When viewing Japan from abroad myths are often made out of half told stories, things lost in translation, or things you heard from cousins boyfriend’s brother. Here to dispel some of these myths is the, “List of Myths about Japan”

Weird Japanese Buildings

Japanese cities are expensive places to live

In July 2009 the Mercer consultants listed Tokyo and Osaka as the 1st and 2nd most expensive places to live in the world, knocking Moscow and London out of their top tier places. But this is a little deceiving because to determine their ranking Mercer looks at things like hotel rates, Starbuck Frappachinos and of course currency rates. So if you’re a travelling business man staying at a four star hotel, going to a restaurant by limousine while drinking a Frappachino, of course your stay in Tokyo in going to be expensive. It will be even more expensive if you’re from America because the beating your dollar has taken compared to the yen. However if you live in Tokyo in a reasonable priced neighbourhood, earn Japanese Yen, and buy food at a supermarket, Tokyo is not expensive at all, in fact down right reasonable.


Japanese kids are respectable students

Picturing students in Japan brings images of impeccably dressed kids in smart uniforms seating politely in their chairs while listening with great respect to their Sensei (Teacher in Japanese). A visit to your average Japanese public school will quickly dispense of this myth. Japan’s schools are like most schools around the world with their share of troublemakers, class clowns, and brown nosers. What makes it worse in Japan is that for a variety of reasons the national educational system has decided that kids can’t fail and so barring a child decapitating another student (It’s happened) they’re just passed on grade after grade regardless of academic performance. And the kids know this and act accordingly. Now what is different about Japan is the different kinds of schools i.e. It is determined at a young age through tests and parent’s influence the child’s future. Children are split into science, trade, or art schools. Kids who don’t fit in any of these categories are sent to “sport schools” which basically have a good athletic program for sporty students but also a lot of rejects who are there for the school to baby-sit them until they graduate; preparing boys to become day labours and girls the finer points of becoming a house wife. As you can imagine these schools probably have the worst discipline problems but in all of the schools you have great teachers that inspire students and command respect and then kawaisou (pathetic) teachers that let the kids get totally out of control.
Beer Vending Machines

Beer vending machines

If you’ve come to Japan for the fabled alcohol vending machines you’re going to be out of luck. Sure I’ve seen them here and there but 99% of them are in controlled establishments like bars, clubs and sometimes movie theatres. Apparently ten fifteen years ago they did exist outside on the street but with the huge amount of convenience stores that sprung up everywhere alcohol has moved inside, where a bored clerk can judge if you’re of age. Now they do have cigarette machines everywhere but they have recently moved to a system where tobacco vending machines scan your ID to make sure you’re old enough to smoke. So this could mean the return of the beer vending machines with ID scans but for now you’ll have to make due with 7-11.

Girls in Japan

Gaijin luck with the ladies

Japanese ladies almost have a mythical status with foreign men (foreign=gaijin in Japanese). Rumours abound overseas that Japanese girls have such a fetish for foreign men that they’ll sleep with anyone fat, ugly or creepy doesn’t matter. What is true is that most young Japanese women don’t have western girl hang-ups or Christian morality barriers when it comes to sex. One of my friends said it best when she said Japanese girls don’t have shame, it’s not in their culture. However, this doesn’t translate into any foreign guy getting laid within 10min of meeting. It does convert into a good looking guy having a better chance of getting lucky but that is true everywhere for good looking guys. But in Japan “hot” guys are more likely to be just used for their exoticness and then discarded by the Japanese girl. But that makes it seem like I’m saying that, Japan has more of a percentage of women who want to sleep with foreign men. This is not true, in Japan it’s a numbers game. Take greater Tokyo; it has a population of 30,000,000 people, more than the entire population of Canada. If just one half of one percent of these seek out foreign men that’s still almost 100,000 women hanging out in about a 100 locations where foreigners are loitering! Of course you’re going to get a better chance in Tokyo!
Salary Man

