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Thread: Strange Japanese beliefs & urban myths

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Strange Japanese beliefs & urban myths

    If one thing characterise Japanese people, it's the uniformity of their way of thinking and beliefs. They sometimes hold some kind of believes in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world (something they love doing). nfortunately for them, lots of these are just myths. For example :

    1) 4 seasons

    Japan is (one of the) only country to have 4 seasons

    No need to explain why this is plain stupid, as Japan doesn't even have much light difference between summer and winter, like in Europe. So no tennis at 9pm in summer and no going to school/work when it's dark at 8:30am.

    Everywhere in Europe and in most of North America, there are colourful autumn leaves, snow in winter, flowers in spring and hot summer days. Japan is far from unique. Even for cherry blossoms... Korea and China also have cherry, plum and peach blossoms galore, enough to advertise them on the official tourist websites.

    2)Farmers vs hunters

    Japanese have a majority of A blood type, because their society is based on farming, while Westerners are O, because they were hunters. This opposition farmer-hunter also explains the difference of Western individualism vs Japanese collectivism.

    If the blood types proportion have some thruth, the analysis that goes with it (farmers >< hunters) is completely erroneous.

    Actually it is the opposite.
    Farming came to Japan when the Roman Empire had already extended to its maximum and was on its way downwards. Agriculture came to Europe from several millenia (Greece) to several centuries (Northern Europe) before Japan. Farming has always been as important since then than any time in the Japanese history.

    I believe that Japanese prefer to consider themselves as traditionally "farmers" rather "hunters" because it sounds more civilised (others are just barbarians living in caves and wearing animal skins ! ). They maybe just think it fits more their peaceful and group-minded attitude. Thinking about how many times I have heard this argument in Japan, they must feel some kind of hidden pride in being the farmers. Sorry to disappoint them, but history shows they are actually one the the latest people in Eurasia to have acquire agriculture.

    3) European mentality is uniform

    So do most Japanese think. There is probably more difference between an Englishman and an Italian, a Finn and a Spaniard or a Greek and an Irishman, than between an Italian and a Japanese. Japanese tend to believe that all Westerners are the same, and many base their image on the American stereotype. That is as saying that carrots, apples, cabbages, cherries and nuts are all the same because they are not meat or fish. Gross overgeneralisation.

    4) What is (traditionally) Japanese and what is imported

    Lots of Japanese seem to have a problem with that. Some would believe that the classical music in their commercial (Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, Strauss....) is actually modern Japanese music created for the commercials. Other will tell you that French food in Japan is much better than in France, but have never actually set foot in France ! All Japanese are convinced that tonkatsu is a Japanese dish because it bears a Japanese name and is served in 和風 (wafuu : Japanese style) restaurants. Italian have had scallopine milanese and French cotelette de porc panee for ages. Tonkatsu is only one more Japanese import. As everybody know, Japanese were vegetarians before Meiji, and such kind of food didn't actually become popular before the 1950's or later.

    But what they really have hard to distinguish is the origin of modern traditions that have Japanese names, such as "mother and father's day "(haha no hi, chichi no hi). I've heard so many times : "In Japan we have mother's day, what about Europe ?" But it IS European in origin ! Same for valentine's day (though "white day" is a Japanese invention) or even sending greeting cards on New Year's day, which falls on the first of January (Japan has adopted Western calendar, not the opposite). As always, people the more at risk of comitting such aberration are those who have never left Japan.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Jun 28, 2003 at 00:18.

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  2. #2
    Banned arnadstephen's Avatar
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    Popular Myths...

    Other will tell you that French food in Japan is much better than in France

    Indian food in Malaysia/Signapore is better than Indian food in INDIA

    This is true, I have been to INDIA and MALAYISA/SIGNAPORE
    _.

  3. #3
    Villain Iron Chef's Avatar
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    Great thread btw. When I was living in Sapporo, the notion of 4-seasons seemed utterly absurd. Hokkaido weather for me felt more like 6 months of Winter with Spring/Summer/Fall making up the other six, heh.

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    I never think that Japan is the only country to have four seasons.
    We can know it easily through movies or news or photos or web site
    even if we have never left Japan.
    Recently,as you know or as you see in the world,
    soooo many Japaneses go abroad.
    When we go abroad,we naturally check up seasons or wheather or temparature of visiting country.

    But we often say,'Japanese loves seasons.'
    What bases on,I guess...
    I guess we have many words to discribe nature or wheather in each seasons.
    And we have many craft works or arts in the motif of plants or flowers.
    By comparering their sences and mine,I can know my sences or feelings are gross.
    The one that tells me such thing is the tradition,isn't it?

