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Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography Research Paper


Japanese culture is commonly perceived as the anime culture. Therefore, it is associated with several visible symbols. One of them is nosebleed as a symbol of sexual excitement that is a feature of male characters seeing someone physically attractive. In fact, love and sex are two common plotlines of any Japanese anime, even science fiction ones. It is commonly associated with an emotional urge. A symbol of sexual excitement is always universal – nosebleed in male characters.

For instance, consider the following scenario: In summer, the temperature was high. Hundreds and thousands of people came from all over the country to the beach, and they relaxed by soaking up the sand, sunlight, and sea. A group of young men were chatting and laughing about the current news. At that moment, a beautiful and gorgeous lady passed by them. They immediately stopped to stare at the woman, and then their face turned red, and their nose started to bleed. This is the spot, which the character’s nosebleed when they get excited, especially sexual excitement that can easily be found in the Japanese anime.

The scenario mentioned above is a common plot of numerous anime movies. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that nosebleed is the usual representation of sexual excitement and arousal. Still, it is challenging to find out what is the motivation behind such a symbol of demonstrating interest in one’s physical attractiveness and sexual excitement.

Therefore, the main objective of the paper at hand is to study peer-reviewed articles and academic literature to conclude whether there are any real causes for such a reaction to physical beauty. Before reviewing the literature, I argue that nosebleed is sexual iconography in anime that is widely acceptable in Japanese movie culture. The research will be concerned with the following issues: reasons of a nosebleed, the existence of this phenomenon in real life, sexual representation in Japanese anime, and the overall connection between anime and Japanese culture.

The Reason of the Nosebleed

Nosebleed is a common symbol in Japanese anime. Moscato (2017) states that is associated with environmental changes and a significant impact of the surrounding environment on a character. Nevertheless, in anime, the most recognizable cause of nosebleed is sexual arousal. To obtain a better apprehension of this phenomenon and understand why it is a frequently met symbol in Japanese anime, it is essential to understand its roots and whether it has a biological explanation. In this way, it is critical to conclude whether it is possible in real life or is demonstrated in anime only.

First of all, it is of significant importance to become aware of the roots of such an iconographic symbol in Japanese anime. As for now, nosebleed as a symbol of sexual arousal is perceived as an element of Japanese folklore. In this way, it is believed to be an inseparable element of Japanese culture. However, it is critical to point to the fact that the foundation of this anime symbol is the real folk belief that nosebleed is a representation of sexual attraction, as stated by Slaven (2012). According to external, non-scholarly research, this symbol was indeed taken from folk art. Therefore, I agree with the abovementioned assumption that it was simply transferred to anime.

Still, even though it was transferred from folklore to anime, it is imperative to recognize that there are no scientific facts or evidence supporting the belief that sexual excitement or arousal can lead to nosebleed, especially such dramatic instances as demonstrated in anime. Even though there can be individual examples of nosebleed connected to sexual excitement, they are not common phenomena. Instead, it might be a symptom of more critical health concerns, such as hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT) (Scarano et al., 2013). Also, according to my research, it can be associated with changes in the external environment of an individual or increased exposure to stressors. What I think is said here is that the emergence of a beautiful person cannot be considered as such a significant change in the external environment that can cause a nosebleed. From this perspective, my stance is similar to that of researchers – such a phenomenon is rare in real life.

Nosebleed as a Sexual Representation in Anime

Based on the fact that nosebleed connected to sexual arousal is not a phenomenon that is frequently met in real life, it is evident that it is used as an iconographic symbol of sexual interest common only for Japanese anime. In general, there are several potential reasons for selecting nosebleed as a symbol of sexuality for anime. First of all, we can consider the format of anime. In the beginning, anime is drawn as a cartoon, which is an infantile form of art. It was drawn for the kids initially. Given this, such an infantile representation of sexual arousal as nosebleed is an appropriate choice (Moscato, 2017). I believe that the author wanted to say that no one could ever blame directors of excessive eroticism due to representing sexual arousal in such an innocent way.

Additionally, in Japanese anime, most of the focus is made on the emotional urge. Even though the plot often involves elements of physical desire and attraction, the symbol – nosebleed – is less sensitive compared to biological signs of arousal. It means that such a selection of iconographic symbols may be connected to the need for focusing on feelings and emotional expression rather than solely physiological demonstration.

More than that, it is close to impossible for the audience to perceive nosebleed as erotica or pornography. In this way, even though anime points to an increased degree of sexual liberation, Mitchell states that it still cannot become the subject of social frustration or discontent because arousal signs are indirect. I agree with what the author says because, personally, I cannot see any signs of lust or erotica in nosebleed regardless of the intended meaning of the symbol.

