I was looking at an article on wa-pedia.com about 40 reasons to think the Japanese are superficial and even though a lot of those examples of superficiality are merely humorous over-exaggerations of observable behavior, a lot of them are actually true, and a lot of visitors to Japan often mention how superficial Japanese people seem to be.
Some examples from the article I have also noticed are:
1.their favorite topic of conversation is food
2.when they do not talk about food, they talk about money or sex
3.they judge people from their appearance and tend to be easily prejudiced (e.g. toward foreigner-looking persons)
4. they can’t debate and dislike serious intellectual discussions.
5.there are very few intellectual programmes on TV (documentaries, debates, political analysis, social phenomenons, literary discussions…), due to a general lack of interest of the population
6.people on TV usually repeat the same few adjectives all the time (oishii, omoshiroi, hidoi, kirei…) , as if they were linguistically challenged.
7.people in everyday life actually do speak like mentioned above
8.they ask the same routine dumb questions to foreigners (“can you use chopsticks; can you eat sushi, is there 4 seasons in your country, etc.”)
9.there are virtually no magazines that test and rate products such as electronics, books, movies, games, etc. They only introduce these products without critical commentary (because the makers/sellers would sue them for being critical !)
1&2. While i don’t agree that the favorite topic of conversation is food, I will agree that conversations in Japan often focus on equally superficial topics, like fashion and money. Occasionally I have had some great conversations in Japan with some very insightful and thoughtful people, but usually I am surprised by how superficial and devoid of meaningful insights most of my conversations in Japan become.
3. I have probably experienced more prejudice in Japan than anywhere else i have been. Such as people prejudging me to be an English speaker, and incapable of speaking Japanese because i’m caucasian, as well as how people prejudge each other based on looks and fashion alone.
4. Saying Japanese people dislike intelligent discussion is a bit harsh, and an over exaggeration. I have had some very intelligent discussions in Japan about linguistics, economics, philosophy, education, history, and other areas. What Japanese culture has a problem with is intelligent debate, as disagreement is really discouraged. Several times I have been having what i thought to be intelligent and interesting conversations with a Japanese friend or acquaintance, and later I was very surprised when they referred to that conversation as an “argument.”
5. it’s true there is nothing intelligent on Japanese TV. there is no arguing with that statement. TV in Japan is only an enormous advertising platform for products, “musicians,” and other people looking to promote themselves or something.
TV in Japan isn’t really an entertainment. It’s more like a colorful billboard in that way.
6 & 7. Yeah, people in Japan have a limited vocabulary for describing situations. There are of course similar occurrences in other languages, but I always feel like those several adjectives are seriously over used. It makes every situation too predictable. If there is food in the situation, somebody will always say “oishii.” If there is a small animal, baby, something pink or something small like that, it will always be labeled “kawaii.” Before I took over my Japanese company, my boss brought a puppy to work one day. So i tried to play a game of, Guess what adjective all the Girls in the Office are going to Use to describe the puppy! But of course that’s not a game we can play in Japan because people in Japan use language too freaking predictably! bastards!
8. Yeah, I am very offended by people who make superficial prejudgements of others like that. And actually, I am especially offended by the fact that is always the same superficial offenses, like asking if you can use chopsticks just because you are not asian! wtf! i always respond by asking if they can use a fork, and if they can tie their shoes by themselves because i thought Japanese people can’t do that because shoes with laces aren’t from Japan.
Is superficiality actually quantifiable? Can we somehow measure the norms of superficiality within a culture and determine a ranking of the most superficial in the world? I’m going to say no. Because there are superficial elements of every person, regardless of their cultural identity / where they are from. However, in Japan, it seems the superficial elements of one’s persona (fashion, money, what clubs, groups and companies you belong to, etc.) are especially emphasized.