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Thread: Common Japanese misconceptions regarding foreigners

  1. #101
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Wow! Where the hell have I been? How did I miss out on this thread? I love a good knock down, drag 'em through the mud, hair pulling debate. Gotta pay attention more! Glad to see things have chilled out a bit.
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  2. #102
    Economist in Residence lonesoullost3's Avatar
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    I just read the article...I was shocked at some of the conclusions. I haven't spent much time in Japan (only 5 days) so I haven't been able to be inundated with the local population and the local culture. My only experience with people from Japan are my penpals and friends at Cornell - thus they are all inherently more open to foreigners and are interested in learning about the world.

    One of my friends, who was an exchange student for a year at Cornell provided me with a great insight about the state of Japan's education system. He took a 20th century Japanese History course with me in his second semester - he said he learned more there than he ever had back in Japan. He always told me he felt secluded from the rest of the world in Japan. He said learning about Japan from an "outside" view gave him a whole new light about the history of his country. And he is by no means an (said with great disgression) 'average' japanese citizen: father swiss, mother taiwanese, has nearly perfect english (though he doesn't believe it) and went to school in Singapore for three years.
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  3. #103
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    maybe it's to ensure that "foreign" people don't lose face
    don't know don't care
    ditto asked about chopsticks -- this was from somebody i had taken to dinner at authentic (wood paper screens, etc) japanese resturant twice
    asked also if i could read japanese - despite having emailed each other for six months
    recently sent a gift to express gratitude for their hospitality -- constantly marvelling/expressing amazement that the card was written in japanese
    maybe it's just having dealt with so many ignorant/uncaring/uninterested foreign people has desensitized?
    dunno
    don't care
    but since it was bumped...
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  4. #104
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    What I dislike most with most of the Japanese with whom I have talked, is their way to assume that some things don't exist outside Japan, even when they are not typical Japanese things. Rather than ask whether we can find one thing in a particular country (e.g. "Is there soy sauce in Belgian supermarkets ?"), they just insinuate that there can't possibly be this thing outside Japan, usually saying "abroad" ("gaijkoku", "mukou"), rather than specifying the country. E.g. "there isn't soy sauce abroad, right ? It's a Japanese thing only". I have found this attitude prevalent when speaking in Japanese with a group of Japanese (less often, one to one).

    Just before leaving Japan, I met 5 friends of my wife. As we were discussing moving to Belgium, they said we had better buy a garlic crusher as this was obviously only to be found in Japan. They also assumed that we would not be able to find soy sauce, nihonshu or Japanese rice in Belgium, and they asked my wife how she was planning to survive in such a "hostile" environment (they didn't actually say "hostile", but to the tone of their voice, it sounded like Europe was a vast jungle). My wife answered that we could find everything in the average Belgian supermarket, to their great surprise. What I hate is that they just assume that "Japanese things" cannot be found abroad, and even non-Japanese things which maybe they think are Japanese, like a garlic crusher.

    In fact, I know that many daily objects are supposedly "Japanese" in the mind of many Japanese. That irritates me like nothing else. In 4 years in Japan I have had the time to hear such misconceptions about things that go beyond the imagination. Mad Pierrot's example "Is there McDonald in the US ?" is NOT too far fetched. I have met people who visibly thought that it was not obvious that there should be Xmas or New Year greeting cards, mobile phones or pasta in Europe (!).

    Also just before I left Japan, I was having lunch with my in laws, and my nother-in-law worried that there may not be vegetable graters in Belgium. My step-father-in-law, an well-educated man, who has lived 7 years abroad, and whose son lives in the USA (where he goes for a few weeks every year), confirms that "graters are not common in Western countries" (!!). First of all, how could he speak for all Western countries when he has never been to Europe and only knows the US ? Then, he made a big mistake as vegetable/cheese graters were certainly not invented in Japan, and are very common in Belgium (of course, in such a cheese-loving country, every family has at least one of these ). I had to reassure my in-laws that we even had an electric multi-function grater that made fruit/vegetable juices, grated carrots and everything.

