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Besides cars, electronics and a unique culinary culture, Japan’s other global export is its anime industry. Hugely popular around the world, anime is often many people’s first look into Japanese culture and can even inspire people to make the leap to move to Japan and start a life there. But while anime mainly focuses on universally recognized themes like love, friendship and robotic cats from the future, there are still many scenes that confuse non-Japanese viewers. Read on for 10 common anime tropes that can get lost in translation!
1. The main character always sits near the window
Chinese netizens recently started a thread about how they began noticing how, in anime that takes place at school, the main character is always shown sitting near the window. They wondered if it was because the anime creators wanted the viewer to focus on the scenery outside the school. And if the main character is not sitting by the window, they are seated at the very back of the classroom. Although this could just be an artistic choice to have the entire classroom in frame, but Chinese netizens seemed really puzzled why Japanese anime insisted on putting their main characters off to the side of classrooms.
2. A lot of scenes with telephone poles and wires
One of Japan’s ugly little secrets is the telephone poles and power lines that sprawl across the country. For Japanese, this is just a fact of life, but foreigners can be quite surprised to see just how much the overhead wires have seeped into the Japanese subconscious. This is evident in the many anime scenes that show a lot of landscapes with power lines streaking across the otherwise beautiful blue skies. While Japanese anime fans think nothing of it since they are used to seeing this in their everyday life, non-Japanese viewers may be a little confused why power lines have such a presence in otherwise “normal-looking” scenes.
3. Immediately catching a cold from the rain or after sleeping on the floor
Although not exclusive to Japan, many people will warn you not to get caught in the rain because you will catch a cold. While it’s not exactly terrible advice since lowering your body temperature can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to the cold virus, some non-Japanese anime fans may deduce that Japanese people actually think the rain itself causes colds. In some anime, characters are shown running through the rain, only to be struck with a cold in the very next scene. In a similar vein, some anime characters are warned to avoid sleeping on the floor as to not catch a cold. Again, it’s probably not a great idea to sleep against a cold surface, which might make your body more likely to catch the cold virus, but some viewers may come away thinking Japanese people actually think the ground is causing illness.
4. Flip phone fanatics
While the rest of the world considers the flip phone a technological pariah, these cell phones hold a special place in Japan’s heart and therefore its anime. There must be something more aesthetically pleasing to anime writers about showing their characters flipping phones open or shut, because non-Japanese fans notice how many flip phones they see in anime series they watch. Even though Japanese cell phone users are increasingly abandoning their flip phones for smartphones, these iconic phones probably aren’t leaving anime series anytime soon.
5. So much ramen, so little sushi
Even though sushi is probably the most recognizable food from Japan, most Japanese people are more likely to eating something more wallet-friendly like ramen. But for non-Japanese anime fans, they might find it strange that characters eat so little sushi, and are seemingly always slurping on ramen.
6. Pulling down an eyelid while sticking out your tongue
This facial gesture, called “akanbe,” is used to immaturely taunt someone and is not well-known outside of Japan. Non-Japanese anime viewers can usually quickly understand the context of the gesture when they see someone doing it, but that doesn’t mean they still think it’s a little weird. Also, some Japanese may be confused to hear that it’s not the universal sign that they thought it was.
7. Rich girls have blonde hair
Maybe Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are to blame, but most female anime characters with money and charm are shown with blonde hair. Since natural blondes are pretty much unheard in Japan, this definitely catches the eyes of non-Japanese fans. Presumably, blonde hair is just “cooler” in the anime universe and the meaning is not lost on viewers.
8. Instant nosebleed at the sight of a hottie
This anime trope may be one of the more bizarre ones that non-Japanese viewers encounter. To show sexual attraction at the sight of a cute girl, the noses of male characters will instantly start bleeding—sometimes violently. This all comes from a Japanese folk belief that sexual arousal causes the nose to start bleeding. These bloody anime scenes can leave non-Japanese viewers completely dumbfounded from confusion, but many people eventually come to understand what they represent. But that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t cause a genuine WTF moment every time someone’s nose starts bleeding in an anime series.
9. Weird robber disguise
Anime robbers may be seen wearing this weird-looking mask, which non-Japanese fans may not recognize as the traditional garb of a Japanese thief. This under-the-nose handkerchief is supposed to dampen the sound of breathing, making it easier to sneak around undetected. Some non-Japanese anime viewers may think it just looks stupid and does nothing to conceal the thief’s face.
10. Umbrella-themed graffiti
The aiai-gasa, Japanese for “sharing an umbrella,” is a popular symbol that Japanese lovebirds use to express their love. Lovers put their names underneath each side of the umbrella and carve the image onto a tree trunk. This tradition comes from an old Japanese courting practice of a gentleman sharing his umbrella with a young woman to show his love. But this symbol is not well-known outside of Japan and when young lovers use it to express their love in an anime scene, the meaning may be lost on non-Japanese viewers.
Are there any other anime scenes that took you a while to understand? Let us know in the comments below about any anime scenes that were lost in translation!