Oh my God, are you going to Japan? The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha are my favorite movies! Just don’t get too involved with some manga looking Japanese hottie, okay? Oh and take care with what you eat, I heard radiation poisoning is huge over there, okay?
Ever been told anything like this?
Any foreigner traveling or moving to Japan has most likely been asked these kinds of questions at least once. From friends to relatives, and for anyone who doesn’t know much about Japan, the place is somewhat a fantasy realm made of Fuji mountains, cherry trees and nuke plants, populated by anime geeks, samurais showing off their katanas at street corners and geishas shyly turning their back at you on a narrow Kyoto street.
It’s said that the less you know a place the more you will be inclined to mystify it. Stereotypes are just that: the way our mind puts together everybody-knows-that kind or information, and makes up the rest, due to lack of thorough knowledge.
Throughout the years, I have encountered many misconceptions about the Japan, and some of them have been downright ridiculous. Here are the 5 most absurdly ridiculous things people have said to me:
No, I’m sorry to disappoint you all but the only way to see a Samurai in nowadays Japan is in a museum or in pictures and graves. No, there’s no Tom Cruise running around in his samurai suit(you can see him on a lot of commercials on TV though). Also the katanas are safely sheathed and waiting for some rich foreign tourist to buy them in some souvenir shop.
Also, have you checked any pictures of Tokyo lately, with all the sky scrapers and everything? No, the Japanese don’t live in wooden houses anymore, they discovered bricks, steel and concrete and as far as I can see they are pretty good at using them.
Now, not to disappoint anyone, as there is still a lot of tradition left in Japan. Old wooden houses are still there standing for anyone to see, and most Japanese households preserve traditional features as tatami rooms and fusumas no matter how occidental their apartment looks like.
And yes, with some luck (and only in Kyoto) you might actually catch a glimpse of a maiko(geisha apprentice). Some of them even take pictures with the tourists. Maikos and geishas still exist but the whole “business” is so underground -and with such deep connections- that you can barely see it on the streets.
They do eat rice, but you know what else they eat? Pretty much everything! From noodles to bread, from huge steaks to sushi, from chips to spaghetti!
Unless you traveled to post-war Japan in the 50s, you cannot possibly imagine that present day Japanese people survive on rice.
But it is indeed served with most food – unless you’re eating Italian or French and only in Japan you can find more people who eat onigiri rice balls than sandwiches, and buy rice bread rather than regular ones.
Japan is after all a rice country and it will never change, but this doesn’t make Japanese people turn into some rice junkies. To say that it would be even an insult to all yakisoba, ramen, udon yakiniku, yakitori and God knows how many other tasty non-rice dishes you can find in Japan.
Take a look below( I am already drooling)
And if you’re wondering if the foods are radioactive, think again. According to a 2013 study, radiation from the Fukushima nuke plant that spread all over Japan in 2011 has almost wore off, though still present in oceanic and lake water. I am not saying radiation is completely gone or that it cannot affect you at all. I am just saying that in Japan you can easily buy a Geiger meter and receive preventive medicine for radiation poisoning. And I’m also saying that I’ve seen more healthy elder Japanese people than I’ve seen European or American. So one would say, it’s not only about radiation; it’s about lifestyle.
I can name at least 100 people who don’t but anyway… And have you ever thought of the rice farmers in secluded areas? Yeah, I’m pretty sure they’re so hooked up on “Attack on Titan”.
The anime boom in Europe/Asia and the US in the past 2 decades made manga (and anime) probably the best-selling international cultural product of all times.
But what if I told you that all the obsessions with Japanese anime and manga is mostly limited to foreigners? What if most of the otakus are actually foreigners?
That doesn’t mean there are no Japanese otaku. They are there, otherwise Akihabara wouldn’t be able to thrive only on the products foreigners would buy every now and then.
There are also people(young and old) who read mangas on trains and people who actually watch anime on TV.
But to generalize and say that ALL Japanese LOVE to do that is no different than saying that all French have a croissant for breakfast, and all Americans love burgers.
Ok, the latter might actually be true.
