The internet has manifested tons of Japanese stereotypes.
Japan pops up on the web a lot in headlines: “crazy X thing in Japan” “freaky X thing in Japan” “awesome new technology in Japan”. I admit that when I came to Japan, I had a few stereotypes in my head floating around. I was curious to see if they were true or not, and now I’m going to share my findings with you.
DISCLAIMER: This whole article is based on my own experiences, research, and speaking with various, completely random, natives. I am not the Mythbusters team and don’t have millions of dollars to extensively test all of these – and I doubt a conclusive yes or no could satisfy all of these anyway.
1 The Japanese are creepily polite. TRUE!
One thing you immediately notice in Japan is how freaking nice everyone is. Seriously, it’s sometimes to the point of feeling fake. Everyone smiles, waves, bows and tries SO HARD to help you if you need it.
I’m walking the long trek to the hostel from the train station with my backpack on – and it’s pouring. Whatever, I’m so hot it’s refreshing and my laptop safe. A woman stopped me and tried to hand me her umbrella. I shook my head and put my hands up “kekko desu, no thanks” but she shoved it at me, insisting. I took it from her and she had a huge grin on her face as she turned and walked away. I felt like I was in Totoro!
Another story: I went to a convenience store to make a purchase, and when I got to the check out, no one was there. No big deal…the cashier is at the back of the store stocking something in the refrigerated section. She sees me and runs, literally runs, to the front of the store to her station. She bows to me, and I can tell she is doing her best to cash me out as fast as possible as if the inconvenience of waiting 4 seconds was going to ruin my whole day.
I wish I would’ve had the language skills to comfort her. I wanted to be like “awww honey, calm down, it’s fine, we cool!” I’ve also had people apologize to me when I held the door open for them…WTF?
Japan’s train systems are insanely complex and I’ve had to ask for help many times. I’m like a drunk parrot or a broken record always saying “Michi ni mayoi mashita” or in English “I’m totally lost”.
Seriously guys, the public transit is hella intimidating to me – the most intricate I’ve ever seen in the 9 countries I’ve been to. I just said fuck it to even trying to find bus stops anymore – trains only for me. I’m going to start practicing the phrase “I need Catbus!”
While most of the Japanese don’t seem to speak English, boy do they do their damnedest to help me. Often times they’ll take my phone and pull out their own phone and do some sort of witchcraft before pointing me in the right direction. One girl on a train held my arm and pushed me when it was my stop to get off. Another time, a group of school girls waited at the bus stop with me until the right bus came. I’ve also had an old man take me to the information booth where he knew they would be able to speak English.
I have been totally blown away by the kindness and politeness that I’ve been shown so far in Japan. Even though it can seem fake to me sometimes, I believe it’s genuine.
2 The Japanese are an honor bound culture where it is common for citizens to commit “seppuku” (ritual suicide). FALSE!
Seppuku was considered an honorable death for Samurais throughout the history of Japan – which is why it’s often referenced. That is, until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which restored imperial rule to Japan. You’d think that this would increase the number of Samurais (imperial rule is, in short, a military focused way of ruling), but that was not the case.
Samurais, very contrary to the way they are depicted in America, were actually warriors contracted by individuals, organizations, or the government. They were equivalent to hitmen, body guards, or contract killers.
Under Emperor Meiji’s rule, all castes were consolidated. No more Samurais, everyone was on the same level whether you be a warrior or a merchant. Additionally, the Meiji restoration brought about the “Sword Hunt” of 1878 which banned swords from being carried.
There are still people who dress up as Samurais, but they’re basically like the knights at Medieval times (which I do love!).
In modern Japan, it is very rare (considered shocking even) for someone to commit Seppuku. That’s not to say that Japan doesn’t have a bit of a problem with suicide. While suicides have been declining, it’s still a cultural issue strongly caused by unemployment and social pressure that leads to depression. Then of course, there’s also Aokigahara, lest we forget the “suicide forest” (which I will be visiting later on the trip).
