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I’ve grown up on anime, and with unrelated Japanese family. I very much admire their culture and just want to know if it would be culturally offensive if I used a Japanese pen-name (Kumo Espinosa) just because I like it. I just want to make sure I’m doing the right thing as an aspiring manga-ka. I don’t want to end up like C.B. Cebulski, although my reasons for wanting to do so are nothing like his. Just asking for advice. Btw I’m not trying to pose as the opposite gender or create an alter-ego. I’m Mexican/black btw.

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    @Galastel Cebulski is the editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, and there was a controversy a couple of years ago when it emerged he'd been pretending to be a Japanese man named Akira Yoshida in order to write Japan-themed stories for Marvel. It wasn't just a pseudonym, he pretended Yoshida was a whole other person, and got away with it for about fifteen years. – F1Krazy Jun 8 '19 at 10:16
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    According to Wikipedia, there were "accusations of cultural appropriation and yellowfacing because of the stereotypical tropes Cebulski employed in his Yoshida stories, such as ninjas, samurai and yakuza". Basically, he was writing about what he fantasised Japan being like, and not what it's actually like. – F1Krazy Jun 8 '19 at 10:36
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    @F1Krazy I still don't get it. Lord of Light is not what India is like, and Dune is not what the Middle East is like - they're fantasised versions thereof. Anything with knights in it is not an accurate depiction of the European Middle Ages, but a fantasised version thereof. Is the difference that they never pretend to be otherwise? (BTW, how do we move this discussion to chat? It's stopped being even marginally on topic here.) – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jun 8 '19 at 10:52
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    @Galastel, people argue that using stereotypes of other cultures, especially of minorities, is harmful. Especially with Asia the criticism is usually "exotism", portraying Asia as otherworldly and strange, thus dehumanizing the people living there. There is a point to it because that is exactly what happened in colonial times, and a lot of our culture has not changed as much as one would think since then. "Cultural appropriation" as a criticism, however, I don't really get. The argument is that you "steal" another country's culture and "whitewash" it as you make it your own. – PoorYorick Jun 8 '19 at 12:56
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    @Galastel No. But imagine this: an author who uses a name people would consider Jewish, wears a Star of David, and who says they're descended from Holocaust survivors, who writes a book about the Holocaust. Any non-Jew can write about the Holocaust and that's okay. But if one pretended to be Jewish (and made up family history) for the sake of the book, that is pretty offensive. I'm not claiming that the situation in the question is like this, but I'm giving you a more extreme example in hopes that you understand why things like this can be problematic. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 8 '19 at 17:42
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if it would be culturally offensive if I used a Japanese pen-name (Kumo Espinosa) just because I like it.

If their attitude about Westerners wearing kimono (see this interview with natives) is anything to go by, I'd say absolutely not. I've asked some natives, and they said the same thing, "don't worry".

Besides, since you said you're an aspiring mangaka, bear in mind that your target audience is extremely hostile to political correctness. I'm sure you know how many times Western fans got mad at localization teams for changing/censoring products released on the Western market. They will be the last people to complain, and the last people to care about reviews that chastise you for "cultural appropriation".

In fact, if you were to generate controversy, you'd only get your target audience interested in the product (see the popularity of Goblin Slayer and Rising Of The Shield Hero).

Of course, purists will always exist in any culture. Westerners have people who enforce political correctness, and I'm sure Japan has its share of people who think that Japanese culture is not to be watered down by those damn gaijin. But those people are the vocal minority, and the only power they have, is the power other people give them.

The only case in which it could be problematic is if you use a pen name that sounds like a genuine Japanese name, like "Fujiko Fujio". But that's more for legal reasons such as accidental impersonation, than political correctness.

Since I've never heard "Kumo" (as in "cloud" or "spider"?) being used as a given name, you should definitely be fine if you use it as a pen name. Some Japanese authors use English pen names too: Kazuhiko Katō (the creator of Lupin III) uses an English pen name, Monkey Punch.

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  • Thanks! This was just the kind of answer I needed. It’s both positive and informative. – Anonymous Jun 10 '19 at 21:54
  • You asked the natives if it was offensive to use a Japanese pen name if your not of Japanese descent? – Anonymous Jun 10 '19 at 22:06
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    -1 I don't necessarily think your overall advice is wrong, but you're not addressing any of the real or valid concerns from the original question. You're just dismissing them as PC nonsense in a way that suggests you don't actually understand them. I find this answer falsely reassuring. It would be more defensible if you at least tried to address the reasons this might be problematic (even if you ultimately find them unpersuasive). – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 11 '19 at 14:30
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There was a story a while back on the internet. Some little girl had a Japanese themed sleepover. Everyone wore kimonos and other things like that. The internet went all crazy. People called it cultural appropriation.

