This Japanese Person Is Revealing The Differences And Similarities Between Anime Vs. Real Life And It's So Interesting
Japanese school uniforms are just as cute, but no one actually says "ara ara".
talking about it, writing about it and, of course, getting lost in all the beautifully drawn scenes that depict life in Japan.
Your Name so many times and the animation still takes my breath away.
But as someone who lives in Australia and has never actually travelled to Japan (it's first on my bucket list!), I often wonder if what I'm watching is similar to real life or if there are some aspects that have been exaggerated.
Obviously, I know all the fantasy elements aren't real. Like, there aren't giant robots or kids with superpowers just walking around in Japan — unless there's something I need to know. 👀
To help answer all my questions, I reached out to my friend Emi, who works in the BuzzFeed Japan office. Here's everything that I learned about Japanese culture!
Emi Tulett / BuzzFeed
Whether the characters are in school or walking down a road, there always seems to be plenty of vending machines around in anime. Is it like this in Japan?
Emi: Yes, especially in metropolitan areas! There are vending machines EVERYWHERE. On the streets, in train stations, schools, offices, libraries…the list goes on. It's not just cold drinks either! During winter, many cold drinks are replaced with warm drinks. We also have vending machines that sell ice cream! Some places have questionable vending machines, but that's a whole other article for another time. 😉
Isha: Omg, WHAT! I'm so intrigued, but that sounds amazing. We have vending machines in Australia, but they're nowhere near as common or have as many options.
On the topic of food, I've noticed several eating customs, like sitting at low dining tables and saying "itadakimasu" before and after a meal. Are these more reserved for formal occasions or is this common to see in everyday life?
Emi: Saying "itadakimasu" is pretty much customary in any household. Even going to a cafe with friends or eating alone, we'll unconsciously say it under our breath as we're so used to it. It's kiiiind of like a prayer and basically means "thank you for this food that I will now eat".
Nowadays, the whole sitting on low dining tables isn't too popular. Most households have modern dining tables with regular chairs. Even having tatami flooring (like the one pictured above) is becoming more and more rare in modern houses/apartments.
Does Japan have a huge drinking culture? Australia does and I’ve seen it in anime, but I've wondered if it's the same IRL.
Emi: YES!!! COVID-19 low-key ruined that for us…but yes, our drinking culture is HUGE. It's considered pretty normal to go out drinking after work with colleagues on a regular weekday. Most of us are not strong drinkers and the hangover is VERY real — yet we still love to drink! A couple rounds of cold beer, then some highballs and maybe some sake if we're feeling fancy. Sometimes we don't even need to go to a bar or restaurant. We'll just buy some alcoholic beverages from the convenience store and drink in the park. There's something about drinking beer under a tree during cherry blossom season that is so relaxing. ♪
Isha: Um, sounds like I need to travel to Japan immediately because that is so my vibe (and very much part of Australian culture too!). As I've seen anime characters say before taking a sip of beer, "kanpai!" (I believe this means "cheers!").
Do Japanese people actually say common anime phrases like "baka", "boke", "ara ara" and "daijoubu"?
Emi: Daijoubu is used a lot. It can be used as a question and an answer. Depending on where you put the emphasis, both "Are you okay?" and "Yes, I’m okay!" can both be used by saying the same word: daijyoubu. Baka pretty much means "idiot" or "stupid". I sometimes call myself that when I do something dumb like pull a door that clearly says "push". To say it to someone else isn’t that nice, but depending on how you say it, it could be playful as in "Haha, you’re such a dummy!♡♡♡" Ara Ara and Boke aren't used too often…at least not to my knowledge. I do hear elderly women use Ara Ara though, meaning "Oh dear, oh my."
Isha: That's good to know because I pick up a lot of Japanese phrases through watching anime and I want to be prepared for when I actually visit (and not say the wrong thing that only characters in anime use, haha!).
I’ve noticed that there are rules and special honorifics used when addressing upperclassmen in school — and that you can get in trouble if you don’t follow them. Is that something you've experienced?
Emi: Oof, yeah. I mean, most people use the more formal Japanese language ( keigo) to everyone, whether you're talking to the upperclassmen or lowerclassmen, so it's uncommon in real life for a fight to break out at school if you talk down to the seniors. Nobody wants to get beat up, so we all just mind our own business and speak politely if spoken to.
Sometimes one character might poke fun at another because they have a regional accent when speaking. Are there different Japanese accents or dialects depending on where you grew up?
