Japan is a country that seems to inspire more than its far share of stereotypes and myths. The overseas media is also complicit in perpetuating many of the images of Japan that make it seem weird, exotic and unfathomable. What irk the most are the ones that mold Japan as a nation of wackos with bizarre tastes in fashion, beauty, sex and entertainment. This isn’t just Japan; the western media continually likes to mock and belittle Asian countries. Would Psy have been such a hit if there hadn’t been a “weird dance” (actually originally very tongue-in-cheek)?
Here are five we particularly dislike and feel are wrong (in whole or in part), and also harmful and patronizing.
Yes, there are mascots — lots of them.
The Self-Defense Force has them, as does the police and even the Japanese Communist Party. Some days it feels like you can’t get away from mascot characters, on TV, advertising or merchandise. But that doesn’t mean people are stupid or only interested in something because of a mascot.
Mascot culture has been a big success story for regional tourism, hence why it has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. This is a fascinating social development and offers lessons in tourism. But also don’t confuse it with the idea that everyone in Japan walks around with mascot toys in their bags.
A nation of geeks
This links in with the mascot thing. Sure, manga and anime are popular here. hHwever, one of the biggest mistranslations and inaccurate use of language concerns the idea of “subcultures”. If we had a yen for every time we saw the words “anime subculture” in Japanese or English. More often than not, it’s being used incorrectly. What’s important here is how manga and anime are indeed mainstream — but in the sense that cartoons and comics are part of popular culture in America too. No one calls American geeks because of how successful “The Avengers” was, right? But the movie was seen by thousands of non-fans too.
What has changed in recent years is that certain types of manga and anime have risen in status — by which we mean subcultural content previously associated mostly with hardcore fans, especially science fiction. However, manga and anime itself is not a subculture. Quite the opposite: they are part of pop culture. So just because they are a visible element in Japan, it cannot be correlated solely with “geeky” culture.
The difference is that there is a whole wealth of anime and manga that can be enjoyed by adults too, not to mention the tens of thousands of titles specifically meant for older audiences (and we don’t mean “adult content” either). This is like how there are graphic novels and the likes of Robert Crumb in America, plus a quality Pixar animation is entertaining for all ages.
That’s what’s interesting; not that everyone in Japan is an otaku because they read comics even after the age of 18, but that there are comics that cater to predilections that go way beyond superheroes. If you look at the annual list of bestsellers, Japan has some of most varied reading tastes. What was the biggest box office hit recently in Japan? Yes, it was an anime. But it was Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises”, which frankly is as mainstream as any Disney picture.
What makes us doubly angry is that “Cool Japan” is also getting it wrong, promoting a subculture — something for a select taste — as representative of all that’s good about Japan. And so we have embarrassments like AKB48 (not even a true example of genuine otaku culture anymore) performing at the ASEAN gala banquet.
We have been guilty of helping with this myth ourselves. Sure, there are some bizarre beauty gadgets in Japan. But they are genuine skincare and health tools, no matter how odd the pictures sometimes look. From electric nose-lifters to face sliming mouthpieces, there is a whole pantheon of frankly visually alarming gadgets out there. But we actually think these are pretty amazing and not just to be scoffed at.
Either way, they are unusual items that are used by a minority of people. It’s not the case that everyone women is walking around with wacky mouthpieces jutting out of their jaws in a quest to retain their youthful beauty.
And at the end of the day, the beauty trends that should really be grabbing the headlines are the amazing quality of Japanese cosmetics and make-up, from Shiseido to Kanebo and shu uemura.
The catalog of articles here would be notorious and too long to list, but the perennial claim is one of two extremes or even both at the same time: the Japanese are not interested in sex anymore, and/or they are super kinky and like to get their kicks at strange fetish clubs or through 2D characters.
