Living outside my home country as I do, the subject of stereotypes has always interested me. Everyone has certain preconceived notions about people from other countries, some of which are based on real observations, while others come from erroneously overgeneralizing. 1.27% of the population of Japan is made up of gaijin, and while this is nothing compared to some countries — almost 10% of people in Germany hail from elsewhere — it’s natural that Japanese here will develop stereotypes of foreigners living in their midst.
First of all, some Japanese have a tendency to think of all foreigners as being either Americans or Europeans, even though those groups make up a tiny sliver of the population here — people from Brazil, Peru, and Pakistan are far more common in my city. They think that all foreigners are tall, and if I get into a Japanese person’s car they are likely to apologize for it being so cramped, even though I am actually of average height. The Brazilian women here tend to wear Ipanema-style bikinis that are far more daring than Japanese women could ever wear to the local pool, and one J-List staff member says they remember thinking that all women from other countries must be that bold, including Americans. Unfortunately, foreigners are sometimes either ignorant of, or care less about, some common aspects of politeness here, and one impression Japanese have of some gaijin is ki ni shinai — they don’t worry about anything, even apologizing for something when they make a mistake. The Japanese spend a lot of time with no shoes on, and once a man told me he was sure that a Westerner could never pick a pencil up off the floor with his toes, since we wore shoes all the time (I promptly proved him wrong). Finally, as an American, I’ve naturally been asked numerous times in classrooms if I owned a gun when I lived in the States, or how many guns, or had I ever shot anyone. The sad truth is that some Japanese, especially younger students who have never come into contact with the U.S., have the mistaken image that all Americans sleep with guns under their pillows. Naturally, this is something I’ve worked hard to change in my years here in Japan.
Everyone knows that rice is the staple food of the Japanese, eaten with almost every meal. The “other” staple food in Japan would have to be soybeans, which are the source of a great variety of Japanese foods. Miso soup, a hot soup made from fermented miso paste, is an extremely healthy dish that’s enjoyed with every traditional Japanese breakfast, and served with other meals. Tofu is another popular food, used in many Japanese and Chinese recipes, or good served chilled on a hot afternoon with soy sauce poured over it. Natto is the famous fermented soybeans that are popular in much of the country, although less so in the Kansai/Osaka area, to say nothing of my mouth. My kids eat it all the time, and when they want to tease me they come up to me and breathe Natto breath on me — ugh. Japan couldn’t get through a day without soy sauce, of course, the single most common condiment in Japanese kitchens, even more than salt and pepper. Finally, soybeans play a important cultural role each February on Setsubun, the traditional end of the year according to the old lunar calendar, when you throw them at imaginery devils to chase away evil and bring happiness into the home. (By the way, we’ve got lots of miso soup on the site now…)
Among the other cool things that J-List carries, we’ve got authentic “loose socks,” those baggy, oversized socks that Japanese high school girls wear. We have two sizes to choose from, the standard 70 cm and the “super” 120 cm, which provide extra sock length to allow you to bunch it up around your ankles just so. If you find that the weight of the socks causes them to fall down we’ve got real “socks glue” to glue them to your leg so they’ll stay looking great.
Remember that J-List is hiring right now. We’re looking for someone for our San Diego office with experience in the U.S. anime industry who can help us grow our unique brand of Japanese pop culture. If you’re interested in learning more, please see this page for more information