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Thread: Common Japanese misconceptions regarding foreigners

  1. #26
    The Geezer Sensuikan San's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brooker
    A twelve year old might have some misconceptions, but I think most Americans think Canada is very similar to America (which probably makes Canadians angrier than wild misconceptions )
    You're right on the button, bud ! It does.

    I can only asume that the reverse is true !

    Regards

    (Don't blame me - I'm British !) ジョン
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  2. #27
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brooker
    But I agree that stupid people are everywhere and ridiculous misconceptions happen everywhere.
    What titillates my interest is the constancy and homogeneity of Japanese misconceptions. It always seem to be the same erroneous ideas that come back again and again, regardless of the person's socio-economic background or region of origin within Japan.

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  3. #28
    Anjin Brooker's Avatar
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    Yeah, I worked with a lot of Canadians while in Japan and I learned that most of them are desperate to prove that Canada is very unique and has nothing in common with America. Wanna piss off your Canadian friends? Say something like this, "You know, I've been to Canada and America, and really I can't see any difference." On second thought, don't do it. They'll probably run you out of town.
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  4. #29
    Anjin Brooker's Avatar
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    The four seasons thing was always a mystery to me. I was asked that a few times and I was never sure what they were asking me. I didn't know about their misconception at the time. To me that's like saying, "Did you know that in America, when you drop something, it falls down, instead of up."

  5. #30
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Just for the record...

    I've seen a Scottish man almost kill a Japanese person for introducing him as "from England."

    People beware......


  6. #31
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Just something random to add:

    Tonight someone asked me if we have toothpicks in America.

  7. #32
    目録 Index's Avatar
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    I was asked about the four seasons countless times as well and I came to the conclusion that the issue was the sudden, abrupt change in seasons more than the fact that there are four seasons. Actually, where I grew up the seasons blend in to each other over quite a long time and it's not easy to categorically state when it is summer or autumn etc, so I found the 'precise' seasons in Japan quite novel.

  8. #33
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Index
    Actually, where I grew up the seasons blend in to each other over quite a long time and it's not easy to categorically state when it is summer or autumn etc, so I found the 'precise' seasons in Japan quite novel.
    Well, I don't find the Japanese seasons so clear-cut. There were still yellow leaves on most gingko trees in central Tokyo for the New Year, and one and a half month later the plum trees were already blossoming. However, 2 weeks later (early March) we got the first snow, and 1 week after that () some winter cherry trees were already blossoming too, although it's still cold.

    As for summer, one year we get rain for 3 weeks in July and temperature around 25'C, the next we get only 2 short showers in the same period and temperature reaching almost 40'C.

    In Tokyo winters are warmer than almost anywhere south except southern Kyushu and Okinawa.

    Let's say the seasons here are a bit f#cked up.

  9. #34
    夜露死苦! TwistedMac's Avatar
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    about speaking english to foreigners/assuming we all speak English:
    You can't please everyone. If a Japanese person sees a foreigner and wishes to communicate, his best bet is going to be English.. He can't read minds, he can't speak all languages and odds are better this person knows English than Japanese.

    And starting off in English then turning to Japanese when it turns out the foreigner knows Japanese is in no way rude or impolite.
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  10. #35
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brooker
    The four seasons thing was always a mystery to me. I was asked that a few times and I was never sure what they were asking me. I didn't know about their misconception at the time. To me that's like saying, "Did you know that in America, when you drop something, it falls down, instead of up."
    It has always been a mystery to me how something like climate/weather can become such a matter or national pride. After all, if we took the entire populations of, for example, Japan and Greenland and swapped them en masse their respective climates wouldn't make the move with them. In other words, while climate may arguably play a role in shaping the character of a nation and it's people, the people can lay no claim to shaping the character of the climate.

    I'll never forget one Japanese fellow who was bragging on how hot, humid and miserable summers are in "Japan" (actually: "Japan" = "our corner of Gunma"). He asked me about the summers where I am from. Basically he wanted me to acknowledge that summers in "Japan" were more intolerable (and that the fact that wareware Nihonjin were tolerating them made them something special, I guess).

