Densha Otoko And Jap. Social Customs Nehszriah

Author's Note: This was a term paper for my Introduction to Japan class. We had to watch a Japanese film and then write about topics found in both the film and in our textbook "The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture" by Davies and Ikeno. I supposedly get my grade soon, which was why I waited so long to post this. I would hate to be told I plagiarized if I posted the night before turning it in. Since this is fifty points, that would be bad.

Densha Otoko and Japanese Social Customs
An Impossibly Intriguing Observation On the Nuances of Invariable Quirks In the Japanese Mind-Set When Dealing With Peers and the Subsequent Tribulations of Such Actions Dealt With Along With Complete Strangers On the Internet

Most people these days probably know the basic story of Densha Otoko (or “Train Man”) without really even trying. Geek meets girl, geek forces himself through a series of flaming rings of figurative death in order to impress the girl and in the end, he wins her over. It can seriously seem like something of the fairytale dynamic, becoming akin to the French tale “Beauty and the Beast”. The plot of Densha Otoko possesses distinctly Japanese features though, culturally representing the social instances and duties in Japan. Some Western Japanophiles may just shrug these instances off, yet there is no hiding from obligatory gift-giving, the group effort and the amount of patience and determination shared by some of the characters––cultural specifics that have made Densha Otoko a smashing success in Japan and abroad.

At the very beginning of Densha Otoko, the titular character (a young Akihabara-level otaku) stands up to a drunk on a train that was harassing a group of women. He is able to stop the drunk long enough for help to arrive and at the police station, exchanges addresses with the women. Two days later, he receives a pair of tea cups from the youngest woman (nicknamed “Hermes” after the designer of the cups) in order to show her appreciation for his actions. Believe it or not, some people should question a young woman giving an otaku teacups in thanks. Japanese “gratitude gifts” are oftentimes practical in nature and the worth in daily life should be easily recognizable to the recipient. Densha was completely oblivious to the connotation the specific teacups brought. He thought it was just an ordinary pair of teacups until he posted about them on the internet forum thread he began to log his adventure. When he discovered that the teacups were, in fact, designer, he felt obliged to call and thank Hermes and eventually asked her out to dinner to repay her. This instance comes from a sense of social duty found in less common amounts throughout the Western world. This act of giri, or social obligation, is most often used to keep face within one’s social circle either privately or in the workplace. Westerners can look upon these gifts and social obligations as brown-nosing, or at the worst akin to bribery.

Another interesting piece of distinctly Japanese plot is when Densha relates his escapades to others on the internet, ultimately dragging a large group of people into the drama of seeking Hermes’s affections. The Japanese concept of amae (roughly translated as “group interdependency”) has long been an important part of Japanese life for hundreds of years. In the past, it was the work of nearly the entire village’s work force to tend and harvest the wet rice paddies. This forced people in Japan to learn how to help along and cooperate with others from a very early age. Even with the wet rice agricultural society gone, the Japanese have yet to lose that large group spirit. It would seem foolhardy in Western society to revert to an internet forum board for advice on women and dating, but Densha thinks nothing of the act and returns time after time with queries concerning him and Hermes. He even gives descriptions of his dates, which to some may be on the borderline of creepy. This is figuratively normal in the Japanese way of thinking, for there is still a large number of individuals who would much rather collaborate on something like a love life than explore the unknown waters without a guide. Even if the person has the ability to talk to other people in a face-to-face format, chances are that a group would be intimately involved with the behind the scenes action of one’s personal life.

A third distinctly Japanese trait seen throughout Densha Otoko is the enthusiasm Densha is met with as he chronicles the courting of Hermes on the 2Channel forum. Westerners may see it as the same sort of enthusiasm we experience when we pry into the lives of others, yet this is a Japanese emotion referred to as gambari. Loosely paraphrased as the Japanese’s sense of patience and determination, gambari has a number of different connotations and forms. The other thread members encourage and cheer on Densha, giving him advice along the way. While they were relating their wishes of gambari, Densha created his own feelings out of his determination to work hard in order to succeed in his quest for Hermes’s love. Both of these gambari-based emotions are emphasized in school and the workplace for Japanese people, focusing on creating better amae ties with the psychological gratification induced by enthusiastically cheering another towards success, no matter the actual likelihood of triumph. In the case of possible failure, the patience ultimately involved with gambari proves vital. When Densha fails to post the outcome of another date with Hermes until the following morning, most of the thread members had been sitting up all night in anticipation of his next post. This shows the amount of dedication that comes alongside gambari-type emotions.

In conclusion, it can be said that Densha Otoko is a Japanese movie, not simply because it was made in Japan, but because of the social connotations embedded within the modern fairy tale structure. Even if a Westerner were to fully accept the Japanese features of the movie entirely as just part of the plot-line, he or she would still not be able to fully grasp the undertone of the movie as being truly Japanese with the main character’s actions, reactions and emotions.

Date Published
05/12/08 (Originally Created: 05/12/08)
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