    This attitude of pre-judging countries they don't know is what I call "prejudice". From my experience in Japan, the vast majority of the Japanese, regardless of their education and overseas experience, have deep prejudices against "abroad" ("gaikoku"). I am quite happy to have left Japan just so that I wouldn't hear such stupidities on a daily basis again. In fact, everytime I came back to Europe from Japan and talked about Japan with various people (family, friends, shopkeepers, civil servants...), none made such weird assumptions. None had seriously mistaken stereotypes about Japan. A few days ago, I spoke to a construction worker who came to my house for a reparation. I told him that I had just returned from Japan, and we started talking about it. He was not a very educated or cultivated man, but his stereotypes of Japan were basically correct : people eat sushi with chopsticks at a low table, bow to greet each others, are excessively polite and well disciplined.

    A Japanese person would not have given an opinion of Belgium or any other country we were talking about. They would have asked whether there were sushi in that country, whether people could eat them, and assumed "no" for both. Rather than caring about how the other country looks like, they care about how much of Japanese culture is present there, and whether people there can behave like Japanese people. Why does it always have to be centered on Japan ? Why can't they just see the world without rating it according to how many Japanese products they can find there, and assume false things rather than ask questions when they don't know ?

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  5. #105
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    A recent study has shown that 3% of Japanese university students (and they have presumably tough entrance examinations) cannot point out at the US on a world map, and 44% don't know where is Iraq ! Don't even get me started about people with less good education.
    I bet both numbers would be higher in America.

    (edit - just read the rest of the thread and it is true).
    Last edited by Gaijin 06; Dec 5, 2005 at 08:11.

  6. #106
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    In English, this s called prejudice (=unjust behaviour formed on a preconceived opinion not based on actual facts or experience).
    Actually, you're wrong again. Prejudice is simply an opinion or idea, formed by "pre-judging" someone or something.

    The act of denying an alien an apartment to rent is discrimination.

    You should really learn the difference between discrimination & prejudice, given how much you like using these two words.

  7. #107
    Five times to Japan. ArmandV's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaijin 06
    Actually, you're wrong again. Prejudice is simply an opinion or idea, formed by "pre-judging" someone or something.

    The act of denying an alien an apartment to rent is discrimination.

    You should really learn the difference between discrimination & prejudice, given how much you like using these two words.

    Actually, prejudice does lead to discrimation. The first time I experienced discrimination in Japan was my trip there in October. I was going to go to a nightclub in Ueno but the guy at the door said, "Sorry, Japanese only!" My thought was, "Hmmm, those guys at JREF were right."

  8. #108
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    Of course prejudice leads to discrimination, in the same way as drinking can lead to being drunk - however the two things are not the same

    Many people have innate (cultural or personal) prejudices - some will consciously suppress them in order not to discriminate.

  9. #109
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaijin 06
    Actually, you're wrong again. Prejudice is simply an opinion or idea, formed by "pre-judging" someone or something.

    The act of denying an alien an apartment to rent is discrimination.

    You should really learn the difference between discrimination & prejudice, given how much you like using these two words.
    Oxford Dictionary defintion of prejudice :

    1 preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or experience. 2 unjust behaviour formed on such a basis. 3 chiefly Law harm that may result from some action or judgement.

    ORIGIN Latin praejudicium, from prae ‘in advance’ + judicium ‘judgement’.

    This thread is not about discrimination at all, only about misconceptions and prejudices. Learn to read.

  10. #110
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    Hi Maciamo!

    I'm glad that you have made a choice hopefully for the best. Obviously you and Japan had irreconcilable differences, and the best thing was probably to say good-bye.

    Please try not to be too bitter! I hope you can turn your mental accuities to something else more positive!

  11. #111
    Regular Member Gaijinian's Avatar
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    have fun in Belgium!
    これからも絶対頑張る〜

  12. #112
    曙金事 (what a tasty dog) A ke bono kane kotto's Avatar
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    This article made me think of "Little Britain" : "Unlike other countries, Britain has people of two genders : women, and men !"
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  13. #113
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    i was called "chites" once on another forum which i later learned i meant whites who want to be Japanese..and it is a races term.

    the funny thing is: who ever said i am a Caucasian ???
    even though i am white..i am Arabian...
    that is a misconception..not every white skin man is an american

  14. #114
    曙金事 (what a tasty dog) A ke bono kane kotto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scorpion da black View Post
    the funny thing is: who ever said i am a Caucasian ???
    even though i am white..i am Arabian...
    that is a misconception..not every white skin man is an american
    Caucasian does not mean American, but White.