Emi: Like most countries, Japan also has different accents and dialogues depending on the prefecture. I wouldn't say people "poke fun" at others because of the way they talk, as that’s just mean, but there are a lot of cases where people are more intrigued by the accent and want to learn more about that specific region or prefecture.
Do Japanese people actually use
kotatsu (a Japanese heated table)? They look so comfy and perfect for winter.
Emi: Yeeeees! We love a good kotatsu!! Like with the dining tables, they are getting a little less popular, especially with people who live in small apartments as there's literally no space for it. But when you go over to someone's house in the dead of winter and there’s a kotatsu in their living room, we'll all sit there for hours, most likely drinking tea and eating mikan — exactly like the image above. Cats also love the kotatsu. ♡
Moving on to school life, I need to ask about uniforms! Are they similar throughout Japan or do certain schools like to add their own twist, in terms of colour and style?
Madman Entertainment, Netflix
Emi: The basics are pretty much the same! Some schools may require blazers, others might not. Some prefer the colour navy, whereas others like beige/brown or a forest green colour. Also, depending on the prefecture, the uniform might be a bit different. Some schools in Hokkaido might have a peacoat as part of their uniform since the winters can get pretty brutal and in Okinawa they may not even have a required cardigan due to the scorching hot summers. Nevertheless, Japanese school uniforms are pretty cute no matter where you are, IMO.
Isha: Agreed! Japanese school uniforms are next-level, both in anime and real life. Those colours are also common in Australian schools, although wearing a blazer is mainly reserved for special occasions (depending on which school you go to!).
And are you actually allowed to customise your uniform — or is that just an anime thing and the rules are strict IRL? (Ditto for coloured hair and piercings — are they permitted?)
Emi: Nooooooo, that's a big misconception! Yes, there are SOME schools that are super loose with uniform rules, but the majority is extremely strict. So strict that it's actually quite disturbing! Common things are making sure the girls' skirts aren't too short or making sure that your shirt is tucked in properly. But some can get intense!
For example, if you were born with naturally brown or curly hair, many schools require you to get a permission slip (a
jigeshinsei) from the school admin that proves you have not dyed or permed your hair. Honestly, how ridiculous is that? Stricter schools can order you to dye your hair black if you're a natural brunette. To me, this is a huge problem area that Japan faces as it can really damage your personality, especially at a vulnerable age where you're still trying to figure out who you are.
Isha: Wow! I had no idea it was like this IRL. Comparatively in Australia, most schools just require you to look neat and presentable. There may be some uniform rules about the length of girls' skirts and doing up your tie, but that really depends — nothing as strict as Japan.
What are school lunches like? Do most students bring
bentos from home (and if so, what sort of food would they have?) or is there a cafeteria to buy lunch from?
Emi: I think this is a 50/50 situation. You can bring a bento from home or you could get something at the school cafeteria — it's really up to you. I pretty much had a bento box every single day for my entire school life. Typical bentos are exactly what is pictured above: There's rice, some veggies, some sort of protein like meatballs, fried chicken or salmon and maybe a Japanese omelette. Anime really nails illustrating food and I think that’s something everyone can agree on.
Isha: It's why I always regret watching anime, especially food-orientated ones, on an empty stomach.
Speaking of lunch, in anime they’re always eating or hanging out on the school rooftop. Fact or fiction?
Emi: This depends on the school. In some, people ate on the rooftops or balconies. I remember eating on the roof during warm, sunny days and then on rainy days, in this hidden stairwell with friends. There are unfortunately some schools that have the rooftop completely off-limits because...well...suicides. It's a very dark topic, but many students are under so much pressure that getting a 90/100 is considered failing. So yeah, in that situation you would eat your bento box in the classroom or in the cafeteria. Isha: That makes complete sense! It's similar in Australia, in that when the weather is nice, we would eat outdoors on the lawn or in other designated areas and when it's raining, usually in a classroom.
(If you or someone you know needs help, you can visit this website that has a list of emergency helplines which are available in different countries.)
What’s the deal with high school clubs? They seem important and there are always so many options to choose from.
Crunchyroll, Madman Entertainment
Emi: Yes, there are LOTS of clubs. Mostly sports, but others such as being in the school's brass band and the fine arts department are also relatively popular. You make most of your friends through these clubs and while it's fun to do extracurriculars, it is also HARD WORK. So many hours are dedicated to these clubs, it pretty much becomes a part of your identity.