3 The Japanese are Pervs! Neither true nor false… no more than the rest of us, anyway. Mom, you might want to skip this section.
Sexuality in Japan is seeming very weird to me. Convenience stores have shelves of manga featuring girls with bigger boobs than my own (so we know it’s fake), and scantily dressed anime women are used for advertising in every city I’ve been to. There’s also plenty of sex shops – but the floors for women and men are divided.
I’ve seen essentially zero PDA, public baths are divided, and even in some hostels and hotels men and women sleep on different floors. On top of all that, there are even some train cars that are just for women.
Sure, tentacle porn is from Japan – and I can see why. Seriously, octopus is as common as chicken over here (didn’t Family Guy just do some sort of kinky chicken episode? Yes, it did). Hentai originated here. There are digital sex robots (that leads me to number 4). Prostitution is also legal here. I’ve passed several “entertainment hotels” that rent by the hour – for ‘a rest’, even though we all know what’s going on there. Isn’t that just like Las Vegas though?
I remember seeing a headline on the internet once “Japan has vending machines that sell used school girl panties”. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I haven’t see any yet, but have been looking.
I did some research on the topic and it seems like in the last few decades, the sale of used clothes and human fluids has been cracked down on a lot. Sorry boys, you can’t buy schoolgirl pee on the internet anymore. This market was encouraging young girls to get fake IDs (saying they were 18) so they could sell their clothes / body fluids and it turned into a market of child-abuse.
Mr. J.T Quigley of TechInAsia did some more in-depth research than I’ve had the balls to do. If you’d like to read more about the whole school-girl panty situation, you can do so here.
I don’t think the Japanese are a bunch of kinky fetish freaks. I think that just like all humans, they each probably have their own little thing unique to who they are as a person.
4 Japan is super futuristic because they freaking love technology. True!
Japan is filled with electronic shops! Particularly in Akihabara where I spent my first day in Tokyo. All throughout the country, Japan’s citizens are using their smart phones, apple watches, gameboy whatever-DS-we’re-on-now and taking photos with their tablets. Or giant cell phones…I’m not sure. I can’t imagine what type of chaos is going to ensue when Pokemon GO hits!
The Japanese seem to be very technology oriented. Hell, even their toilets are “tech-forward”. Major cities are packed with coffee-selling vending machines right next to the ‘place your order on this ATM style machine’.
The TVs are big, the lights are bright and the technology is rampant. Just wait until the sex robots take over the city.
5 The Japanese work like crazy. True!
There’s actually a word for it – Karoshi. It means “overworked death”. A combination of heart attack or stroke from stress, originating from a starvation diet, Karoshi is a phenomenon originally reported in Japan 1969, Japan still suffers over 200 deaths a year due to overwork.
Many of the older generations of Japanese work tons of unpaid overtime. Why? Mostly from societal pressure – only wimps use sick days and only lazy people use vacation days. Many people also feel uncomfortable or guilty if they go home before their bosses do – I admit I struggled with that one myself.
Outside of it being an issue on it’s own, Karoshi is starting to become a larger societal problem. Children see their parents working themselves like crazy, they’re never around, and they don’t want that life for themselves. This often leads them to find part time work to avoid the pressure of a career. People living this way are known as “freeters”.
The careers most commonly effected by Karoshi are “salarymen” (business men who work in offices, mostly international trading) and “OL” (office ladies – assistants and such). There is much concern that the freeters won’t be willing, or able, to step up to the plate -leading to an economic issue rather than just a societal one.
The young people who do choose to work in these fields aren’t helping the societal problem. They work so much it’s hard to find time to date, get married or raise a family – Japan’s population has been on the decline since 2006 and it still hasn’t bounced back.
Learning about Karoshi does make me feel appreciative for the benefits we have in America – though we still have a bit of a workaholic problem ourselves. I came here thinking this problem wasn’t still an ongoing thing, but it’s still very much alive and yet, keeping people from truly living.