Misconceptions about Japan
Japan is often a source of fascination among people around the world. Westerners love the idea of Japan as a crazy place that is completely divorced from anywhere else in the world, and news outlets overseas often emphasize these aspects of Japanese life and culture. However, a lot of these myths are misguided, half-truths, or simply flat-out untrue. Here are some aspects of life in Japan that foreigners often get wrong.
Japan is a technological utopia
There might have been a time when this was true. I wouldn’t know because I certainly wasn’t here when that was the case. I get the impression that, perhaps during Japan’s economic boom in the 80s and until the mid-90s, Japan had more advanced technologies in some departments, like cameras and mobile phones. Since then, however, I think Japan has fallen behind in most aspects. Credit cards were barely used until very recently, and if you go to an average Japanese office, you’ll see literal tons of paper scattered everywhere. It’s not uncommon for people to use fax machines still.
I will say, though, that Toto “washlets” (electronic bidets incorporated into the toilet) are a godsend. That’s one thing the rest of the world can learn from Japan. Keep your buttholes clean, everyone.
Japanese people have no babies
Well, this is more of a half-truth. It’s true that the Japanese fertility rate is rather low. The problem here is that Western media tends to focus on this aspect of the country, making it seem as if it’s particularly bad here, when most developed countries have similar or even lower fertility rates.
Japan ranks 16th in the list of countries with the lowest birth rates, and many others have similar numbers. My own home country, Spain, has a lower fertility rate than Japan. What is true is that Japan doesn’t have the same immigration numbers as other countries, so while some other nations still see population growth, Japan’s is shrinking. But why Western media loves to single out Japan when it comes to fertility rates is a mystery to me.
All Japanese people are always polite
I think people here confuse two different things: the Japanese customer service and business environment, and Japanese people at large. If you are a client or talking to a coworker, chances are you will be treated extremely well. Or rather, extremely politely.
Once you leave this environment, however, this is not always the case. People on crowded trains can be particularly rude, elbowing or pushing you for no reason. I was pushed by a random, middle-aged lady on the street just last week! And it’s far from the first time something like this has happened to me. This is still a small minority of people, mind you. Most people are just minding their business, and you will encounter genuinely nice people more often than rude people. And you’ll also find rude people in other big cities abroad. But if you live here, you’ll be the subject of aggression more often than you might think.
Japan is full of crazy businesses
This is another aspect that Western media loves to delve into. Japanese capsule hotels, robot hotels, robot cafes… Japanese people sure are crazy! Well, not really. The famous robot cafe in Shibuya was just one of many cafes, mostly frequented by tourists. The same with other businesses; they’re usually one among thousands, and most people have never been to them. There are some other services, like maid cafes, that are a bit more common and that we find odd abroad, but it’s still a small minority of people who frequent them. Most Japanese people work long hours and spend their free time unwinding at home or outside with their families. You know, like in most other countries.
Japan is expensive
This one might have been true at one time as well. After decades of basically zero inflation and zero salary growth, it’s simply not true anymore. In fact, Japan has become pretty cheap for many people overseas. You can eat out for about 500 yen, or less than four euros or dollars. Try finding a restaurant that is that cheap in Europe! Some things are more expensive compared to other countries, like hotels or transportation, but not insanely so. And as Japan’s economic growth continues to be anemic, the country will just keep becoming cheaper. Unfortunately, if you live here, it also means our salaries are getting lower, but that’s another story.
Japan is full of manga and anime nerds
I get the feeling some people abroad think all Japanese love anime. They come here, or meet a Japanese person abroad, and start talking about Dragon Ball as if Japanese people studied it at school. No, not all Japanese people are super-fans of anime. Obviously, Japanese media is more popular here, but the same goes for Japanese movies or books. The same goes for the media in other countries! It doesn’t mean everyone has a PhD in One Piece studies. For the love of God, don’t immediately start talking about your favourite anime with the first Japanese person you encounter.
Trains are always on time
I’m not sure where this one comes from, to be honest. I assume trains are not usually on time in some countries? Is it that strange that trains tend to be on time? Are trains always late in America, and are Americans the ones who started this myth? I wouldn’t know. I do know that trains here suffer from (minor) delays pretty regularly, and that trains back home are usually not any less punctual. In my experience, trains in my hometown are actually more punctual than those in Tokyo, while trains in London suffer more delays. But it’s not a night and day difference.
Granted, Tokyo has more trains and more passengers than any other city in the world, and that they keep to their schedules is impressive in and of itself. My hometown has six lines, and Tokyo… I don’t even know. I’m not going to count them. Maybe some other countries couldn’t manage the mayhem that is the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. All I know is that I don’t expect trains to be late in other countries either.
Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” firstname.lastname@example.org “, by all means contact me about anything!
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