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.

The Cats of Istanbul

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Yes, I did spend my whole week in Istanbul taking photos of cats.

Stop judging me…

12 Tips for Bikram Yoga

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I’m by no means an expert on Bikram yoga. I only started being able to do the whole routine all the way through without sitting down on the floor trying not to vomit a week or so ago.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m just less fit than the other women there, but I tend to be affected by the conditions in the room more than most people. I’ve nearly finished my 20 session card and I still am barely better than a newbie. BUT, this means that I am great at finding ways to make the uncomfortable situation slightly less so. Every session I go to there is at least one new person, and I wish that I could sit them down and tell them all I know about how to make that hour and a half suck less.

Instead, I’ve compiled a list of what I have learnt helps during classes. If you happen to be a Bikram-er then please do add your own tips in the comments!

Dress the part.

You will SWEAT like never before. Try to wear as little as you are comfortable with, and have your armpits and back as free as you can. Some girls wear bikinis to class. Some wear hot pants and sports bras. I have two outfits – grey soft yoga pants that are nice and flattering but come down to the ankles, and baggier black sports trousers that are shorter. I wear the former when I feel good about my body and the latter when I do not. Added to this are a load of tank tops. I don’t like to shower afterwards with the others because, you know, communal nakedness. So I throw an old baggy jumper over my sports bra and trousers and go home.

Take your makeup off.

Imagine you are taking a shower, because that will be your moisture level at the end of it. You don’t need makeup.

Get equipped.

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For your first few goes you don’t need all of this, but once you know you’re going to be a Bikram Babe/Dude-babe, you should get the whole set –

Big bottle of water (necessary)

Yoga matt (your studio may rent them to you)

A long towel with rubber blobs on the other side to stop it moving about (this covers your matt. I got mine – shown above –  from Amazon, but you can use a bath towel until then)

A smaller towel for your face/to help with certain poses

Watch your food intake.

This is my biggest bit of advice. If you eat too much at lunch, you will feel terrible during yoga. I usually go for a soup and salad on yoga days. I ate too much before going out to yoga the other night; I had a small bowl of vegetarian meat balls for protein, but I actually felt them coming back for a reunion later. Try some fruit or veg + hummus no less than an hour and a half before your class.

Use your water wisely.

Drink a bottle of water an hour before the class and you should be fine. Only take in water when the teacher says so – except for the one just before the triangle pose, because it really makes you feel weird when there’s water sloshing about inside of you. You need to keep taking in water, but try to limit it a little and not drink too much otherwise it’ll just end up making you feel much, much worse.

Position yourself.

Check out the room and work out the best place to stand. In our room there are two heaters on the ceiling – it’s not good to stand right under these. They also have horrible lights, except for the square skylight. I make sure to stand under the skylight as the normal lights bug me.

Don’t push yourself too far.

This is another big tip which should be common sense. The teacher will tell you that it’s ok if you feel sick or dizzy. Don’t listen to them. You know your own body and when it’s had enough and needs to sit out a move then do so. Don’t let peer pressure force you to hurt yourself.

Don’t leave the room.

It is best to stay in the room and stay sitting down for a bit – if you leave the room then no one can check if you are ok. For your own safety stay in the sight of the teacher.

If your knees wobble, don’t extend.

There are a few poses that ask for you to stand on one leg and then do something fancy with the other leg. Until your base leg stops wobbling, don’t attempt the fancy stuff. Just stand there holding your foot until you can balance enough.

Stop looking at other people.

The second you do, you’ll wobble and fall. I know, it happens every time.

Squeeze your bum.

One of the best bits of advice that was given to me is that if you squeeze your bum, you will be able to balance a lot easier. It works…until I forget to squeeze my bum.

Make sure to take something in after.

I always have a pick-me-up, or reward, waiting for me at the end of the class. Mostly, it’s these little fruit bars from DM or a coconut water. It’s pretty important to refuel afterwards.

SO that’s my list! Got anything to add? Pop it in the comments!

Happy Thursday!

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