    I informed him that summers in my home area, West Tennessee, are every bit as hot, humid and miserable as summers in East Gunma. He insisted this couldn't be true. I told him it was. This went back and forth several times, with the guy getting more and more irate. I seriously thought he was going to attack me. He was that pissed off about it. If I hadn't been twice his size, I suspect I would have had a fight on my hands.....and all over something as asinine and unattributable to the virtues of the people of a nation as what sort of weather they have.

  11. #36
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Funny story, mike.

    It reminds me of something I heard my girlfriend say last fall. We were talking a stroll down the philosophers path in Kyoto. Looking at all the fall colors, she commented, "This makes me proud to be Japanese."

    Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut.
    (at least for that time being)

  12. #37
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Today, I overheard a conversation between my wife and her grandmother. My wife was explaining that there were more and more vegetarians in Western countries* because many people do not want to kill animals. The grandmother replied "if they are so sensitive, how come they always start wars" ! I refrained myself from saying that it was Japan that invaded Asia and attacked the USA, not the other way round. That's another kind of prejudice held by elderly people, who usually see Westerners as barbarians.

    I have even heard old Japanese people saying that the only fact that Westerners were more hairy proved that they were less civilized ! I also refrained from explaining how hairiness is due to high testosterone, which can be a sign of more rational and analytical minds, as opposed too over-emotional people who think that having lots of cherry trees make them more civilized. There are definitely advantages to the fact that Japanese assume that the gaijin sitting at the next table cannot understand what they are saying.

    *Btw, we saw a TV programme in Japan explaining the way lobsters had to be killed in Australia to prevent them from suffering - basically by putting the lobsters a few minutes in ice-cold water as an anaestesia, then cutting through the body from head to tail in one quick movement.

  13. #38
    Aliaswavefront Dude Rgchrono's Avatar
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    you know what is odd....?

    some of my japanese friends do not know where Guatemala is located. >_<

    some of them wanted to know where my parents were from I said, "My dad is from Mexico", which they were able to understand where that was, " and my mom is from Guatemala." That totaly left them out in the dark. They didn't know where it was. >_<

    I confused them a lot more when I said, "you don't know where guatamala is??...it is next to Salvador and Nigaragua." That totaly confused them and they didn't have a clue what on earth I was talking about. >_<

    Yet again, I've met some japanese people online who studied spanish. And when I told them where my parents were form, they were able to understand where those places were located. ^_^

    Everybody has to learn something new from time to time. ^_^
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  14. #39
    Anjin Brooker's Avatar
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    I don't think it's odd to be proud of the beauty of your home (even if you had nothing to do with making it beautiful).

    One of my coworkers told me that a Japanese student once asked him if there were McDonald's in America. True story.

  15. #40
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rgchrono
    you know what is odd....?

    some of my japanese friends do not know where Guatemala is located. >_<

    some of them wanted to know where my parents were from I said, "My dad is from Mexico", which they were able to understand where that was, " and my mom is from Guatemala." That totaly left them out in the dark. They didn't know where it was. >_<

    I confused them a lot more when I said, "you don't know where guatamala is??...it is next to Salvador and Nigaragua." That totaly confused them and they didn't have a clue what on earth I was talking about.
    That's not odd. Japanese people are usually so bad at geography that 44% of the university students don't know where Iraq is, although it's one of the most talked about country in the world since Saddam came to power in 1979, and especially since the Gulf War of 1991 and again 2 years ago.

    The same article also says that 7% of Japanese highscool students can't find the USA on a world map !!

  16. #41
    tsuyaku o tsukete kudasai nurizeko's Avatar
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    reading the article and having said it somewhere before, i really think the japanese school system needs to change, and instead of creating drones for bussinesses, they should try and actually do a good job as educators and instill a love of learning.

    in the west i think its unacceptable for a child to go through school, and yet be allowed to retain ignorance.

    but apart from my personal opinion that the education system betrays the ideals of teaching and actually enlightening, and focuses more on simply churning out good little drones like a factory, most of japans problems are simply examples of what can be found in any western country, britain itself, my home country, has a group of individuals refered to as chav's, neds, the non-working class, it infuriates me no end how not only are these people ignorant, they seem perfectly happy to retain their ignorance, call me a snob, but i just feel that its impossible from my point of view how anyone would want to stay so ignorant of the world and themselves, it just boggles my mind...anyway i rant on...

    its up to the enlightened japanese who do take interest in the world otuside, to try and see that the education system in japan is reformed, because its good at churning out workers, but not very good at churning out educated thoughtful individuals, and being the snob i am, i think thats unacceptable lol, sorry, i just love learning, you dont need to be a rocket scientist, but just have SOME interest in knowing the world outside your own little bubble.

