No, liking anime doesn’t mean you’re a bad student

While I was studying Japanese at Michigan State, there were two distinct factions of people: those that liked anime and those that didn’t. Those that liked anime were often derided as wanting to learn Japanese for the wrong reasons.

Weirdly enough, many classmates automatically assumed that I didn’t like anime – after all, people that like anime can’t be serious about their studies, they thought. I didn’t really think much of it until one of my classmates pointed at two others across the room and whispered: “Those two are always talking about anime – no wonder their Japanese is awful!” The classmate then looked at me, expecting a chuckle or other amused response. Instead, all they got was a look of bewilderment. After all, I felt like I was being judged as an anime fan myself.

Group photo of study abroad student in front of Japanese temple gate
My classmates and I on the 2015 JCMU “Crossroads of Japan” short history program

Till that point, I didn’t realize just how ingrained this culture against anime-watchers was within the Japanese program. It was argued that people that like anime often equate the fictional worlds within their favorite TV shows to being exactly what Japanese culture is like, which would be culturally insensitive. Indeed, I have certainly come across some people that do think like this: they talk of going to Japan solely to visit Akihabara, a popular destination for pop culture fans filled with various anime-centric stores. However, I have never come across anybody in the upper levels of the Japanese language program that would assume anime and real-life Japan to be one and the same. That’d create a lot of contradictions with what you’re studying!

Generally, if you’ve committed to studying Japanese for two, three, four, or more years of your life, you likely are more dedicated to it beyond a simple desire to watch a television show without subtitles. Sure, anime was the reason I first got into my studies, but that was really it: a start. From there, my interest in Japanese culture coupled with the challenge of learning kanji and the grammar structures propelled me to three separate study abroad programs and a major in Japanese. I spent hours every days bettering my language skills, and prided myself on my ability to achieve high marks. So to hear people assume that certain hobbies necessarily meant you were an insensitive, low-achieving student was pretty hurtful.

Now working at JCMU, I have the opportunity to meet with students across the state at various events promoting our study abroad programs. During my conversations, some lamented the same thing happening at their school. Many of them went on to have successful semesters at JCMU.

Close-up picture of 6 people smiling
Meeting up with JCMU alumni at Japanese pop culture conventions

With this all said, I think it’s time we put this rumor to bed: your hobbies are not indicative of your ability to succeed in the classroom! So rather than focusing on whether or not your classmate watches anime, cosplays, reads Harry Potter, goes to the gym, plays sports, or what have you, instead work together and focus on the one thing we all collectively hate: keigo.

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