Japan Customs

Are Japanese People Most Superficial in World?

I was looking at an article on 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.

Japan Customs

Gaining Respect in Japan

How do you get respect in Japan?

Step one: get really really old. At least become the oldest person in the room, and you can claim the rank of senpai, and refer to everyone else as the lesser ranked “kohai’ to reinforce the idea of hierarchy, and your superiority in everyone’s mind.
Step two: get an entry level position at a company everyone has heard about, doesn’t matter what you do there, as long as the company is famous
Step three: Make any demands or claims you want and people will listen to you and at least pretend what you say is correct and the best plan possible. As long as they are ranked below you within your company or younger than you, they are required by Japanese law to listen to you.

I started thinking about how respect usually only goes one way in Japan after reading about an elderly woman breaking a high school student’s nose with an umbrella when he wouldn’t give up his priority seat on the bus. I wasn’t there, I don’t know if that was an old lady who could probably run a marathon, or really needed to sit down, but she had the strength to break a kid’s nose. Does a lady willing to break a kid’s nose over a seat, really deserve the seat? I can’t respect a lady like that, so why should that kid who wouldn’t give up his seat?

When I had a Japanese boss, sometimes, he would say something that other employees and myself knew to be 100% incorrect, yet we couldn’t correct him because he had the superior position in the company. And many of my Japanese friends complain about exactly the same thing. It’s as if age and rank makes a person immune to criticism, and thus gives them unlimited powers to complain about and disrespect people considered below them in the social and workplace hierarchy. I have a lot of examples, but it just seems that respect in Japan is largely based on status, and status is based on who has been around longer usually.

Personal status is also largely determined by what groups you belonged to. I asked a Japanese acquaintance, Arai-san, what was more impressive to him and most Japanese people, a person who worked an entry level position with a big famous company, or someone who was the owner and founder of his own small, but successful business. He said definitely the guy with a no name position at a famous company. It’s an interesting difference of cultural perspectives. I am impressed by a person’s creativity, originality, and ability to be successful through his own independence, whereas Japanese are impressed by someone with a connection to a large company they consider prestigious.
Respect is determined by belonging to a “prestigious” group and then your position within that group.
There are of course many more cultural factors determining how much respect a person deserves in Japan. So how do you get respect in Japan?


Starbucks coffee pic

Photo taken in Liuzhou, China by Liuzhou Laowai. Do editors and designers deliberately sabotage advertisements and signs like this? It reminds me of when i was in a restaurant in Hangzhou, China and on the menu’s description of the dish it said “the carrot fucks the broccoli.” And I even saw a little kid with the words “porn star” on his shirt. I’m sure everyone whose been to China has stories like that though.

Travel story

South Korea – The Saga Continues

We planned on going to a night club in Suwon, but on the way a Korean guy tried to get us to go to a “club” he was working for. We said what the hell and sat down at a table there after negotiating the price. The first odd thing i noticed about this place was a tiny dance floor, and many tables inside this large room. Men in suits walked around with small flash lights, shining it at customer’s tables. The suits working there would take a girl and sit her down at a table of guys where she had to talk to them. It was like a hostess club where girls were payed to talk to guys. At first we just talked to them, but whenever i asked about this being their job and what they really thought about it, they pretended they didn’t understand. We had made a mistake, this wasn’t a normal club. We especially didn’t like being around girls that were payed to interact with us. We didn’t need the help. So when they sat the next pair down with us, we just stood up and left.

We also went to Lotte World. A theme park that’s a clone of Disneyland. The logo is even the same with Disneyland’s Cinderella’s castle surrounded by an incomplete circle. And they even sold round ears like Mickey Mouse that you could wear on your head, even though Lotte World’s mascot was clearly not a mouse and has pointed ears.

but the rides were fun. And barely any time waiting in lines as it was a monday. I heard that on weekends it might take a 4 hour wait to get on a ride. Interesting difference.

afterwards we did some shopping in Namdaemoon and Dongdaemoon. Spotted a lot of cheap, fake brands like Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Calvin Klien, and saw some nice belts, bags, wallets and stuff like that. Fakes are classified in terms of quality from S class, which is the highest quality and indistinguishable from the real thing to B class which is great quality but not perfect, and C class which is not as good, and there are probably a D and F class which are poor quality and easily identifiable as fakes.

