An Overview of Japan

About Japan

For many years, countries in the Far East have seemed to have captivated Americans. From commercials touting “Ancient Chinese secrets” to cartoons about army ninjas. I have to admit that when I was a boy, I was just as captivated. I even did a report on Japan in the seventh grade. It was all just so fascinating and so mysterious.

A Big Surprise

Eleven years ago I came to Japan. When I got here, I experienced culture shock. Not because Japan was so different from my home country, but because the country that I often dreamed about didn’t exist!

That’s not the way it is

Now that I have been here so long, everything here just seems so normal. What’s funny though, as I watch American TV shows on cable, is the distorted view that is portrayed in American entertainment. The stereotypes and caricatures of China are mixed with a little Japanese stereotypical images, thrown in with words like honor. As a child I would have eaten it up. Now it’s just embarrassing. And poor Korea! No one knows anything about them except the word kimchee!

The truth is Korea, China and Japan have very distinct cultures, languages and food. People may find it surprising that Chinese and Japanese are languages that have nothing in common. They’re totally unrelated! Over several centuries there have been communications and things shared, though. Some have been adopted (like the system of writing) and so some similarities can be found. But the point is this: they are different countries. Each has it’s own language, customs, clothing and food.

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

Another funny idea is that somehow Japan is this futuristic technology mecca. Sure, Japanese electronics are great but they don’t pervade all aspects of life. Most people still do many things the old fashioned way. For example, clothes dryers are not very common. People hang their clothes out to dry. You can even see laundry hanging out to dry at mansions! People still take their bedding outside to air out and then beat it before bringing it in too. And some people still hang onions outside (I still don’t know why people do that.)

Old ideas and even superstitions are alive and well in Japan just as they are in any other country. (I remember my mom telling me not to go to bed with wet hair or I’d catch a cold!) Sure, my toilet has a seat warmer and my hot water heater talks, but I don’t have central air in my apartment. I need that seat warmer! So, some things are new, some things aren’t. Just like home.

The moral of the story

Wether you’re planning on coming to Japan or just want to know more, my advice is this: forget what you think you know. Japan is a country that has a whole lot of things for you to learn about. And learning new things is the fun part.

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