This is how you see Japan


If you are a Westerner, by now you already have a preconceived notion about the culture of Japan. Maybe you don’t know much, but aside from the stereotypically beautiful scenery and exotic architecture, what you know likely involves robots, sex, and badly dubbed anime. More than that, Japan is often seen as being odd, mind-boggling, and just plain absurd.

How else do you explain these tit-scarves?

Makes a great gift

In fact, I believe I can boil down exactly how you see Japan into one short video. Personally, this is just hard for me to watch. I cringe more than I laugh, which is sad because it’s so comical as a whole. So please enjoy this brief representation of the Japanese image:

Now, I’m not going to say that everything you know about Japan is wrong, but what you have heard so far has skewed your opinion of the majority of the population. When you see images like these, you get the sense that what you see is widespread. How could it not be? You can see it all the time. For example, over 300,000 people have viewed a recent article on the popular humour website, which starts with: “Japan is to sanity what Australia is to life: You just don’t go there if you want to keep it.” It follows with “It should be noted that, as with everything pertaining to Japan, what follows may not be safe for…for…look, it just may not be safe.”

Here’s another example of the stereotype in action, from the American TV show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (See the first two minutes).

After suggesting new (bogus) recycling bins to implement in one American neighbourhood, they finally asked people if they would recycle “lightly soiled toilet paper.” Penn narrates that a quick mention of the Japanese already having implemented these bins always seals the deal. After Penn’s narration, when the phony surveyor says “But it was in Japan, [and] I tell you…” the interviewee cuts him off saying “Well in Japan I can understand it.” The words just flew off her tongue; no second thoughts. So apparently in Japan, anything goes.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Most of the craziest products you hear about being sold in Japan are only there because a small subculture of people create enough of a demand for it. And you know who buys it? Those same guys. Over and over. It’s scary to see the amount of crap they collect. In one Japanese documentary, a 20-year old college student who collects pictures and items with cute girls on them rations his food in order to provide for his lifestyle. His living expenses are 100,000 yen monthly, while he spends 6,000 yen on food in that same time.

I think there’s still some wasted space on the ceiling there

The fact of the matter is that Japan’s diverse subcultures vary greatly in lifestyle. Also, most of that crazy stuff you see is generally being seen for a reason – it was interesting enough to catch your attention. Maybe something caught the eye of a foreign reporter or photographer, because it wasn’t as boring as the rest of the stuff they saw. However, let me assure you: There is much more “boring” or “normal” in Japan than there is “weird” and “crazy.” It’s just that no one wants to see the boring and normal. So they don’t Google it. There are more reasons why your opinion is skewed, but I’ll discuss those further in later posts.

By the way, those tit-scarves at the top were from a brief art exhibition. That product was not sold elsewhere and basically no one knows anything about them. But were you convinced that this was another example of Japanese strangeness? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it would be hard to find examples of weird things in any other country in the world.

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2 Responses to This is how you see Japan

  1. Traveler says:

    Welcome to blog life, I appreciate the Japan reality check, as I debunk the same “Japan is so weird” meme on my blog too. Weirdness, yes, it’s there in Japan – but it’s far outweighed by the normality. And for the record, I never could figure out how the rest of the world is any *less* weird. Humans everywhere are wacky. ‘Nuff said.

    I found your site through your James Randi Foundation article. Well done. I enjoy taking the tools of reason and skepticism that are so effective against harmful superstitions and false beliefs, and applying them in less-critical areas like claims of strange foreign cultures. It turns out that a lot of those claims just don’t stand up to scrutiny either…

    Good luck. Will visit again –

  2. Mr. G says:

    In the United States there is a group of people, Young Earth Creationists, who believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that dinosaurs were alive, and were walking with humans, during that time. I’m pretty sure that a Japanese reporter, or any other reporter from a different country, would find this extremely interesting, and obviously absurd, because…well, “it wasn’t as boring as the rest of the stuff they saw.”

    Anyway, interesting article. I liked it.

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