Why Are Old People In Anime And Manga So Short?

by Justin Sevakis,

Marie asked:

I've been wondering about this for a while now: why do the elderly are often presented as really short and small in anime/manga? But if there's a flashback and we see them in their youth, they have a regular height. No one finds this alarming to find out they have shrunk? Lol Oh turning 70? Downsizing overnight! Is it only to demonstrate their frailness because they are old? Although they are not always weak even if they got tinier.

Well, it's a stereotype, right? Many old people are short. Not as short as they are in anime and manga -- that's usually exaggerated for comedic effect.

While Japanese people are still considered on the average to be shorter than people in most Western countries, the gap has closed significantly in recent years, according to the research I did for this piece. This is thought to be because the Japanese diet has changed significantly: starting in the post-war era, "yoshoku," or Japanese foods with Western influence (think curry rice, omurice, korokke, stews, castellas, Hamburg steak, Japanese style spaghetti, and the like) became much cheaper and more accessible to people. Other Western foods like hamburgers and fried chicken also started making its way to Japan. As a result, more people ate meat and dairy from a young age, and people grew taller.

But this change has resulted in a significant generational shift. Today, younger Japanese folks over six feet tall aren't too rare. According to the Ministry of Education, over the second half of the 20th century the height of Japan's average 11-year-olds went up by over 5 1/2 inches! (And the girls grew by even more!) Similar growth has been observed in adults as well. And so, older people simply seem much shorter by comparison. Particularly if they grew up during wartime. Malnutrition in childhood will affect anyone's height, that's just biology.

Like I said, old people in general can be short. Time compresses us all - most of us lose about an inch between the ages of 30 and 70, and more thereafter. Older adults tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat; joints wear out, and osteoporosis -- chronic low bone density -- results in the spine condensing. While everyone can get osteoporsis, women are particularly susceptible: the "little old lady" stereotype has its roots in this. Osteoporosis of the neck and spine can also cause a stooped-over posture, or even a hunchback.

I found conflicting information as to whether osteoporosis is worse in Japan than in the west. Regardless, it is a very widespread and under-treated problem pretty much everywhere. However, despite a traditional Japanese diet being far lower in calcium (coming mostly from seaweed, soy and soft edible bones from small fish), hip injuries among elderly Japanese are far lower than in the West. It's thought that a more active lifestyle, particularly in the countryside, results in better muscle among elderly people.

The combination of shrinkage from aging and osteoporosis, and that (literal) generational gap can help explain why you see exaggerated, stereotypical depictions of it in anime and manga.


Do YOU have a question for the Answerman?

We want your questions! Send in as many or as often as you like. We can only pick three questions a week (and unfortunately I don't have ALL the answers) so if you haven't been chosen, don't be discouraged, and keep on sending.

HOWEVER... CHECK THE ARCHIVES FIRST. I've answered a lot of questions already! Here are some common ones...

  • How do I be a voice actor?
  • How do I get a job in the anime business?
  • How do I get my ideas made into anime?
  • Will _____ get a new season? When?? (New productions are a closely guarded secret until they're announced. I don't know anything Google can't tell you.)
  • Is ____ a trend? When did that start? (Who knows -- you often can't tell these things until years afterwards.)
  • I have a report due, can you help me? (No.)
  • How do I get in touch with __(famous anime person)__? (Not through me.)
  • I have a question/issue with ANN's encyclopedia/forums/something non-Answerman. (I have nothing to do with those. Check our contacts page.)
  • Please keep questions short (1 paragraph at most, and grammar/spelling counts)! They MUST be sent via email to answerman (at And thanks!!

    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

discuss this in the forum (18 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Answerman homepage / archives