It's practically a meme in the West: The Japanese are insane. But, you know, loveably insane -- all squid-penises and liquor vending machines, not boring-old-crazy stuff like murder and cannibalism. What we don't realize, however, is that most of this madness is totally our fault. In the past, we've brushed up against the issue in a crowded train car -- discussing how Japanese manga was totally inspired by Donald Duck comics, for example -- but it goes beyond that. It turns out that much of Japan's iconic wackiness was actually imposed upon it by Western culture. Let's take a look at ...
#6. Tentacle Porn and Pixelated Wangs
Connoisseurs of Japanese porn (hi, every single Cracked reader!) will readily note that, when they start getting down to business, all of the sexy bits are pixelated out like they're trying to keep it PG-13. In the meantime, the uniquely Japanese export of "tentacle porn" has become one of the highlights that illustrate just how bizarre Japan really is.
How It's Our Fault:
Despite what the censored porn might imply, nudity has never been taboo in Japanese culture. Not only were women used to walking around topless, but what we call porn was just another common genre of books, like cooking or travel. Japanese porn, or shunga, was a traditional form of visual media that had no stigma attached to it. Most artists created it without violating any type of social code. They were just making pictures of people fuckin'.
Just the way God intended.
It was only in the 19th century, when Western morality came to Japan, that the Japanese government decided to crack down on such traditional practices as public nudity, in order to make the case to the West that Japan was totally a civilized country. By the time World War II rolled around, Japanese porn had gone from an everyday part of Japanese culture to a demonized art form that, as the Pulitzer-winning expert John W. Dower noted, now inexplicably valued idealized Western versions of beauty, like long legs and big tits.
After the war, the Americans occupied the country and enforced American cultural values. This further stigmatized porn in Japan, to the point where they enacted one of the strangest porn laws in the world: It's OK to have sex on camera, but any display of genitals is strictly forbidden. So now all porn in Japan has the genitals pixelated out.
That of course didn't stop Japan's enterprising purveyors of smut, who quickly found ways to get around the Great Wang Embargo by producing porn that portrayed women being penetrated by tentacle monsters. Tentacles aren't technically dicks -- even when they're explicitly dick-shaped and behaving in a very dickish fashion -- so the government is powerless to censor them. And now the Japanese can enjoy pornography with the power of ... imagination. Or just squinting a little bit.
Seriously, those tentacles are very dick-like.
#5. Consumer Culture
We all know that Japan has a lust for technology -- look on the back of any of your high-tech gadgets, and chances are it says "Made in Japan."
How It's Our Fault:
For most of Japan's history, wealth and consumerism were looked down upon in total disdain. The early Japanese basically lived like the Amish, if the Amish had kickass swords and unflattering haircuts. In fact, merchants and capitalists were always traditionally considered the lowest rung of society, below bureaucrats, farmers and artisans. Japan didn't trade with the outside world, and even banned technological innovation in warfare, like guns, because the samurai were trained with swords and didn't want lowly peasants to threaten them with firearms -- it would be ungentlemanly.
"We are not savages; we murder each other with decorum."
In 1853, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry drove his ships into Japan and offered a compromise -- either they would open trade up and buy America's shit, or he would raze their country to the ground. Realizing that they were defenseless against Perry's giant guns, the Japanese opted to fall in line with the rest of the world and industrialize. It's just that when the Japanese do something -- from perversion to social reform -- they don't half-ass it. In a matter of mere decades, they turned their feudal society into a completely industrial nation.
History buffs know what Japan did next -- they suddenly morphed into a sinister industrial empire that conquered large parts of East Asia to feed their newfound technological machine, soon becoming one of the top ten industrialized nations of the world. Their hunger for resources to feed Japanese industry would cause Japan to make the worst decision in its history -- attacking the United States of America. SPOILER ALERT: It didn't end well.
In our defense, they were being total dicks.
After World War II, the occupying U.S. soldiers influenced the Japanese in channeling their energies toward less-threatening forms of technology, like consumer electronics. So to recap: A few centuries ago, we sent the guy from Friends into Japan like a techno-vampire, threatening them with death if they didn't turn into one of us. When they did turn, they found that they liked it a little too much, so we put them back down and told them to make little phones instead. Now we make fun of them for making said phones, because we're all huge mega-jerks. Hey, speaking of mega-things ...
#4. Giant-Monster Movies Are a Reaction to the Atomic Bomb
The Japanese sure do love them some giant monsters. Tokyo has been flattened by monsters more times than aliens have destroyed the Statue of Liberty. It's actually its own film genre, called kaiju. Godzilla is only the most famous example -- screaming, out-of-sync Japanese citizens have since been terrorized by all sorts of towering beasts, like Rodan, Gamera and Mothra. It's a weirdly specific thing for one culture to become obsessed with.
Glass houses, America.
How It's Our Fault:
As we've discussed before, the most successful horror movies tap into what society is really afraid of. So when director Ishiro Honda needed a monster for his horror project, he came up with something that reflected the terror of a nuclear attack. You don't need to be a history buff to understand why Japan specifically might have been afraid of that.
In case the analogy wasn't clear enough, the creators of Godzilla wrote the A-bomb right into the monster's origin story. A mutant who was created by nuclear testing, Godzilla is a force of pure destruction that comes out of nowhere and reduces Japan's bustling capital to ashes in a single night, leaving everyone wondering what the hell just hit them. In Honda's own words, Godzilla wasn't just created by nuclear war: "He would be twisted and mutated by it, into a rampaging uncontainable force; the A-bomb made of flesh."
Curiously, this seems exactly like the sort of problem A-bombs were designed to solve.
Japanese culture couldn't get enough of the kaiju phenomenon; Honda made a career of it, being responsible for Rodan, the giant nuclear pterodactyl, and Mothra, the giant nuclear moth. Japan's very specific fear of obliteration by the West lasted long enough for kaiju to become an iconic tradition in Japanese film -- and it clarifies why it was such a dumb idea for Hollywood to transplant the idea to 1990s New York. Although it might explain why they cast Matthew Broderick (he's slight, and good with machines).