Connecting with peers over anime

A Japanese exchange student explains how anime shaped her Queen’s experience

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When I first started studying at Queen’s last September, everything seemed different coming from Japan—language, culture, customs, and people. That was until I saw a small half-red, half-white ball that I’d known since I was a kid: a Pokéball. 

Although I knew Pokémon was popular among North American children, the Pokémon monster ball I saw was tattooed on a grown man. Then, I saw a woman wearing a hat with a cute Pokémon character on it. I was astonished. 

The greatest surprise, however, was seeing a scary looking man watch Dragon Ball anime next to me on a New York City subway during a trip I took. I know it sounds weird, but seeing him enjoy anime made me feel like I could talk to him as a friend, not a stranger. I suddenly felt at home.

Growing up in Japan, anime and manga are so omnipresent I often took their existence for granted, even though they’re essential parts of Japanese culture. Through conversations with friends at Queen’s, I’ve started to realize how many people around me have watched or are watching anime, and that there’s quite a big anime community in Canada and on campus.

In most cases, my peers here knew Japan through anime, which spurred various conversations about my home country. While at Queen`s I got a variety of anime-inspired questions regarding Japan, which ranged from pleasant to confusing. People asked me if students really wear sailor uniforms, if ninjas exist, if Japanese people eat sushi every day, and if women are groped on trains like they often are in anime. 

I’ll answer some of these questions now to clear the air. Yes, most junior high and high schools require uniforms, each school having an original one, which makes picking the school you attend very fun. Although ninjas ceased existing around the 18th century, there are still villages in Iga, Kouka, or Nikko where you can learn ninja skills. 

We don’t eat sushi as much as you’d expect, but it’s eaten as a feast or on special occasions, and I was surprised to learn that rolled sushi is very popular in Canada.  And, sadly, a lot of young women are in fact targeted on trains. It’s one of the most serious, ongoing social issues in Japan. 

Although I’ve met many people who share my love for anime, Mohan Yao, the president of Queen’s Anime Club, holds that Queen’s anime community is relatively small.

“The anime community of Queen’s is so much smaller compared to other universities such as U of T, UBC, or Waterloo,” Yao told me in an interview. “There are less people [here] who have deep interest to contemporary Japanese anime.”

Although the club faces difficulties, like a lack of funding and relatively small turnouts, Yao remains optimistic about its future. 

Since Queen’s consists of students hailing from diverse cultures, he believes there’s an opportunity to attract students who haven’t yet been exposed to anime. The club’s started to make waves by collaborating with a local Kingston bubble tea shop, giving club members 10 per cent off each purchase at the store.

The information and details in anime might not always be accurate and can even misrepresent Japanese culture. However, most times, anime shows give a good idea of Japanese society through their depiction of school life, friendships, and unique relationships based on power structures—like the understanding of the relationship between Senpai (senior) and Kohai (junior).

For those interested, I made a list of must-watch anime shows, gathered from my own experience, friends and the interview with Yao. Dragon Ball and Pokémon are without a doubt the most popular anime shows, but there are many more genres, from sports to science fiction and comedy, that are worth watching. Hopefully, this guide will make the entrance to anime culture a little easier for those interested.

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