There are extremes in every culture and we love how Japan, free of the notion of original sin and other moral hangups in the monotheistic world, is able to find a way for more unusual sexual customs to exist alongside the so-called mainstream. But they are just that: fringe elements. As healthy and often refreshing (if mind-boggling) as they are, the majority of men in Japan are not interested in pursuing anime girls or even Akihabara “idols”.
And we find it laughable this image that young people are not interested in sexual relations (any reporter who writes an article on this should go and visit a college campus or nightclub).
Japan is prohibitively expensive
Not so “wacky” this one but we still hate it always gets rolled out as a stereotype to explain how “opaque” and formiddable the lifestyle in Japan — especially Tokyo — is. Japan is not expensive. Sure, if you take the average apartment in America and Europe and compare it to a similar size in Tokyo, it will seem crazy. But no one lives like that. Things are compact in Japan (not small, compact) and you have to adjust your scale a little. In fact, it is far more affordable to live alone in Tokyo and go out for meals on a very regular basis than other cities.
What is expensive? Up-front fees for apartments, though this has improved recently. Some fruit and vegetables. Hostess clubs. Shinkansen bullet train tickets.
Everything else is pretty reasonable, not least because consumption tax is relatively low (it’s going up this spring, though) and prices have hardly changed in over ten years (the up side of the “Lost Decade”). You can shop at UNIQLO et al if you are on a budget and there is a host of great eating-out options for as little as ¥1,000-¥2,000 yen for a nice meal. Try getting an apartment for one, paying for daily transport costs, utility bills and going out half a dozen times a week in New York or a major European city… and then you’ll see what we mean.
And if don’t believe us, head over to Tokyo Cheapo for some tips on enjoying yourself in Japan on a budget.
Having conquered the female market, Shiseido is next targetting younger consumers.
It has created a beauty salon for kids since the children of today are the customers of the ftuture. The salon will foster cosmetic experiences for kids so they get used to and grow to respect and admire beauty consultants (and Shiseido) from an early age.
It’s not the first time Shiseido has turned its powerful eyes towards juvenile consumers with pocket money (or at least, with future salaries) to burn. It previously ran interactive seminars for kids to learn about beauty treatments and how make-up is made, as well as online portals introducing the brand and how to be “beautiful”.
At the beauty salon, beauticians will be on hand to teach kids how to make themselves more attractive and take care of their skin. There will also be “make-up camp” to try out cosmetics, and a nail care experience. Each “course” is limited to three or four participants each and lasts around fifteen minutes.
Fashion and beauty aids often overlap, and here’s a great example of one product that does it in a medically proven way too.
We spotted these recently at a trade fair and feel they desire some exposure.
It’s tough being a Japanese woman — and this is meant without any chauvinism or irony intended! Japanese society puts a lot of emphasis on female beauty and it’s very rare to see women without make-up on. And with this of course comes the prerequisite high heels. All of this takes a strain on skin and feet.
The Ashipita DX is a new kind of footwear to help posture and blood circulation.
It is designed to be easy to slip onto women’s feet when they are working or commuting, or even doing more strenuous activities, like yoga or exercise.
If you suffer from swollen feet due to all those office hours imprisoning your feet in tight shoes, the Ashipita DX will assist your feet returning to a healthier shape. They also support your posture so you use the whole of your foot, stimulating and strengthening your foot in a natural arc suitable for walking. And perhaps best of all, they aid blood circulation and thus keep you warm in the winter.
The design has already been patented in four countries and was developed at the University of Nagoya.
At the moment there are two colors available, black and beige, and three sizes.
Forget the Lemon Detox, no-carbs-after-4pm and anything-that-can-be-eaten-through-a-straw detox plans and try an Enzyme Bath instead! Just 15 minutes in this bath full of naturally fermented sawdust and rice bran can make you sweat as much as you would in a 2 hour marathon.
