Is Japan really all that?

I can’t count the number of posts I find on social media about the wonders of Japan and all the little things that are so great about it. Is it really true or am I missing something?

Are you in Japan as you write this and find the things people like about Japan to be untrue?

Or do you just think people are lying about the things they like in Japan?

Or is it something else that’s generating your doubt?

Japan is a wonderful country populated by amazing people. Just like every other country in the world. They do not have any more deep secrets of existence than anyone else.

What is your concern?

I hear they’re amazingly xenophobic, so that’s cool. Especially if you’re a gaijin who comes to visit and experience all the wonderful things about Japanese culture.

That said, I do like a lot that very culture. I’ll just stick with the bits of it that I can get from the comforts of my own home.

Perhaps you could share some of those numerous posts so we could evaluate the claims.

My experience in Japan was that it was pretty amazing, but then again I’ve had similar wonderful experiences in Nepal, India, Switzerland, Iceland, Cambodia, and the US. Japan is an ancient culture and technologically advanced society so there’s lots of amazing contrasts and wonders.

I’ve never been. But supposedly the culture is pretty racist, sexist and nativist. Plus their salaryman culture means a lot of people are suicidal and spend long hours at work accomplishing nothing just so they can look busy.

But they did lift themselves out of poverty pretty fast. And they moved away from a cultlike war machine to a civilized western nation pretty rapidly.

The women are sexy too. Which helps. But women everywhere are sexy.

I’m not sure if it will show well but this is what I mean.

Wasn’t there also something about people working themselves to death and homophobia?

Some is from having prior appreciation of Japanese culture. Then there are some things that I feel like are just objectively better. The politeness and diligence aspects are really great… not that I need people bowing and scraping to me, but public life just works so much better when people agree to get shit done and not be assholes to each other. It’s nice to be in a walkable society… like I lived in the ass end of nowhere, and I could walk to a bus that took me to a train that took me to a bullet train that took me to an airport that could put me in China by the end of the day. All without having a car. And it’s nice to live in a society where the default position is trust and cooperation, not suspicion and resentment.

Japan is awesome, and it sucks. Just like most countries.

I bet the lack of school shootings is a big plus.

True, but they have dudes who flip out and murder people with knives and sarin gas at subway stations. That being said, those are kind of extraordinary events - unlike school, church, or workplace shootings.

Plus there is very little street crime. I’ve heard you can walk pretty much anywhere you want at night in Japan.

I walked through a “dangerous” part of Osaka a few nights every now and again. It did have some homeless and transient people, and it smelled like piss, but unlike those times when I walked out to the parking lot at Louis Armstrong Int’l Airport at 1 AM or through the French Quarter to go back to my car after midnight, I never felt like I might have a gun pulled on me.

That being said, every place on the planet, no matter how big or how small, has badass people you just don’t wanna come across. I remember blogging a few years ago that Japan was mostly a place of polite and gentle people, but there’s also a lot of silent, pent-up rage. Once in a while, I’d come a cross someone who just seemed like they were about to explode like a nuclear bomb. A student I was teaching. A guy next to me on the train. A businessman sweating profusely in a crowded train station on a 95 degree day. I arrived in Japan thinking that Japan had no crime and no dangers, but I learned to fear that guy.

The downside is probably everyone cowering in their houses afraid of all the criminals who have guns.

Yeah, Japanese culture seems like it would cause a lot of pent up rage for the people who have to live with it. But I don’t think there are mass attacks on the public like we have in the US.

I know guns are much harder to get there, but there also aren’t people driving their cars into crowds or going on mass stabbings like you may find in other places.

Their prejudicial beliefs are more than skin deep to the point that they have blood type discrimination. All the people who crow about how interesting Japan is tend to be in a very shallow, pseudo intellectual mindset when looking at the situation and are easily lead to form impressions of the culture as a whole based on neat cartoons.

I learned what the word vivisection meant from reading about Japanese history.

The Yakuza are largely a product of their deep discrimination against Koreans.

On the whole they’re probably no worse than any other culture; but they certainly are not any better or more enlightened.

No better, but certainly no worse.

I don’t disagree.

The one thing I would say - and this is anecdotal - is that Japan is more dangerous for women in particular. Maybe things have changed in the 12 years since I was last there (doubt it), but sexual assaults and harassment of women were under-reported. I never knew her, but when I was there, a Japanese female who was friend to several people in my social circles was strangled to death by a sexually-obsessed male. Not sure he was ever caught. There was the infamous murder of Lindsay Hawker, a British national, who was murdered by someone she knew. I knew of countless females who had their breasts and buttocks grabbed on trains and on the street by random passers by. I knew of female friends who hung their panties out on clothes lines to dry and woke up the next day to find them missing. Japan is in many ways a great culture, but that aspect of it…is completely fucked up. And it gets way worse in some respects.

Along social fronts in which we in the US have made much progress in the past 50 years, they have made less, but they are moving. When I lived there in 1979-80 there was no acknowledgement of homosexuality, and for a long time the only word for a gay man was “okama” which means roughly a cross-dresser. Now in the media you do occasionally see recognition that there are different flavors of gayness among men. Still very little acknowledgement of lesbians.

As for women’s rights, the abbreviation for sexual harassment (seku hara) is quite common. This is also a big change, even if it means more in the breach than in the observance. At least there is a concept that some male behaviors towards women are legitimately objectionable.

In my opinion, the relative homogeneity of the culture is what slows down cultural change in these areas.

Also, I have never met anyone there who seemed to me to be ready to explode. I admit I didn’t have a lot of contact with business people, so if that is where they are, I can understand it. But the reduction of the model of lifetime employment has also reduced the power of companies to rule the lives of their employees, and there is also some increasing sense of the validity of work-life balance.

Child suicide rate is at a 30-year high and is the leading cause of death among young people, but the overall suicide rate is actually down from the peak. It’s less than that of South Korea, anyway.