One benefit of watching any kind of foreign media is the opportunity to learn more about the place of origin, and anime is no exception. Series like Naruto or Demon Slaughter put an imaginative spin on familiar parts of Japanese culture, such as ninjas and samurai. Others like Aggretsuko, discuss the social issues unique to living in Japan. But most people, especially anime likes Toradoraonly exist in the country and follow standard media tropes.
Through all these examples and more, anime fans can pick up tidbits of Japanese culture. Usually, the audience can learn how the school year is structured and the events that take place throughout, or common characters in folklore such as yokai. Yet there are other anime that go deeper than what the Japanese might consider common knowledge. These series explore something that is inherently unique to the country. For anime fans interested in learning more parts of Japanese culture, these shows are a good place to start.
These Snow White notes
Every part of the world has its own instruments, and Japan is no exception. These Snow White notes shows off such an instrument, known as the shamisen. To Western audiences, its appearance is comparable to a banjo or a lute. These Snow White notes utilizing the shamisen every chance it can, integrating it into the show’s soundtrack and opening and closing songs. Along the way, the audience hears historical stories related to the instrument, as well as a selection of styles and techniques used by players.
In the midst of these deeper dives into the shamisen and the display of the sound, Snow White Notes is a story of struggle. Protagonist Sawamura Setsu flees to Tokyo after the death of his grandfather, as a master shamisen player, but cannot escape the instrument’s hold on him. Unfortunately, he also cannot escape his mother, who is determined to make him carry on his grandfather’s legacy. He reluctantly joins his high school’s shamisen club, which is in desperate need of someone with his talent.
As the season progresses, Setsu struggles with his identity and whether he is wanted. He’s competing for the first time in years, but it feels like all anyone wants to hear from him is his grandfather’s voice. Within this conflict, Snow White Notes coping with the heavy burden that an inheritance can be.
Kono Oto Tomare! Sounds of Life
About like These Snow White notes, Kono Oto Tomare! puts the spotlight on a particular cultural instrument. However, this has a higher position than the shamisen as Japan’s national instrument. The koto is steeped in tradition, but, like many things, it is not particularly popular with younger generations. The series makes this clear from the beginning of episode 1, where the koto club’s room has been taken over by thugs and club president Kurata Takezou is unable to stop it.
That being said, every niche has people who like it, and the koto club is about to get a new lease of life. As Snow White Notes‘ Setsu, the main character Kudo Chika is haunted by the koto. In an effort to understand her late grandfather’s words and passion, Chika decides to join the school’s koto club. However, Takezou has no interest in having someone with Chika’s criminal reputation join the club. Chika has to fight to become a member, and is only allowed to do so after proving that he cares about the koto.
Kono Oto Tomare! is everything a music-themed anime has to offer, from great characters to a palpable passion for the subject. All the while, the audience gets to learn a bit about an obscure instrument.
Chihay pine highlights a competitive card game unique to Japan known as karuta. The game revolves around the country’s historic Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, or 100 poems. Each work in the collection was written by a different poet, and they are often taught in Japanese schools. Karuta is often used as a fun way for children to memorize the poems, as the goal is to match the first half of the poem to the second before one’s opponent.
Protagonist Ayase Chihaya has maintained a passion for the game well into her teenage years, aiming to become a karuta master. She builds a karuta club from scratch together with her childhood friend Taichi and members they gather along the way. As the series progresses, the audience gradually gains a deeper understanding of the game and the customs surrounding it. Chihaya and her team even bring back some who have dropped out of training, such as wearing traditional outfits to every competition.
Chihay pine is also a good choice for romance fans, as all three seasons develop a love triangle between Chihaya, Taichi, and their distant friend Arata.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Perhaps the most obscure of the bunch, rakugo is a form of comic storytelling. Performers tell stories that have been passed down through the generations, but no one tells it the same way. A character portrayed as a ghost in one person’s plot may be treated as a yakuza boss in another’s, for example. While the stories themselves are a big part of rakugo, the charisma of the storyteller is what makes each one unique.
Alongside this traditional art is the story of one man’s past and another’s future. Ex-convict Yotaro’s life was changed when he saw a rakugo performance while in prison. After his release, he seeks out the man who performed, Yurakutei Yakumo, and asks to be taken on as an apprentice. However, getting involved in Yakumo’s life means learning about more than just rakugo. Within days of staying with his master, Yotaro overhears the man being accused of murdering a rakugo colleague.
Curious, Yotaro explores the work of this late man, Yuurakutei Sukeroku, and is captivated by his rakugo. This newfound passion leads Yakumo to tell Yotaro about his past. From here, the story jumps between past and present, telling two stories in tandem and getting to the truth of what really happened to Sukeroku.