Misconceptions about Japan

Living in Japan, I get to see what Japan is really like.  People who live in other countries and have never visited Japan often have some preconceptions about Japan that are incorrect.  When I was in Edmonton for the winter holidays, I was asked some things about Japan.  I had to tell them they were completely wrong about what they thought about Japan.  Here are some common misconceptions about Japan that I’ve heard:

1. Japan is a poor country

Really?  Some people seem to think that since Japan is in Asia, it is poor.  Many people confuse Japan with China.  They are completely different countries.  Japan is one of the most highly advanced countries in the world technologically, and one of the richest.  The standard of living in Japan is among the top 10 in the world.

2. Can you speak Chinese?

Why?  I live in Japan, not China.  Japanese people speak Japanese.  It’s amazing how many people think Japan = China.  The languages are different, the food is different, the cultures are different.  They are almost complete opposites.  No, I don’t speak Chinese.  I speak bad Japanese.

3. Japanese people always eat raw fish.

Sashimi is raw fish.  Sushi is rice with vinegar and a topping that is usually raw fish (but not always).  These dishes are delicacies and not an everyday meal.  They are usually eaten at special occasions.  They can be quite expensive!  I usually eat it once a week, though.  It is quite delicious.

4. Japanese people all watch anime.

Many watch things like Sazae-san or Meitantei Conan, but really, most people don’t care about anime.  I’ve told people in Canada who are anime fans (they even call themselves otaku, which is not a nice thing to call yourself in Japan) that people in Japan like anime in the same way that North Americans like Saturday morning cartoons.  Kids love it, adults don’t care.  There are exceptions, such as Studio Ghibli movies, which are almost universally loved.

5. Where can I see samurai, ninja and geisha?  They’re everywhere!

Sorry, you’ll be very disappointed.  There are no samurai anymore.  You can only see them on TV or in movies.  Ninja are the same.  You won’t find them, although people can still study the martial art ninjutsu.  Geisha are still around, but you’re most likely going to find them in Kyoto.  They are not at all common.

6. Japanese people are good at math.

Not really.  They’re about as good at math as people in any other country.  There is a big stereotype that Japanese people love math, and I’ve found it to be very wrong.  Many people hate math.  What I have found is that Japanese schools seem to teach math better (or at least put students through drills a large amount).

7. Japanese people are all short.

This may have been true in the past, but not so much now.  Older people tend to be shorter, and while it may have something to do with genetics, it also has to do with diet.  Milk and dairy products are known to help childhood growth.  But also people today are eating more western food.  Young people are often tall.  I know junior high school students who are almost as tall as me.  When I walk around, I find that I’m probably slightly above average height.  I don’t tower over people.

Feel free to add some more misconceptions.



Filed under Daily Life

4 responses to “Misconceptions about Japan

  1. Adam

    What does a typical Japanese daily diet look like? I’ll admit to misconception #3, simply because I love sushi and sashimi.

    • It varies from person to person. But for breakfast, people will commonly have rice, miso soup, fish (not raw, cooked), and some other things. Some people have toast, some have a bagel and coffee. It really depends on the person.

      For lunch, people often bring a bento box, just a lunch box filled with many different things, but also many people go out to a restaurant. Again, I wouldn’t say there is a typical Japanese lunch anymore.

      For dinner, it can be anything. Since there are so many kinds of food in Japan that Japanese food isn’t what everyone eats. Italian and French food are very popular, as are Chinese and Korean food. You can also find a lot of Thai, Indian, and American food.

      I think the one thing that is different from a North American diet is portion sizes. They’re smaller in Japan.

  2. “I don’t speak Chinese. I speak bad Japanese.” Hahaha, nice.

    Japan is a rich country!! But I hear even some Japanese people complaining about how bad the economy is. Not sure what people are referring to.

    Good list!

    • Lately, I’ve been hearing people talking about how the Japanese economy is improving. But most of the complaints have to do with how the tax base will shrink with fewer children and a higher tax burden with more elderly on pensions. Unemployment is still low in Japan, though the number of apathetic and lazy NEETs is growing.

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