As your body is engulfed in sawdust at a temperature of around 40 degrees Celcius, the body is warmed from the core. This activates your internal organs, apparently optimizing metabolism, increasing your immune strength, and improving circulation. It’s also great for easing constipation and even insomnia. The dry sawdust also promotes the release of sweat without clogging your pores where excess dirt and sebum from your skin is also washed away.
Kousoyokuen Leaf in Shinjuku, Tokyo, is just one of the many salons from around Japan that offer this sawdust service. The sawdust, which comes from the Yoshino Cypress tree grown in the Nara Prefecture, is finely ground and undergoes a unique fermenting process. Naturally occurring enzymes from fruit and flowers are added to the sawdust, assisting it to reach temperatures of 70-80 degrees without the need for any artificial heat.
These baths can set you back ¥6,300 for a 15 minute session but with such miraculous benefits and of course, the novelty of bathing in sawdust, who wouldn’t want to try this out? At least it’s not fermented soyabeans, right?!
Green tea ice cream. Green tea Kit Kat. Even green tea cafe latte. And now green tea hair dye.
Beauty Studio Ryu, a hair salon in Kyoto, is one of dozens of beauty salons in Japan set to offer an “Ocha [tea] color treatment” hair dyeing service for those who want to use matcha green tea to improve the quality of their locks and dye out pesky gray strands.
Uji, the small city just south of Kyoto, is the most famous place in Japan for matcha. And now a Yokohama beauty products company has got a patent to use Uji matcha to dye gray hair. After undergoing the first dye in your regular color, the matcha dye is applied to help fix the pigments and prevent color loss.
“Along with contributing to the development of the tea industry I want to create a new beauty culture,” says the man who researched it, Masataka Shioda, who has thirty years experience in hair dyeing.
The product is being developed by ICTB Global and the color treatment apparently works by using the pigment-absorbing capacity of tea when the catechin oxidizes, reports the Kyoto Shimbun.
Since it does not use oxidation dye there is less damage to the skin, and the regular dye then lasts for some two months after treatment in the matcha bath.
Shioda first noticed the qualities of tea around ten years ago but only applied for the patent in 2011. It was awarded in May.
One lady who tried it out said that the smell of the matcha continues for two or three days, making you more relaxed. For the ocha coloring, between 60 and 80g of matcha are used each time.
It costs around 8,000 JYP (nearly $100) for one session and the service will be introduced in around 100 salons nationwide, centering on the Kanto (Tokyo-Yokohama) region. The matcha is now also being sold in specialist stores and wholesalers in Kyoto and elsewhere.
So if you hated the way that a minor subcultural activity like injecting saline into your forehead was blown up (no pun) into a mainstream beauty “trend” by foreign media, then check out this latest ridiculous example of distortion.
Now “apparently” Japanese women are weaing diapers to avoid going to the toilet at work!
In America, adult diapers are mainly for old people, but in Japan, young women have begun wearing diapers as a way to level the playing field with menfolk.
The logic goes that men are dirty, awful slobs and have much lower standards when it comes to domestic cleanliness and personal grooming. Therefore, women have decided to become gross via leaving dishes in the sink, not removing body hair and peeing their pants.
Rather than getting up to squat over the weird hole in the floor of a bathroom that passes as a commode in the Far East, (some) women in Japan have decided that they’d rather wear a diaper and let nature take its course.
But as commenters on the nefarious foreign articles have pointed out, the original Japanese article is just one interview with one person going by a fake name. The writer even makes a point of saying at the end that they do NOT want this to become popular.
And for the record, most offices have extremely nice toilets — often ones that are heated and even with music-making devices so you can hide the sounds of your pee (and there are also mobile versions you can take around with you if you are particularly shy).
Now, there IS a minor underground “adult baby” cosplay scene in Japan but it is precisely that: an underground fetish for serious people interested in doing something decidedly different.
The day that office ladies start wearing nappies so they can keep on slaving away for the corporate machine while they pee in their panties is the day I quit Japan. And neither is about to happen any time soon.