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!

Gratitude in Japan

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For some reason, I happened to be reading through an old blog of mine that I used to write when I was in Japan. I started to read a few posts from there and couldn’t even remember writing them, but they were like portals back to my Japanese life.

I’ve found one post that I particularly liked. After almost 2.5 years out of Japan, this is a particularly nice post to look back upon and think about the cultural differences I encountered.

Here is my post, from 10th March 2011 (the day before the tsunami):

In the past week, I’ve had two events that have made me understand Japanese culture just that little bit more than I did before. The first was graduation. Of course, I had graduation last year too, but as it was my first, I was in awe of everything and so wasn’t able to catch a few things. The second, was the wedding of two Japanese friends.

As with any formal event in the Japanese school calendar, such as sports day or the culture festival, the students spent a long long time practicing for the graduation ceremony. Looking back to last year, I wonder why on earth they would want to spend so much time on what is, actually, standing then sitting then standing and singing, then sitting, then standing, then walking, getting some papers, taking them with two hands then tucking them under your left arm, then walking, standing, sitting, standing and listening to enough speeches to make your ears bleed. Some time in the week before graduation, I was stood in a classroom of graduating students, with about 10 minutes before class started. I like to try to speak to the kids in this time; just by being there with nothing to do gives the kids some free time when they can- and often do- talk to me about whatever they like. I saw that the class before was science, and so asked a girl what she had studied in it. “Oh, we didn’t do much science”, she said. “We were writing letters.” Letters? In a science lesson? I asked if it was some kind of project to save rain-forests or – heaven forbid- stop whaling. But she told me that they had been writing letters of thanks to their parents, for helping them and pushing them throughout their junior high school life.

What an interesting custom. In a country where parents (read: mothers) spend hours every day planning their child’s schedule with evening classes to get them ahead, make sure they do homework, buy them piles of books to help them.. it would be common place to take a step back and thank the parents. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever thanked my mum and dad.. well, of course things are different in England. Education is much more left to teachers. There is no cram school, though I did take (at the expense of my parents) extra French class to make sure I actually passed the A Level. But they did work hard to make sure I did my homework, and mum used to read over my essays (she is very good with words, is my mum). In days before wikipedia, dad was always getting me to use his wonderful collection of encyclopedias to help. But I never said thank you. I think even after graduating university, when the key speaker (Brain May wooo!) had told us that we needed to thank our parents for their funding and support, did I not thank them. So I thought it was wonderful that my kids were made to sit down and think about how they had come be where they are today.

And then the weekend before the graduation ceremony, at my friends’ wedding, I saw another custom of expressing gratitude.. but I have mixed feelings about this one. I’m sure I’ll do a separate post about it, but basically it was the wedding of my friend Mi-chan, a guy who I met a year ago. It was a mock Western wedding (I’ll explain why it’s “mock” in the wedding post…) but there were still a lot of things that were very Japanese. One of those things was, during the lunch (the days events were: wedding ceremony, lunch with speeches, after party that was pretty much exactly like the lunch but with more people and no posh food) the bride stood up next to the groom, who was holding a microphone and some tissues near her face, and read out a letter to her dad. As far as I can see, the sole purpose of this was to make everyone in the room cry. The parents (all 4 of them) had to stand in a line at the back and cry, but not before the bride herself started crying. So most of the speech was her sobbing things like “I’m sorry …. mrrrhhhhh…. for always …. mhhhrrrrrr… being … mrrrrhhhhhh… so … selfish .. mrrrhhhhhhhhhhhh!” into the microphone while the groom mopped her damp face.

Now, I don’t disagree that the father should be thanked and congratulated for bringing up a girl who is able to snag a good husband. A lot of his hard earned yen probably went to paying for the wedding too. But.. in front of everyone, and using something that should be a private little act of gratitude to manipulate the emotions of all the guests… I guess I don’t see the point of it. What’s more, it’s always the father. I’m pretty sure the mother worked just as hard, if not harder since it her job to bring up the children in Japanese society.

I think it’s really great that gratitude is a big part of Japanese culture. I wish we took the time out to say thank you to people too. Though we have the culture of sending thank you cards, people of my generation usually only use them to say thank you for a gift (even now I only get round to them when I have my mum breathing down my neck and nagging me endlessly about them.) Perhaps I should take notice and make the effort more often.

Working in Japan

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I know so many people who would do anything to be able to go and work in Japan. It seems to be on the bucket list of so many people, whether they are people who are obsessed with anime, people who like to travel or just people wanting to live an adventure for a year.

I want to write (what may be a kinda long post) about how you can live in Japan – from what options are available to what you’d need to do. SO, let’s get going…

Question 1 – Do you have a degree?

If the answer is NO, you have two choices; be a student or get a working holiday visa.

Japan doesn’t give working visas to those without degrees. It kinda sucks, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go live in Japan still, it just means that it might take a little money.