    It is true that some year's events look like tradition
    are related to commercializm.(for example, to eat makizushi-sushi roll-
    at Setsubun.)
    And the Japanese postal system was institute in 1871,so exchanging new year's cards were later.
    ;)

  5. #5
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by miyuki
    I never think that Japan is the only country to have four seasons.
    We can know it easily through movies or news or photos or web site
    even if we have never left Japan.
    Recently,as you know or as you see in the world,
    soooo many Japaneses go abroad.
    When we go abroad,we naturally check up seasons or wheather or temparature of visiting country.
    That is for you, but how do you explain that at least 10 people asked me if we had 4 seasons in Europe, which is quite a lot as I don't speak about seasons with everybody you know...
    What is shocking is that even people who have travelled still don't know that Europe or the US have seasons.

    What's more so many people seem surprised to hear that there are cherry blossom in other countries too. Why would there be cherries and not cherry trees and blossoms ?

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    What's more so many people seem surprised to hear that there are cherry blossom in other countries too. Why would there be cherries and not cherry trees and blossoms ?
    They must be talking about sakura and not just any old variety of cherry. Obviously they know there are trees that produce the American cherries that they see in the supermarket but they probably don't relate the two. Actually, I don't know how the fruit-bearing tree looks when in bloom. Is it similar to the standard (yoshino) sakura?

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    sakura

    Someiyoshino has small fruits.They are uneatable.

    I know an episode about George Washington.
    He broke branches of 'sakura.'
    I read it in a magazine for children when I was small.
    Some of them(or some of 10?) read it and may forget it... ;)

  8. #8
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Re: sakura

    Originally posted by miyuki
    Someiyoshino has small fruits.They are uneatable.

    I know an episode about George Washington.
    He broke branches of 'sakura.'
    I read it in a magazine for children when I was small.
    Some of them(or some of 10?) read it and may forget it... ;)
    Anyway, the Japanese government and private cultural exchange groups have gifted millions of cherry trees to foreign dignitaries, heads of state, aid organizations etc for at least 100 years now, so they are obviously out there somewhere.

    Another myth would probably be that somewhere around 90-98% of Japanese consider themselves part of the chuusan kaikyuu or middle class. Atlhough to be fair, that may have been more of an urban myth to begin with, depending on the particular survey and how the questions were worded. I've also seen the number as low as 20 percent in some studies.

  9. #9
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Japanese rice and fruits

    There is also the firm conviction that Japanese rice is better than others (at least 99% of Japanese will tell you that it is true). However, when given Japanese and American rice, most Japanese can't tell which is the Japanese one. There are so many rice varieties, that it's obviously easy to find very differently tasting ones, like Indian basmati or Thai rice. But Japanese rice with Indian food is strange, and I certainly can't imagine sushi or "katsudon" made of basmati.

    Same idea for Japanese fruits, especially melons, strawberries or peaches. But once again, I've carried on my own test on some people and they have no idea which is made in Japan, or even can't tell the 10.000 yen from the 500 yen one. Nevertheless, some of these people were certain the 10.000 yen tatsed much better.

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    "If one thing characterise Japanese people, it's the uniformity of their way of thinking and beliefs."

    If one thing characterizes foreigners, it's the uniformity of their way of thinking that all Japanese people are the same.

    Ok, not true... But when are people going to stop making these sweeping statements along the lines of "all Japanese think this... all Japanese do that..." Forgive my raised eyebrows, but it's a bit rich to make comments about how Japanese people make "gross-generalizations" when your entire posting was exactly that.

    By the way, many people think we have 5 seasons in Japan (summer being split into rainy and non-rainy seasons).

    Tiger

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    Konnichiwa Minasan!

    about 4 seasons.
    The Japanese don't know the inclination of the earth's axis and revolution of the earth around the sun. The Japanese believe the Ptolemaic system even now.

    about farmers vs hunters.
    The God got an offering with great glee from Abel but not Kain. And the Japanese believe that the monotheism believer is a hunting people.

    about European mentality is uniform.
    Because all European obey the Bible. Puritan? Protestant? They are not a Christian without Catholicism.

    about what is (traditionally) Japanese and what is imported
    Because the Japanese believe that the ancestor of Japanese is Judea(Jew).

    about sakura.
    The Japanese love Sakura because the Japanese believe that the forbidden fruit is cherry.

    about the chuusan kaikyuu.
    Yes, most of all Japanese is the chuusan kaikyuu. Because we are all equal before the God without a heathen.

    about Japanese rice and fruits.
    The Japanese believe that Japanese things is better and high priced Japanese things is best. And the Japanese don't understand why the Bible is given free of charge.