  17. #42
    Regular Member Shiro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    That's not odd. Japanese people are usually so bad at geography that 44% of the university students don't know where Iraq is , although it's one of the most talked about country in the world since Saddam came to power in 1979, and especially since the Gulf War of 1991 and again 2 years ago.

    The same article also says that 7% of Japanese highscool students can't find the USA on a world map !!
    WHAT ABOUT AMERICANS?

    Among 18- to 24-year-old Americans given maps:

    87 percent cannot find Iraq
    83 percent cannot find Afghanistan
    76 percent cannot find Saudi Arabia
    70 percent cannot find New Jersey
    49 percent cannot find New York
    11 percent cannot find the United States

  18. #43
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiro
    WHAT ABOUT AMERICANS?

    Among 18- to 24-year-old Americans given maps:

    87 percent cannot find Iraq
    83 percent cannot find Afghanistan
    76 percent cannot find Saudi Arabia
    70 percent cannot find New Jersey
    49 percent cannot find New York
    11 percent cannot find the United States
    Well, that confirms what I always said. The education system in the US sucks even more than in Japan. Thanks for the stats ! Do you have the data for any EU country ?

  19. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    Well the same goes for the French. I was humiliated when the master of ceremonies at Moulin Rouge asked me to do a katate chop on stage. Do they really think all Asians are Japanese, and that all Japanese can do Karate chops ? Does it ever strike the French that I could be seriously offended by that kind of language when I'm there as a visitor ?
    Some french people think all Asians are chinese, and that all chinese can do karate chops some friends of mine still think I'm dating a chinese girl (even after 6 years) and when I say she is JAPANESE they are like "it's the same thing, isn't"

    please accept my sincere apologies for the stupidity of some of my fellow citizen


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  20. #45
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nurizeko
    reading the article and having said it somewhere before, i really think the japanese school system needs to change, and instead of creating drones for bussinesses, they should try and actually do a good job as educators and instill a love of learning.
    Totally agree.

    in the west i think its unacceptable for a child to go through school, and yet be allowed to retain ignorance.
    After lots of debating with forum members, I think this is more of a European thing rather than really "Western". In the US it depends a lot on how lucky you are with your school and teachers rather than a national consciousness that education should give the desire to learn by oneself and know the basics common knowledge (history, geography, sciences, maths, languages...) even if it doesn't serve you for your job. At least you won't look stupid in an internation community ! As for the UK, in regard to your next remark, one's views on the importance of knowledge depends very much on one's social class (maybe in France too, to a lesser extend). Because of this image of lower class people who are by definition ignorant (as class are not fixed, and anybody born working-class who becomes well-educated and cultivated automatically changes class), it is only natural that the Brits (and some other Europeans) see ignorant people as lower-class. Well, manners can partly make up for it, which helps the Japanese look middle-class, but not the average American.

    its up to the enlightened japanese who do take interest in the world otuside, to try and see that the education system in japan is reformed, because its good at churning out workers, but not very good at churning out educated thoughtful individuals, and being the snob i am, i think thats unacceptable lol, sorry, i just love learning, you dont need to be a rocket scientist, but just have SOME interest in knowing the world outside your own little bubble.
    In my experience, a Japanese is more easily offended if told that Japan looks poor or that Japan's seasons are not different from most other countries, than if told that he/she personally is stupid ("baka", which isn't much of an insult in Japan) or ignorant (translated as "mugaku" or "mukyoiku", but not very common words in Japanese, as people don't really care anyway). It is almost difficult to imagine a Japanese getting really offended for being told they are stupid or ignorant, but they surely will if you say they dress like homeless or their bag "looks" cheap. I am pretty sure that most European wouldn't care much about being told that they or their country looks poor or whatever, but would be offended to be called stupid or ignorant if they are well-educated (sometimes even if they are not).

