The myth of a Perfect Japan

Sometime last year I stumbled upon a clickbait article: 16 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned After Living in Japan For a Year. As the title suggests, the author goes through 16 aspects they find amazing in Japan. The issue is, as apparent in the comments already, is that most of them are superficial or simply not true.

Now it must be stated that Japan is a great place if you are a guest. Most of the article’s statements are true if you are not a part of any social group – or at least not of the social group that you’re interacting with. These are formalities that you are expected to show off towards people you want to impress. These are manners you can use to feel people indebted to you. And mostly, it’s something you only do if you want to be specifically nice.

If you belong to a social group, such as an university club, a company or just a group of Japanese friends, most of these fall apart. There is a word for such acts: 気をつかう (ki wo tsukau). At bottom line it means that you put effort into being nice in the relationship. On the other hand, when you are with familiar people, friends or coworkers, you don’t have to be so attentive anymore. And it’s not considered a bad thing.

If you’re attending a contractor representative, you’ll want to be polite. In such a formal relationship, you’ll (quietly) keep track of favors, over-thank people, put the other first, definitely not exclude the other from any event that they may know of (though they’ll probably refuse if invited).

But in reality Japanese people are people all the same. Friends don’t keep track of favors, and you’re not going to thank someone over and over again for something if you see each other every day. They won’t be masterpieces of selflessness and politeness unless they have to. The only reason they wait quietly in lines because that’s the rule, not because they like it – just try joining such a queue.

Working in the anime industry for three years have shown me that Japanese aren’t always on time, they don’t behave with grace and elegance, they have shouting matches too and cleaning up after oneself isn’t something you can always expect. Oh, and better not get started about Japanese nationalism in a pub with grown men unless you want some unpleasant experience.

Leave a Reply