Watch these anime to learn more about Japanese culture
One of the benefits of watching any type of foreign media is the ability to learn more about its place of origin, and anime is no exception. Series like naruto Where demon slayer putting an imaginative spin on well-known elements of Japanese culture, such as ninjas and samurai. Others, like Aggretsuko, discuss social issues unique to life in Japan. But most of them, especially anime ones like Toradorasimply exist in the country and follow standard media tropes.
Through all of these examples and more, anime fans can discover bits and pieces of Japanese culture. Typically, audiences can learn how the school year is structured and the events that take place throughout, or common folklore characters like the yokai. Still, there are other anime that go beyond what the Japanese may consider common knowledge. These series explore something that is inherently unique to the country. For anime fans interested in learning more about Japanese culture, these shows are a good place to start.
Those notes of Snow White
Every part of the world has its own instruments, and Japan is no exception. Those notes of Snow White presents one such instrument, known as the shamisen. For Western audiences, its look is comparable to a banjo or a lute. Those notes of Snow White uses the shamisen whenever he can, incorporating it into the show’s soundtrack and opening and ending songs. Along the way, audiences hear historical stories related to the instrument, as well as a sampling of styles and techniques used by players.
Amid these deeper dives into the shamisen and showcases of his sound, Snow White Notes is a story of struggle. Protagonist Sawamura Setsu flees to Tokyo after his grandfather’s death, as a master shamisen player, but cannot escape the instrument’s grip on him. Unfortunately, he also can’t escape his mother, who is determined to have him carry on his grandfather’s legacy. He reluctantly joins his high school’s shamisen club, which desperately needs someone with his talent.
As the season progresses, Setsu struggles with his identity and whether he is wanted. He’s competing for the first time in years, but it seems like everyone wants to hear about him, that’s his grandpa’s sound. In this conflict, Snow White Notes tackles the heavy burden that an inheritance can represent.
Kono Oto Tomare! The sounds of life
A little like Those notes of Snow White, Kono Oto Tomare! highlights a specific cultural instrument. However, it occupies a higher position than the shamisen as the national instrument of Japan. The koto is steeped in tradition but, like many things, is not particularly popular with younger generations. The series makes this evident from the start of Episode 1, where the koto club room has been taken over by bullies and club president Kurata Takezou is unable to stop it.
That said, every niche has people who appreciate it, and the koto club is about to have a new life. As Snow White Notes‘Setsu, the main character Kudo Chika is haunted by koto. In an effort to understand her late grandfather’s words and passion, Chika decides to join her school’s koto club. However, Takezou has no interest in anyone with Chika’s delinquent reputation joining the club. Chika has to fight to become a member, and is only allowed to do so after proving he cares about the koto.
Kono Oto Tomare! is everything a music-themed anime has to offer, from great characters to a palpable passion for the subject. All the while, the audience learns a bit more about an obscure instrument.
Chihayafuru spotlights a competitive card game entirely unique to Japan known as karuta. The game revolves around the country’s historic Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, or 100 Poems. Each work in the collection was written by a different poet, and they are often taught in Japanese schools. Karuta is often used as a fun way for children to memorize poems, as the goal is to match the first half of the poem to the second before their opponent.
Protagonist Ayase Chihaya maintained a passion for the game well into her teenage years, with the goal of becoming a karuta champion. She builds a karuta club from the ground up with her childhood friend Taichi and the members they gather along the way. As the series progresses, audiences gradually gain a deeper understanding of the game and the customs surrounding it. Chihaya and her team even bring back a few that have fallen out of practice, like wearing traditional outfits to every competition.
Chihayafuru is also a great pick for romance fans, as all three seasons develop a love triangle between Chihaya, Taichi, and their distant friend Arata.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Perhaps the most obscure of the bunch, rakugo is a form of comic storytelling. The performers tell stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, but no one tells them the same way. A character portrayed as a ghost in one person’s act might be treated as a yakuza boss in another’s, for example. While the stories themselves are a big part of rakugo, the storyteller’s charisma is what makes each one unique.
Alongside this traditional art, it is the story of one man’s past and another’s future. Former inmate Yotaro’s life changed when he witnessed a rakugo performance in prison. After his release, he searches for the man who played, Yurakutei Yakumo, and begs to be hired as an apprentice. However, getting involved in Yakumo’s life means learning more than rakugo. A few days after living with his master, Yotaro hears the man being framed for the murder of another rakugo performer.
Curious, Yotaro explores the work of this deceased man, Yuurakutei Sukeroku, and becomes fascinated by his rakugo. This new passion leads Yakumo to tell Yotaro about his past. From there, the story jumps between past and present, telling two stories in tandem and uncovering the truth of what really happened to Sukeroku.