There exist stereotypes for every kind of people and the Japanese are no exception. As with many misconceptions, some of them are based on some truth that has been exaggerated to the extreme, but some of the misconceptions about Japan are downright outlandish.

Like many people, I thought that there was at least some truth to a few of these when I was a kid and started to learn about Japan and their culture. Thankfully, as I learned more and more I found out how these stereotypes came to be and the real stories behind the myths. So read on, my friends – and let’s learn something.

10. All Japanese People Can Speak English Real Good

Did you take a foreign language in high school? How much do you remember of it? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sure, Japanese students take many years of English while they are in school, but from my experience they mainly focus on writing rather than speaking and the only ones who are really good at it are those who really take an interest in the language and study it outside of class.

Many Japanese students just do enough to get by in English class and by the time they graduate they’ve forgotten quite a bit of it. This, coupled with the fact that the average Japanese person has little to no use for English on a daily basis, causes the English skills of many Japanese people to be pretty elementary. So next time you visit Japan, don’t be surprised if not absolutely everyone speaks English as well as you’d like them to.

9. All Japanese People Eat Whales and Dolphins for Breakfast Lunch and Dinner

While Japanese people are much more likely than others to dine on meat from whales and dolphins, it’s probably not as common as you think. This may be familiar to those of you who have already read Hashi’s post Ever Been So Hungry You Could Eat A Whale, but like he says, eating whale in Japan is about as common as something eating like alligator or squirrel in the United States. It’s uncommon, but it’s still done.

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The Japanese have eaten whale meat for hundreds of years now and during WWII and the early postwar years, the Japanese ate a lot more whale meat because it was an easy, plentiful source of protein. You’ll still find packaged meat in stores and the like, but it’s definitely not a super common meal in Japan.

8. Hibachi Grill Restaurants are Properly Named

Yes, the picture above is a hibachi. Not what you expected? I’m not surprised. The “hibachi” grills you see in hibachi restaurants are actually “teppanyaki” grills. Hibachi, or “fire bowls,” are traditional Japanese heating devices consisting of a round, cylindrical, or a box-shaped container, made from or lined with a heatproof material and designed to hold burning charcoal.

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In North America, the term “hibachi” is mistakenly used to refer to a small cooking stove heated by charcoal (actually called shichirin in Japanese), or to an iron hot plate (teppan) used in teppanyaki restaurants. Armed with this knowledge, you can show off and correct your friends in the most pretentious way possible next time you go to one of these so called “hibachi” grill restaurants. Please.

7. Japanese People Don’t Like Letting People Into Their Personal Bubble and Are Really Weird About Personal Space and Stuff

For some reason a lot of people view Japanese people as being very anti-touchy-feely and kind of prude. While this may be somewhat true with person to person relationships and PDA like holding hands and kissing and whatnot, this is most certainly not true with daily commutes and train rides. Just take a look at the video below. It’s nuts.

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Japan is crowded. People need to get places. You’re going to get bumped into, crammed, and squeezed. It happens. If all Japanese people were so weird about personal space, stuff like this wouldn’t happen. People need to get to work, school, and other places, and they’re not afraid to cram together to do it. So don’t be surprised if you end up getting crammed into a train car sardine-style the next time you’re in a busy city in Japan.

6. Japanese People Are Still Sour About WWII and Are All Racist Xenophobes

Really? Come on. In all honesty I’d say that there’s more Americans that are still sour about Pearl Harbor than there are Japanese people sour about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A lot of things happened in WWII that are touchy subjects for everyone, but that’s largely in the past for most people. Most Japanese people today are very interested in Western and American culture and are very welcoming to others.

There’s also some folks who think that Japanese people refuse to accept foreigners as their own and it’s really hard to become a citizen of Japan. Well, while it may not be easy, it’s certainly possible. Just take Donald Keene for example. He’s received honors from the emperor himself! Just like with any other country, you can Go From Foreigner to Japanese Citizen with a bit of hard work and dedication. And everyone will love you for it.

