Why are Japanese so “weird”?

20 Aug

Bamboo (640x480) (640x480)“Why are Japanese so weird?”  I get asked this question a lot.  My best friend, Erin, likes to find weird news about Japan and emails them to me.  A few months ago she sent me an article about “a new trend” among young Japanese who were licking each other’s eye balls.  Although I was tempted to toss the article aside as I normaly would, I decided to check if this was true or not, since I was coming back to Japan in the following week.

Upon returning home I asked my mom and my friends about “the new trend,” but no one knew about it.  So I did a little research on my own and found out that the source of this story was a Japanese tabloid known for generating outrageous stories and fake news.  I emailed Erin and told her that this trend appeared to be fake.  She was slightly disappointed.

“Don’t believe everything you read about Japan.”  I often tell my American friends.  You never know what you read is true, especially on the internet.  There are so much information out there these days, and anyone can write about anything they want.  Even if what you read is true, you don’t know if that represents the majority of people or not.

A similar misunderstanding could happen in Japan about America.  For instance, the way Japanese learn about American culture is through Hollywood movies.  So often times Japanese think that all Americans look like Brad Pitt and Halle Berry.  I was guilty of this:  When I first arrived in the U.S, I looked around people at Detroit airport and was shocked to learn that they didn’t look like movie characters.

So if you come to Japan and live here for a while, you may find that Japanese aren’t as weird as you thought.  But I’d say that Japan probably has high tolerance for weirdness, so there are many weird things about Japan.  I’ll write more about that in my future posts.


25 Responses to “Why are Japanese so “weird”?”

  1. hollywoodsam August 20, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    Licking eye balls? Almost anything is plausible. You are right though, all countries project a skewed image through the media and celebrities. What is your view of Australians? Crocodile wrestling BBQ sport beer drinkers?

  2. Yumi August 21, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Thank you for your comment. My image of Australia consists of kangaroo and koala bear… As for the people I’ve heard that they are “good looking.” I’ve also heard that they eat kangaroo. Is that true?

    • hollywoodsam August 29, 2013 at 12:39 am #

      >As for the people I’ve heard that they are “good looking.”

      No more good looking than any other country. Again, it all depends on where you get your inforamtion from, namely through media. It is like asuming that all Japanese girls are cos play.

      > I’ve also heard that they eat kangaroo. Is that true?

      It is true. We are one of those countries that eat the animals from their National Coat of Arms. Both the kangaroo and the emu are eaten here.

      • Yumi September 6, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

        That’s very interesting. Some of my friends and families have been to Australia, and they say it’s a beautiful place with interesting plants and animals. They really liked it. My impression of Australians is that they’re similar to Americans in terms of their temperament (i.e friendly), but I suspect that’s not how Australians think of themselves. What would you say the difference between Americans and Australians?

        • hollywoodsam September 7, 2013 at 3:47 am #

          We are quite relaxed towards many things and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It would be fair to say that we are quite different however, there are similarities. You will have to visit Australia one day. It is a beautiful country that is quite different to Japan. Juugastsu Watashi wa to no tsuma nihon e ikimasu. Nihon wa suburashii kuni desu.

          • Yumi September 7, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

            That’s great that you’re traveling to Japan. Where in Japan are you going to visit? I hope I can see Australia one day!

            • hollywoodsam September 8, 2013 at 12:12 am #

              Kansai prefecture mainly. It’s our second time there. Catch up with friends and practice my Japanese. You should come. It’s a huge country with alot of diversity.

              • Yumi September 8, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

                That sounds like a fun trip. I’ve been to Osaka once. I really like Kyoto and hope to visit there in the near future. Nihongo no benkyou ganbatte!

              • hollywoodsam September 9, 2013 at 8:49 am #

                Hai, arigatou gozaimasu!

  3. introvertnathan August 23, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    Great post. That was very informative. I’d heard about that eye licking trend from a lot of different places. Could I ask you the name of that tabloid that started it? I’m quite interested.

    • Yumi August 23, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      Hi! Thank you for the comment. According to the Huffington Post article, the original source of the story was a tabloid called “Bucchi News.”

      • introvertnathan August 23, 2013 at 7:09 am #

        Thanks : ) I had wondered about that story from the beginning, since I hadn’t heard anything about it from anyone Japanese.

        • Yumi August 24, 2013 at 8:55 am #

          You’re welcome. Do you live in Japan?

