West Meets East: An American in Japan | All Blogs

Common Beliefs About Japan

By Josiah Lebowitz

Americans in general have a set of beliefs or assumptions about Japan and the Japanese people. Some are pretty much spot on but others, not so much.. Here’s a quick look at some of the more common ones and how accurate (or inaccurate) they are.

1. Most Japanese People Speak English
Not at all. Some places in Japan (major tourist spots, mostly) have English signs, menus, and the like even that is often questionable. Despite years of English in school, your average Japanese person can’t say much beyond a few stock phrases.

Japanese English

2. Japanese People Love / Hate Americans
In general, Japanese people like foreigners and find them very interesting. Since, unlike the US, almost everyone in Japan is the same race and has lived in Japan their whole lives, foreigners are something very different and unique. That said, Japan has its own set of stereotypes about people from various countries, most of which aren’t particularly accurate or flattering, which can lead them to be rather wary of foreigners at times.

3. Japan is a Very Expensive Country
Not true. While there are plenty of expensive stores, hotels, and restaurants to be found, you can easily find hotels for around $50 a night (or less if you’re willing to make some big tradeoffs), filling meals for $5, and all manner of items for sale at perfectly reasonable prices. Naturally though, some things which are cheap in the US are a little expensive in Japan (many type of fruit, for example) and vice-versa.

4. Japan is Nothing but Big Cities / Japan is Nothing but Little Villages
Japan provides a rather fascinating mix of old and modern and you can find both sprawling high-tech cities like Tokyo and old fashioned little villages like Magome.

5. Japan is a Very Safe Country
Yes it is. Violent crime is extremely rare, theft (even of lost or misplaced items) is uncommon, and you can safely walk through big cities in the dead of night without having to worry.

6. Japan is a Very Small Country
When compared to the US, yes it is. But even a quick look through a tour book will show you that Japan is still relatively large, with many distinct regions and climates.

Mt Fuji

7. Japan has a Perfect Society
The lack of crime and emphasis on politeness and respect can make it easy to think that Japan has the perfect society, at least at first glance. But if you spend a while here you’ll soon realize that it has its fair share of problems as well, they’re just different from many of the ones we face in the US.

Ueno Park

9. Japan has Ninja, Samurai, etc
Japan DID have ninja, samurai, and the like but that was a long time ago. These days, all you’ll find is actors and cosplayers (costume enthusiasts). And, for those of you who have been watching too much anime, there’s no giant robots, cat girls, or anything like that either.

Samurai Armor

10. Everyone in Japan Plays Video Games, Watches Anime, and the Like
Also not true. While video games, anime, and manga have a much higher penetration in Japan than they do in the US, there are plenty of people who simply have other interests.

Pokemon Center

I hope that helped clear some things up for you. If you’d like to know more about some of the subjects I just touched on (such as where to find cheap food or the common stereotypes Japanese people have about Americans), rest assured that I’ll be covering many of them in-depth in future posts.


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