10 Mistaken Beliefs Westerners Have About Life in Japan


Many Americans are incredibly fond of Japanese culture, and dream one day of living and working in Japan. However, the truth is that what many of them think of as “Japanese culture” may not be an entirely accurate picture. Now, this doesn’t mean someone who has learned a lot of the language and customs and wants to spend time there will find no enjoyment, but Japanese culture is not necessarily what many Westerners think it is. Understanding what you’re dealing with beforehand will help you avoid culture shock or misunderstandings.

10. Japan Has Lots Of Vending Machines, But It’s Not So Whimsical

As many Westerners know, Japan is the land of vending machines, and at least this part isn’t in itself a misconception. There are an incredible amount of vending machines compared to most countries, and they do come in many different sizes, shapes, colors, and varieties. They dispense everything from soda to fresh baked pizza, and everything in between. However, while this all sounds really neat and technological, the fact of the matter is that it is actually an indicator of something not so fun and whimsical.

The United States is known for being always on the go, and they consume an incredible amount of fast food. While Japan is not known for being as much of a consumer of fast food, they are a huge user of vending machines. Japan doesn’t have vending machines in order to be fun or make the cities seem more like something out of an anime, but because like the United States, people in Japan are always on the go, and oftentimes that includes not just stopping for food but also for many basic supplies — which can also be found in some Japanese vending machines. Another reason that vending machines are important is because much of Japan simply shuts down at night, as most towns are very oriented toward the work culture, and not exactly towards a crazy nightlife. In reality, their popularity in Japan is because of cultural necessity.

9. Adults In Japan See Manga And Anime Differently Than Westerners

Many young men and women expect people to share their passion for manga, and especially anime, but the truth is that being super into anime as an adult is often seen as a little weird in Japan. Now, most Japanese adults have still typically heard of the most popular series, and some may have watched a little of some of the more prominent popular anime. But after childhood, they just don’t tend to have the sort of hobbyist level obsession that many in Western culture do.

As for manga, the same thing sort of applies… and sort of doesn’t. If we’re talking about the kind of manga that many people think of, which are mainly the same manga that have been turned into anime, it’s really the same situation. However, saying “manga” in Japan is almost like saying “book” in many countries. Everyone reads manga in Japan, because there is manga about everything, targeted at everyone. There’s manga specifically targeted toward housewives, businessmen, and everyone and everything in between.

8. If You Move To Japan, You May Find It Harder To Make Social Connections Than You Thought

After growing up watching countless anime and reading all of the manga they found in Shonen Jump, many young Westerners have taken steps to learn Japanese, and some may end up as ESL teachers in Japan. They are fulfilling a lifelong dream, and enjoying a rewarding career. Yet many of them find it extremely hard to adjust socially, which weakens their enthusiasm to settle down and create a new life there. Some even feel that they were almost greeted with over-exuberance at first, and then later the people around them, some who even worked with them, seemed almost cold. This can confuse newcomers to Japan as they try to fit in with the new social scene around them.

A writer for Japan Times explained that the reason many people get depressed is that at first, when you visit, it’s traditional to be polite and welcome you with a big party and be super friendly. It’s sincere in its own way, but it isn’t how they will treat you all the time when you are a coworker or acquaintance. After that initial meeting, they are willing to strike up new friendships as adults, even with people from foreign countries coming to live in Japan. But like many cultures, they are slow to warm up — the upside to this is that they can build very deep friendships with you if you are willing to take the time and be patient.

7. Japanese TV Is Not Full Of Perversion During Daytime Hours Or On Normal Channels

Many sites irresponsibly post what basically amounts to tabloid-style journalism, while barely throwing in any written content to begin with. One of the most ridiculous of their favorite go-tos is the parade of so-called Japanese “game shows” that display ridiculous perversions, with women doing disgusting things on camera, often while all — or fully — nude.

These sites say that these clips or pictures of “game show perversion” are all something that you can see on regular Japanese TV, but this is simply not true. Those who went to the trouble to investigate found that TV regulators for Japan would not allow such things on something the general public was watching any more than the FCC would in the United States. Rather, a lot of what you are being shown are often porn clips that originated from Japan, and were first posted on the internet of all places. And even among the game shows that did have “sexier” segments, the vast majority have always aired extremely late at night, more akin to how you might have stumbled across something like Taxi Cab Confessions if you were up past midnight in the ’90s.

6. Japan Is Not Nearly As High Tech As You Might Imagine

Not so much because of anime or manga or anything of that sort, but for more realistic reasons, many people think of Japan as a bastion of advanced technology. They’ve been known for their incredible, cutting edge cameras (at least, when those were still a thing), they still make many very solid cars, and right now many people consider them at the forefront of robotics technology.

However, the truth is that in terms of daily life, not all Japanese people are living in a high tech wonderland. They were still using regular flip phones for a few years back when many in the United States had smartphones, and they still tend to rely on fax machines far more than the scanning and email combo that has become so popular in many Western offices today. They are also an extremely cash-based society, and most ATMs are not accessible late at night so you need to plan ahead even for that. And you had better have your cash on hand, because even with all of the high tech power of their vending machines, most of them do not accept bank or credit cards.

