Why Is Alice In Wonderland So Popular In Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

James asked:

I have noticed that there have been a significant number of Japanese adaptations (manga, anime, and video games) of Alice in Wonderland; why are the Japanese so fond of that story?

If you ask an average Japanese person why the country loves Alice in Wonderland so much, they'll probably shrug and say, "I dunno, it's just a story." But if you look closer, it really does pop up everywhere. There are at least seven Wonderland-inspired anime (ranging from the relatively straight adaptation Fushigi no Kuno no Alice to the completely reimagined Pandora Hearts). Anime ranging from Serial Experiments Lain to Please Save My Earth have characters named Alice, specifically in reference to the classic book series. Other shows from Code Geass to Rozen Maiden make direct references.

Outside of the world of anime, the imagery is still pervasive in Japan. A chain of themed restaurants, known as Alice's Fantasy Restaurant, offers tea party themed dishes and some very cool decor. They have five locations around Tokyo.

On the surface of it, the story has a lot of thematic elements that we know Japan loves: a teenaged girl in a frilly, Victorian dress. Talking, yokai-like animals that are both cute and kind of foreboding. Trippy, surrealist imagery. British style tea parties. Add in the classic Disney animated adaptation (Japan loves Disney cartoons), and you have yourself something that pushes a lot of cultural buttons.

But Alice in Wonderland was first published in Japanese in 1910 (a heavily adapted adaptation bearing the title Ai-chan no Yume Monogatari). Of course, there have been dozens of translations since then -- the huge amount of wordplay in the novel makes it a particular challenge for translators. Editions have been published with famous artists ranging from Yayoi Kusama to okama providing re-imagined visuals.

So now... it's collectable.

Honestly, I can't find much material on the relationship between Japan and the classic book. However, it is quite likely that the book's early availability in Japanese made it a perfect entry point as the country opened up to the outside world, and started becoming intrigued by fancy European things. As the country tried to Westernize in the years following WWII, the book likely made an easy reference point for Western things, and something cultural the country had in common with the occupying Americans.

For all we know, Japan's well-documented love of frilly Victorian dresses and other fancy British things may have even come from Alice... if not its love of psychedelic fantasy.

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    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.

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