Debunked: JAPAN

By Mei Araki

You have sushi three meals a day, 24/7, right?

Not quite. It is true that sushi is a traditional Japanese meal, and that it has been a huge part of our history and culture. In fact, did you know that sushi was first sold on the streets? During the Edo period, it was served as a grab-and-go lunch for workers who were too busy to sit down and calmly eat a meal. That might have been why sushi is typically made small enough to be able to eat in one bite.

Okay, back to present day people and their sushi. Sushi in Japan is like no other, and it is true that most Japanese people are used to eating raw fish and beings with tentacles (raw octopus is my favorite). But that does not mean that we don’t love our ramen noodles, tonkatsu (pork cutlet) set meals, and many other non-sushi dishes. Some people just have sushi on special occasions at a fancy restaurant, some go to places that are called “Kaiten-zushi,” which serve sushi at a more affordable price. In other words, they are fast food sushi restaurants that serve sushi on a conveyor belt. By having customers sit around the loop of conveyor belt, the “taisho” sushi chef) serves them his sushi without having to move around. These restaurants also serve fried chicken, fries, ice-cream, and many other items that customers of all ages can enjoy. Some people don’t even go to restaurants and instead just buy sushi at the supermarket for a buy-one-get-fifty-percent-off deal.

Funnily enough, at Tsukiji port, one of the biggest ports in Japan, they have more restaurants for meat and other non-seafood dishes than for sushi. This is because the fishermen, who eat  meals right by the port, get sick of looking at or eating fish all day and crave something different!

So if you’re Japanese, you must know all about anime!

Unfortunately, no. People comment on this whenever I tell them that I am from Japan, and although I do not get offended in any way, it still makes me sad to say that this is not always the case. The amount of knowledge that a Japanese person has about anime depends on the person – some know more about it than others.

However, no need to despair! Anime is indeed a huge part of our culture and is popular among people of all ages. Most children grow up watching multiple anime shows that have been around since their parents’ (and even their grandparents’) childhood! For example, the anime show “Sazae-san[i]is a series that first started in 1969, and the manga that the show is based on was first published in the author’s local newspaper, the Fukunichi Shinbun, in 1946! Most episodes are independent of the others, and they focus on the everyday lives of Sazae-san (a 24 year old woman) and her family. This show has been around for so long that there is a term called “Sazae-san shoukougun” which translates to the “Sazae-san syndrome.” It’s has the same meaning as what people in the U.S. call Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year. Since the show is broadcast on Sunday evenings, it became a symbol for the end of the weekend, and the start of another week. There are other popular anime/manga besides Sazae-san that every Japanese person knows about, such as Doraemon and Pokemon, which have also become popular in other countries. In a sense, these animes are like the show “Tom and Jerry” – everyone has seen it, or at least have heard of it once in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, anime, or manga, are not only for little kids. Many genres of anime in Japan are popular among young adults and grown-ups. For example, we have what is called “Shounen-Manga” which translates to “Manga for boys/young men.” A majority of them are about adventures, sports, and fantasy, with twisted plots that make you sit on the edge of your chair. You may have heard some of them, like the manga Naruto and One Piece. Also, we have a genre called “Shoujo-Manga” which translates to “Manga for girls/young women.” They tend to focus more on rom-coms, or stories that have some kind of romance in them (but not always). Famous titles of this type of manga would be Sailor Moon and The Rose of Versailles.

Additionally we have famous anime/manga tourist destinations, such as the Akihabara and Harajuku districts in Tokyo, and the Ghibli Museum, which showcases the work of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio headed by the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.  Since anime/manga are a crucial element of our everyday live as a Japanese, it may be true that people are more accepting to the idea of being an anime/manga fan than other countries. So yes, Japan is the place that you would want to be if you are interested in anime, but it is also important to remember that people have different preferences and backgrounds on it.

I love how everyone is so nice and polite in Japan!

