It's difficult to generalize about a thousand people, much less about more than a hundred million. In this post we'll take a look at some commonly repeated myths about Japanese people and see if there's any truth to them.
Japanese people eat sushi every day
Japanese food is synonymous with sushi for a lot of people. However if Japanese people ate sushi every day, they'd have no room left for tempura, soba, ramen, okonomiyaki, gyudon (and other assorted donburi), gyoza, yakisoba, onigiri, yakitori and all the other delectable culinary delights from our favourite archipelago.
Japanese people are very polite all the time
People in Japan are about as polite as people anywhere else. Some people are well-spoken and others are as rough as they come. This myth probably propagates because the only Japanese people you meet are likely to be those with an interest in foreign cultures and languages. People like that from anywhere are probably good people.
Also, being polite in Japanese is harder than being polite in English, so a lot of Japanese people actually have trouble with it. This is why you have keigo (Japanese polite language forms) guides for Japanese natives, and they sell tremendously well.
Japanese people respect personal space more
Try telling that to anyone who has to commute in Tokyo every morning. In London, you get at least a few inches of personal space and you're not actually touching anyone. On a packed commuter train in Japan you are pushed by the stewards together and physically touching everyone else around you for the entirety of your journey.
Japanese people can all speak English well
This one you would be forgiven for. After more than six years of learning the language, you'd expect that the average Japanese person would have a basic command of the language.
In reality, the English taught in Japanese schools is focused on passing exams and rote memorization. Living in Japan doesn't call for much use of English so the average ability is quite low.
Japanese people all like anime + manga and Otaku are cool
Japanese people like anime and manga about as much as we in the west like comic books and animated features. There's really nothing different here, apart from perhaps the quality and quantity of features produced.
Otaku are called otaku because they stay at home all day. Take from that what you will.
Japanese people all drink sake
While sake is a popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, shouchu and beer are drunk by more people by far.
Only Japanese people can be good at traditional Japanese activities
There's a school of thought that insists that Japanese people are somehow fundementally different from everyone else, and accordingly traditional Japanese activities can only truly be mastered by the 'Yamato People'.
In reality, there are plenty of traditional Japanese activities that foreigners are immensely successful with. Take Sumo for example. There hasn't been a Japanese Yokozuna in almost ten years. Most competitors in the top division are from Eastern Europe and Mongolia. Even traditional Japanese folk-singing (Enka) has been mastered by a Japanese-American ha-fu (Jero).
The point of this article is that you can't generalize about 100 million+ people. Be wary whenever you hear a sentence that starts with "Japanese people all...".