  21. #46
    Go to shopping PopCulturePooka's Avatar
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    A teacher who posts at another board was once asked by an older married Japanese couple if foreigners get back pain.

  22. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I understand that. I know that. In fact we could argue (and some Japanese do) that Japan has 5 seasons (with the "tsuyu"), or 3 (no real winter in some places), or else. But if Japanese people admire so much the seasons that they feel the need to tell ALL foreigners about it, how comes they don't alreday know that about all Western countries have 4 seasons ? If they do know, why ask this particular question and ask it this way ? They could ask "Are the seasons in your country as distinct as in Japan ?" or "Does each season in your country last about the same time as in Japan, or are some seasons shorter and longer ?" I have no problem at all with such questions. However, I was never asked them by any of the 100+ Japanese who asked me if my country had four seasons.
    Okay.

    Japanese are so indoctrinated to think that their country is unique that many of them truely believe that Western countries may not have distinct seasons.
    indoctrinated by who? and what for?
    I think it's just we are a country who appreciate and admire very much the nature that we are blessed with. And this doesn't mean that we think we are more unique or superor to others, other countries or nature in other countries. The idea like Western countries may not have distinct seasons is simply coming from ignorance. I think nothing has to do with uniqueness.


    I think you are judging things too easily.
    May I say the same thing to you?
    It's no problem to say "some" Japanese teachers "seems" to misinform their students. But how can you be so sure about it when you say "only" your wife and some of your acquaintances said so? And No, ofcause I don't think your wife and the acquaintances lied. But I'm almost certain that you misconstrue what they meant. It's too obviously weird idea for Japanese so me and Shiro-san couldn't stop claiming it's not ture. Please ask them again and make sure if they meant that "all" Westerners speak English and if they think it's a common idea that we have been taught about it in Japan.


    there will always be some Japanese starting to talk English to the first Westerner they see,
    Yes, Because it's the language we study at school. And it is considered a international language. So we assume most of the Westerners probably speak some of it. That's all.


    enough Japanese believing that any Western teacher at NOVA or such schools is a native English teacher. In fact, whatever these schools say, there are many non-native teachers too, because most Japanese don't see the difference, as they believe Westerner = Native English-speaker.
    Yes, Many Japanese believe that Western teachers at those schools are native English speakers because those schools are for learning "English". And There are probably many Japanse who can't tell the difference and believe that the teaters are native, but There are also many Japanese who can tell the difference and rather feel disappointed on the lessons.


    1) have you ever studied psychology and psychoanalysis (the unconscious, subconscious, etc.) ? Many Japanese (especially older generations) feel superior at an unconscious or subconscious level. Anyway, even if it was fully conscious (maybe a few people), most Japanese are too polite to tell that they feel superior, because even in very direct cultures, people rarely say it even when they think it.
    I don't think you need to study psychology to understand the unconscious and subconscious...

    So if I study psychology, is it okay to make generalization like you do? I told you I have never met a Japanese who imply superiority toward non-Japanese people in my life. Maybe you could consider the fact a little. I think Japan is still too homogeneous that we barely have a oppotunity to communicate with non-Japanese people unless you have a certain interest in other cultures or you live in a certain place in a big city. I really don't want to be rude, but to be honest, most of Japanese barely think about Gaikokujin in our everyday life... And Have you ever imagin that we might have experienced the same kind of unconscious and subconscious superiority from Western people?


    2) have you never heard of theories of "nihonjinon" ? This is what I am talking about. Akio Morita , the founder of Sony, is just one example of people who don't mind saying it publicly. But many politicians also think like that, for example the mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. It is because a majority of Japanese agree with his racist ideas that he was elected and re-elected. But I understand very well that most Japanese will never tell a foreigner directly that they think of them as "barbarians" (=inferior), because they want to avoid direct confrontation.
    "nihonjin-ron" It's just a theory...
    Excuse me? You really believe A majority of Japanese agree with his racist idea? Most of us disagree with it. We are supporting for him because he carries out his word unlike other politicians who seems to take forever to decide one tiny thing.