I must say, this is a hard one to debunk. Who doesn’t want to be known as being nice and polite all the time? Then again, Japan is not a perfect world, and “politeness” doesn’t naturally come to us through our nationality, but through discipline. I think the main reason for this is that we have two different sets of styles in Japanese – the formal style and informal style, which differ in pronouns, conjugations and other aspects of grammar.  You would talk to your friends, family, and other people you know well or are close to in the informal way. On the other hand, you would use the formal way when talking to someone that you have to show respect towards, like your older peers, teachers, and the emperor (if you ever have the chance to speak with him, that is). The line between whom to talk to formally and informally varies case by case, but because we have this notion of being respectful to others engraved in our language, it reflects upon our actions too. This aspect of Japanese culture is emphasized especially when it comes to customer service. There is a saying that goes like this: “Okyaku-sama wa kamisama” which translates to “customers are like gods.” This just shows how respectfully customers are treated in Japanese culture. I remember that when I worked as a waitress for one summer, I first had to remember all of the formal ways to say things before I could do my job. For example, just a greeting of “Hello, how are you today?” would differ depending on the season, the weather, and the time of day. After memorizing a whole script of words to use while  serving, I was taught how to bow properly, because bowing at different angles meant different things. The most common angle that you would bow at would be 30 degrees. This is used for welcoming customers, or whenever we introduce ourselves to them before we take their order. We also have a more casual way of bowing, which is at 15 degrees. This is used between co-workers at the restaurant when we say good-morning and such. The most respectful way would be at 45 degrees. This is used for thanking customers for coming, bidding them goodbye and apologizing (which I did a LOT at the beginning). Phew.

So I guess the perception that Japanese people are nice and polite is true to some extent. But it’s not like we are all naturally born polite – consciously or unconsciously, it takes practice. Also, this sometimes can be an internal struggle for some Japanese people who, for example, have grown up in a different country and are not as familiar with the “politeness” that we are all thought to have. Since acting and talking respectfully to an older peer is defined in such a specific way in Japanese culture, if you are just a tiny bit below that standard, some people will consider you to be rude, even if you do not mean to be rude. The Japanese “politeness” is, in some way, both a gift and a curse.

Why are Japanese toilets so NICE?

This is a compliment that will never grow old. It is true that Japanese toilets are nice, especially with the gadgets that come with it. The most recent toilets have the ability to keep the seat warm (which is the nicest thing you will ever experience, especially during the winter), automatically clean itself, and even clean you (after you do what you need to do)! But the technology isn’t the only reason that Japanese toilets are nice. If you remember the part where I talked about how Japanese customer service is top-notch, you will see that this also explains why Japanese toilets and restrooms are kept clean at all times. It is said that the cleanness of its restroom defines the quality of the service of a shop or restaurant, and there are many places in which cleaning the restrooms are held to be one of the most important jobs. Also, cleaning itself is an important part of Japanese culture. Elementary schools in Japan teach students the importance of cleaning and being grateful to the facilities that are available to them by having them clean their own classrooms and other places within the school building almost everyday. There is even a song dedicated to the importance of cleaning toilets called “Toire-no kamisama” which translates to “The God of the Toilet” by Kana Uemura! It is about how cleaning the toilet is important because that means to treat the god in the toilet well, which will eventually lead one to good fortune.

Now, if you have ever been to Japan, you probably came across mainly two different types of toilets. One is just the version that is most commonly used nowadays, known as the “western-style” toilet. Another one is called the “Japanese-style” and is WAY harder to use. This is not your everyday toilet that is elevated from the ground and has a nice seat for you to sit on. Oh no. The Japanese style toilet involves squatting down to the ground and keeping yourself in that position until you are done. Interestingly, the “Japanese-style” toilet was designed over a thousand years ago[ii]  and was made so that people could place their garments in front of the toilet so that they would not get dirty. Traditional Japanese clothing involved wearing a LOT of layers, and the “Japanese-style” toilet made things easier for people wearing them.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazae-san

[ii] http://www.japanstyle.info/09/entry1018.html

By Yifei Wu ’19