    NANGI

  12. #12
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Nangi-san, you really should realise that most younger Europeans don't give a sh*t about religion nowadays. Have you ever visited churches in Europe ? I mean non touristical ones. They are empty during the mass. Only elderly people still attend, and not even half of them. That's a big contrast with the States where even politicians read bibles and people are asked to swear by God or on the bible in Court (unbelievable in Europe, as it is clearly against individual freedom of religion and thinking).

    I also recommend the reading of We Europeans, Richard Hill, which explains very clearly the difference in mentality and culture between more than 20 European countries (a chapter for each country + comparisons, historical roots of differences and more). It's quite easy and enjoyable to read. I've met the author during one of his seminar when I was at University, felt immediately compelled to buy the book and it captivated me so much that I couldn't put it down till I'd finished it.

    Last edited by Maciamo; Jul 2, 2003 at 00:32.

  13. #13
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Tiger
    Ok, not true... But when are people going to stop making these sweeping statements along the lines of "all Japanese think this... all Japanese do that..." Forgive my raised eyebrows, but it's a bit rich to make comments about how Japanese people make "gross-generalizations" when your entire posting was exactly that.

    By the way, many people think we have 5 seasons in Japan (summer being split into rainy and non-rainy seasons).
    Tiger [/B]
    Once a majority (over 50%) of the population think one way or another, it's not a gross-generalization to make the comments I make. What's more, ask any Japanese if these things aren't true for most people, even if it isn't for themselves. Or just make your own survey by asking people their opinion (or better get to hear them without asking, like me).

    Besides, I've never said that all Japanese thought the same way about these issues, because 1) that's impossible, 2) I don't have this knowledge 3) I usually use "most people" or "a majority of people", but NOT "all people" when I want to speak of a general tendency affecting more than 50% of the people.

    5 seasons

    Once again, if you ask 1000 Japanese in the street if Japan has 5 seasons, can you frankly expect more than 5 answering "yes" ? I don't think so, except if you explain your logic that the rainy season is a season in itself. One of the word for season in Japanese (as I know 4 possible translations) is "shiki" 四季, which literally means "the 4 seasons". But there isn't such a word as "goki" 五季 (the 5 seasons). With this logic, I could divide some countries' climate in 6 or 8 seasons, though no inhabitant of that country would ever think about it. What about the typhoon season, the hunt season, the "kouyou"
    紅葉 season, the ski season and the cherry-blossom viewing season (10 days, not all Spring). Japanese also know these seasons and call them like that. But you are wrong to think anybody would seriously think they are seasons on their own, outside the 4 seasons. Ditto for the tsuyu 梅雨 (rainy season).

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    If you want to point out majority opinion, state it as people so. Your opening paragraph was blatantly written to sound as if Japanese people think this way as a unit, even if you didn't intend this to be the case. Personally I don't really care whether you meant it or not.

    On the 5 seasons issue - it was just a throwaway comment, not some kind of big debating point. It's more of a lighthearted view in Japan that there are 5 seasons - an old joke if you like, but not perhaps one that you may have heard. Of course people know that there are only 4.

    Tiger

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    Konnichiwa Maciamo-san!

    Thank Maciamo-san for recommendation of good book. Book is a history of mankind. And reading a good book can sometimes change one's outlook on life.

    But my former post is a laughable text but not serious. And you should hold your sides with laughter but not recommend a book when you read my post. Don't take my joke seriously.
    Or, do you believing seriously that the ancestor of Japanese is Judea(Jew)?

    And you didn't understand the point of my former post. The point is a affirmation about Japanese myths but not a joke. I wrote a laughable text from some of opinions about Japanese myth. But I never denied those opinions. If anything, I agreed to those opinions by sneer at Japanese foolish idea.

    My joke is unimportant, the point of my former post is a approve of Japanese myths. We talk about Japanese myths now and European religion have no connection with this thread. You should not stick to trifles.
    But thanks for recommendation of good book.

    NANGI

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Arrow Nangi-san

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. I knew you were joking in your comments... As fo the book, I meant that I recommend it to everybody, Europeans included, not just you Nangi-san.

