Pokemon is undoubtly Japanese in it’s origin and we’re most likely supposed to see most of the characters as Japanese in terms of culture and ethnicity.
I suppose I like to lie to myself and pretend the regions are more Western/American than not, to preserve this interpretation or lie that Ash is not part of a ethnically nationalist nation (Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, etc) but a civically nationalist nation (USA, Canada, Australia, various Latin American states). Because part of what’s important to me growing up here in the States was being able to interact with other people not part of my racial background but still be valued and respected. And the extreme variation of character designs in Pokemon sometimes represents that to me at least in the dub, that Ash is this normal Asian-American kid who interacts with all sorts of people, white, black, brown, etc, without having any of their race be explicitly questioned or evaluated.
That’s kind of why it makes me paradoxically uncomfortable when people constantly emphasize the Japanese-ness of Pokemon. I mean, I’m sure it’s because white-washing Pokemon and making it Euro-Ameri-Western-centric is probably even worse. But seeing reminders that Pokemon is supposed to inflexibly represent a ethnically homogenous country that isn’t exactly known for representing the racial interactions that I idealize, I’m not going to lie, it kind of hurts. Not like, knife in gut kind of hurt. But more like, “Oh, here comes reality again” hurt. I mean there’s no doubting Pokemon’s Japanese influences. But I think focussing on them too much erroneously suggests that their inclusion was done for the sole sake of cultural value rather than artists/authors/writers simply acting on their own personal cultural frame of reference.
I think you’re not exactly conveying what you were trying to, because it ends up sounding racist and really Americanocentrist ^^’
This is coming from a non-specialist (on political matters and on Japanese culture specifically), but I feel you’re making a huge confusion between politics and culture. It would be more honest to say that, if Japan is a “nationalist nation”, the US are not a “civically nationalist nation” but a nation aiming for and encouraging hegemonic economical domination (sometimes more or less to the point of neo-colonalism) for their own interests and hiding it behind humanist values (France did the same and is probably doing it now): “gas” or “oil” would be keywords. And racism is still a thing everywhere. But we don’t really see either in-series? And culturally, in daily-life, Takeshi didn’t suffer from racism or ostracism nor was he ever labelled as a foreigner in-series? He was clearly whitewashed in the games artworks (or his skintone was supposed to be the same as the other Gym Leaders?), but in-series, nobody commented on his skin. Nobody commented on Iris’s. Nobody cared, nobody seemed to see it as relevant. And politics doesn’t seem to exist, or doesn’t exist as we know it.
The Pokémon world is a world of openness and optimism. It’s not “our” world. There are distinct cultural traits in weathers, architectures, urbanism and food from region to region, but at the same time, they all seem to speak the same language (I think we can all agree that “what is ten x ten”!”what is ‘flavour’?”!Satoshi probably can’t speak another language, so Kanto, Isshu and Kalos speak the same in the anime series). True, some designs or character traits given to dark-skinned characters from the “Japanese” area were borderline (Takeshi comes from a large family and is a womanizer; in-game, Fuyo/Phoebe has an ~exotic design~ (I don’t think it’s just meant to represent Okinawa?)) and we got more ethnic representation in the following regions (Aloe (but a Mama), Iris, Shizui, Renbu (but a rap-culture fighter) in Isshu; Zakuro, Gojika and Sana in Kalos). I can’t say for sure if this is a matter of reproducing what Japanese teams objectively saw around them, or if Japanese people generally learn to not see people having darker skintones in their own cities. I know racism is a thing, that your appearance there tends to condemn you to be seen and addressed as a foreigner for the rest of your life. And it’s true that there are more representants in the “Occidental” games: but the ones who existed before weren’t treated badly in “Japan”(/the Japan-inspired regions). We can extrapolate as for why there is less variety (meta-wise, and in-universe: because they are islands? Because they’re less attractive places? Because Kanto and the others used to lock down their frontiers?); but the fact is, people in-universe weren’t more racist in the “Japanese” block than in Isshu, and I think it’s the only thing that matters.
But characters from Kanto to Sinnoh were obviously marked by a culture: it showed in the way they drink tea (rarely in English cups), the food they sometimes ate (a lot of things!), the way they would spontaneously pray/pay their respects to the deceased or deities (EP020, DP147) without being seemingly highly religious themselves, for example (sorry for the reduction). That’s how, in-series, the daily-life is “Japanese”: with tiny bits and with habits; it says nothing about racism or ethnic judgments in the people who live there. So, if there is not really difference in values between Kanto-Johto-Hoenn-Sinnoh, Isshu and Kalos (in which people are mostly tolerant, welcoming and living peacefully with Pokémon), yes, it makes me feel uncomfortable to hear how the main character and some others would be better off being seen as people not coming from Asia: because it would be idealizing the West and demonizing Japan at the same time. It’s not Asia, and yet it is; it’s certainly more culturally Asian than American, at least :x
Being Asian-American myself, I definitely agree with soveryanon about people in the Kanto-Johto-Hoenn-Sinnoh region being very clearly Asian rather than Asian-American. I think that it’s somewhat unfair that western norms, which already dominate media all over the world, are being used as a lens for nearly ALL media…
When you’re a kid, it’s somewhat forgivable. All you know is your own country and you’re not expected to have extensive knowledge about other cultures. But I think that media has the power to educate, especially when importing foreign material. I think it was irresponsible to americanize Pokemon (calling riceballs “donuts” among other things) because you get a lot of cultural erasure and it devalues a lot of Pokemon’s original inspirations.
There was no in-universe STAUNCH racism. There were insensitive decisions regarding character design and mannerisms, but no one was ever attacked for their skin color or ethnicity (classism is a different story, if you’re going to refer to Trip).
I understand what it’s like to not have your culture represented. But having it misrepresented or misinterpreted can be equally harmful for me; especially since Asian/Asian-American is still highly misunderstood.