5. Only Japanese People Can Excel at Traditional Japanese Sports and Things

There are a handful of people (both inside as well as outside Japan) that think only the mighty Yamato people are capable of being good at anything Japanese whether it be the language, sports, or otherwise. This, however, is grossly untrue. Take sumo for example. What’s more Japanese than sumo? Well, believe it or not there hasn’t been a Japanese Yokozuna in like ten years (they were either Hawaiian or Mongolian).

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And then there’s Jero. Jero is the first ever black (well, half black) Enka singer in Japanese history. Who would have expected that? So while there may be some Japanese people that believe there is something different about them that makes it so only they can excel at these things, this is most definitely not the case.

4. Japanese People Are Super Polite, Like, All the Time

Have you ever visited Japan and felt like everyone was being ridiculously nice to you, even more than you would have expected? Have you ever had a foreign exchange student at your school before? Would you be super nice to them? Probably. Japanese people are about as polite as anyone else really. This is even more true when you hang around Japanese people who think foreigners are cool and want to be nice and hang around them all the time.

I mean, the Japanese language has a special level of politeness just to make sure people don’t give into their natural human temptations to be rude and crass to everyone. Okay, no not really. But in reality, Japanese people are just about as polite as anyone else when it comes right down to it. And if you want to return the politeness favor when you go to Japan, just make sure you don’t embarrass yourself.

3. Japanese People All Drink Only Sake and Can’t Handle their Alcohol

Of course Japanese people drink other kinds of alcohol apart from sake. Yes, they probably drink more sake than other nations, but probably in the same way French people would be more likely to drink more wine and Germans would be likely to drink more beer. But Japan loves wine and beer just as much as the next country. Don’t believe me? Beer was responsible for starting a war in Japan. They take it very seriously over there.

As for Japanese people not being able to hold their liquor, thats only partially true. If you’ve checked out Hashi’s post about The Science Behind Drunken Salarymen, this may be familiar to you already. About 40-45% of Asians have trouble processing alcohol and develop what has become known as the “Asian Glow.” But for those who aren’t afflicted with this unfortunate mutation, Japanese people are certainly capable of holding their own in any sort of drinking match.

2. All Japanese People Eat Sushi All Day Every Day

Yes, sushi comes from Japan. Yes, sushi is awesome and no one would be unhappy eating it each and every single day. However, Japan has a lot of other foods that are equally as awesome like tempura, gyoza, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and even bukkake. Some Japanese people don’t even like sushi (the poor souls).

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At most Japanese grocery stores the sushi section, albeit much better than its US equivalents, isn’t that much bigger than those you’d find at your local Kroger or Giant Eagle. But of course fish is more plentiful in Japan as it is an island nation, much in the same way that beef is so plentiful in America. And now you know.

1. All Japanese People Watch Anime and Read Manga (Even in Their Sleep!)

Okay, so kids in Japan watch anime just about as much as kids in the United States watch American stuff like SpongeBob SquarePants or Looney Tunes. As kids get older, they will be more likely to “graduate” from anime onto manga (reading is hard, after all), but it’s pretty comparable to how American folks like American comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer). And just like in America, if somebody ends up being really obsessed with comics they’ll most likely be labeled as a super nerd (or otaku).

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Of course there are things that almost everyone in Japan enjoys, like Studio Ghibli, but in America we have Disney and Pixar movies that can be enjoyed by all ages as well. So next time you see a Japanese person, don’t assume that they like anime or manga as much as you do. There’s a good chance they don’t.

And there you have it. Ten of the most common misconceptions about the Japanese people debunkified. You’re welcome.

Do you have any other misconceptions you think we should have addressed above? (All Japanese people being good at math, maybe?) Or maybe you have some other questions about Japanese people and their culture you’d like cleared up? Feel free to ask in the comments!