    Nonetheless, I'd be happy if Japanese (and Americans) had a kind of world history, geography and culture class at school. You seem to know quite a lot about history, religion, etc., but most Japanese know very little outside Japan, even those having lived abroad, to my disappointment. How comes that among dozens of Japanese I know have lived in Europe (usually in the UK or France) for 1 year or more still don't know basic historico-cultural things, such as distiguishing ethinco-linguistic groups (Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic...), knowing the difference between Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and knowing that most people nowadays are either agnostic, deist or atheist, having a bit of knowledge about Ancient Greece and Rome, knowing a few fundemental dates (in Britain : 1066, William the conqueror's Normand invasion, 1815 : Waterloo, etc.). These are as basic as knowing the name and dates of Japanese eras, knowing the difference between Shinto and Buddhism or that Ainu once inhabited the North of Japan. Most Westerners in Japan know about these things because they want to know about the country they live or travel in (and it's written in every guidebook too), even if it's just for 1 month. How comes that Japanese who study so hard, go to juku till late at night, to yobiko, all learn English several years, and travel so much, have such false stereotypes about the rest of the world ?

    I included the learning of English in the list, because I find it to be normal to learn the history and culture that go with the language one learn. That is how I've been taught languages at school and in countries where I've lived (also in my Japanese school in Tokyo). I've since quite a few English textbooks used in Japanese schools, and there is almost nothing cultural about them. So children grow up thinking that America, Europe and Australia are more or less the same country, with white people that all speak English and behave the same way.

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    Regular Member Grachan's Avatar
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    Re: Japanese popular myths

    Originally posted by Maciamo
    Other will tell you that French food in Japan is much better than in France, but have never actually set foot in France !
    This made me laugh a bit. We went to a restaurant in England, although it was a French restaurant. My wife's friend actually remarked that the food wasn't as good as what she called 'Japanese French'. I think, to a degree, French is seen as a style rather than the actual country of origin.

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    I toally agree with U Maciamo. Because I`m also a forigner who live in japan for two years. They have myths like that some times they think that the Kite is origin in japan. And they think that all over the worl useing the Japanese language to communicate.
    And also that`s true that japanese think that they are the only people have oranges, strawberry, melon... I`m not from a europian country but asian. Yes it`s true that we don`t have melon except other three.

  19. #19
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    I'd like to add some observations just to help keep perspective in this thread; firstly, I think it is important to remember who one is talking to, when hearing these outrageous statements (eg. only Japan has certain fruits or four seasons). The first conclusion I would draw from comments of this nature is that Japan has, like other countries, a significant number of naive, misinformed and badly educated buffoons. Is the cross-section of society that is giving these opinions representative of Japanese? Have you spoken about these issues with people from other social, professional, or educational backgrounds?

    Some would argue that they have a lot of contact with Japanese of all sorts through their work, at places like Nova, Berlitz or any of the other big language schools. These schools, however, also attract only a certain cross section of society, and it could be suggested that the students which are attracted are the ones who know least about foreign countries (hence their desire to learn something at these schools), are the most naive and unexperienced (and so are partial to being manipulated into attending these pseudo-schools by advertising, and paying their ridiculously high tuition fees), and are the ones who have nothing else better to do than learn English as a hobby (which could be associated with not having a job or better options in life, both of which are factors related to education).

    I am not implying of course that anyone who has opinions in this thread is an English teacher at Nova, but rather, that it is important to recognize the relative weight and value of one's observations.

    As an aside, I sometimes wonder whether Japanese people are somewhat more likely to admit to their ignorance in certain matters much more readily than the corresponding 'dimwit' of a western country....I had this feeling a number of times whilst in Japan. It's possible that this is a phenomenon found in interactions between a Japanese person and a foreigner, since the Japanese person may feel like he suddenly has an opportunity to get some information from a 'genuine' foreigner, and/or is speaking to 'only' a foreigner so he is safe in revealing the extent of his ignorance.

    I'd also like to point out the concept of humble language, which exits in Japanese. It's purpose is to honor your interlocutor by humbling yourself and in essence putting yourself down. Since this idea exists in language (which, it can be argued, is thought), it could also conceivably be observable in other aspects of verbal behaviour such as the topic of conversation, and one's (presented) attitudes and beliefs. This does not seem too outrageous in light of what is said about the fluidity of morals and ethics (in relation to context) of Japanese thinking. If this were the case, then it would not be unthinkable that a Japanese speaker would be humbling himself (through humbling of his opinions, education, views etc) in order to put you (as represented by your culture and country) in a better light.

  20. #20
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Index
    Is the cross-section of society that is giving these opinions representative of Japanese? Have you spoken about these issues with people from other social, professional, or educational backgrounds?
    I mostly frequent university-educated business people working in central Tokyo (mosty in finance, banking, IT, etc.). Id say that once we get to more ordinary people, the percentage of "bufoons" as uou called them, rises to astronomical proportions. But even among these well-educated elite, I have heard many very gross misconceptions. My job involves meeting lot's of people, and talking about many things, and the most deeply-ingrained misconceptions in all socio-economic classes (again rising as the social level decreases) were about the 4 seasons, food, blood groups and all the hings I cared to mentioned in this article (note that this thread is almost 2 years old).