Anyway, if you are a true otaku and expect all Japanese to know what your favorite character did on the last episode, and what cosplay is cool these days, then you’re going to have a huge shock, because as weird as it may seem, the country that created the anime boom is not actually that addicted to it.
Now this is a myth I like because there are both true and false parts about it and what’s more annoying is that we can’t even prove it’s just a stereotype.
Japan is well known for its businessmen who would even sleep at work if that’s what it takes to have a task accomplished and for the sake of the company. It’s also known for the fact that same businessmen would most likely neglect their families for the sake of the kaisha. And it’s no secret that companies are considered a second home, where people spend more time than in their actual house.
Now, do all the above make the average Japanese a work slave? No, first of all because slaves don’t receive payment and salaries in Japan are well above average. Secondly, the average Japanese corporation regulates the 5 day work week (shuumatsu futsuka seido ) with 2 days off (Saturday and Sunday). Also, the schedule in most companies is the average 09:00-17:00/18:00 with one hour lunch break and a total of around 40 hours overtime each month.
Sounds pretty legal right?
With all the “deaths by exhaustion” karoushi in the last decades, the companies had to reduce overtime and to ensure better work conditions. In other words, the working climate in Japan is not so different nowadays than the one in any other civilized country around the world.
Now, going back to why this stereotype annoys me. The rules above apply to all companies all over Japan, but the law also allows them to play with overtimes and working days, due to several loopholes. I have friends working in corporations in Japan who haven’t had a free weekend in months, and who never finish work before 21:00 every day. And what’s more, this is not because the company forces them to stay over time, but because they need to finish their tasks.
So, are Japanese actually work slaves?
My next question is… Aren’t we all? We, young people working for corporations, working late to finish our tasks, or to accomplish something or to have a project finally take off. At the end of the day, we are all on the same boat.
Japanese are workaholics, probably more than the rest of the world, because they have a higher degree of involvement and responsibility towards the task they are supposed to handle.
On the other hand, take a look at the huge number of the so-called “parasites”, young people in their late 20s early 30s refusing to work and living on their parents expense, just because they don’t want to become part of the system. One would say there is definitely something wrong with a system, that only offers two options: a life of work( read workaholic) or being an outsider(with no will to work whatsoever). But this is a subject for another time.
Following the argument on number 4, you’d think that with all that work, the Japanese might be filthy rich. Now, let’s take a look at some figures.
An average college graduate receives at first employment roughly around 1800-2200 USD. The contracts are usually permanent so you basically don’t have to worry about finding another job for the rest of your life.
How much is 1800-2200 USD a month? It’s not much but it’s quite a lot compared to what other countries offer to their entry level employees. Also, don’t forget that most respectable Japanese companies offer a “dorm” until the age of 30, and reimburse all the commuting expenses to their workers.
What’s more, you will get a salary evaluation/raise and bonus every 6 months. If you do the math by the age of 30, an average Japanese will have a monthly income of around 4000-5000 USD.
Which is definitely not little money.
Now let’s think about the promotion system in Japan compared to the rest of the world. In a traditional Japanese company you can spend even 10 years in the same position. You will have to accept the supremacy of those older (not necessarily more capable) than you. And you will have to wait for a promotion and a consistent raise until you’re around 40. Sounds a bit harsh right? In Europe or the US once you gathered enough experience for a position you can easily start as a manager and with a salary way above average.
So, are Japanese people rich? Yes and no. Rich enough to afford owning a house, a car and sustaining their family. No, because this so-called “rich” is a middle level wealthiness. And even the “filthy rich” J-pop stars, talents or actors will not show their wealth in your face because moderation is the key and people should all be(or at least feel) equal.
No, they don’t.
Please take a look at the map and note that Japan and China are two distinct countries, with distinct writing systems, languages and cultures. The only thing these languages have in common is the characters, the kanji , which although extremely different still make it possible for a Japanese adult to decipher at least 60% of Chinese writing, and vice versa.
I was asked countless times by people who didn’t know much about Japan, if I also speak Chinese, since I lived there. I tried to remind them that there means Japan, not China, and no, they don’t speak the same language. Not at all.
This is my list of top 5 most annoying stereotypes about Japan, most heard in European societies. Which ones are yours?