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Misplaced Stereotypes Can Ruin Your Trip To Japan

You probably won't find a weird vending machine or professional geisha, roaming the streets of Tokyo.

By 1 min read

It’s always interesting showing people around your city. When I lived in Texas, my friends from out of town were usually disappointed by the overwhelming lack of cows, greasy steak restaurants, and cowboys in tight jeans and leather boots. Now, living in Tokyo, the stereotypes are even more amusing.

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I’m sure at one time, a vending machine that actually dispensed (lightly) used panties was real. However, I’m pretty sure these days selling used clothing in a vending machine is illegal. Besides, all of that moved onto the internet a while ago.

Don’t even get me started on geishas. My husband and I saw a professional Maiko (an apprentice Geiko) once when we were in Kyoto. She was trying to walk to her place of employment, a traditional restaurant, but was flanked on both sides by curious tourists shoving their cameras into her face.

Stereotypes derived from anime, TV, historic movies, or video games can ruin your time in Japan. It’s dangerous to assume you know everything about a foreign culture.

I’ve seen far too many people arrive eager and bright eyed, from the moment they step off the plane for a study abroad opportunity, three month work-vacation, or English teaching job only to be disappointed at what they see.

To avoid frustration and disappointment, try to keep an open mind when you visit somewhere new. Trust me, it makes the transition much easier.

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  • Surrey ABC says:

    I want to see how tv drama reflects real life or not. How much is being filtered. Also how much difference is there between standard Japanese and dialects.

  • 施六肩 スチュアート says:

    Aaaand why would one need a pair of used panties?

  • TuxedoCartman says:

    I know, right? Everybody asks if I eat sushi all the time when I’m over there, and I’m like, “Meh?” You can get good sushi in a lot of parts of the world, but good shabu-shabu, or properly done tonkatsu? Much, MUCH harder to find!

  • Mira says:

    there are used panties machines in the nakano broadway. second floor, in the middle part. you’re welcome.

    • Ariane Yoshihiro-Storm says:

      Yup, I saw them too. In 2014.

    • TuxedoCartman says:

      When did that go in?!! No, really, when? Because I lived literally right next to Nakano Broadway for many years, until 2013 (near intersection of Waseda Dori and Nakano Dori), and I never saw any such thing in Nakano Broadway.

  • Valerie J Brown (Cheers) says:

    Correction: My friend Luz is from Toyko, but she still knows the culture!

  • Valerie J Brown (Cheers) says:

    Thank you and appreciate this post! I have many friends from that culture which will be waiting for my visit who are from there and it is their home! Much appreciated my friend with much respect! I can hardly wait to get to Japan, the home of cures and improving health and wellness is number one with them and their well-being and I am excited to see Mr. and Mrs. Oshiro and my friend Luz Dioko too!

  • TCMercury says:

    Yeah but the sushi is damn good.

  • Mirakuru-Sama says:

    i was hoping to take a selfie with goku and vegeta~

  • Gwenny Ruiz says:

    The used panties vending machine actually does exist 🙂 At least it did 2 years ago when i saw one myself. You have to go deep in salary man territory (that’s a big hint already)
    Don’t expect to find it on an actual streets though like regular vending machines 🙂

    So far I haven’t had many of my Western friends come over with that many misplaced stereotypes; most of my vegetarian friends that also don’t eat both meat AND fish do expect Tokyo to be automatically vegetarian friendly but boy do they have a hard time. mostly the one about Japan being an amazingly high-tech place is the pretty much the dominant misconception.

    Sure central Tokyo has Bluetooth toilets and what not, but you still don’t have online banking, people still use bank books, mostly pay with cash even for large purchases instead of plastic, cell phone subscriptions are pricey, faxes are still a thing *gasp* what no monthly automatic payment of bills I have to go to a conbini ? Don’t even let me get started on healthcare. The list goes on.

  • thiswickedconcept says:

    You can buy used underwear in bags in porn and hentai anime stores 🙂

  • TokyoJ says:

    If you wanna know the long answer to the used panty vending machine question: https://www.techinasia.com/japan-used-panty-vending-machines-fact-fiction/

  • 餅ちゃん says:

    The one I keep getting asked a lot (I live in Osaka) is “Have you seen any Yakuza?” Well, yes I have, but seeing a Yakuza person isn’t really as cool as they make it seem in the movies.
    That and, landing in Kansai debunked the only thing I was scared of about Japan, Japanese people not being friendly. I am not really sure about Tokyo, I only went there for 3 days, but in Osaka, people are really friendly and helpful.

  • philnolan3d says:

    I suspect the movie Lost In Translation is a fairly safe representation.

  • Sik says:

    Another one caused ironically by sites like this one, in many cases when there’s an article explaining how Japan is different than the West, usually they mean different than the US. I swear, being somebody from Argentina, nearly every time I go read an article explaining how Japan is different I end up learning how the US is different instead.

    Maybe it’s not exactly stereotypes but it does end up creating the wrong expectations until you take a serious look into it.

    • Carrot Glace says:

      Reading you, I’m learning how we Argies are so different instead.

    • I specifically follow quite a few blogs written by people from Africa/Southeast Asia/India/South America who are living in Japan. It’s interesting to see how their experiences differ from my own – and it’s a great chance to learn more about both cultures.

      I agree, though. Usually when you see a “look at Japan!” article, it is written from the point of view of a Canadian/American/European.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      As stated in the article the author is from America, not Argentina. Therefore it would only make sense that she would write about her experiences in comparing Japan to her home country.

