What’s your image of Japanese people? What’s in your mind?
If you live in Japan, of course you may know about the ‘actual’ us. But for those who have never been to Japan and talked with us, it can’t be helped to rely on their stereotypes.
A few months ago, I asked to a variety of foreigners in Tokyo, ”What kind of stereotypes do you have for Japanese people?”
Actually, I had an idea of what their answers would be, but I wanted to make sure what they actually thought.
The videos below are the result.
Both of the videos above are actually just a very small sample. I asked more than 40 people from 13 countries for 2 days.
And below are the positive and negative stereotypes people told me.
・Good at math
・Good at computer and machine
・Cooperative, Team player
・Too much work
・Stressful (because of they too much work)
・Can’t speak English well
・Don’t smile or laugh at all
Honestly, I expected these answers. That’s what TV or media say about us all the time.
But the thing is, almost everything is not actually true.
If you have watched my video, you know this is not true at all. I know what you want to say. “You’re not shy. But most Japanese are still shy, right?”
If you think so, check the below video.
When it comes to “shy” which most foreigners have in their mind, it applies neither to me nor my friends and coworkers, actually. I think more and more Japanese people are getting to express their thoughts recently. For example, think about Japanese YouTubers, celebrities, and game show people. In Tokyo, YouTubers are quite famous and idolized nowadays.
For regular people (non famous people), look at Halloween. Halloween has become quite popular in Japan recently and many Japanese people wear crazy costumes and dress up. They are very creative and loud. I don’t think shy people would do those kind of things.
In my opinion, we’re not really open, friendly and comfortable in the beginning. Historically, we have been a closed country and foreigners are still quite rare. We subconsciously tend to have some caution and distance to non-Japanese.
But, that’s only in the beginning. Once you break the ice, you will find us easy to talk to more and more as time goes. It just takes time for us to talk comfortably.
This stereotype is also strong for non-Japanese. A lot of people admire Japanese for being really hard-working and having a great work ethic. But at the same time, they think we work too much and have a stressful life.
This is Yes or No nowadays. Until a couple years ago, I think everyone is workaholic in Japan. You can’t go home before your bosses or coworkers finish their job. Overtime working is almost everyday, you have to work even on weekends.
Actually, I used to be in the situation before.
It was a successful company and really well-paid. But I had to stay at the office no matter how early I finished my job. And I couldn’t speak up my opinion and argue with bosses, so all I did was just what they told me to do. I didn’t enjoy at all even though the paycheque was pretty decent. So I quit and became self-employed now.
I think still some traditional companies in Japan have very strict rules and demand you work all day no matter what. But, the trend is less nowadays as far as I heard from my friends and news.
More companies try to make you work less so that they can reduce cost and employees focus on the job properly. Looks like they finally got to know longer working time doesn’t always lead to better productivity.
Also, self-employed people like me are increasing nowadays in Japan. Especially in the IT or Web industry, more people are becoming self-employed. In fact, most of my job related friends are self-employed. They can easily balance job and private time comfortably.
In my case, unfortunately I still have to work quite a long time as a self-employed web designer. My income is not really great yet. But, I’m really happy now, because I’m doing what I truly want to do.
Many people think Japanese people love group activities and stick to their friends all the time. But, that is less nowadays. I more often see people reading a book alone at a cafe or library and when I was in college, some people disliked group work a lot because sharing the workload with other students inevitably means that it gets divided unequally. Someone like me doesn’t really like to share ideas with their peers and make a group decision.
Don’t get me wrong I like talking and hanging out with friends. But I like spending time alone too. Some of my Japanese friends also.
Maybe this is related to politeness. Japanese have a reputation for being very formal, in both manner and language. And it can cause trouble in the case of foreigners and Japanese becoming friends. That’s why many people complain to me “Japanese are not friendly, too serious!"
Well, when it comes to job, we tend to be very serious and really care about the detail. In our mind, customers are always right and extremely respected, so maybe you often feel Japanese are too sensitive when you work together at a company.
Other than that, however, I don’t think they’re too serious. They laugh a lot, try to be funny and have a lot of smiles. If you go to drink after job, you probably feel they’re totally different people.
I have to be serious about my job, because expectation of clients are always high. But except for job, I wanna be funny as much as I can to relax and have great time with my family and friends.
Having said all that, there are always some reasons why stereotypes exist. Maybe stereotypes apply to some extent to the majority of people in Japan.
But, you shouldn't apply that to every single person. There are many people like me who are completely far away from Japanese stereotypes. You can’t tell anything until you actually talk with the person!