  15. #115
    a friend scorpion da black's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by A ke bono kane kotto View Post
    Caucasian does not mean American, but White.
    oh i was mistaken for an American too..i forgot to mention that..
    oh and you didn't see the greater picture...i was mistaken for being of the white race...not only that "chites" is a curse.. or so i was told

  16. #116
    曙金事 (what a tasty dog) A ke bono kane kotto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scorpion da black View Post
    oh i was mistaken for an American too..i forgot to mention that..
    So what ? Anybody can be an American. It's the most mixed country on earth !

  17. #117
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    "Foreigners can't speak or understand Japanese well." Wow do I hate that one.

  18. #118
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    Japanese people tend to have a thought about foreigners as stupid and uneducated.
    Japanese who have never visited outside of Japan, think that all foreigners are less smarter than ordinary Japanese people.

  19. #119
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post


    In fact, I know that many daily objects are supposedly "Japanese" in the mind of many Japanese.

    MSG is one popular food flavoring-enhancer among many Chinese,they also think it's " Chinese "

    In fact,it's a Japanese invention.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosodium_glutamate

    Ignorancy has no national boundary.People are indoctrinated by education & media to some degree,also own prejudices.

  20. #120
    puzzled gaijin
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    That is true to an extent, but some concepts held by Japanese tend to be more widely held than in most other cultural groups I have met. Americans that haven't traveled abroad still tend to think the US is the best place to live. Those of us who have seen outside have different opinions, depending on where you live.

    I think other nationalities tend to ask more questions than educated Japanese do, and not assume so much. Can't dismiss it by the number who travel (a lot of japanese have a passport), but when they travel, do they really see?

  21. #121
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    [QUOTE=Maciamo;180694]
    Quote Originally Posted by corocoro
    And Maciamo-san, I agree with what Shiro-san said.
    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.
    So, yes the Japanese do admire the changing of seasons, and it doesn't matter if there are 3, 4 or 5 of them, as Shiro and you said. But I think that the 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.
    I think you are judging things too easily. Are you saying that my wife, or some of my Japanese acquaitances lied to me about this ? It may be that you and Shiro were not told by your teachers that all Westerners speak English, but some people are, and probably enough of them so that there will always be some Japanese starting to talk English to the first Westerner they see, or 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.
    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.
    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.
    3) During WWII, the Japanese showed well enough that they felt superior and were meant to govern the world (at least Asia). Many of the older generation nowadays grew up with such a minset and such values. It is very difficult to change. So they may not say it, but still feel it's true. Many politicians or company president in Japan are in their 70's, and so most grew up with such a mentality. These people also designed the Japanese education system, and try to inculcate the notions of nihonjinron as subtly as possible, so that it does not clearly appear in textbooks because it would be condemed by the United States.
    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, 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.
    . 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.
    There is a reason why China or Korea pressure the Japanese government to change their history textbooks. 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.
    Great post. It's a little scary to hear all this, but I experience this in the US as well.
    Though, thinking about it, the US is a little better, well the parts I grew up in, since it was a melting pot. I grew up in NYC, and it's filled with people from all over the place, speaking their native language.
    Though, I get a little anxious, when I hear these brainwashed Americans are all "support the troops", anti-Iraq or any country we are at war with...
    Raising the Flag, patriotism, is all a little too scary for me and result in hate-crimes.
    In the end, you have to find the right people, who will accept you for who you are.

  22. #122
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    Quote Originally Posted by PopCulturePooka View Post
    I'm curious about this 4 seasons thing as I cant wrap my head around it.
    By 4 seasons do they mean 4 obviously discernale seasons or the naming.
    I mean one can argue that Australia has two seasons, but we still follow the 4 season model of Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. When Japanese asked me if Australia has four season I would always reply that of course we did.
    Really??? That's interesting.... In Indonesia, we have 2 season..... but we never said that we have four season....

  23. #123
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    Even if I've been to Japan for a very short time, there are some of those things I have experienced, for example the all foreigners are American thing. It was really weird since my looks are not quite American, because I'm half Turkish!

  24. #124
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    Wow very interesting article.
    The sad thing is, Half of these were actually told to me over skype by this stupid English chick that is a foreign exchange student in Japan. She is delusional she really soaked up the Japanese culture I guess?
    And on the 4 season thing, so? I am fine living in California where our seasons are Spring, Summer, Summer, Fall.
    But, I on the otherhand am not sure how I would be affected by discrimination. I tend to laugh it off and not think much of it because I am a white American all I get discriminated for is for political views or just because I AM white. It's all irrational crap.

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