Before coming to Japan to live, we had many preconceived ideas about Japan, Japanese people, culture and religion. This page is dedicated to answering a few questions to reveal the truth about Japan and its people. We also hope to introduce you to some of Japan’s challenges, and give you a chance to read to pray for its needs as a nation. Enjoy MYTHBUSTING! This section will be updated periodically.
Is Japan a Modern Nation?
Japan ranks in the top countries for fastest internet, automotive production, cell phone technology and consumer electronics.
HOWEVER, many people in Japan do not use a personal computer, but use their cell phones/smart phones as their main tool for communicating. And although the internet speeds are fast, finding free wi-fi or even paid wi-fi is often a challenge. Japan has not yet become an Internet “must have” mentality, although we see many changes being made all the time. In my opinion, Japan makes the best computers, video games and cars.
As for being a modern nation, one might agree that Japan is by no means a third world nation but has to catch up with some other western nations in many regards. Architecture outside of big cities is often old, computer systems often antiquated, paper records often used instead of computer files, and many cities have electrical lines strewn everywhere, ruining any chance of a nice view.
Japanese dislike foreigners
Of course there are exceptions to everything, but in our case we have found the Japanese to be wonderful people. We have seen the older generations seem a bit unsure sometimes of what to make of a foreigner in their familiar grocery store or neighborhood, but younger generations seem very comfortable and most all seem to welcome the idea of foreigners. It is true historically, however, that Japan had been a closed nation for about 250 years. I believe it was during this time that Japan’s culture became what it is today in the best regards, but also created difficulty with helping it grow internationally as a nation.
Slowly but surely we are seeing integration, but very little English by way of manuals, signs around town and web sites. Most cater to Japanese-speaking people only, but many do try to speak the English they know which is always fun and enjoyable.
Japanese are very religious.
Answer: TRUE AND FALSE.
Sorry to be flippant here but the truth is — both answers are right. TRUE, in that Japanese can be religious in meaning duty to do what is necessary and/or required in terms of family obligation. FALSE in terms of actual belief in many cases. Idol worship and ancestral worship are common, but more so among the older generations than the younger. The younger generations seem to care less for ancient traditions and know less about religious history. I would say the middle-aged and younger generations these days are too busy for religion and most would consider themselves either a hybrid Buddhist/Shinto/Agnostic, believing and performing only when duty calls.
This is not to say that Japan does not have evil spirits to contend with, and that strongholds don’t exist. Indeed, they do and the battle for correct thinking of the Japanese mind is a great one. We burn and remove idols from homes whenever they are surrendered in Jesus’ name, and we encourage everyone to live by the Word of God and not by religious rites passed down through idol worship and ancestral worship.
Japan remains yet a little less than 1 percent Christian, but people are open to the gospel and receptive when sincere discipleship and teaching is made available to them.
Japanese are ambiguous communicators.
Answer: MOSTLY TRUE.
One of the most frustrating differences at times is this single aspect of the Japanese culture. It is as if the Japanese have a language within a language to communicate indirectly. Where a westerner might simply say, “Yes” or “No” to a question, the Japanese will use a form of communication which is much more subtle, much more uncertain and certainly non-confrontational as much as possible. Offense and being a bother are to be avoided at all costs, and a debt owed is also not a good thing.
The entire culture performs on a systematic, understood level of honorifics; an unspoken language of body language, euphemisms, muted meanings, gestures and “tatemae,” the “unseen face.” There have been many stories published regarding international businessmen who became very frustrated with delayed answers and uncertain terms in vocabulary.
And of course, there are exceptions. Many are more “western” in their approach to honesty and conversation, offering more direct answers and being more approachable on many topics. We have some friends who are more like this, but they have also been exposed to foreigners and are used to this more direct form of communication. At least when we’re around 😉
Japan is economically stable.
Japan’s economy is surviving right now because the Japanese are good savers of cash, and not usually extravagant spenders. Most bank accounts hold approximately 20% of a families’ life savings, allowing them to pay cash for many things including cars, school tuition costs, marriage costs for their children and household needs. Japan does not subscribe to checking accounts and credit card usage is very low because payments cannot be drawn out for long periods of time as they can elsewhere in the world.
HOWEVER, Japan’s national debt is 280% of their Gross Domestic Product as of December, 2012. This means repaying their debt to Japan will cost taxpayers more and more taxes. The other side of this problem is that the population is rapidly aging, with half the number of births occurring each year. This means fewer people to put into government systems, fewer people to care for the elderly, and more people collecting retirement fees from the government. Japan is in a dire state with high unemployment and homelessness on the rise in many areas. College graduates are also finding difficulty landing good jobs.
Japan is historic and romantic.
Answer: TRUE AND FALSE.
Another double doozie. Japan is an ancient country with a very rich and noted history. Its roots in religion, politics and the arts are well defined by thousands of years of history. HOWEVER, Japan’s history in terms of the physical landscape is one of contradictions and juxtapositions. If you search for historic places, you will find them in Kyoto and areas less affected by modernization and housing. Japan’s culture does live on in museums, exhibits, books, movies and television. However, younger generations seem less interested in history and know less about it than those before them.
As for being romantic, there are many wonderful places to enjoy the scenic views in Japan. Onsen (hot springs) are very popular for relaxation, but to the average Japanese, romance is somewhat of an ambiguous term. Many marriages are not built on romance, but on function of marriage and for the sake of the family unit. To a foreigner, however, I would say Japan has an abundant array of views and options for exploring Japan’s natural and historical sides.
At New Years and other special occasions, kimonos and yukatas (lighter, cotton printed robes) are commonly worn but not in everyday life. You will not see, except for perhaps the rare spectacle of a geisha in Kyoto or Tokyo, women shuffling along in wooden sandals and heavily layered kimonos. Most people wear modern clothing and styles which emulate a western appeal, for the most part.
Japanese pottery and calligraphy are not dead arts by any means, so you would easily be able to find wonderful hand-crafted pieces almost anywhere, even in mountain towns. Japan’s historical landscape is now a very interesting blend which is difficult to describe unless witnessed first hand.