          • introvertnathan August 25, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

            Yes, I live near Mt. Fuji. (Though I still haven’t climbed it!) Maybe next year. (Though I say that every year!)

            • Yumi August 26, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

              That’s great. I lived in Yamanashi for a few years, when I was a child. Mt. Fuji is beautiful. I climbed it up to 8 goume once. The air was so thin! Hopefully I’ll get to climb it again, and this time I want to go to the top. 🙂

              • introvertnathan August 28, 2013 at 5:04 am #

                Yamanashi is a beautiful place. Too hit in summer, but I love it.

  4. artofchad December 16, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    My experience of Japan was that most Japanese were quite conformists so anyone who was a bit different was spun out of orbit so that they then became very different. Of course, people always find some things weird just because a culture is different.

    • Yumi December 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      I agree with your observations. Being different and unique isn’t necessarily considered a good thing in Japan, contrast to the west where individualism is highly valued. Because our cultures are so different, Japan seems “weird” to many Westerners, and vice versa.

  5. Richard Jamesriccyjay February 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    There are lots of “Japan is weird” stories in the west because it fits in with a simplified narrative (see also “China is dirty and corrupt”) that many media outlets like to feed their customers because more in depth explanations are considered too complicated and don’t sell.

    In the UK we used to have a show called Tarrant on TV, in which clips from wacky and weird TV shows or commercials from around the world were shown for laughs. Often featured was a supposedly stereotypical Japanese ‘torture’ gameshow.

    Tarrant on TV raised two interesting points for me:

    Firstly, I lived in Japan for over over a year and never saw a show even similar to these ‘torture’ gameshows (although I have been assured they do exist). Despite this, many people in the UK believe that such shows are one of the mainstays of Japanese broadcasting.

    Secondly, Tarrant on TV was not a critical look at other countries’ programming, it was a light comedy show. People living in the UK were laughing at the “weird Japanese” while at the same time watching and being entertained by the “weird Japanese” show themselves.

    That, to me, is really weird.

    • Yumi February 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      I didn’t know that the weird Japanese thing is so wide spread even in England…! What was your impression of Japanese when you lived here?

      • Richard Jamesriccyjay February 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

        To be honest, I don’t know if I had a single impression of Japanese.

        I have worked in an Eikaiwa in Tottori, for a university in Tokyo and on the ‘Peace Boat’ so I think I’ve seen and met a good cross-section of the population.

        In their dealings with me, I found Japanese people to be almost unfailingly polite and kind, but other than that people were very different.

        There are definitely some ‘types’ who you meet again and again: the painfully shy, borderline ‘hikikomori’ boys who won’t speak in class, the hyper ‘genki’ girls who go ‘heeeh!?’ at everything you say, But it’s easy enough to pigeon hole people in the UK too: he’s a hipster, she’s a goth, they’re so middle class.

        My advice to anyone coming to Japan is forget the stereotypes – if you’re looking for them then that’s what you’ll see, but you’ll miss out on so much more.

        • Yumi February 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

          Thank you for sharing. I agree that learning about people in another culture requires us to let go of the stereotypes and attempt to see them beyond that. I have never been to England before, but I hope I’ll get a chance to visit there one day.

        • Somebody May 2, 2014 at 6:09 am #

          So you didn’t run into at least 1 anime or manga nerd?

  6. Notagoodpsychologist July 8, 2014 at 6:46 am #

    I believe every unique culture represents a unified mindset held by a group. The Japanese as a people carry a psyche of obsession over cleanliness and extreme deference, such subjugations result in psychological compensation elsewhere where a mind attempts to find other outlets, the guilt from said “weird” actions leads to even more compensatory cultural behavior elsewhere further strengthening the heavily honorific based society, and again and again. It is arguable what triggered the first behavior but it could go back to post war Japan where their previous extremes were not just removed but gave birth to another extreme due to keeping isolation at hand (99% of the citizens in Japan are Japanese), but this would not satisfy the equation, going further back we see that Japan didn’t adopt Confucian marriage practices unlike Korea, and further back we see isolation on an Island, the isolation at first hurting but later on becoming comforting. A study could be done on this and we would see the root of such behaviors that Japan is known for.


  1. Please answer “Yes” or “No”: Why are Japanese so vague? | Discover Japan - September 23, 2013

    […] Why are Japanese so “weird”? ( […]

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