8 “Facts” About Japan That Aren’t Actually True
Japan is a country of many things. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, fantastic cuisine that has gained popularity all around the globe, and a rich history that we can see in its people's traditions, architecture, and festivals.
According to the Business Insider (2015), Japan is in the top 20 list of countries to visit, and in 2017, the country saw an all-time high of over 24 million visitors.
People flock to Japan for its gorgeous scenery, food, sightseeing spots, and unique experiences. However, there are many people who haven't been there yet, and of course, there are also people who don't plan to go. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop them from thinking they know a lot about it!
There are many things I've seen people say on the internet or heard at home about Japan, stated as if they're facts when actually they're slightly wrong or completely off the mark. Here are some things about Japan that people assume to be "facts" when actually they aren't true.
Have you ever been to Japan?
1. "The Japanese are Extremely Xenophobic"
This is a popular phrase I've heard thrown around a few times. To some extent, I understand why people assume that everyone in Japan is racist - compared to countries in western Europe and the USA, Japan takes in very few refugees. According to the Japan Times, in 2016, only 28 people were accepted under refugee status despite a record high of over ten thousand applicants.
However, despite Japan's strict approach to accepting refugees, the average Japanese person isn't racist towards western people. When I say that, I mean that violent crime towards people based on their race or mocking or abusing western people because of their non-Japanese ethnicity is virtually unheard of.
People actually tend to often take interest in people from other countries and even say that non-Japanese features (typically a longer nose, blue eyes, curly hair, etc) are cute or attractive.
Racism does exist, of course, but compared to the United States, for example, race hate crime is extremely low. Therefore, to label all the Japanese as "extremely xenophobic" is unfair and untrue.
2. "Japan Has the Highest Suicide Rate in the World"
Japan has a reputation for being a country of depressed people stressed out from working so hard that they hang themselves and jump in front of trains by the dozen. Some even state that Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world, which simply isn't true. Visit any website of suicide lists, and although Japan often ranks in around the top twenty, it's nowhere near close to the top. According to Insider Monkey, Japan wasn't even in the top 11 countries of suicide rates in 2016.
Many also assume that the capital city of Tokyo is the highest in terms of suicide, which isn't true either. According to stats-japan, Iwate, Akita, Niigata, Shimane, and Aomori have much higher suicide rates than Tokyo, or even other large cities such as Kyoto and Osaka.
3. "Japanese Food is Really Weird"
If you've ever watched An Idiot Abroad, you might have noticed that Karl Pilkington said he couldn't find any food that wasn't odd and inedible. There is definitely weird food in Japan, don't get me wrong - think live squid, fermented soybeans, and grilled chicken guts - but there is a lot of food here that isn't weird, but is incredibly delicious.
Lovely dishes that aren't weird at all include ramen noodles, high-class beef, tempura (deep-fried vegetables and meat), tofu, katsu chicken, Japanese curry, and winter hot pot. To assume all food in Japan is gross and odd is just small-minded.
4. "Everybody Likes Manga and Anime"
Manga, or Japanese comics, and anime, Japanese cartoons, are one of the reasons why Japan is a popular country to visit. No doubt you might have heard of Pokémon, Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, or Fullmetal Alchemist. These all originated in Japan and are popular local and abroad.
Some travellers are convinced that when they visit Japan, they'll make friends quickly and easily by talking about their favourite programs and comics. While there are people in Japan who do enjoy these shows, it's a relatively small amount. In fact, there's a name for people who love video games, anime, and manga - "otaku" - which is sort of the equivalent of "nerd."
There are people who like these things who aren't really "otaku," of course, but those who assume they will be instantly popular by talking about anime are going to be left disappointed.
5. "Everyone is Super Polite and Never Lets Their True Feelings Known"
The Japanese are very polite, it's true. "Omotenashi," or "hospitality," is incredibly important and you'll find great service even in the most modest of establishments. However, the belief that the Japanese are polite 100% of the time and never show their feelings is just silly.
There are impolite people in Japan, just like the rest of the world. Human emotions aren't hidden, either, although you won't see as much public affection as you might see in the west.
6. "Japan is Insanely Expensive"
Many people say they're put off visiting Japan because of how expensive it is. Although it's true the flight to Japan from countries outside Asia can get pricey, Tokyo and beyond isn't actually that expensive compared to other popular cities.
Statistics on Numbeo show that Tokyo is (mostly) cheaper than New York, London, and Los Angeles. Prices shouldn't deter you from visiting Japan, as you may find it's about the same price, or even cheaper, than your home country.
7. "Everyone Works 15 Hours a Day and is Always Exhausted"
I have to laugh when people online and at home claim they know everything about the Japanese workforce. As in any country, the type of job people have depends on the hours they work.
A businessman will often work until the evening and do overtime sometimes late at night, but this is nowhere near the majority of the population. The work ethic here is really good, though, and often people will work overtime, sometimes clocking in over twelve hours in a day.
I understand where this stereotype comes from, because now and then a news story crops up about people dying from overwork. However, if you're hoping to work in Japan one day, don't stress about having to work fifteen hours a day as there are plenty of laws in place to protect people from this.
8. "Everyone Wears Masks Because of All the Pollution"
It is true that when you're out in the city, you'll sometimes see people wearing what look like surgical masks. You can buy these masks at any convenience store in the country.
But why? Many people often ask me if it's because of pollution. Japan is actually a very clean country; even large cities like Tokyo enjoy blue skies on a clear day. People wear masks in Japan if:
- They have a cold. If they're coughing and sneezing but still have to be out for work or school, they wear a mask to avoid spreading their germs.
- To protect themselves from others' germs. Some people, especially those who have to ride crowded trains or visit busy places, are worried about catching colds or other contagious diseases from others and so wear masks to protect themselves.
- Because of hay fever. Many Japanese people suffer from hay fever in spring and masks can protect their noses and mouths from flying pollen.
They don't wear masks because of pollution!
Think before you accept a stereotype as fact! Although all of these six common misconceptions do come from some truth, they're far from accurate. Japan isn't perfect by any means, but there are a lot of great things about the country too. Don't let these common misconceptions deter you from visiting!
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