Finally, this selection of symbols may be connected with the specificities of sexual representation in Japanese culture. Sasaki (2013) points out that it has always been indirectly represented and vaguely, so there were only hints at sexuality, not direct. Therefore, what I think the author wanted to say is that the choice of nosebleed as a symbol of sexual excitement is culturally appropriate and corresponds with generally accepted social norms and beliefs. Because of the cultural appropriateness and relevance of this symbol, it is commonly used in anime. It is essential to note that there is a great variety of ways to represent nosebleed. This choice depends on the director’s vision and perception of sexuality. Furthermore, it may depend on the degree of sexual attraction to a person. That being said, there can be a few drops of blood, a slightly noticeable line of blood, or even a fountain.

Anime and Japanese Culture: Connections with Sexuality in Real Life

Anime is considered as a symbol of Japanese culture. For this reason, it has a significant impact on the formation of culture as well as common development in Japanese society. Still, the main issue with anime is that it shapes the perception of sexuality in Japanese culture. There are several reasons for pointing to this fact. First, think of the ways females are depicted in anime. They are commonly shown as hyper-sexualized girls. It is associated not only with the way they are dressed but also manners and facial expressions.

Aoyagi and Yuen warned that our modern ways of life are mediated, controlled, tamed, subordinated, indebted, and exploited by institutions that limit our ability to express what we are or what we want to be (Aoyagi et al., 2016). This shows that the description of women in anime will probably entail negative changes in females’ self-perception, as well as alter men’s views of women and their belief in physical beauty and sexuality. Anime has remained a fixture in Japanese popular culture, which means it’s a conveyor belt for values to each citizen. By receiving all those unhealthy information, there is a common trend toward turning women into an object of sexual desire (Lamerichs, 2013). As a result, women are seen as Lolitas – sweet girls with excessive sexual potential and demonstrating sexual liberation (Hinton, 2013).

Also, I believe this might pose additional stress on women because excessively cute women are perceived as adorable anime characters so that they are commonly seen as erotic objects that affect their lifestyle, behaviors, and even workplace relations (Aoyagi et al., 2016; Matanle et al., 2014). These changes in public perception of women are the example of more significant issues, such, as making empowerment questionable as well as reaffirming the necessity for women submissiveness and the preservation of traditional male-dominated society


Based on the opinions of scholars mentioned above, it is evident that nosebleed is an iconographic symbol of sexual arousal and excitement that is commonly deployed by directors of Japanese anime. Being infantile and indirect, it is appropriate for the Japanese culture commonly characterized by the relevance of indirectness in communication and art. However, there are still several issues with selecting such a symbol of physical attraction. The major matter of concern is the fact that it is not supported by real-life or scientific evidence.

In this way, it may deform the perception of adequate representation of sexual interest. What is worse, there are some issues with the description of women in anime. Shown as excessively sweet, cute, as well as hyper-sexualized, women become nothing more than an object of sexual desire. In view of this, such an image of women commonly entails negative changes in their self-perception, as women strive for turning into anime characters – ordinary emergence of subcultures. The same is true in case of altering men’s perception of women and their belief in attributes of physical beauty and sexuality. As a result, anime changes the image of sexuality in Japanese culture.


Aoyagi, H., & Yuen, S. M. (2016). When erotic meets cute: Erokawa and the public expression of female sexuality in contemporary Japan. East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, 2(1), 97-110.

Hinton, P. R. (2013). Returning in a different fashion: Culture, communication, and changing representations of Lolita in Japan and the West. International Journal of Communication, 7(1), 1582-1602.

Lamerichs, N. (2013). The cultural dynamic of doujinshi and cosplay: Local anime fandom in Japan, USA, and Europe. Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 10(1), 154-176.

Matanle, P., Ishiguro, K., & McCann, L. (2014). Popular culture and workplace gendering among varieties of capitalism: Working women and their representation in Japanese Manga. Gender, Work & Organization, 21(5), 472-489. doi:10.1111/gwao.12050

Mitchell, K. (2011). Sifting through blood: Grotesquery as culture in Post-WWII Japanese cinema. Kino: The Western Undergraduate Journal of Film Studies, 2(1), 1-6.

Moscato, D. (2017). . Journal of Communication Inquiry, 0(0 – Online first).

Sasaki, M. (2013). Gender ambiguity and liberation of female sexual desire in fantasy spaces of Shojo Manga and Shojo Subculture. Critical Theory and Social Justice, 3(1), 1-26.

Scarano, V., De Santis, S., Suppressa, P., Lastella, P., Lenato, G. M., Triggiani, V., & Sabbà, C. (2013). Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism associated with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. Case Reports in Endocrinology, 2013(2013), 1-4. doi:10.1155/2013/465376

Slaven, A. N. (2012). The Japanimated folktale: Analysis concerning the use and adaptation of folktale characteristics in anime.

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"Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography." IvyPanda, 6 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-anime-the-issues-of-sexual-iconography/.

1. IvyPanda. "Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-anime-the-issues-of-sexual-iconography/.


IvyPanda. "Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-anime-the-issues-of-sexual-iconography/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-anime-the-issues-of-sexual-iconography/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Japanese Anime: the Issues of Sexual Iconography'. 6 September.

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