      • 餅ちゃん says:

        Most of the articles are generally written from the point of view of Americans, Canadians, etc… And they have painted Japan as a place that isn’t really pleasant to live in, which was really scaring me on my way here. Now I come from a 3rd world country, and that made my experience totally different, all the things most people complain about in Japan, are an upgrade from my previous life.

      • Theo Lubbe says:

        It doesn’t inherently make sense, because that would mean the reader presumes the author is comparing an apple to an orange when they might really be comparing an apple to a grape; all because the author happens to be from somewhere associated with oranges.

        It just becomes another form of ‘misplaced stereotyping’.

  • nikki says:

    You can still find used underwear at some places… Like Nakano Broadway, it’ s rare but actually exist x.x!

  • Brodie Taylor says:

    The biggest stereotypes I believed before moving here were:

    1) Japan is a high-tech wonderland of super robots and neon signs everywhere.
    Aside from the toilets and TV screens in cars, not much is as high-tech or futuristic as one expects. In my prefecture, kerosene heaters, bank books, 500 watt microwaves and fax machines are everywhere. Everything has that 80s look to it, probably because it was built in the 80s or earlier. In fact everywhere outside the major cities of Osaka and Tokyo is surprisingly low-tech compared to how Japan is portrayed in pop culture.

    2) Most Japanese people are short.
    When I arrived here to be a 5″3 English teacher I thought maybe my short height would not be as noticeable as it was back home. Wrong. 85% of my teenage students tower over me, a majority are 5″8 or over. Where does this bizarre and totally inaccurate stereotype come from, anyway? I’m not sure but suspect it’s a hangover of the Western superiority complex following the defeat of Japan in WWII.

    3) Everyone likes anime/manga.
    Kids like anime and manga. If you’re an adult who is obsessed with anime and talks about it constantly, chances are your colleagues will think you’re a weirdo.

    • Klaus says:

      2) I am 6″1, which is quite normal where I was born and in Japan maybe once or twice a month I see somebody on the street or subway who is taller than me. So, japanese people _are_ short, that is not a stereotype. My sons (13+15) are taller than 98% of japanese adult men.

    • Daryl Flamm says:

      First, if you are 5’3″, you are going to be “average” to “short” just about anywhere in the world. As for the Japanese, their average height and weight is on the rise. So the stereotype has not caught up to the facts. PLUS, internet porn doesn’t help the stereotypes like petite girls or used underwear in vending machines. As for Fillip’s comment about “everyone likes rice”. OMG, what rock did you climb out from under? Bet you still think all black people ride in the back of the bus and all Mexicans where those big hats, right? Most of the Asians I know hate rice. If given a choice they pick anything else first.

    • Carrot Glace says:

      Japan is like a beautifully broken time machine. A elderly couple in kimono with smartphones waiting for a high-tech train, a little kid wearing a 1930-like uniform (cap included), and dudes and girls (most of them tall) wearing Blade Runner clothes in a 16th Century Temple.

    • I completely agree on #1. I’ve had to explain that to so many relatives (my bank doesn’t allow online banking, it takes several minutes to get hot water in the winter, no central heating, etc)

    • Quincy Fox says:

      Indeed! Living in Japan is like living in the world of The Jetsons.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      #1 is so true. It’s like a retro future here.

    • Filip Pruszek says:

      2) People in Japan are short(er) in general. Average height in my part of europe is ~180cm, in Japan it is ~170cm. 5″3 is ~160cm so no wonder you still feel short in Japan.
      3) “Everyone likes anime/manga” this one is actually true. You just have to differentiate between the mainstream stuff and works targeted towards otaku.
      Also, please don’t confuse “liking” with “obsession”. I’m sure pretty much everyone in Japan likes rice, but I’m also positive that if you were to talk about it all the time you would also be marked as weirdo.

      • Carrot Glace says:

        I had the chance of talking to real life otaku and they were as kind and friendly as anyone can be.

        In Hiroshima, three of them give me a chibi Rei Ayanami figurine as a present and later they jockingly photobombed me.

        In Shirakawa-go I talked to two of them (which looked like they just came out from Genshiken anime) and they asked me if this was part of my “anime holy land pilgrimage”. It wasn’t, that was pure luck. Earlier in the bus I asked the guide if by any chance the village was the one that inspired Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, then I saw the itasha. I went there because of the traditional houses.

      • Quatro Naruhodo Briefs says:

        you are too opiniated Filip. Have you even been to Japan? There are quite tall Japanese, especially the youth.

        Some of my Japanese friends HATE anime or is very neutral to it. Not everyone likes it. I was once upon a time ago surprised to find I knew more about my favorite anime and manga than several of my Japanese friends.

        • Filip Pruszek says:

          I’m not opinionated as it is a fact that average height of a Japanese person is ~170cm and of course there are people in Japan that make even me feel small. Knowing the median of peoples height would actually be more useful…

        • 06BlackHeart says:

          sure not everyone likes it, but saying that only kids like it is also wrong…I live in Japan right now and I see a lot of adults and not only young adults, middle age people too, reading manga in the train or in the konbini all the time

        • Nathan Shanan Crookes says:

          Filip is correct about Manga/Anime its not just children. I find more Adults reading Manga than children; the children usually play there Nintendo 3ds. Just go have look at Tsutaya!

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