Then actual Japanese people weighted in on the topic. Everyone said that in Japan there is no concept of cultural appropriation. it brings honor to their culture to have other cultures imitate it or enjoy aspects of it.

The problem is what is the moral of this story. To me it seems like doing what you want would not offend actual Japanese people, but that does not mean you are not going to draw negative attention from social justice warriors.

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    +1 for that second paragraph. Surprisingly often enogh the ones screaming about appropriation have nothing to do with the culture that is being "appropriated". – NofP Jun 9 '19 at 19:11
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    @NofP That’s very true. – Anonymous Jun 10 '19 at 21:54
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    You don't have to be a "social justice warrior" to have legitimate concerns about cultural appropriation. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 11 '19 at 16:19
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    @ChrisSunami Legitimate being the key word. Clearly As described in the story above people were a lot more interested about yelling than the legitimacy of what they were yelling about. – Andrey Jun 11 '19 at 18:18
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Since so many people are falling over themselves to reassure you, I thought it was worth taking the time to examine the real costs of this move --not necessarily to advise you against it, but to make sure you understand it. I'm not necessarily someone who gets in a panic about cultural appropriation, but there are some definite downsides, ones which it might be easier to dramatize than to just explain. You describe your cultural background as black/Mexican (mine is black/Japanese). Picture this scenario:

You go to a bookstore, and find a new book, in your favorite genre, by an author with a very characteristically Mexican name. You're very excited to see it, and to experience this author's take on your chosen genre. When you read the book, it's initially gratifying to finally find a lead character in this genre you can actually identify with. But as you continue through the book, something strikes you as very off. The characters don't act the way your Mexican family members do. A lot of their behaviors seem really stereotypical. Their homelife seems shallow. There are negative aspects to them that would bother you --if the author wasn't himself Mexican. Yet you keep slogging though, even as you start to question your own understanding of Mexican culture. But then you get to the end. You find out the author is actually Danish. He describes himself as a lifelong lover of Mexican culture, but he's never been to Mexico. After a little research, you find all the people who are praising the book and its "authenticity" are also Danish...

I get the desire for a cool pen name, and if your intent isn't to fool people --and "Kumo Espinosa" doesn't sound like name intended to deceive-- that's pretty harmless. But keep in mind we're in a climate right now where authenticity is prized and #OwnVoices is what agents and publishers are looking for. The whole thing about cultural appropriation is that --most of the time! --people from outside the culture just plain get it wrong and often in really bad and harmful ways. Not that it isn't possible to do it right and respectfully and well, but that the percentages aren't that good.

Not to put you in any kind of box you don't want to be in, but have you considered a cool pen name that celebrates your actual heritage? Think how successful Aaron McGruder was, just by bringing his love of anime to bear on his own cultural viewpoint. He didn't have to rebrand himself as Akira McGruder in order to succeed.

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  • Yes, but you are kind of straying away from the topic here. I never asked if it would be offensive to write a book inspired by or on their culture. – Anonymous Aug 5 '19 at 1:49
  • “Have you considered a cool pen name that celebrates your actual heritage?" It’s not about celebrating my heritage, it’s about following my dreams and being cautious so I do not hurt others. – Anonymous Aug 5 '19 at 1:57
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    @Anonymous You asked about creating a manga under a Japanese pen name, which certainly could a) give the impression that you are a Japanese person presenting something with origins in Japanese culture OR b) give the impression that you are TRYING to make people think (a). // I never said anything about this being "offensive". // You asked for cautions, but it seems like all you really wanted was reassurances. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Aug 5 '19 at 15:10
  • Marches right off-topic and counter-questions the OP. This whole answer should be a comment. – user19004 Aug 6 '19 at 5:09
  • This is hands-down the best answer. Sometimes helpful feedback doesn't tell you what you want to hear. – user49466 Aug 7 '19 at 3:23
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It will be offensive to some people, and it will be completely fine for others.

