If you played video games in the 1990’s then you know all about Street Fighter II, the arcade classic from Japanese video games publishing powerhouse Capcom, makers of other classics like Mega Man, Ghosts and Goblins, Resident Evil, and Monster Hunter.

NPR’s Gene Demby recently wrote a nostalgia piece for their Code Switch blog in which he discovers, albeit somewhat much more belatedly than most of us in the gaming community, that Street Fighter II relies heavily on ethnic stereotypes in its portrayal of the World Warriors. Yes, Capcom does rely heavily on stereotypes in Street Fighter II, and even though the idea that Chun Li should have less health than her male peers because she is female has not yet crossed our threshold, the rest of this article treads familiar territory.

The use of stereotypes in video games developed in Japan is symptomatic of a wider Japanese cultural norm of inappropriately stereotyping foreigners and it is a phenomenon that stretches back for a large swath of Japanese history. A more recent controversy involving an ANA Airlines ad depicted two Japanese businessmen determined to “change the image of Japan,” the result of which was one of the businessmen growing a large nose and his hair transforming from deep coffee brown to flaxen blond. It is not abnormal in Japan to see these kinds of stereotypes and references made in every kind of media imaginable.

While explaining the Japanese proclivity for stereotyping foreigners is beyond the scope of this article and, indeed, likely beyond the scope of any one article or book at all, it is interesting to note the phenomenon and examine it absent Western notions of what stereotypes mean and/or that they automatically imply a hateful or antagonistic racism.

Here are two excellent books we recommend to get you started in your journey to understand Japanese culture and modes of thought. And even if you’re not interested in Japanese culture in particular, the insights these books offer into the development of human society from an anthropological perspective are fascinating.


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