Coded yellow, because we don't want our kids to think of teachers that way, now do we?
Pic of the day: Stereotypical Japanese teacher: Yukari-sensei from Azumanga Daioh.
Teachers here and there
One interesting stereotype in Japanese manga and anime is the high school teacher. There is a fairly large market segment of Japanese serial arts dedicated to high school students, something that may seem strange to Americans in particular. More about that soon.
The stereotypical high school teacher in Japan is eccentric, exhibitionist, overly fixated on sex, and (particularly for female teachers) single. How did this stereotype come to be, and what does it say about Japanese society as compared to our own?
The crucial difference, I believe, is how Japanese view teenagers. In Japan, the national age of consent is 14 years, although the prefectures (the local administrative units) can set it higher, and indeed all of them have, to the best of my knowledge. But the national age of consent reflects the Japanese basic view of teenagers. 14 year old boys and girls are expected to have erotic as well as romantic feelings, although the good boys and girls are not expected to act on the physical attraction in full until later. These feelings are still taken more or less for granted, though. Also in other ways, young teens are portrayed as more mature and reflected. You may say that in Japan, teenagers are a special case of adult. In much of the West, and especially the USA, they are often seen as a special (and difficult) case of children.
In light of this, the teacher parody makes a lot of sense. The high school teacher sees his or her students as young adults. As such the parental drive is downplayed in a teacher's motivation, and feelings more common among adults are given more room. Like in other civilized nations, romance between teachers and students are absolutely forbidden. In a perverse way, this allows the exhibitionist teacher to go further than would otherwise be acceptable among adults, since nothing can happen anyway. Female teachers in particular are often portrayed as wearing revealing clothes and having a suggestive body language, while male teachers are more often seen as lechers enjoying the sight of young women.
(It bears mention that Japanese are expected to control their sexuality to a higher degree than what is expected in America and even Europe. This is also borne out in practice: Sexual crimes are astoundingly rare, and fidelity in marriage is still the norm. Japanese men will unashamed read manga on their commute that would be considered pornographic in America, but it does not cause them to actually act in a more sexualized way in the rest of their daily life. I think you can say that there is a larger gap from temptation to action in Japan, whereas in America the gap is from non-temptation to temptation. Here in Scandinavia, of course, there are no such gaps at all. We are the archetypal innocent barbarians, where thought and action are one... Well, that's the stereotype anyway.)
There are actually a couple well-known manga and anime showing life from the teacher's point of view. The most famous is probably GTO - Great Teacher Onizuka - about a male teacher who actually is eccentric and pretty sex-crazed. He becomes teacher more or less by accident, being somewhat of a wild card, but over time he learns to see his students as humans and becomes a responsible man,,, albeit in a very untraditional way.
Another story that I personally liked better was Gokusen, about the female heir to a criminal syndicate, whose lifetime dream was to become a high school teacher. This also came to pass, and she discovered that some of the skills she had learned in preparation for becoming a gangster leader, were still applicable in her new job... A comedy with a deep sensitive undertone. An interesting supporting character was another female teacher who started at the same time, and who seemed to fit the stereotype. But over time we learn that she too is much deeper than she looks. Recommended.
When picking a picture for today, I had several anime to choose between, which portrayed very stereotypical high school teachers. DearS is a bit on the extreme side, with the teacher making erotic videos on her free time. Magikano has a less wild female teacher, but still extremely shallow. Then there is the Happy Lesson series, where a high school boy lives with five female teachers, each of them different and all of them weird. I could probably think of several more if I took the time, but the obvious candidate was Azumanga Daioh, possibly the best anime ever made about high school. Featuring a diverse and original cast of high school girls (the boys are present as background noise, but look like clones and have no major roles) it also portrays their teachers in a charming and humorous manner, mixing the stereotypes with small sudden views into a genuine soul. If you want to see just one high school anime in your life, Azumanga Daioh is the one to get. More a collection of sketches than a story, it still chronicles the small band making their way all through high school till graduation. Anyway, the best developed of the teachers is probably Yukari-sensei, although I don't mean developed the way she means it. ^_^;
It is interesting that I actually know much more about high school in Japan than in the USA, even though I have many online friends in the States. They seem to almost without exception try to forget high school, which seems to be a traumatic time for thinking young people. In Japan it is the other way around, high school is the blossoming spring of life, the peak of vitality, the final flowering of the unfettered spirit before the dreaded bells of working life toll their call to duty.
In real life, I hear, the pressure on Japanese high school students to excel in school is already so intense that many of them fall ill and some commit suicide. And some walk into their room and don't come out for twenty years. While they are there, they can spend their time watching an unending stream of new anime about the wonderful life at high school, and the funny antics of teachers there. But then again, every society has its losers, right? And its teachers, which may not necessarily be the same.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.