Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Top Ten Japanese Misconceptions

I've been living here in Japan for 15 years now and I always get a good crack up when I talk to my fellow Americans about Japanese culture and customs. I've written up a top ten list of Japanese misconceptions:

10. Japanese people are worried about "saving face" - I have never even heard a Japanese person use that expression. Japanese people are just like the rest of us and pretty much want to get ahead and could give a flying crap about how people perceive them. The Japanese do however hate to be embarrassed and try to avoid situations that may lead the an embarrassing outcome. Still, the concept that the Japanese are more concerned than the rest of us about how they are perceived is news to me.

9. Japanese women are submissive. Ha! My wife would kick my ass if I tried to make her do some kind of mystical oriental sex technique on me. 99.9 percent of married women do the finances and make the decisions around the house. Granted most married Japanese women don't work but they don't take orders from anyone. Submissive? Don't make me laugh.

8. Japanese guys all know Karate. Ha! I've never even met a Japanese cat who knows Karate. Judo is definitely a better bet because they have a Judo team in high school. Kung Fu is Chinese by the way as well as Bruce Lee.

7. Japanese people have a better appreciation of nature - Oh yeah right! You couldn't find a blade of grass anywhere in this country. Or a natural beach for that matter. Japan is completely paved over. Japanese people like to tell you that they have a special appreciation of nature but it is a bunch of crap. I will say however that Japanese people do keep the place clean. You would be pretty hard pressed to find any garbage anywhere in this country but everything has to be paved over first. Safe and clean, but far from natural.

6. Most people in Japan speak and understand English - No way. Japanese and white Americans are similar in this way. Neither speak a language other than their native tongue. I hear it a lot; "It must have been a big adjustment living in Japan. But most Japanese people speak English right?" Wrong. Although it is true that all Japanese kids start studying English in middle school, they never learn how to speak it. They don't have any desire to do so. The reason is pretty simple: they don't need to, every expensive hotel anywhere in the world caters to the Japanese and has someone who speaks Japanese for them. English and Japanese would seem to be the international hotel language. When you have a bunch of cash, you don't need to be bilingual. Go to Taiwan for example and it seems most everybody speaks a few languages.

5. Japanese, Chinese and Koreans are all pretty much the same - If you believe this you deserve a slap in the head. Geographically, spiritually, culturally completely different. The only thing Japanese have in common with the Chinese is that they borrowed the Chinese characters (known in Japanese as Kanji) ages ago and not until the Heian period (794-1185) did they start developing their own written language. Even though they borrowed Chinese characters a few thousand years ago, the spoken language is completely different. Japan, compared to their Chinese neighbor is tiny, a tiny island or actuall a series of islands, and completely safe and clean. If I had only one thing to say about Japan and nothing else, I would tell you the it is the only place in Asia where it is safe to drink the water. The Chinese and Koreans hate the Japanese for the most part because they have yet to make amends for World War II where China and Korea paid the price for Japanese aggression. Japanese culture was outlawed in Korea until recently but have been enjoying cross cultural exchanges lately. There is a decent sized hall inside the Japanese embassy in Seoul because that was the only place you could hear live Japanese music in Korea at one time (I know because I played there once as a guest of Japan). Although the Japanese love Chinese and Korean food, Japanese food is completely different. Delicate I suppose with the lack garlic and strong spices. Different in every way, don't confuse Japan with its neighbors.

4. Japanese people are all spiritual - You're killing me here. It is pretty much standard behavior for a Japanese person to have a Christian wedding and a Buddhist or Shinto funeral. Japanese people all generally have a formal religion (actually two of them) but are by nature Atheists. But, one thing I will give credit to the Japanese for is that for a bunch of Atheists they have managed to keep their country relatively safe and as a whole the Japanese are pretty scrupulous people. Americans tend to believe in God more and live by his rules less. Japanese tend to follow the rules of their religions and both Buddhism and Shinto do play a part in society but it is more of a tradition more so than a spiritual belief and most Japanese do not believe in a God or spirit or afterlife, heaven or hell. Regardless, I have traveled all over the world and can say honestly that Japan is the safest country I have ever been to. So much for Religion.

3. Japanese chicks are hot for foreign guys - Nope. Sorry, there are some women who like foreign guys but most of them would never marry you. The Japanese women who would marry a foreign guy usually are the ones who want to have careers of their own. Most Japanese women have little interest in working after they are married and most parents would forbid their daughters to marry a gaijin or foreigner anyways. Also, Japanese women hate hairy men. Second, they hate muscles, they prefer men that pluck their eyebrows. Granted they do enjoy the manners of Western men who tend to pull out chairs and open doors for them unlike their Japanese boyfriends. But all and all they find foreign men more of a nuisance than anything else.

2. Japan is too expensive to live a normal life - This has changed in the last fifteen years that I have been here. True, it isn't an inexpensive country but take it from someone who lives in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, Los Angeles is more expensive. Japan has gone through deflation for as long as I have been here and I have slowly watched prices come down. I remember thinking American guitars were out of hand back when I first got here but now it is about the same. Rent is expensive but so is the rent in LA. Both Tokyo and Los Angeles sport about $2,000 a month price tags for a two bedroom in a good area. Rent is cheap in the suburbs, maybe an hour out of Tokyo. Food will set you back a little more here in Tokyo, especially the price of produce but you can still find a health Japanese lunch for about four bucks. You also have to remember that you don't need a car to get around in Tokyo and most companies pay your transportation fees. Also, everybody is on the national health care system so health care is cheap. Property is more expensive in Los Angeles thanks to the Fed. Granted it is safe to assume that per square meter, Japan is more expensive but considering that a condo in LA is 500 grand you have to be making some cash to buy your own place. A slightly smaller place in Tokyo would set you back less. I'm not sure what the statistics are but take it from someone living in both cities, Los Angeles is a money black hole, especially considering that you can make more money in Tokyo and you a guaranteed a bonus two times a year and severance whether you quit or get fired.

1. Japanese put soy sauce on everything - This is one of my pet peeves regarding Americans. Anytime I go out to eat Japanese cuisine in the states, I always get grossed out by the way Americans insist on putting soy sauce in their rice. In Japan I have never seen any Japanese people do this. I think the only reason they put soy sauce on the table on Japanese restaurants in the states is because Americans keep asking for it. The trick with eating Japanese food is balancing out the rich flavor of certain foods with the white rice. Even with Sushi, you are supposed to sort of brush the fish side of the Sushi in the soy sauce, not the rice side. And Sushi and Sashimi, is one of the few foods that you actually put soy sauce on. Japanese tend to cook with soy sauce but it doesn't get too much attention other wise. So see if you can lay off the soy sauce or at least refrain from drowning your rice in it, the cook is peaking out of the kitchen laughing.

Links

2 comments:

aimlessincanada said...

some pretty powerful insight! i'm more than inclined to agree with you, but you might want to dig a little deeper in what it means to be submissive... north americans are still living in the misconception that this an equal society, too, when a lot of men and women might be disinclined to agree! nevertheless, i'm enjoying reading your blog. cheers from a japan expat.

cj said...

nice blog!