5. People Like To Eat Sushi To Get A Taste Of Japan, But It Isn’t Eaten That Often In Japan

In the United States, eating sushi is extremely popular, especially among the crowd that obsesses over the latest cool clip from Dragon Ball Super or the like. It has become the go-to way for Westerners to get a taste of Japan (literally). However, people tend to forget that like any country or culture, Japanese cuisine is far more complex and varied than one type of dish. Sushi is a valid food to eat in Japan, but the truth is that it is actually not something that is eaten particularly regularly. Many Japanese people actually only eat sushi out, and only on special occasions.

The way many Western countries view sushi would be like if the Japanese thought that the only food that really counted as American was pizza, and anytime they wanted to try American food, they just made some other variation of a pizza. Just like there are hundreds of other dishes in America besides pizza (or hot dogs, or hamburgers, or whatever traditionally “American” cuisine you want to go with), there are hundreds of other dishes in Japan besides just sushi. For example: they eat grilled chicken, vegetables, and fish deep-fried in seasoned batter; soups like miso or ramen, many different noodle dishes, soybean dishes, and so many others that we could spend many articles listing all of the different interesting things that Japanese people eat. The truth is that if you want to prepare yourself for Japan, you are going to need to eat a lot more than just sushi and pocky.

4. Japan Is Not Nearly As Perverted, In General, As Westerners Believe

Japanese law basically has a loophole that allows certain younger beings to be depicted in sexual situations in manga, as long as they aren’t human enough — hence the use of cat ears and such. This doesn’t mean most Japanese people are consumers of any of this, or approve of any of it in any way, shape, or form. While arguably some content out there could promote pedophilic interests, the average Japanese person is just as disgusted by such things as you or us. Well, mostly us. We don’t want to speak for you… Phil.

As we mentioned earlier, there is manga of pretty much everything in Japan, so of course there is manga of porn, and naturally there are creeps who are going to bend the rules as much as they possibly can. The most shocking content is something we hear about because of how awful it is, but that doesn’t mean the average Japanese person would imagine consuming such material willfully, or seek such things out. It’s also important to remember that much manga is bought by Western audiences as well, so many of the people helping that kind of filth proliferate have never even been to Japan.

3. Most People Think Of Japan As Workaholics, But The Good Ol’ USA Has Them Beat

Americans are known around the world for having a ridiculously unwarranted positive attitude, and that’s just as well because if they really had their illusions shattered, they may not be such happy people all the time. Many Americans tend to think of other countries as overworked — especially the Japanese — and consider their own quality of life to be pretty above average.

However, the truth is that the Americans are seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. By most quantifiable metrics, America is the most workaholic country in the entire world — even beating out the Japanese, whose culture of work is so strongly embedded in their society. Americans have less vacation time than most, are more likely to work more than 60 hours per work, take fewer sick days and days off in general, and are more likely to end up working overtime without extra pay. The Japanese are still a hard-working culture, but not the most addicted to work.

2. Japanese Are Considered Collectivist, But They Can Be More Individualistic Than You Think

While there are elements of truth to the claim the Japanese are collectivist and Americans are individualist, there are exceptions. For starters, even in the United States (a country many people like to think of as one of the most individualistic in the world) there are many examples of collectivist action or thinking.

When an American works together with others to elect a political candidate who they don’t agree with on many things, but who still has the right letter by their name, they are taking part in a collectivist action. When they decide to base an opinion not on going carefully over the facts, but on what the political party they support says, they are taking part in collectivist thinking. Also, anytime you band together with others to help in a natural disaster like a hurricane, while often taking orders from nearby experts, you are being part of a collective.

Many Japanese people, when asked, state it is a misconception that they are entirely collectivist. They explain that the belief in them as entirely collectivist is mistaken. They are actually quite individual in thinking, and sometimes they don’t really want to work collectively, either, but they do so sometimes because it is the most logical way forward to get things done.

1. There Is A Misconception That While Looking Outwardly Normal, Japanese People Are “Weird”

Perhaps the silliest misconception, and one that even many who spend more time understanding Japan often fall prey to, is the “Japanese people are weird” stereotype. The media (especially the secondary media like BuzzFeed and… uh, others…) like to show all kinds of quirky things that seem bizarre out of cultural context, and put a spotlight on the strangest outcasts. But people would have a weird perception of your country as well, if only the strangest things were highlighted in the media.

The media, for cheap clicks, wants to play to the perception that Japan is like a colorful anime. Unfortunately, Japanese cartoons are not meant to mimic the real world, and oftentimes cultural perceptions get even more confused because people think Japanese cartoons or other media, when they show zany things, are actually displaying what the Japanese wish they could be inside. However, much of the anime we see in the West is actually geared more toward Western interests. So people think they are seeing Japanese culture, but they are actually seeing what the Japanese think we want to see, and what they think we want Japanese culture to be — not what life there, or what a regular person there, is actually like at all.

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