteousness," "courteousness" and "wisdom" win everyone's confidence.

In other words, we are talking about "integrity."

The gathering of the "five virtues of Confucius," the ethical norm valued by oriental thought. This is the origin of the spiritual culture that supports Japanese animation.

Japanese traditional spiritual culture originates from the Chinese classics in which Chinese traditional spiritual culture is condensed.

With the start of the Edo period, coming after the Sengoku (Warring States) period where many precious lives were taken, Tokugawa Ieyasu framed policies which emphasized education to stabilize his rule over Japan.

A system was established whereby all Japanese people learned the Chinese classics at the various educational institutions such as han schools, shijuku (private schools), and terakoya (temple schools). Through the educational system, the spiritual culture of oriental thought based on the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism spread widely throughout Japan.

By the late Edo period, the literacy rate in Japan had reached 97 percent. It must have been the highest educational level in the world at the time.

This achievement represented the fruit of the Edo period education system.

As for elite education, there were also excellent educational systems available at the time in various countries such as China, India and Western countries.

However, there seems to have been no other country like Japan where a certain level of education was spread widely to all, including the ordinary people.

Furthermore, education in Japan is characterized by having the spiritual culture not just kept in mind but also deeply rooted in the lifestyles of the entire society through practice in everyday life.

In the Edo period, Suzuki Shosan and Ishida Baigan spread to the ordinary people the consciousness that a fulfilling life may only be led through the mental training of refining one's inside by practicing such ethics as the five virtues of Confucius (benevolence, righteousness, courteousness , wisdom, and integrity) in their daily work and business.

After the Meiji Restoration, especially after the war, there were less opportunities to learn such Chinese classics in school education.

However, since the mind of oriental thought is deeply rooted in everyday life and passed down from parents to children, and to successive generations unknowingly, traditional spiritual culture still remains in Japanese society.

And this traditional spiritual culture which is expressed in Japanese cartoons and animation sinks comfortably into the minds of the people of China where the Japanese spiritual culture originated.

Perhaps, the Chinese people feel a sense of comfort going back to their spiritual hometown through Japanese animation. This is the influential force of oriental thought.


5. The importance of oriental thought today

Recently, Western countries are being confronted with a social divide caused largely by widening income inequality.

The advent of the Trump administration in the US, UK's Brexit, France's Yellow Vests Movement, and the rise of the far-right in Germany all stem from this social divide.

I think the traditional spiritual culture of oriental thought would be an effective way of coping with this serious issue of the social divide.

The common cause of the social divide in Western countries is that the political leaders, the economic leaders, and the leaders of society have not responded sincerely to the suffering of the common people and have left the matter unsolved over a long period of time.

If these leaders shared the ethical norm of oriental thought which places maximum priority on the entire nation's happiness, considered the suffering of the common people as their own, and sincerely took steps to solve the problem, the dissatisfaction of the common people would be significantly resolved.

On the other hand, Japan also has a problem.

Many of the Japanese do not fully recognize the magnificence of Japan's traditional spiritual culture. If Japanese people turned their eyes more to the world and shared their consideration for the suffering of people around the world, they would become aware of the things that only Japan can do as a country which practices spiritual culture to help stabilize society.

Those who realize this point should be at the forefront of sharing Japan's traditional spiritual culture with the world in their own ways and they should contribute to stabilizing global society.

At the same time, it's important to create more opportunities for young people from around the world to directly experience Japan's spiritual culture by promoting visits to Japan.

This is not just a job for the government. Anyone, whether individuals, companies or non-government organizations, can do it if they put their minds to it.

For over 150 years since the Meiji Restoration, Japanese have built and firmly established western style political, economic, and social systems based on western social thought. Consequently, Japanese people can convey in an easy-to-understand way the essence of oriental thought to the people of Western countries.

This is at least what the only Japanese people can do at the present moment.

To introduce a moral framework based on the inner ethical norm of oriental thought on top of a social system based on the rules of western thought, to overcome the agony of the social divide that the world is facing.

In other words, it's Japan's historical mission to develop a basis for spiritual stability in the global community by fusing western wisdom with oriental wisdom.



(This article was translated from the Japanese transcript of Mr. Seguchi's column published by JBpress on March 19, 2019.)

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