Type: Character Cliché
What made it popular: Japanese Culture
Cliché Level: Extremely High
Where can you find it: Shuffle, School Days, Naruto, Ranma 1/2, Gundam Seed, Highschool of the Dead, Bleach, Highschool DxD, Toradora, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Sekirei, Inuyasha, Mai Hime etc.
Yamato is a poetic way of referring to Japan, while Nadeshiko is a flower that grows in the Japanese highlands. Yamato Nadeshiko together can mean “Flower of Japan” in loose, lazy translation, but what it really refers to is the ideal woman, the epitome of feminine beauty and grace. Yes, as you may have heard already, Yamato Nadeshiko is the idealized Japanese woman that was established around the Meiji Restoration, meaning 19th century Japan.
The Yamato Nadeshiko appearance wise generally have long, black hair styled into a Hime cut (see picture above), but in anime the hair colour can also be shades of blue. They should be of medium height, pale-skinned, modestly endowed, beautiful but not unrealistic or lewd, they also should have clear and calming voices. The Yamato Nadeshiko ideally dresses in adult, traditional fashion, preferably in a Kimono.
Personality wise the Yamato Nadeshiko heavily draws from Confucian woman ideal. In case you don’t know anything about Confucianism, let me give you a quick summary. Confucianism is philosophy/religion that originated from China from the ancient philosopher known in the West simply as Confucius who lived around 500 B.C.
Confucianism, along with Taoism and Buddhism are one of the 3 biggest cultural and religious influences on the Islands of Japan, which affects their culture and behavior even to this day. (Reading up on these 3 philosophies/religions will help you see anime and Asian media in a completely new light, and generally give you a lot of meta knowledge and additional understanding.)
Anyway Confucianism is a very traditional and conservative philosophy, that stems from the fact that Confucius believed that humanity’s golden age, was in the past, and seeking to return to the past is the only way to stop the process of human degradation. Confucius emphasized the duties within the unit of the family, the duty of the father, the mother, the son etc. Each having their unique roles and duties.
The most important personality traits of the Yamato Nadeshiko is her unwavering loyalty, sense of duty and caring, motherly nature. The ideal Japanese Woman places the well being of her family, husband and children over her own interests and generally respects authority figures, be that the government, or the husband in the family. Other virtues include domestic ability, humility, maturity and wisdom.
In anime this typically makes the Yamato Nadeshiko a submissive character, especially towards her love interest and her family.
But this by no means mean that the Yamato Nadeshiko must be a weak character. In fact a good Yamato Nadeshiko should be like a fierce bear mother who will protect and defend her family at all costs should danger arise, even if she has to commit crimes or other heinous acts to fulfill that goal.
You might be wondering how a Yamato Nadeshiko would protect anyone, seeing I didn’t describe her as the most menacing character type. The answer to that is that Yamato Nadeshiko are also usually Onna Bugeisha (Female Weapons Master), who have more than enough training and weapons to protect the ones they care about. The reasons for this combination is also cultural. Before the feudal caste system was abolished, Yamato Nadeshiko were typically daughters of samurai caste, who were taught in the arts of war, literature and martial arts, most commonly trained in the mastery of a Naginata or a Bow.
After the feudal classes were dissolved, the samurai families essentially became middle class rich people, but their daughters retained the same skills, charm, elegance and virtues that they were taught in the old era. And when these daughters would marry a man, tales of the Yamato Nadeshiko would spread far and wide.
However please note that this combination is not always used, the Yamato Nadeshiko doesn’t necessarily have to be an Ojou-sama or an Onna Bugeisha, this cliché mostly refers to personality, virtues and behavior more than anything else.
Why its bad:
I have the same problems with the Yamato Nadeshiko as with the DereDere. Meaning she is certainly excellent wife material, but that does not make her an interesting or even well written character in fiction, as they are rarely done right. Unfortunately due to their passive and submissive nature, they rarely ever influence or change the story by themselves, instead they just follow after the love interest or whoever is in charge/authority. It is also not uncommon for Yamato Nadeshiko to “get left behind” as the story spirals out of control and the focus is placed on the more active characters.
This cliché is easily in the top 5 of the most frequently used female character types, as you can easily find her in several hundred anime, across multiple time periods. It is only outdone in cliché levels by character types like the Tsundere and the Dandere. In harem and fanservice anime, it is very common, and even obligatory to have a Yamato Nadeshiko present, making her sort of token character on the harem check list. Outside of harems the Yamato Nadeshiko are one the most frequent “winners” of love triangles in romance anime.
If the Yamato Nadeshiko is the main heroine/love interest: Due to her nature and personality, more often than not, the Yamato Nadeshiko is a target of some drama or victimization, which you can see coming from miles away simply due to her being what she is in a given setting and theme. This drama is usually a choice type where for example she would have to disobey her father or family in order to get together with her love interest or ordeals such as choosing duty over love, or love over duty.
This would be fine by itself, if it were not for the fact that the Yamato Nadeshiko simply cannot choose due to the conflicting emotions and ideas in such matters since both of those things are to be valued to the archetypical Yamato Nadeshiko. So what they tend to do is simply sit in the house, depressed and wait for the protagonist to do something, which usually equates to him confronting her father and similar actions that move the plot forward. Yeah, not very exciting.
And another thing to note is that if they fail to add in the steel and willpower that is usually present in Onna Bugeisha, then the Yamato Nadeshiko becomes little more than a Yes (Wo)Man to her love interest, father, family or authority figure.
Also I personally don’t really find her to be that interesting or even relatable, as she is generally rigid, silent and way too well mannered and proper, which is also something that can frequently make her feel highly out of place depending on the setting. For example Yamato Nadeshiko are always this ‘alien’ or ‘outsider’ type of character in High School Settings that everyone just admires from a distance and few can get close to.