Isha: I'm actually so jealous! In my high school, we didn't have many options besides choir (singing), band or something sport-related. It was different in university though — there were a lot more club options then.
And as part of being in a club, would students ever get to go on special training outings to the beach, a hotel or some sort of holiday? That seems too good to be true.
Emi: I wouldn’t say it was a sort of holiday, since you are literally training from dawn to dusk, but yes, these outings are called gasshuku. Usually for a couple of days, students would go to a separate location solely to practice for whatever club they are in. You might have a couple of fun hours on the last night of the trip, once all the practice and training sessions are over, but I do think some anime exaggerate how exciting this experience is. Some love it and some hate it, but it’s great for building teamwork and the memories usually last a lifetime.
Isha: OMG, so they are real, though!!! I love that and I'm jealous that I never got to experience something like it.
In anime, school councils always have a lot of power and basically run things. That seems exaggerated — so what are they like IRL?
Emi: Lol, no. They hardly have any power. I don’t even know how to make this answer interesting. Maybe it’s because they have so much on their plate, like organising events and such, but people in the student council are usually just exhausted all the time.
Isha: Haha, I thought so! Classic anime putting a spin on something that's otherwise very ordinary. I will say that they do mention that the characters always have a lot of paperwork to do, so that's spot on.
There's a big emphasis on going to cram school and getting good grades. Based on that, my understanding is that a student's day might consist of school, club activities, cram school and then getting home late at night. Is that the reality?
Emi: Yeah, pretty much true. It’s good and bad. Like I mentioned before, there is so much pressure on students, it's honestly mind-blowing looking back at it as an adult (I remember hating going to my cram school as a kid!). But it does pay off once you get into your top university choice. Literally the moment you become a university student, everything changes and the word "freedom" actually makes sense.
Isha: It's so different here in Australia. There's definitely pressure and some kids have it worse than others because of their family, but I remember there being some slackers who cruised through high school.
Are Japanese students expected to clean classrooms and help out with other chores at school?
Emi: Yup yup! We like it clean over here. I do think the intensity has changed over the years though. Gen X cleaned hardcore, like the nooks and crannies in the school bathrooms. Now it’s more like "gossip hour" with friends while taking out the trash. In elementary school, it teaches young kids the importance of keeping shared spaces clean, so they probably mop the floors better than high schoolers.
Isha: That actually doesn't sound like the worst, especially since you get to do it with friends!
How are foreign students treated in Japan and do you have many of them? That's such a common storyline I see used in anime.
Emi: Honestly, it depends on the school. Some schools are in districts where there are a lot of foreign cultures, so they might have more foreign students than say a school sheltered up in the mountains. Gunma has a large Brazilian population, so their public schools have many students with Brazilian heritage. I wouldn't say foreign students were treated super differently, if anything they were usually the ones who had more popularity because everyone was so interested in learning about their culture. I will say that factor does change once you become an adult though…unfortunately.
I love watching school festivals as they always seem so lively! There's food, fireworks and characters might even dress up in special clothes. Is that similar to what they're like IRL?
Madman Entertainment, Funimation
Emi: Bunkasai! Probably the English equivalent to a school fair? Talking about the clubs earlier, some will set up their own stalls and have games and sell food. Not sure about dressing up as the students are usually in their school uniforms, and having fireworks might be a stretch since these events are held during the day on school grounds.
Maybe you’re thinking of
Natsumatsuri (summer festival) where it’s essentially the same, with stalls of food and games and attractions like haunted houses. People wear yukatas and sometimes character masks — lol, no, not the COVID masks that we’re now all so used to. Those usually end with a huge fireworks display at night.
Isha: Oops, yes, you're right! I got mixed up between the two. Both sound like lots of fun! In Australia, we might have a school fair once in awhile, but nothing to this extend. Hopefully I get to experience a summer festival one day!
And lastly, how popular is anime in Japan?
Emi: Imma say pretty popular. Japanese people take pride in "inventing" anime and are usually happy when they hear that a specific anime goes viral in another country. Obviously, it depends on the person, but I do personally think that foreigners like to talk about anime more than Japanese people. But that's just my experience!
Isha: Hahahahahahahah, that's totally me (foreigner) talking about anime to Emi, who doesn't really watch it. I'm glad though because anime has led to me not only making new friends, but an interest in Japanese culture and in visiting.
Thanks so much for answering my questions about anime and Japanese culture, Emi!
I learned so many new things and it's a good reminder that while anime may be based on Japanese life, it's also exaggerated in some aspects.
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