Japanese are like hard working ants

Japan has this reputation of its workforce slaving away like ants from dawn to dusk for their company hives. Outside of the public sector, which like civil service workers everywhere leave their offices after exactly 8hrs of work, this is generally true. Japanese workers do work long hours but they’re not doing anything! Now new, young workers do work a lot but that is due to an elaborate hazing ritual prevalent in most areas of Japan. But established workers do work long hours without working. They stay because Japanese culture forces them to stay until their manager/boss/supervisor goes home. Foreign managers always complain about how their biggest problems in running Japanese companies are making workers go home after they finish their work. Now don’t get me wrong some sectors i.e. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, bankers do work long hours but these professions work long hours all over the world! Your average salary man in Japan is an expert at looking busy while doing nothing waiting for the boss to go home.
Japanese TV

Japanese TV is crazy weird

Japanese TV is pretty crazy but you have to understand that normal people don’t go on TV. Prime time TV is dominated by what the Japanese call TARENTO (From the English: Talent) or what we would call in the western world B and C-class Stars. Just image that every TV show in America was like Hollywood squares, that is Japanese TV. Those crazy game shows, or weird obstacle courses that nobody wins, their contestants are all the same people, these Japanese Tarentoes. There are exceptions but by and large those people getting electrocuted, thrown against walls, or almost drowned are part of a small group of people that do it for a living. The crazy thing is that when they compete for money they really compete for the money! Celebrity Jeopardy or celebrity Wheel of Fortune back home has actors donate the money to some sort of pet charity. In Japan there is no such thought, these people compete to win the money for themselves!
Geisha in Japan

Geisha myths

Geisha those Japanese women dressed in intricate kimonos, white pancake makeup with sculpted hair are not high end call girls or prostitutes. Even in Japan there is some confusion of what exactly Geisha girls do. This confusion was borne after World War II when during the American occupation Japanese prostitutes dressed as Geisha or just said they were Geisha to attract clients, something that in the highly stratified culture before the war they would have been forbidden by law to do. In Japan the Geisha’s purpose is to entertain their customer, be it by dancing, reciting verse, playing musical instruments, or engaging in the art of conversation. They train for years to perfect their skills and their clientele, while probably lusting after them, in typical Japanese fashion are amused by the illusion of that which is never to be. The situation is further clouded by another much, much larger group of women and men who basically do the same thing but wear “normal” clothes, and makeup, the world of Hosts. Hostesses (girls), and hosts (men) also offer services such as singing, conversation, and drinking but some of them do offer sex for money where as real Geisha do not.

Japanese are a rich people

It’s easy to see how this myth was created. During the bubble it may have even been true. In America and the west during the bubble there was a definite concern that Japan and its people were going to buy up the America and the world. This fear translated into a number of American cultural phenomenons, think the first Die Hard movie and the Nakatomi Plaza tower or Sean Connery as a Japanese Expert in Michael Chrichton’s Rising Sun. Even now Japanese tourists travel the world in style. If they’re skiing they have on the most expensive gear, if they’re hiking they have the best gadgets and clothes which of course are all new. But Japan has a lot of people and a certain amount of them are rich and do travel this way. In the same vein Japan also has as many poor people as other industrialized nations, people who work in Macdonald’s or your local convenience store for minimum wage. However Japan’s super poor and homeless are generally out of sight and out of mind. A Japanese taboo against begging keeps them off the street corners and a generous social safety net in Japan keeps their numbers limited. About the only place you’ll find slums in Japan are the eta or burakumin (Japan’s version of the untouchable in India) neighbourhoods in Osaka. So Japan has poor people but you just won’t see them unless you know where to look.

If you like this then, you should check out more from the “Myths of Japan” series:

drugs gay marriage okinawa myth
Drugs in Japan Myth Japan’s Gay culture Divorce a Japanese Tradition The American Occupation of Okinawa Japanese Porn Myths