Media Violence: Japan vs. America

Is the relationship between media and societal violence a function of the quantity of the images or the way the violence is presented?

A 1981 study comparing Japanese and American television found major differences in the way violence is portrayed on screen between the two countries. One of the major findings was that the amount of violence on Japanese and American television is roughly the same. The nature of the Japanese television violence, however, is different. Violent scenes are less frequent in Japanese-produced programs, yet tend to last longer, are more realistic and place a much greater emphasis on physical suffering.

The study also found that the violent acts in American-produced programs were equally performed by "good guys" and "bad guys," and the assaults were overwhelmingly against villains - individuals for whom the audience has little compassion and whose demise is often cheered. In Japanese-produced shows more than twice as many violent acts were performed by "bad guys," with the heroes suffering the consequences 75 percent of the time.

The researchers concluded that, compared to American shows, Japanese programs emphasize the consequences of violence. The modern-day hero in Japanese drama, much like the classic samurai figure, is noble, honest, highly disciplined and hard-working. When these heroes are wounded or killed, it arouses distress and evokes sympathy rather than applause.

—Edited from Mediascope press release, March 1993. Reprinted with permission.