    These schools, however, also attract only a certain cross section of society, and it could be suggested that the students which are attracted are the ones who know least about foreign countries
    I don't teach at a school (I go directly to companies), and I'd say that most of the people I meet have already been either to Europe or America or both (in addition to Asian countries). I'd say the ignorance is even worse (the type "Do you have melons in Europe") once we talk to people who haven't travelled at all (eg. some of my wife's friends). I have actually been asked the 4 season question by people who had studied a year abroad and travelled extensively ! So far, nobody who I asked me about blood groups didn't believe that the higher O-type rate among Westerners was due to the fact that the Japanese were "farmers" and Europeans were "hunters".

    As an aside, I sometimes wonder whether Japanese people are somewhat more likely to admit to their ignorance in certain matters much more readily than the corresponding 'dimwit' of a western country....
    It's not even that they admit it, they start asking dumb questions and display their ignorance, just out of the blue. Who else would do that ? Very often, they don't even ask because they want to know, but they are persuaded that most countries don't have 4 seasons and that the Japanese were farming earlier than the Europeans and that it has influenced blood groups, or other nonsense.



    I'd also like to point out the concept of humble language, which exits in Japanese. It's purpose is to honor your interlocutor by humbling yourself and in essence putting yourself down. Since this idea exists in language (which, it can be argued, is thought), it could also conceivably be observable in other aspects of verbal behaviour such as the topic of conversation, and one's (presented) attitudes and beliefs. This does not seem too outrageous in light of what is said about the fluidity of morals and ethics (in relation to context) of Japanese thinking. If this were the case, then it would not be unthinkable that a Japanese speaker would be humbling himself (through humbling of his opinions, education, views etc) in order to put you (as represented by your culture and country) in a better light.
    So far, the questions I was asked almost always indirectly put Japan above the West (since the connection to the nihonjinron), and I have rarely (if ever, outside a shop) been addressed in keigo (humble/honorific language) by Japanese people when we discuss in Japanese.

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    Regular Member den4's Avatar
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    you teach at companies? That's a scary thought....I used to do the same thing....
    I think I understand some of why you come up with these threads, Maciamo-sama
    I know nothing...except the answer is 42. You know more than I do.

  22. #22
    目録 Index's Avatar
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    I wasn't directing what I wrote at you Maciamo, specifically, but you brought up some interesting points.

    The education/development system, or maybe I should say tradition, in Japan is peculiar to say the least. Firstly there is the total freedom of youth before starting school, followed by the hard slog of school and cram schools, which is again followed by the relaxed and laisser faire environment of university, once again followed by the strictness of work. But anyway, most university students really seem to have an easy time. Most work part time (sometimes full time), and there is not much insisitence on academic affairs on behalf of the lecturers and staff. I had a friend who had not written her graduation thesis on time and so was told by her superviser that she should write one page, photocopy it one or two hundred times and subimit that. Of course that is just one case, but it is interesting. My point is that a university education in Japan doesn't guarantee much, just as a secondary education in western countries doesn't guarantee much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    So far, the questions I was asked almost always indirectly put Japan above the West (since the connection to the nihonjinron), and I have rarely (if ever, outside a shop) been addressed in keigo (humble/honorific language) by Japanese people when we discuss in Japanese.
    I wasn't suggesting being addressed in keigo per se, but being addressed with the attitude of keigo. I have rarely met non-native English speakers in Japan who speak English well enough to be able to operate in a way reminiscent of Japanese keigo in English. On the other hand, I wouldn't feel comfortable having a Japanese conversation in keigo either (frankly, I don't know keigo well at all), but I have been spoken to with that mood.

  23. #23
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    I think my favorite Japanese myth is that virgins have pink nipples, and they slowly get darker as they have more sex.

  24. #24
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    I think my favorite Japanese myth is that virgins have pink nipples, and they slowly get darker as they have more sex.
    Never heard that one before. Is that only nipples ?

  25. #25
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by den4
    you teach at companies? That's a scary thought....I used to do the same thing....
    I think I understand some of why you come up with these threads, Maciamo-sama
    What kind of companies did you teach at (and what level) ? Why would that be a scary thought ? I found people in big Japanese (or Western) companies to be usually better educated than people with a "arubaito" or doing non-intellectual jobs. But even the most educated ones still stick to stereotypes and misconceptions, something that would not normally happen to someone with the same education level in Europe.

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