Watching cartoons can provide educational benefits about Japanese culture and beliefs to foreign fans, even if it only offers a glimpse into everyday Japanese life. In recent years, more and more edutainment anime have also achieved relative success, with series like cells at work become popular. A series expanded on this idea, walking viewers through various aspects of Japanese life, such as teaching viewers how to prepare for the Japanese New Year or cleaning special items like tatami mats. this series is Shibawanko no Wa no Kokoro.
Originally a series of children’s books, the 2006 anime centers on a Shiba Inu and a calico cat as they learn about and explore Japanese culture. They live together in a traditional Japanese house and can talk to humans. Shibawanko the dog does the housework, doing the laundry and cooking, while Mikenyanko the cat is not very good at housework. Each episode is short, only around two minutes, with 80 episodes making up the entire series. The style is like a picture book, with live shots mixed in to show what certain actions actually look like.
Written by Yoshie Kawaura and published in 2002, the books were aimed at children, who start helping with housework at an early age in Japan. The books were intended to teach children how to live properly in Wa, the Japanese-style spirit. Each chapter focused on a new lesson, from how to be a good host for guests to how to wear a kimono to celebrate the autumn moon.
One lesson focuses on how to politely open a traditional fusuma sliding door, first by kneeling in front of the door and using the handle to gently open it with your right hand just a couple of inches. Continuing to use your right hand, slide the door a little further from the middle of the edge, then switch to your left hand once the door frame is perpendicular to the left side of the body. Finally, the door is open enough for the guest to enter, about a foot. If the door were to open from left to right, the movements would be reversed, starting with the left hand and ending with the right.
Many anime portray Japan as a modern country with advanced technology, and while that is true to some extent, the tradition is still very much alive. Many women still wear the kimono as casual wear rather than just formal wear or something to wear to a summer festival. Japantowns feature traditional-style houses along with newer designs, and there is a certain set of norms one is expected to abide by in society, manners being one of the most important aspects. Even some modern apartments include tatami rooms in larger-scale units, although this is not a standard inclusion. It is important to know how to properly care for straw floors because they can easily get moldy if the wrong cleaner is used.
By creating a children’s series based on traditional ideas, Kawaura was not only educating children about how people did things, but also keeping those traditions alive. It’s easy to look forward and create new ways of life, but sometimes it’s also good to slow down and enjoy the way things were. Modern conveniences are wonderful, but knowing how to live traditionally creates a deeper connection to one’s culture and keeps the spirit of that culture alive. There can be a balance between the old and the new.
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