    3) During WWII, the Japanese showed well enough that they felt superior and were meant to govern the world (at least Asia).
    If the past has something to do with superiority, Japan won't be the only one, I guess.


    try to inculcate the notions of nihonjinron as subtly as possible, so that it does not clearly appear in textbooks
    What for?


    4) questions like "can you use chopsticks" or "does your country have 4 seasons" are derivatives of this national indoctrination of "nihonjinron". Even if younger Japanese don't feel it consciously,
    Again, What for? What is the benefit for us to doing so when it seems to only bothers many non-Japanese like you do?


    a gaijin is always only a gaijin - and so probably doesn't speak Japanese, canot eat sushi, cannot sit in seiza, cannot appreciate the beauty of the uniquely Japanese cherry blossoms, or any other prejudice.
    This part, I'd agree with you 100%. We really need to change. But one thing I really like you to know is most of these ideas are comming from ignorance not from superiority.


    Here is Wikipedia's definition of nihonjinron. As you see, thinking that Japan is unique for its disticnt seasons or whatever is a step toward nihonjinron.

    I think it is sad that so many Japanese do not realise that they have been subtly indoctrinated by their education system about this. The fact that "critical thinking" is not taught in Japan is the best way to facilitate this indocrination, as too critical people would immediately notice it.
    You are assuming again...


    There is a reason why China or Korea pressure the Japanese government to change their history textbooks.
    There must also be some reason for us why we don't then...


    There is a reason why Westerners like me think that Japanese have underlying racist attitudes based on the nihonjinron. There is a reason that Japan invaded all most of Asia in the 1930's and 40's. There is a reason that an openly racist politician can become twice mayor of Tokyo (as much as there is a reason for a extremist Christian to be elected as president of the USA). There is a reason why -right-conservative politicians have been in power in Japan for the last 50 years. Because that it what a majority of Japanese want, or wanted at the time
    Yes, They are a reason for things. But most of part, You are just assuming things as you wish to be. To me, It seems as if you are rejecting the fact that we Japanese are just same human being as anybody else. I really don't know why you want to distinguish people like Japanese, American or European that much. I've learned by visiting other countries that after all, no matter what color you are, people are basically all the same. So your idea surprises me a lot.

    Anyway, This post might be miss the point a lot. This is beyond my poor English ability. I hope you would understand what I mean.

    Thank you for reading.

  23. #48
    目録 Index's Avatar
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    Yes, They are a reason for things. But most of part, You are just assuming things as you wish to be. To me, It seems as if you are rejecting the fact that we Japanese are just same human being as anybody else. I really don't know why you want to distinguish people like Japanese, American or European that much. I've learned by visiting other countries that after all, no matter what color you are, people are basically all the same. So your idea surprises me a lot.
    I think this is an important point. Whilst we are all the same, we are also all different, so generalizations regarding national characteristics are bound to fail. It's too easy to extrapolate beyond your own experiences, but that can be fraught with danger.

  24. #49
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by corocoro
    indoctrinated by who? and what for?
    Let me answer here all the "what for" in your post. The people who wish to indoctrinate the Japanese population usually have a strong ego and believe themselves that the Japanese are superior to other peoples. These are the Japanese politicians (maybe not all, but probably quite a lot of them from what I have seen, heard and read about them). It's only natural for some humans to want power and pride, and politicians are a sort of special gathering of the people who feel the most like this - especially in big countries like Japan, the US, UK, France, etc. because that make them feel even more powerful and proud to control a rich and populous country.

    Try to feel how the leaders of Japan during WWII felt, and understand what was their motivation to invade Asia. Power, pride, and a sense of superiority. Unfortunately, this is part of human nature, and such people are to be found in every country. The problem I feel about Japan (not at first, but the more I read about Japanese politics, the more I feel so), is that the way of thinking of high-ranking politicians has changed little since WWII regarding their greed for power, pride and has even increased regarding money. They now have to be politically correct vis-a-vis the United States, because they lost the war and still feel it. But their pride is still strong, and one way of showing it was by rebuilding the country and try to surpass the US economically.

