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An Anime Bleg: Whither Kancho?

posted Jul 30, 2012, 1:02 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: March 27, 2011

As I mentioned here, venerable J-Goods importer J-List’s regular email flyers over the last couple of weeks have proven (to me, anyway) a useful source of perspective on the ongoing crisis in Japan. Authored by J-List head honcho Peter Payne, they always seem to begin with a hook about current events or quotidian life in Japan, and this has been even more the case since news broke of the calamitous earthquake/tsunami in Sendai. It has been on everyone’s minds, so you can’t avoid writing about it. While traditional news outlets offer near-hysterical reporting (much of it hopeful of good disaster porn to come, I think, which would make it morally repugnant as well as misleading) Payne has given J-List’s subscribers a useful counterpoint, reassuring us in a calm — even cheery — voice that there are, in fact, people still alive in Japan, and that they are collecting themselves and picking up the pieces.

It is a sign of our times that you can get useful current information about a terrible ongoing disaster from a commercial e-flyer that allows you to then mail-order a Japanese sex toy with your next mouse click. The Internet has thrown us back to the origins of modern journalism in Restoration England, when anyone with regular access to a printing press could publish their observations on the events of the day — and I say this with more approval than disapproval. But that is another discussion for another time.

J-List’s most recent dispatch, from Friday, brought up the sad case of an American woman teaching English in northern Japan, whose body was found among the wreckage. Payne noted: “Having been an ESL teacher myself for several years before founding J-List, I can imagine the happy times she must have had, perhaps dodging kancho her students tried to administer (mischievous Japanese students like to sneak up on unsuspecting English teachers and push their index fingers into their butts as hard as they can).”

Without meaning any disrespect to the main focus of the story, I have to say that my antennae for the weird perked up at this detail. Really? Japanese school kids do this? I presume that only young kids are allowed to get away with it, and that Payne means that they poke you in the sensitive flesh of the rump, not... y’know... all the way in.... Even so, it’s inconceivable to someone living on this side of the Pacific. Given the paranoid, liability-averse ‘zero-tolerance’ policies that seem to control American schools these days, even a first-grader who tried something like that would find himself arrested and sent to juvenile hall — maybe even tried in adult court as a sex offender.

My question is, are there any anime in which kancho shows up? Even if it’s just a throwaway reference, I’d like to know. While I fully understand that anime typically exaggerates and distorts even when there’s a real-life basis for what it depicts — for instance, I harbor no illusions that “Shrine of the Morning Mist” taught me anything useful about Shinto or Japanese mythology — it’s also possible to catch glimpses of quotidian Japanese life if you watch and listen carefully and understand how the transformative power of imagination works with source material. And read the translation notes, where available. I know that I do the latter, and I like to think that I do the former. But I’ve never seen any references to kancho, and now I’m curious as to how it’s treated in anime and manga, if at all.


In his dispatch of March 25, Peter Payne also writes: “But daily life is slowly returning to normal in Japan, with food and other products being distributed to consumers who are still jittery with everything that's been going on. Even gasoline is starting to flow again, although there are lines at the ‘gasoline stand’ in the mornings.... Today the J-List staff arrived at work two hours early so we could get the day's orders done before the scheduled blackout in the afternoon, but the blackout ended up being cancelled. We continue to be amazed at how normal things are.” I have heard similar anecdotal evidence that Japan, though battered, is still very much alive and not going away anytime soon.

This is reassuring, but not surprising — and not because I think the Japanese people or their society are uniquely adapted to surviving calamities. Instead, it puts me in mind of something William Faulkner said  60 years ago, when he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature with the world still standing in the shadow of a different nuclear-induced catastrophe, with the possibility of similar catastrophes to follow: “I decline to accept the end of man.... I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” As bad as things are — to say nothing of how bad things have been made to seem — it’s not the end of Japan, much less the end of the world. Pray for Japan, yes; but do not despair.