[Editor’s note: every Saturday at midnight in Japan, an episode of video games show Yasuda Yoshimi and Hirabayashi Hisakazu’s All Game Nippon airs. This is a direct translation of their eleventh episode.]
Guests: Yasuda Yoshimi, Hirabayashi Hisakazu
Our topic for this episode is tolerance for representation of various things. Speaking generally, in Western games the representation of violence is far more severe than in Japanese games. On the other hand, in Japanese games the visualization of girls and women raises foreigners’ eyebrows as they regard them. We can explain these differences using myths.
Yasuda: Last time, we used Mortal Kombat as a sample American game where you could clearly see cruelty on display. The sensitivity of the Japanese is very resistant to that kind of thing, as Hirabashi observed.
Yasuda: The opposite is true. According to the value systems of America and the Western countries, the representation of women in anime and manga, especially the depiction of girls, meets with strong resistance. People working in Western game companies have often commented on this.
Hirabayashi: That’s right. I’ve experienced the same thing. There’s the old story of how Japan was loose in its regulation of juvenile porn. Those discerning eyes were strict. That said, of course, I condemn juvenile porn as well. However, I think the regulations of foreign countries are too severe. If I remember correctly, in England, saving pics on your computer of your grandchildren swimming in the water could be dangerous. If they got out, say for when you took the computer in for a repair, you could be arrested for possessing juvenile porn, even though you’re their grandfather.
Yasuda: Ah, yes. That was a subject on the news.
Hirabashi: After that, some friends of mine who’d been living overseas for a while wrote a warning on the Dept. of Foreign Affairs’ Safety Notes for Foreign Countries page.
Yasuda: What happened?
Hirabayashi: It seems a Japanese man living in a foreign country became subject to harsh treatment. Anyway, here’s the warning from the website:
A Warning To Japanese people residing in advanced countries:
In one school where she was commuting, a daughter wrote in a school essay, “It’s fun to be with Daddy in the bath.” The school tipped off the police. The father was arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse.
[Translator’s note: “In Japanese homes with larger bathtubs, it is not uncommon for family members to bathe together. Typically one or both parents will bathe with babies and toddlers, and even as children grow older they may still bathe with one of their parents.” – Wikipedia, Etiquette in Japan.]
If you took photos with your family on film and then had it developed, and photos of your own kids bathing happened to be in the film roll, it might be reported to the police and then you could be asked to explain things downtown.
If we talk about this in global terms, this kind of sensitivity is totally surprising to the Japanese, and even if they are aware of it, they may not fully understand the ramifications.
In total opposite to Japan’s limited tolerance for violence, the representation of girls is extremely strict in the West. Is it Western morals?
Yasuda: Setting aside this Japanese-style representation of girls, it seems that for Japanese folks, this look for women is perhaps one of our unique characteristics. In foreign countries this is very different, isn’t it?
Hirabashi: Perhaps the most symbolic woman in our art was Amaterasu. The greatest divine being in Japan was a woman. I’ve heard this kind of thing was very rare in other countries.
Yasuda: As we are talking about showing respect to women, the men appearing on stage together with those women occupy very different positions in the myths. The myths of ancient times show that men shouldered many faults. These men were childish and cute. Superheroes wouldn’t show up. It’s been said that, in ancient times, society was driven by matrilineal lines, which reveals that women occupied a key point in society, and they most likely were the lynchpins of the family.
Hirabayashi: Now that you talk about that, I’m reminded of Hollywood movies. Macho and invulnerable superheroes wouldn’t fit into Japanese myths.
Yasuda: If you read the Kojiki, one being among the plethora of heavy gods is Oukuninushi (Great Land Master). He has a splendid, respectable name. But if you look at his childhood, you’ll see that he was always being bullied by his brothers. Among the 80 gods that comprised his brothers, he had a peculiar task: whenever they needed to go somewhere far away, Oukuninushi had to carry all their luggage.
Hirabayashi: This sounds like the origin of the person who is made to do or get things for someone else.
Yasuda: Carrying around the luggage wasn’t easy. They didn’t treat him well. As an example, when his brothers climbed a mountain, they lit fire to a large rock that looked like a wild boar. They waited for it to be heated to a bright red, and then rolled it towards Oukuninushi from the top of the mountain.
Hirabayashi: How cruel.
Yasuda: Oukuninushi, being straightforward and honest, tried to battle the “wild boar” after his brothers told him to. He faced it straight on, and died.
Domoto: He died?
Yasuda: Indeed. However, his mother, lamenting the loss of her son, went to the heavens, and consulted with Kami-Musubi (a creator deity) to procure medical treatment for her son and revive him.
Hirabayashi: What about the hamaguri clam shell?
Yasuda: Kami-Musubi sent out two clam goddesses, Kisagai-hime (who personifies the ark-shell [akagai]) and Umugai-hime (a personification of the cherry-stone clam [hamaguri], to restore him.
Domoto: He came back to life. That’s good.
Yasuda: And even after that his brothers were still bad to him. This time they tricked Oukuninushi and took him to a mountain. There, they felled a huge tree, and Oukuninushi was crushed by it and died again.
Domoto: That’s not good.
Yasuda: He was someone who’d endured harsh bullying. His mother revived him again. And again, and again, he went through hard times. He grew to adulthood while getting help from his mother.
Hirabayashi: This feels like it was explored in Dragon Warrior III‘s story. The mother in that work would sometimes give hints to her hard-working son or restore his Hit Points.
Yasuda: That’s right. The story of Oukuninushi in the Kojiki is a story of a mother and her son maturing.
Hirabayashi: It’s been said there’s an incompatibility with Japanese depictions of girls in the eyes of those from the West, and the same is also true for the depiction of mothers and sons. I can’t think of an example offhand, but I’ll reuse my example of the relationship between the son in Dragon Warrior III and his mother. I think that in the West, that would have been perceived as too strong and overdone in general.
Yasuda: If we think about how movies and games are from a Western context, we think about flawless and powerful men rescuing weak women. This seems very natural from their perspective. Perhaps we can’t get them to understand the tale of the bullied god Oukuninushi, who was always receiving help from his mother goddess.
TO BE CONTINUED …
Participants in the discussion
Kadokawa Games’ representative director, FromSoftware‘s representative company director, Nihon Kogyou Ginkou, former CEO of Tecmo, and a co-founder of Kadokawa Games.
After working as a manager on various projects, he was actively involved as a game producer, and worked on Lollipop Chainsaw and Demon Gaze. He is currently working on Projectcode, a dungeon-crawling RPG game with two entries, one focusing on Cthulhu Mythos elements, and the other focusing on Japanese myth.
InteractKK‘s representative director. From the dawn of games, he’s worked as an editor for game-related publications. He’s unique in Japan as a game analyst and critic. He does analysis of the multifaceted game industry and its planning of merchandising and other activities. Some of his works include The Current Problems of Games, and Game Daigaku, a text which he co-authored. “To Understand Games, You Need to Understand Japan” is one of his pet theories.