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  • Chuck Waterman

    Hi. Chuck in Kumamoto, here. I used to have exactly the same perspective as you’re sharing here. However, it has altered a bit due to some recent conversations I’ve had with my college students. No doubt, children may make “gaijin” comments toward anyone they perceive as different, but young adults I’m talking to perceive a difference between Asian non-Japanese and “gaijins”. They’re telling me that they don’t use the word “gaijin” to describe Thai, Korean, Chinese or Taiwanese people. Therefore, it now seems to me that adult Japanese recognize at least two categories of non-Japanese people.

  • drayomi

    It depends on where you are and what time of day it is. Osaka trains were almost never as packed as Tokyo trains, but since I never got on a Tokyo train during rush hour it was never that packed either. I’m sure the video is of a Tokyo train during peak rush hour. The trains we took in Hiroshima were never even close to that, ever.

  • Carrie Sullivan

    You know, I wonder if not wanting to shake hands has something to do with the high population density and not wanting to spread germs thing? Like how Japanese people will wear face masks when they’re not feeling well.

  • Carrie Sullivan

    Maybe the uncomforable reaction was a reaction to her work being complimented, not necessarily because you were foreign?

  • Carrie Sullivan

    I think it’s probably a more of a necessity thing. Americans wouldn’t cram up against people they don’t know either unless they were in a crowded elevator or something. It becomes okay when you don’t have a choice.

  • Carrie Sullivan

    Occassionally the trains in Dallas, Texas get to be almost like that ^_^;; It’s not quite as packed, but especially around 5pm going from downtown on a weekday, it’s standing room only and “personal space” goes out the window. At one point, the UT Dallas shuttle bus got to be like that at certain times, before they added more buses to the route. But if you drive everywhere (or if you live somewhere where the public transporation system isn’t as overloaded) it’s not something you would see, I guess…

  • Carrie Sullivan

    I mean, what are you going to do, wait another 20 minutes for another train to come along, or try to pack yourself in anyway you can?

  • John

    Well Japan’s suicide rate is the 7th highest in the world, so I dunno about that.

  • John

    What’s that?

  • RocMegamanX

    About #6, what about Grave of the Fireflies? That movie is infamously depressing, and I worry that it would demonize America because of the situation depicted in the film.

  • kit

    all japanese people are tourists?

  • nippon

    This is good one:
    All hibachi chefs who can perform are non Japanese.

  • Fartman

    they’re super gay and play games all the time

  • Tandras

    Where did you come up with these? Who thinks the things you wrote about? I have never met anyone who thinks most of these except maybe anime/manga one.

  • Tandras

    You are mostly correct. The part where you said holding hands is considered bad in Japan is not correct. I live in Japan, my fiance is Japanese we hold hands all the time and so do all of our friends (all Japanese couples). No one I know of here thinks holding hands is bad.

  • kawaiithelinnie

    omg, the otaku girl in the comic book store video looks just like my cousin – and she’s not even japanese. we live in england.

  • Keima Suragi

    I watch anime all the time so i learned from it that Japanese people are not much different from anyone else

  • Joe Momma

    think the atom bomb melted their brains a little bit so now they are all a little retarded( dating a chinese girl and she is in no way as weird as these people) Even she told me she is freaked out by Japanese. They give Asians a bad name.

    This is how

    Anime porn getting raped by tentacles

    they like to clamp their nipples(WTF)

    sell used underwear in vending machine

    sex game shows( a guy feel on like 20 boobs and has to guess if they are his wife’s. he got it wrong so they sprayed him with some shit like han solo .

    Some are very nice though………

    also my family is a HOST family for those who know. Well we had a Japanese guy (18yrs old)

    stay for a few months but my parents kicked him out cause he was too weird. well to elaborate he was dumb . played some game where you have to think of a word that starts with a certain letter and has to match whats on the card, Any ways the letter was P and the card read something you keep hidden……..My parents a devote christian so imagine their surprise when he said PENIS….Weird of all though. he had no friends, and only would play with kids and legos and transformers and when i say kids i mean my neice and nephew whom are 6 and 4……………………… Japanese are weird… I could go all night, trust me they are weird.

