10 Common Misconceptions About Japanese People
Japanese American blogger Lisa Shoreland of Go college provides fascinating insight into Japanese culture in the following guest post where she explores the common misconceptions that Westerners have about Japanese people. Born and raised in Hiroshima to an American father and Japanese mother, Lisa shares with us her top 10 list of mistaken beliefs about Japanese people based upon her own personal encounter.
My life is full of contradictions. My dad’s a US Marine and my mom’s a Hiroshima survivor. I was raised in Japan and went to college in America, and both times hated where I was. The following are 10 more contradictions in response to questions most commonly and carelessly thrown at in my direction by westerners.
Everyone watches anime. Maybe as little kids everyone watches anime, the way American kids grow up watching SpongeBob. Usually, kids stop watching anime and start reading manga, which is socially accepted even among adults in Japan. Like some American comic books, Japanese manga can deal with serious and realistic issues as well as get pretty violent (and sexy). Still, not everyone reads manga. Fanatics of anime or manga are treated in Japan much like they are in other countries—with neglect. In English speaking countries, they’re called nerds or losers; in Japan, they’re called otaku.
Japanese people are still angry about WWII and would plot the next Pearl Harbor in a heartbeat. Most Japanese I’ve known love western culture or at least show more interest in and respect for it than I’ve seen Americans show for Japanese culture (except for yuppies in Whole Foods). When I first got to America at age 19, speaking fluent English, a store clerk asked me where in Japan I was from. When I replied without thinking twice, “Hiroshima,” she went dead silent and all but ducked under her desk after bagging my merchandise. She must have read this article and feared retribution.
Everyone eats whales and dolphins. Thanks to the film, The Cove, everyone not in Japan thinks Japanese people either willingly or unknowingly eat whale and dolphin meat. In my 19 years of living in Japan, never once did I even encounter either types of meat in stores or restaurants. My mother ate whale meat after WWII because it was the cheapest meat available in post-nuke Hiroshima (thanks, Truman). For those of you bleeding hearts saying, “That’s because you didn’t know it was dolphin meat because it’s not labeled that way,” here’s a statistic: according to Greenpeace research, only one of five major supermarket operators said it continues to sell whale meat. The others don’t because there’s no demand. The only people who eat whales and dolphins are people who recognize that a cow is just as cute as Flipper and hold no prejudice for or against animals. These same people are usually uninformed about the sustainability argument, just like most Americans are unaware that 7 kg of grain goes into producing 1 kg of beef, and corn is killing the U.S. food industry, its people, and uses half a gallon of fossil fuels for just one bushel.
Japan is such a homogenous country, everyone’s racist! Most of this rumor is latent Yellow-peril from WWII. While Japan is a racially homogenous country and many gaijin are in fact gawked at by locals, Japanese are no more or less racist than anyone else. While it is true that some Japanese harbor suspicion against Chinese or blacks, no less can be said of Americans. Oh, and that Obama commercial back in 2008? That monkey is to EMobile as the gecko is to Geico. Moreover, Japanese people generally don’t know that black people and monkeys have a nasty history. We just think monkeys are cute and Obama is awesome.
Japanese people don’t celebrate Christmas. False. . . sort of. While some Japanese are Christian and celebrate Christmas, most are not . . . and still celebrate Christmas. Why? Presents. And Santa Claus is also cute. Thank you flat world for your commercial hilarity.
Japanese people are short and skinny. A traditionally Japanese diet keeps most Far East Asians slender and small (and lets us live to be, like, 200 years old). With the advent of globalization and increasing consumption of beef, however, Japanese are growing both vertically (3 to 5 inches since WWII) and horizontally. Now, we have more heart disease, breast cancer, and other rich-diet-induced conditions than ever before. Thanks for that, too.
There are used women’s underwear vending machines everywhere. I’ve never seen one but I know some who have, all of them scattered in the Tokyo area. Suffice it to say that Japanese pop culture is one obsessed with all things young and cute (hence the kawaii culture), and for creepy perverts who exist not just in Japan but all over the world, a used school girl’s underwear is a wet dream come true.
Japanese people will never learn to use the ‘R’ and ‘L’ sounds right. Many Italian- and Spanish-speakers do well when learning Japanese, as the tongue-rolling for the R/L sound translates. Let’s see you English-speakers pronounce the Ra Ri Ru Re Ro part of our alphabet without sounding like you just stepped out of a bad comedy sketch.
Japanese people invented the hibachi steakhouse. A hibachi is actually a traditional heating device involving an open-topped container made from porcelain or something heatproof in which charcoal is burned. In North America, the term “hibachi” is used to refer to what we actually call shichirin or teppan, which are used in teppanyaki restaurants. Unlike westerners, most Japanese don’t go to these restaurants to eat steak or be impressed by skilled cooks. These were popularized after WWII, and we trained these cooks just to distract you Americans while we plot our next Pearl Harbor attack.
Japanese people can’t hold their liquor. Got me there, but we can’t help it. Genetically, those of European descent have a higher tolerance to alcohol than Asians due higher body mass and higher levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (the stuff that lets your body break down the alcohol you chug). In fact, one in three people in East Asia have an alcohol flush reaction, in which the body can’t break down the alcohol because we lack a specific genetically coded enzyme, making us grow red in the face, laugh uncontrollably, and often pass out on stranger’s couches.
Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go college, where recently she’s been researching Nursing Grants & Scholarships and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3. To keep her sanity she enjoys practicing martial arts and bringing home abandon animals.