A couple months ago I happened upon an scientific article that appears to suggest a reason for the popularity of catgirls (as opposed to say doggirls or foxgirls or cowgirls etc.) in anime and today I’m back with an answer to another question that has surely plagued most anime fans at some point. Why are there so many “not blood related sisters” and harems in anime? The answer my shock you, as it did me.
The answer lies, as is often the case, in the history of Japan.
In 1945, when Japan surrendered and the United States began their occupation, the Japanese were forced to fully adopt a western style government in the form of America. This meant many things with the most well-known being the end of Emperor worship which held that the Emperor was divine but it also meant that polygamy was outlawed as well.
That’s right, polygamy was legal in Japan until 1945.
By chance, I had come across this fact in an article and this started the gears going. I know anime is not a very accurate way to learn about Japan but I started wondering why I’ve never seen polygamy mentioned in any anime that I’ve watched, not even in the historical anime series. Almost immediately I realized the heavy prevalence of harems and the building of said harems in certain types of anime was the evidence of this long legal and accepted part of Japanese culture.
The Japanese might try to white wash their own history – as many anime series as I have watched about the Sengoku Era, none have seen fit to mention that Oda Nobunaga aka The Demon King in Sengoku Basara actually had more then one wife, for example – but it’s difficult to completely eradicate all traces of something that was part of one’s own history for so long. Hence the wish fulfillment of harem series.
I dug more into this and discovered more that helped explained other questions I had. Sometimes it’s easy to forget different cultures have very different views on certain ideas. At one time the idea of family in Japan was that everyone that lived in and worked for a single village was considered one “family”. Light bulb. I suddenly saw where the idea of “not blood-related sister” came from. It was not just a cute way of saying stepsister but a term to describe a girl, probably also a childhood friend, who lived in the same village as the boy in question.
This definition of family stayed in place until 1889 when Japanese law formally declared that the family was defined according to blood lineage as the father (head of the household) and all his wives and all his children as well as their relatives. It was only in 1945, along with the prohibition of polygamy that the definition was changed again to fully match the Western standard that a family is considered to be a husband, his wife, and their kids. That wasn’t that long ago and apparently there’s been plenty of cases of the wealthy who act as if the previous 1889 law as still in place. Which explains why in Summer Wars when the father fathers what we’d consider a bastard but the boy (who grows up, sells large tracts of the family’s land, and moves to America) is welcomed into the family and treated as if he was a child of the father and his wife.
To recap, the historical practice of defining the family to include an entire village and polygamy are the reason why there are so many “not blood related sisters” and harems in anime (or, at least, that’s what it looks like to me). If you want to read more, this article was very informative as was the wiki article for polygyny.
Sliding off-topic now, there are two points I wanted to bring up.
The first is that WordPress has decided they don’t like pages on their blogs and they don’t care what the actual blog authors think. Instead of putting older blog posts on say “Page 2” then “Page 3” and so on they want the home page to keep scrolling indefinitely. I don’t see the advantage to this change but I do see that this will tax older machines and those with slow internet connections as well. If this change makes it impossible to use my blog please tell me here or in an email. If enough people are having this problem I’ll look into maybe changing my theme to something that will work better or going over to a static home page or some other change.
Second, as you might be aware, there’s an anime blog tournament going on and this blog is currently in it’s match. I won’t lie, a vote for me would be appreciated but I’m mentioning this because during the last anime blog tournament I received a lot of good feedback that pushed me to improve my work and so far this time I really haven’t seen any. So for those reading, I’d love to see any feedback/critiques (positive or negative) you have either here or on the tournament match page.