10 Twisted Myths about Japan – Debunked!

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When I tell people I’ve lived in Japan, people usually reply asking me if something about Japan is true. Usually, it is not. I’ve written before about how frustrated I get when people think Japanese culture is all about weird sexual preferences, but I thought I’d write again about 10 things that just aren’t true.

  1. Japanese men are not all perverts.

Nope. I mean, some of them, sure. But no more than any other place, I bet.

“But Charlotte, what about those weird pervy manga comics? Don’t they even read them on the trains?” Yeah, but come on, in the UK we have a topless woman on the 3rd page of one of the (sadly) most popular papers. And then there are lads’s mags, which are full of semi naked women posing between articles. These things may be very different to dodgy manga, but they are still on a similar level of perviness.

  1. It’s unlikely you’ll be molested on the trains.

“Wait, don’t they have to have women’s train carriages in Japan because the men can’t keep their hands to themselves?!”

If you’re a Japanese woman, the sad fact is that there is a chance of you being touched on a busy train. I once tried to ask Japanese friends about it, so I could understand how often this happens, but they weren’t very keen to talk about it. If you are a foreign woman, Japanese men would probably be way too scared to lay a finger on you.

And anyway, if you’re worried about this, you can always use the women’s carriages of trains. It differs from city to city but the Nagoya ones at least ran as female-only from 5pm – 8pm on weekdays, since that’s when the rush hour was (and having lots of people squeezed next to each other makes it easy to grab someone). If you are a man, be aware that if you are in a women’s carriage when the clock strikes 5pm, you’ll end up being pretty embarrassed.

  1. You won’t be finding used underwear machines.

They are illegal. It is a myth.

  1. Japanese women don’t need you to save them.

When I went to study in Japan I was at a university for women. It’s one of the most prestigious women’s universities not academically but for producing young ladies of the highest quality – fit to marry any politician or high profile, high earning business man.

One day, I said to the Japanese guy I was dating that I felt sorry for my classmates since they have no choice in life but to work in a meaningless job for a year or so, then find a guy to marry, then quit their job, have a baby and then be a housewife for ever more. He told me that they don’t need me to feel sorry for them, that they are perfectly happy with this situation.

True enough, in speaking with my classmates, they really did just want to have lovely families. Sure, there were probably some of them who probably wanted to be career women, but in the same way that in the culture I grew up in it’s common for women to aspire to have jobs, it’s common for Japanese women to aspire to have families.

Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, but it seems there are women fighting for the gap to be closed. Whether they are close to doing that or not, I don’t know. But what they don’t really need is for the west to look down on them while they work this out, and they don’t need rescuing because that’s just patronising.

  1. Japanese people cannot automatically speak Chinese, and vice versa.

English is like German. Just because you can understand English doesn’t mean you can understand German. Oder?

  1. Japan isn’t all skyscrapers with busy streets.

The Japanese countryside is gorgeous. Hills and fields and trees…ahhh I swear Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

  1. Manga doesn’t equal porn.

Just like how novels come in all kinds, manga (Japanese cartoons – NOT anime which is animation) also comes in all kinds. There are kids’ manga, girls’ manga, boys’ manga, women’s manga…and dirty old men manga!

Before you start judging manga, do a little research. There’s so many great titles that have been translated into different languages today and many chain bookshops stock manga these days. I love girls’ manga from the late 80’s…like Tenshi Nanka Jyanai¬†and Itazura na Kiss.

  1. Japanese people DO know English…

Japanese adults have learnt English from junior high school to high school, and Japanese young people have probably learnt it from elementary school. BUT, especially from junior high on, they learn grammar so that they can pass tests. They don’t learn how to have a conversation. So if you are lost in Tokyo there may be a brave person who wants to use their English on you but a lot of other Japanese people will be scared that you’ll ask them something and they won’t understand.

  1. Japanese isn’t that hard.

“Oh, you speak Japanese, that must mean you’re clever!”

Haha, I wish. Here’s an awesome link from Tofugu explaining why Japanese isn’t that hard at all.

  1. Gaming isn’t making Japanese people forget about sex.

Late last year the BBC was craping itself over having created an amazing story to tell – that Japanese guys prefer 2d girls to sex with real women. Only, that story wasn’t true. Some Japanese men (and women!) like to play dating gaming but it’s no more worrying than men who like page 3 girls in Britain. There may be men who like to spend a lot of alone time with pictures of the topless models, and in Japan there may be men who prefer to spend all their efforts on fictional girls in games. But neither country is suddenly sexless because of either of these things.

Around the time the BBC’s documentary and article came out, a Japanese speaking friend went through and tried to find the Japanese sources of all the BBC’s facts. Guess what? Most of them were greatly misquoted and some seemed to be made up. So even with the BBC, don’t believe all you’re told!