From my understanding, Asian Americans tend to look down on this kind of stuff more than the ones living in Asia. In Japan, spoofing or appropriating Western culture is very common and not seen as controversial. I am pretty sure that only a minority of Japanese people in Japan would find it controversial that you use a Japanese pseudonym. (They might ridicule you for the name you chose and for any mistakes you make, however - for example, I'm not sure if it is right for you to call yourself Kumo-san. Isn't that a title that you have to earn? But I'm no expert on this.)

That said, you are probably living in America and might want to publish your stories there. So the opinion of young Asian Americans might be more relevant to your case. And if that opinion is that it is an inappropriate pseudonym, you might run into troubles especially if people start a shitstorm against you for cultural appropriation. This could potentially end badly.

C.B. Cebulski is an odd choice of comparison - as far as I can tell, he seems to be doing fine, and posing as an Asian author might have helped his career immensely. I would be more worried that in this day and age, something like that simply would not fly anymore. Publishers, who have to be mindful of the public opinion, might tell you that they won't touch your work if they fear a public backlash.

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  • So you could say it's "problematic"...? – wetcircuit Jun 8 '19 at 10:46
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    Yes, in this case, this is an accurate description of what I am writing. "Controversial" would be my preferred choice of words, however, because my point is less "don't do it" and more "be aware of the problems it might cause". – PoorYorick Jun 8 '19 at 10:55
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While the other answers posted here are fairly informative, I'd like to chime in with some actual cultural missteps you might be making unknowingly from a linguistics point of view in the actual industry.

Firstly, it's good that you realized you should omit the 'san' from your pen-name from your edit to the original question. It's a fairly common mistake made by students, since you should seldom refer to yourself with a suffix unless you want to sound presumptious (俺様 or whatnot).

Which brings me to the next point: you might also want to consider the usage of mangaka as a title. I know you're saying you're aspiring to be one, but just as a word of caution.

This excerpt summarizes why, in general, it's a sort of title imposed on you by others and not yourself.

So to sum up, according to people who speak and understand Japanese and are familiar with how Japanese manga artists refer to themselves, “mangaka” is a honorary/exalted title, reserved for people who are recognized, professional masters of the craft, and a title that manga artists, even the most respected and celebrated pro manga artists have a hard time referring to themselves as such.

This is why it sounds odd to people who understand the term “mangaka” in the context of how it's used in Japan to see people who are not professional artists, much less any comics creator of any level or without a list of published works to their name refer to themselves as “mangaka.”

Otherwise, why not? It might be a little odd I guess, but you're free to use a pseudonym you like. There are even artists that use their foreign name in publishing in Japan with no problem, too. (They might even stand out because they don't have a Japanese-sounding name)

As others have already mentioned, you probably want to evaluate the risks in doing so and consider where you want to publish your works, though.

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I am Japanese by blood. I am not a native of Japan and it does not offend me. I think you should be good, but also you have to discuss these things with a lawyer. They will help you find the best way to do what you want to do. Like others say, it will offend some, and some are gonna be fine with it (like me). And I do not, or would not antagonize those who disagree with you. They have own opinions and beliefs. At end of the day, you respect them and I'm sure they respect you and all will be good. Agree to disagree!

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As a general rule, the Japanese like seeing foreigners partake in cultural elements of Japanese Culture (they welcome Cultural Appropriation) and are very polite to a western who commits a faus pax while engaging in Japanese culture norms (i.e. When in Tokyo, I frequently would not eat every grain of rice served (considered very rude) to me because my chopstick skills were not that great (but quite good for a westerner as I had an early introduction from Chinese family by marriage who owned an upscale Chines Restaurant). However, they did not treat me as if I had been rude because every time I was offered, I refused Western utensils. Westerners who attempt and fail are generally still appreciated for at least trying.

That said, the Japanese do not extend this grace to people of Asian descent regardless of background as they assume they are Japanese and should know better. Even if the person was born and raised in the U.S. It's not helped that the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese have some deep seated animosity towards each other (WWII is popularly blamed but some of the gripes predate Imperial Japan's war crimes).

So while using a psuedoname in writing magna might not be offensive, it would make the uninformed reader assume you are Japanese and any cultural misstep might not be forgiven as if you used a western name, where the assumption is you are an American who doesn't know, but at least is trying to show some respect (Even if you're not an American, Japan assumes most people of European and African descent are Americans. Americans are the largest group of foreign nationals residing in Japan by a large margin, and the nation's population is about 80-90% ethnic Japanese.

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  • Do you think there would be any way to inform them that I’m am not of Japanese descent, so they don’t end up offended? – Anonymous Aug 5 '19 at 2:06

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