  • Joe Momma

    sounds racist to me like Japan still has a little bit of fascism left in em, Only other country to do that was Hitler and the arian race…..NEVER heard of this in any other country. If i am ill informed please let me know.

  • bobinski

    i heard all japanese watch tentacle porn and/or are pedophile kis rapers

    i dont really think thats true, i just wanted to know where this is comming from

  • bobinski

    sorry, i mean kid

  • Maximuz

    Cool blog, I just came back from my second trip to japan!

  • WhatDidIJustRead

    What the… Stereotypes from the backwards universe?

    10. Japanese are notorious for their bad ingrish. Where’d ya get that they were good at english from?

    7. It’s a very densily populated culture. I don’t think anyone would think they’re touchy about their personal space.

    3.-1. even more ridiculous, kinda like saying everyone in Britain listens to justin bieber all the time.

  • Meh

    1. When a country has more than hundred million inhabitants, the chances of having a couple of wierdos goes up. A lot.
    I mean, it’s like claiming all americans are retards just because a couple of dozen of them didn’t know how many sides there are in a triangle. Or that all americans carry guns with them at all times to shoot whoever gets on their face.

    2. Porn. A lot of countries have it. Healthy people make use of it. Sick people do not. Christian zealots… are weird in either case. Annoying too.

    3. Cultural differences do not make people weird

  • Meh

    America and black people. And half black people.

  • Blue X

    the example you are using seems largely false- as Its still expected for the wife in American relationships to do all the house work -.-. women are expected to be “natural better” at cleaning,cooking and doing laundry. Not mention the sexual assault and domestic violence race in America are extremely high, the idea that these culture work together well cannot be true. Sure their can be some people who can make it work but its deffinatly not that way for all..

  • ひろみ

    Bwahahahahaha…I remember watching the girl getting raped with the tentacle…I was watching it with my bachan…talk about awkward…

  • Brandon Purvis

    I think i love them more than they love tentacle porn! (warning: I’m not a stereotype loving asshole… its a joke)

  • BoxerRebellion

    Japanese men have the tiniest wieners?

  • JD

    I lold, a weeaboo who is such a delusional goofball that he thinks he is an authority about Japanese culture. Too funny.

    You bring shame to both races.

  • sharingan

    You forgot, “Girls in anime and manga have big boobs because the actual Japanese women are all flat chested and have no boobs. So Japanese boys and men aren’t used to having big boobs around and miss out.” I hate when Americans say that. I’ve seen so many Japanese women with far bigger breasts than american women. To me, Japanese women are one of the most cute/hot/beautiful type of women, regardless of “boob size.”

  • Vvvvvvv

    In last picture, was I the only one to notice she was reading soul eater,

  • wtf?!

    This is the most absurd piece of drivel I have come across online in a long time. not every single Japanese person eats a certain thing for breakfast lunch and dinner? No shit, Sherlock. Prick.

  • Tommy Chris

    I have actually NEVER heard of any of these stereotypes. It was a waste of time.

  • SNICK Ruled

    Hope they can speak English “more good” than you.

  • Vincenza Vicky Maione

    Hahahahah hello there, Tofugu!
    I have special memories related to the Japanese Glow. hahahahahah there’s even someone who gets their eyelids bright red after just one sip of alcohol! *rolls*

  • Innermike

    Sarcasm, not trolling. Check his reply to the top comment for a more clear example.

  • bob

    But The way its handled in Japan is different. I’m Australian not American. But I know in Japan, a Wife’s Husband, If they were invited over to a place for Dinner, would do nothing to help out. Its really taken to the extreme more In Japan. Form what I have seen living there.

    The Men work and women clean, is really common. In a lot of countries. But in Japan its not just for the Couple, it extends out to the whole family. Say, if you went over to your Wife’s family house a Guy from America/Australia might try to help out a bit. (Cooking,cleaning plates) Yet in Japan, it wouldn’t happen. They wouldn’t do anything. The women would cook,clean and get everything ready. But also I think Japanese women have more control over the house, and their children. Then in a Western Household.

