I took a bus from Buenos Aires to Cordoba yesterday, and because the movie that was on was horrible (although in English with Spanish subs for a change), I switched to watching lost in translation on my netbook at some point. I think I've seen half the movie years ago, but didn't really pay attention. It's worth watching and re-watching if you already have, although it's mostly about life in Tokyo (no sorry, Kyoto is not all like in the Kyoto scene in the movie). Which I will pick up in Nr. 10 ;)
But talking about “lost in translation”:
6. The language is not impossible to learn
In fact, Japanese is a much easier language than most European languages. While there are many forms of politeness that take years to master, it's surprisingly easy to get to a point where you can get by and have a simple conversation in Japanese. It uses very few, all simple sounds (which is why it's so hard for Japanese people to pronounce other languages with more sounds) and the grammar is very simple and flexible, too – for example, as long as the verb is at the end, your word order is fine. The two syllable alphabets, hiragana and katakana, can be learnt in a week or two. The hard part are the Chinese characters, the kanji, but this is more a matter of regular study and constant exposure than real difficulty (says the woman who is know to ignore this part of Japanese study – yet I have managed to pick up a few hundred I can read). Learning French, or Italian, or Spanish is much much harder than Japanese.
- It's not a sexually liberal country (also, there are no panty vending machines)
the erotic contemporary Japanese man
If you DO see a panty vending machine, please send me a picture – a current one. The story behind this is that some sex shop once put one up decades ago, and somehow this made it to the western media. Since then, it's been removed and the machines are a myth. Sure, there are kinky clubs and “special interest” places in Japan, but these also exist in pretty much any other country in the world. This is a country where many 18 year olds do not know how sex works, because there is no practical education and it's no topic in magazines, either. It's a country where even holding hands in public is seen as scandalous by everybody over 25 (and even by younger kids outside the big city), so it's not done. A Japanese version of Sex and the city would be unthinkable - even adult women get excited about tv dramas where the highlight is that the main characters kiss each other on the mouth. After about 290 episodes. Even in porn, the genitalia are pixeled out. It's the developed country where people have the least sex on average. It's a place where the contraceptive pill was only legalised in 1996. Japan is anything BUT a sexually open country. It just knows very well that sex sells - abroad. They've got few other resources, what should they do?
8. Karaoke is not everybody's top hobby
As with manga/anime, cosplay and sushi eating – karaoke is something people older than college age barely ever do, and if, it's usually do kill time in between when they have fallen out of a bar and the train only starts running again at 6 am. Not everyone is a crazy J-pop singing fun monster (though I admit, that would be kind of funny!)
9. Not everybody was involved personally in 11/03
I'm not trying to play down this tragedy, but Japan is a big country and is about 3,000 miles long. Shops were not sold out all over the country, not everybody knows someone who lost their home (or even lives in the area, as it's one of the least densely populated areas of Japan – luckily, I guess, or there would have been many more victims). West Japan runs on a totally different power grid and was not affected by any of the power saving measures taken last year, and was at no point at risk. Not everybody talks about it, all the time, not even a year ago. The Japanese are used to catastrophes, and freaking out at every occasion is not something they are known for – rightfully. Sure, people outside the area felt sad for their country and the victims, but not more than in other countries. There are 120 Million Japanese people and only a fraction of people's lives have changed through this event.
10. Japan is NOT Tokyo
This might sum up all of the above. Just as the US in not New York, London is not England and Berlin is not Germany, life in Tokyo is very different from anywhere else. Not everybody leads a crazy hectic lives and gets squeezed into the subway every day. Outside Tokyo, Japanese subways are surprisingly uncrowded and a very pleasant experience (even in Tokyo, I've never seen the famous subway-people-squeezers).
Not everybody lives in a tiny apartment with hilarious rent prices or works 18 hours a day. Not everywhere in Japan is franctic and loud and full of neon lights, there are peaceful areas where all that crazy “modern” Japanese has not really changed anything but improved people's quality of housing, if at all. I went to Tokyo first after I saw many other places in the country – and even to me, it seemed like a very odd place and a world away from the rest of Japan and even other major Asian cities.
So, I think that should cover most prejudices/notions people have. I'm happy to hear any other ideas you have – or might have had – about Japan!