If you want to be a student, you can enroll at a language school, or perhaps if you are a university student you can be an exchange student like I was.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

Well, to be a student, first you should pick a school to study at, then apply for your visa. You can get lots of info on this here. I’ve never done this (I went through my British university) so I’m afraid I don’t have so much advice. Shop around for the best deal with the school and check out the local area, too. Some universities have programmes where you don’t have to be a university student yourself to go there, but going to a language school is probably the easiest option.

To do a working holiday visa, it’s slightly harder as there are certain conditions, such as being from a certain country, being within a certain age bracket, having a certain amount of savings stocked up and so on. I found a really good website that talks you through the process so check it out. If you don’t have a degree then this is possibly the best way to go about Japan for the year.

Question 2 – Would you be up for fighting for a popular job?

If you have a degree then perhaps you’d like to become an ALT (assistant language teacher) in a school. I asked if you’re ok with fighting for this job because the process is very complicated and involves writing essays, having interviews, and applying for a job that thousands of other people are also dying to get.

This is mainly with The JET Programme but if you happen to fail with them, there are other companies that do the same thing such as Interac, and depending on the city there are other, smaller companies too.

Why is JET so popular?

Well, there are many advantages to being on JET. The first being that the pay is very, very good. I’m willing to say that unless you get a real job at a big company in Japan, you won’t find a salary this good in Japan. Interac and the others don’t pay quite as good, but it’s still better than most.

JET is great because you are welcomed into a great community. You have pre-departure meetings in your home country, and then everyone gets to go to Tokyo together and we take of the Keio Plaza hotel for a few days while we are all training. Those days were so much fun and I made friends with JETs from all over the country.

It’s also a fairly easy job and you don’t need much to be able to do it. The application process requires you to be on the ball though – you need a great essay and to be able to be charismatic and engaging in the interview. Nothing in your application process should hint that you want to go to Japan because of anime, or because you want to find a Japanese partner. You need to have some REAL, solid reasons for wanting to go there.

Why did you leave JET?

There are also a few downsides to JET. The main one for me was that I felt I was over qualified for the school that I was placed at. Some people get placed in amazing schools. Some get placed at schools who use them as human tape recorders. My placement was somewhere in between that, but it still didn’t mean I was actually teaching. I wrote a lot more about it in this blog post from a while back.

They tell you that you are there to teach but really you are there so that they can have random foreigners in the countryside. You will probably not be placed in Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka etc. You are more likely to be placed in the middle of nowhere, with one convenience store which is a 20 minute bike ride away, and where wild boars come scratching at your door every night (hahah, you think I’m joking?!)

I miss life on JET a lot, but I am very grateful to be in a job where I use my skills and my brain.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

I’d love to write a blog post on how to get into the JET Programme, but actually a great guide has already been written. Go check it out, and good luck!

Question 3 – Do you want something a little less…stressful?

If the fight to get a place on JET doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re still in luck! In Japan there is a culture of taking classes outside of school – usually called “juku” or “cram schools”. They leave school and go straight to these schools to sit for another few hours cramming their brains with more info. It’s rare that juku would hire native English teachers since they would focus on grammar (being taught in Japanese, of course…) but there are also after school English schools called “eikaiwa”. There are big names ones like Aeon, ECC and the troubled NOVA, and then smaller ones that are owned by, usually, a middle aged Japanese woman who studied abroad and wants to share her love of English with children (correct me if I’m wrong, guys!!)

How is this different to an ALT/JET job?

Well first of all, your salary would be less. It may even be commission based (I had some friends who were to build up their student base and only then made a decent wage.)

Your hours would be different, too. An ALT works from 8am -4pm. An Eikaiwa teacher might work something like 2pm – 10pm. It means that these two different creatures don’t get to hang out so much as their schedules are totally opposite.

Like I mentioned above, as an ALT I went into classrooms and mainly stood at the back until the teacher needed me to say something, then the kids would repeat after me. Occasionally I’d plan a 15 minute game or something. I worked as an eikaiwa teacher part time when I was at uni in Japan. It was a very small school, run by a nice Japanese lady. I was to teach alongside a real idiot British guy (the type who has lived in Japan for 10 years but speaks only a few words), and in an evening the two of us would teach 4 elementary classes back to back. We’d start with a welcome song, then maybe do some alphabet workbook activities, then maybe read them a story and finish off with some shadowing (a strange practice they like to do in Japan where the kids listen to, say, a fairy tale cd, and try to mimic what they say in real-time. The kids have no idea what they are saying. I have no idea if it’s any good or not.)

TELL ME MORE!!

I can’t personally, but I have found some pretty great links that explain what it’s like working at one of these companies.

Keeping the Peace in Japan working for AEON

What can I do with a BA in Japanese Studies – unnamed school

Susie Somewhere at Peppy Kids Club

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There are, of course other ways to get to Japan. Perhaps you can get a gig as a foreign model, or you are a real life teacher and get a job at a university. But these are the three most popular ways of getting to live and experience Japan, and this post is LONG ENOUGH.

Have you ever lived in Japan? I’d love to hear how you got there and what you did!

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