    When that suceeded in the 1980's (the Bubble years), not only the politicians but many Japanese felt superior to the rest of the world. You can't deny it because many books were written at that time by many Japanese people to explain how everything Japanese was better and more efficient than in other countries. Their ego literally followed the rise of the stock exchange. It's only with the bubble burst from 1990 and 15 years of sluggish economic growth that most of the Japanese really started to wonder what was wrong with them, their political system, their management style or their education system. You can't deny that. Everybody knows it.

    So now you tell me that the Japanese do not feel superior. Well, maybe they can't admit it because it's not politically correct, AND the economy cannot prove it anymore (that's where we see how money is important to rate things in Japan - more than one's knowledge of the world). So frustrated Japanese people turn their hidden (subconscious) sentiment of superiority to something else. That's when we see the media accusing foreigners of the rise in crimes (few people question that it could be due to 15 years of economic slowdown). Instead of fairly reporting all crime cases, the news agencies concentrate on "foreign crime" and insinuate that all the problems of Japan are caused by the increased foreign population. And people like Shintaro Ishihara get elected and re-elected in Tokyo (the most cosmopolitan and "liberal" city in Japan - so I wonder how that is in the conservative countryside !). Do you mean that there is not even one other trustworthy politician in all Tokyo to elect instead of a self-proclaimed racist ? With the things he said and wrote in his book (the "Nanjing massacre never happened", etc.), he would have been banned from being governor in most European countries. (for instance, Jorg Hayder party in Austria, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, etc. were forbidden to form any ruling party).

    I have witnessed myself how the police stops any foreigner in the street for no reason just because "a gaijin is always suspect". I am not the only one to feel so. Just check Arudo Debito's website. I have also seen sign "foreigners and dogs not allowed", and experience being refused accommodation by landowners who had never seen me just because I had a foreign name. These kind of things happen everyday in Japan. So no matter how many times you tell me that Japanese do not feel superior (eg. morally, being better behaved, less "risky", etc.) or are not even a bit racist, I won't believe you from my personal experiences.

    I think that most Japanese do not realise that they are being indoctrinated since their birth by the government via the media and schools, but they are, otherwise they wouldn't hold such homogenous prejudices against foreigners, foreign countries or even foreign languages (see my new addition "Chinese is similar to English" in the original article).

    Yes, Many Japanese believe that Western teachers at those schools are native English speakers because those schools are for learning "English". And There are probably many Japanse who can't tell the difference and believe that the teaters are native, but There are also many Japanese who can tell the difference and rather feel disappointed on the lessons.
    But native speakers are not always the best teachers. Many lack qualifications to teach or have a personality that is not made for teaching. But a non-native speakers who has become as fluent as a native knows how to learn that language, and can usually teach it better than natives. The problem is that not all of them speak decent English, even (or especially?) in school like NOVA.

    I really don't know why you want to distinguish people like Japanese, American or European that much. I've learned by visiting other countries that after all, no matter what color you are, people are basically all the same.
    I have a very international experience, having lived in 7 countries and visited over 30 more. However I disagree with you. All humans may be the same in average, notwithstanding interpersonal differences even inside the same family (different character, interests, intelligence...). But it is very possible to compare whole countries, based on their culture (mentality) and education system. This last one is what distinguises so much Japan, Europe and the US. Eventhough there are many very different cultures inside Europe, the education system in each country is more similar than with any non-European country, which is what unites Europeans.

    My complaints are not about Japanese people as human beings, but about the education system (school + home). It makes the Japanese ignorant of the rest of the world, and ignorance creates racism (police, discrimination about accommodation, etc.) or other problems (insulting comments about using chopsticks, etc.). I hope you understand.

  25. #50
    Five times to Japan. ArmandV's Avatar
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    I believe you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brooker
    I don't think it's odd to be proud of the beauty of your home (even if you had nothing to do with making it beautiful).

    One of my coworkers told me that a Japanese student once asked him if there were McDonald's in America. True story.
    The same thing happened to one of our tour members last summer.

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