Learning About Japan Through Yuri Anime!
It’s fun to see what random things anime can teach us about Japanese culture and social relationships, and learning about Japan through lesbian anime is the best. In a recent episode of the yuri-tastic anime Citrus, tension ensues when Yuzu refers to the Student Council President of the school (her new younger sister through her mother’s recent remarriage) using her first name, Mei, to a student named Himeko. “So, you’re on a first-name basis with the President? Just what is your relationship with her?” asks the jealous Himeko, always using the the Mei’s honorific title as she’s expected to. Because Yuzu is not good at following social situations, she accidentally referred to Mei informally, implying she was in a romantic or other close relationship with her.
I’ve experienced this myself living in Japan. I once called the home of a female student and asked for her using her first name only (without -san on the end), causing the student’s mother wonder what my relationship with her daughter was. Another time, I took my then-young daughter to San Diego with J-List’s toy buyer Daisuke. My American family welcomed Daisuke with open arms and started calling him by his first name, and my daughter called me aside to ask me why everyone was such good friends with him when they’d just met. I had to explain to her that the “default mode” in English is to be casual and use a person’s first name.
Should foreigners visiting Japan worry about these sometimes challenging naming conventions and other social structures? Honestly, no. While it’s important to be mindful of social situations and avoid violating important rules, the Japanese take it as a given that gaijin will be a bit “KY,” a word that means kuuki yomenai or “can’t read the air,” that is, someone won’t be aware of the minute social goings-on around him. It might be better to “strategically” mis-use the rules of politeness, allowing yourself to talk more informally than Japanese might be able to get away with. You’ll probably end up with more friends and have more fun.
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