 

So there we have it! Do you know any myths about Japan that need to be debunked? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. This is interesting! But ugh about being touched on a train… I didn’t actually know about it, but for Japanese women it must be really annoying, good that they women carriages. And oh, I also love Itazura na Kiss!

  2. wow this is interesting! can’t wait to test it out in the future xx

  3. I always wondered why there were separate spaces on trains for men and women. I like it!

  4. Very interesting read! I ran into a guy from New Zealand a few months back who held the very strong opinion (he taught English in Japan for a few years) that Japanese culture was more tolerant of kinky stuff regarding underage girls (think: Lolita). Glad to hear he’s full of it!

    • Hmm…I think he has a point that it treats underaged kink in a different way to the west. In their opinion, if you give people cartoons of sexual things with young girls, or photo books of 13 year olds in bikinis, then it’ll stop people from actually attacking young girls. Whether or not this method works has yet to be seen because no one reports sexual crime in Japan for fear of shame. Regardless, most Japanese men don’t go for things like that.

  5. Very good post (^_^)=b
    I enjoyed reading it very much. Some stereotypes about Japan just don’t seem to die…

  6. Ugh, I hate reading articles about Japan that always include somewhere in the intro ‘where you can find anything – including used underwear(!) in a vending machine’. Seriously beyond the porn dvd machine on a random hill in Nabari and the train station machines that sell newspapers, I’ve never seen a machine selling anything but drinks. I will say though that I really miss the constant drink vending machines, it gets hot in Korea and it’s terrible that I can’t get a bottle of cold tea every 4 meters!

    Here’s another article about how learning Japanese is easier than most people think:
    http://www.fluentin3months.com/easy-japanese/

    And I also just had a conversation with a friend who just came back from a trip to Japan. She commented how Japanese society was in such trouble because the men are so socially inept they have to pay women to have conversations with them. This based on crowds of women in Dotombori whom she thinks were soliciting for a hostess club. I tried to give her a quick 7 minute explanation about what is causing the lack of babies in Japanese society etc but I think I left her rather unconvinced.

  7. Loved reading this! I took a Japanese culture class back in university, people make such crazy stereotypes up!

  8. Hey Charlotte,
    Before I read your article I bumped into a forum where non-Japanese women were talking about having had sexless marriages for years with their Japanese husbands, and countless articles regarding this (apparently relatively recent) trend in Japan. They also talked about a lack of emotional closeness after they had a child together. I have read manga for years now, and while there are a lot of them which describe somewhat weird relationships, there are also many which idolize close, lovey-dovey, relationships, and some characters can be described as downright slutty. I’m having difficulty connecting these contradicting images about Japan, and so far felt that the news articles have been quite one-sided. Just wondering what your thoughts are on all this.

    • Hey Fana,

      I would say that you can’t really put one rule on a whole country of people. If you looked into forums for British, American, or other Western women then I’m sure you’d have threads of women complaining about the exact same thing.

      Saying that, the idea of marriage, gender roles and love are very different in Japan to how other people may think of them. Kissing, for example wasn’t brought to Japan until after WW2 [citation needed…I learnt that when I was giving a presentation on gender studied in Japan while I was at uni].

      Many people in Japan today think of marriages as people 50 years ago thought of them in the west – and that’s that you find someone financially suitable first and then learn to love them after.

      I do know lots of couples in Japan of all kinds that are still very much in love, and do continue to have wonderful marriages.

      Like I used to tell my students in Japan – people are people, not a country. So it all really depends on he individual. Hope that helps!

  9. Jonny chinchen says:

    I think a lot of these stereotypes are still true.

    Japanese people really struggle to communicate well with each other, a lot of he people I know in Tokyo just don’t seem to enjoy talking much! so it’s easy to see why sexless marriages are common, plus the fact that so many older Japanese guys prefer much younger women …!

    The countryside in Japan is sometimes beautiful, but the way people build there is totally unsympathetic to the landscape. In the UK there are dry stone walls and buildings constructed from locally sourced materials.

    In Japan, everything in the country is still made out of concrete – it’s a total eyesore! Also, the country is much less hospitable to travelers, there are fewer quaint villages to visit, and it’s really hard to find places to explore that aren’t totally touristy or at the other end of the spectrum, total foreboding wilderness. I think the Japanese have made a real mess of the countryside since the end of WW2, building loads of unnecesary stuff to keep the dying local economies alive. “Dogs and Demons” has a lot of interesting stuff about this.

    Finally, the big myth about Japan that really needs to die is the food. Most of it is really bland and unexciting. The vast majority of main dishes mix sweet and savoury in a way that reminds me of baby food. The most prized textures seem to be moist and soft, like babyfood too! There is little food with a more salty, adult taste.

    However, sushi deserves all the good print about it, I think it’s awesome and Japan’s single greatest contribution to world cuisine.

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