It seemed like a lot of things in Korea were fake. A restaurant next to my hotel was called DisneCake, and even wrote the name in the same font as Disney. There was a Chicken Hut, with the same logo and colors as Pizza Hut. A lot of popular Korean songs that koreans think are originally from Korea, are actually covers of songs from Japan. And before I went to Korea this time, I assumed it was just a stereotype that most Korean girls alter their face with plastic surgery, but I actually met a few girls who have and plan on doing it. So i guess it happens more often than I thought.

It was in interesting observation because I had always felt like Japanese people I interact with are usually more superficial, and thus fake. And by that I don’t mean their entire identity is focused on meaningless superficial experience, but i mean during at least initial interactions with people in Japan, conversations will be so superficial that we can’t really get to know each other. People in Japan disclose information about themselves very slowly, and they usually don’t disclose as much as people from other countries, especially “western” ones. So because of my cultural perspective I am very sensitive to excessively superficial interactions when I prefer to really get to know someone. So I also feel a level of social fakeness when interacting in Japan, at least from my cultural perspective. Though many Japanese would be used to this and reserve their “honne”, their inner thoughts and true feelings for close friends behind a veneer of polite, excessive respect known as “tatemae.” But I felt more socially at ease in Korea, the standards of tatemae were not as high as in Japan, and i could talk to anybody about anything it seemed. and a lot of people in Korea seemed genuinely friendly, and genuinely sad to see me leave even though our interaction was very short.

Travel story

A Stint to South Korea

6 day trip to South Korea was sponsored by Energy Up 6 which kept me alive every day and Korean Soju which nearly killed me each night with its 27% alcohol level. I didn’t sleep at all for the last 3 nights except for one or two occasional hours on a bus or train, but we were beyond mere exhaustion and nearing a sleep deprived dementia. At one point, Akemihiro and i were on the train and he took out his cigarettes and almost started to smoke, until i reminded him we were on a train! at least it wasn’t the airplane.

In Myeong Dong we ate a pizza with blueberry crust which was much better than it sounds and then we went to the Lotte Duty Free shop in Myeong Dong. When we arrived at the 10th floor Akemi said, “I’m a local here, only you are a foreigner.” and he was right. everyone here was Japanese, all the staff spoke fluent Japanese, even all announcements were in Japanese. Though Akemi informed me that there were some grammar mistakes in the announcements, which was extremely unacceptable for Japanese as this was a very high class place so every detail should be perfect. Yeah, Japanese really love their obsession with perfection. Akemi bought a Duppont lighter there for about 900 USD. I can’t imagine making a purchase like that, i’m more practical, and don’t have that kind of money, I also don’t smoke. A girl we met later showed us her 20 cent bic lighter. Akemi informed her it was cute but he could buy 5000 of those.
Later that night we met a friend of Akemi’s, Kay and some of her friends. Though Akemi told me how much Korean girls love Japanase guys, I didn’t realize how obvious that would eventually be. We drank at a restaurant late at night with Kay and her friend. I tried to talk with everyone and enjoy the evening with a few drinking games and casual conversation. But Kay’s friend kept talking to Akemi about Japanese relationships, actors, and Japanese porn. And that’s fine, she kept asking him these questions because he’s japanese, but I’ve been living in Japan for over a year, so i also have some input in these topics too. and so finally, she asks Akemi, “what’s your name?”

and..reluctantly, she then turns to me and asks the same question, but it sounded more like, “oh do you have a name or somethin’?”

We had mostly a lot of fun interactions in Korea though. Late one morning at a bar, a girl who couldn’t speak much English, dialed a number and gave me her phone. Expecting someone korean with barely any English ability, i answered with “what’s up dawg?” (Just for fun Akemi and i had been referring to everyone in korea as Dawg, bro, and dude) and to my surprise it was actually an american korean guy, who told me that “yeah, i am from the America.” She then dialed another number and said “chinese” so i started talking to this other guy in Chinese for a minute before passing the phone to Akemi, who asked, “how old are you?” “are you a university student?” I then informed him, “hey that’s her dad.”

She chewed noisily and spat in front of us. A breach of manners we would never see in Japan. To discuss this fact without anyone understanding us, we spoke Chinese.

Akemi: ???????
me: ??????????

and it’s easy to see how a girl’s lack of manners can seem so unattractive in Japan. I considered the idea that there’s possibly some american guys who appreciate a girl who can be rude and break social norms out of bad habit or just for fun. But Japanese usually can’t appreciate things like that.

Another breach of etiquette i hadn’t noticed but Akemi pointed out to me was that in Japan, a girl only looks in a mirror, checking and fixing up her hair in the presence of boys if she isn’t interested in them so it was quite rude from a Japanese perspective when we noticed that in Korea a lot.