    My Girlfriends, Japanese Parents. Her father doesn’t ever Cook, (He can’t cook) she is kinda expected to cook for her Dad. If she lives in their home. But on the plus side, I think her father would pay and look after her without complaining.(Even though she is 31 years old) Yet in Australia If you were living at home with your parents I don’t think you would be expected to cook for you Dad (Because he is a Male) But on the other side you wouldn’t get any money from your parents or not as much, or would have them constantly complain.

    It is different in Japan, Men are seen to be more important in some ways. When it comes to the work place or having dinner cooked. But on the other Hand, I think women have more say when it comes to their children and the household. But still I hear overall it is a more Male orientated society.

  • Jade Takashi

    The american people did nothing to the Africans like what Hitler did to Jewish people and in trying to create the perfect race. While I am not denying that many of the imported slaves and half Africans suffered what happened in no way compares to Hitler. He murdered people who did not fit into his idea of the perfect person. Also to be said that the original slaves in the Americas were actually white …….. then the British started importing cheap labor from Africa.

    Maybe next time you make a comment like this you try and do some research first or at least make sure that your brain is working. I found this extremely insulting being that people make such a large deal out of the African slaves in America even thought almost every country has used slaves within their lifetime ……… many of which have been white people. Africans were used due to the high demand for cheap labor. Again not excusing out saying that the way the slaves were treated was right just trying to point out that it has happened everywhere. Comparing something like that to the largest case of genocide in history just does not work.

    Please think of this before making another comment such as this next time

  • rei

    Just to burst your bubble too. I have met some Japanese who are rude and not nice. Last time when I went to Tokyo. So these rude Japanese do exist unfortunately. But, they are quite rare. I mean of 100 Japanese I talked to, there would probably be one or two who are sourpusses. LOL

  • Guest

    This was a very interesting passage to read, but I have one question. me and some of my friends (not all of them!), are fans of Anime and Manga, and get quite insulted whenever we are asked if that means we like pornography. My question is why is porn big in Anime and Manga (I’m not saying all of it is porn), but why is Manga/Anime stereotypically known for pornography?

  • Annie

    Not ALL! Ever heard of Case Closed? 名探偵コナン
    That is a good manga series.
    Some of their animate TV shows are AMAZING! Take Case Closed as an example again! Never use the word ALL when stating an opinion again, it could become a serious issue. 😡😠

  • KatnissEverdeen101

    I didn’t know anime was so childish in Japan. I knew anime and manga wasn’t ALL they care about, but I just didn’t know they considered it pretty childish

  • Morgan

    You forgot the “Oh, Japanese people are perverts!” stereotype. That stereotype is completely untrue! My aunt’s Japanese and I would know! Even though there’s a lot of perverts in the manga and anime, but that doesn’t mean they are perverts!

  • Eliytres

    The Japanese are the worst English speakers I have seen in my life. They’re pretty bad at writing it, too.

  • Annie, Are You Okay?

    Annie, not to sound condescending, but you need to reread the post. “You missed one.” Think on that for a minute. And also, because you told someone over the internet to stop being ignorant doesn’t at ALL mean they’ll stop. I hope you’ll stop telling everybody what to do.

  • Eros

    Shut up Jade, you condescending bitch. You talk to damn much and you’re not that smart.
    You jumped to conclusions about what the guy was implying as well. That’s fucking annoying. Went way of the original subject and jumped into a history lecture. No one caresss.
    Seriously, get a clue. I would assume he meant that people still have a little bit of a stigma towards black/white interracial relationships and the children that are part of it. Mostly old, white people born and raised in cities.

    tl;dr: Make your points with as little jargon as possible. No one wants to hear you mumble on like an arrogant douche.

  • Brian Bello

    i got a question? is it true that Japanese girls drop head over heels for any man that sings a song in English at a kareoke bar?