Watching anime can provide some educational benefits surrounding Japanese culture and beliefs for foreign fans, even if offers only a glimpse into Japanese daily life. In recent years, more and more edutainment anime have also seen relative success, with series like Cells at Work becoming popular. One series has expanded on this idea, walking viewers through various aspects of Japanese life, such as teaching viewers how to prepare for the Japanese New Year to cleaning special items like tatami mats. That series is Shibawanko no Wa no Kokoro.
Originally a series of children’s books, the 2006 anime focuses on a Shiba Inu and a calico cat as they learn about and explore Japanese culture. They live together in a traditional Japanese home and can speak to humans. Shibawanko the dog does the cleaning, laundry and cooking, while Mikenyanko the cat isn’t so good with chores. Each episode is short — only about two minutes in length — with 80 episodes making up the entire series. The style resembles that of a picture book, with live-action shots mixed in to show what certain actions actually look like.
Written by Yoshie Kawaura and published in 2002, the books were targeted at children, who begin helping with household chores at a young age in Japan. The books focused on teaching children how to properly live in Wa, the Japanese-style spirit. Each chapter focused on a new lesson, ranging from how to be a good host for house guests to how to wear kimono to celebrating 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 slide it open with one’s right hand only about five centimeters. Continuing to use the right hand, one slides the door open a little more from the middle of the edge, then switches to the left hand once the frame of the door is perpendicular to the left side of the body. Finally, the door is opened enough for the guest to enter — roughly 30 centimeters. If the door slides open from left to right, the movements would be the opposite, beginning with the left hand and ending with the right.
Many anime depict Japan as a modern country with advanced technology, and while this is true to a point, tradition is still alive and well. Many women still wear kimono as casual clothing rather than just ceremonial attire or something to wear to a summer festival. Japanese neighborhoods feature traditionally-styled homes next to newer designs, and there are a certain set of standards one is expected to adhere to in society, manners being some of the most important aspects. Even some modern apartments include tatami rooms in larger-scale units, although this isn’t a standard inclusion. Knowing how to properly maintain the straw flooring is important because it can easily mold if the wrong cleaner is used.
By creating a children’s series based on traditional ideas, Kawaura was not only educating children on how people used to do things but also keeping those traditions alive. It’s easy to look toward the future and create new ways of living, but sometimes it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the way things used to be as well. 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.