Articles on Japan / Global Issues / Social Issues

Things People Say When I Talk About Japan

I don’t mean to be mean. Well, only slightly. Okay, maybe more than slightly. I’ve heard my share of dumb things. Some of these were said by people when they found out I studied abroad there, and some are from people who heard that I study Japanese.


• “Oh. Cool.”

• “But you don’t even speak Chinese.”

• “What kind of jobs do they have in Japan?”

• “Oh. Ever been to Europe?”

• “That’s nice.”

• “But they bombed us.”

• “Hey, what Asian language is this?”

• “Did you see any robots/ninjas/samurai/Godzilla?”

• “Do you just eat fish for every meal?”

• “You must be a giant over there.” Ladies love hearing that, by the way.

• “Hey, watch this clip of a Chinese/Korean/Taiwanese/Vietnamese person doing something cool.”

• “I don’t know how you can even make sense of those letters.”

• “…” with the subtext of, “done yet?”

• “Here, have some chopsticks.”

• “Here, have something that looks Oriental.”

• And the number one thing I hear? That’s right. “Oh. Cool.”

12 thoughts on “Things People Say When I Talk About Japan

  1. Interesting! Re: height. I have realized that many US folks imagine Japanese are REALLY tiny. I am pretty average-built (might be even slightly below-average among a younger crowd) Japanese man (5’9″/174cm), and have heard that I must be pretty tall in Japan. Huh?! It is also funny to hear “Japs bombed ‘us'”, considering the US colonized HI through coup d’etat only several decades before 1941.
    I am assuming these are responses from your hometown (Eau Claire, WI, right?) folks, no? I wonder they might differ depending on locations within US, age, gender, etc.
    Anyways, just stop by to say hello, and let you know I enjoy your blog!

    • Thank you very much for reading and for your kind comments!

      I know, it’s a bit ridiculous how tiny a lot of people from the USA think Japanese people are. On average maybe they are, but it’s still not to such a drastic degree.

      The “Japs bombed us” thing is even more ridiculous when you put it that way – I don’t know much about the history of Hawaii, I’m going to have to look into it now. I always thought it was ridiculous given Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially Nagasaki. Comfort women were brought up too, in another conversation.

      Yeah, most of these were things I heard in Wisconsin. I think the crowd here might be more willing to say stupid racist stuff under the guise of patriotism and a very real ignorance (there was one black guy in my whole high school, and one Asian in my graduating class), but I think it might be whispered elsewhere (but still exist if that makes sense). Did you hear about the Twitter storm when a Japanese man won Dancing with the Stars, I think it was, or a show in that vein? Racism really showed then, people kept mentioning Pearl Harbor and throwing the word ‘Jap’ around, and were outraged he could have won over Americans.

      But since (from what I understand) it’s a show where people vote for the winners, they’re still the minority, so there’s hope. They’re just such a vocal and self-righteous minority, it’s hard to argue with them.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  2. Heh, I didn’t know about the dance contest show. Interesting–they would have no problem if a Latino or AfAm man won it, though (or, for that matter, an Asian boy winning a spelling bee!). This race/gender (femininity/masculinity thing) in the US pop culture is fascinating, isn’t it?
    Not trying to make this topic too political, but I see the “Pacific” portion of the Asia-Pacific War as a territorial conflict b/w two late-coming empires, the US and Jpn–nothing more, nothing less. The two reprised the same old imperial wars as those by Brits and French in No. America in 17-18C and in Africa in 19C. And the biggest victims were the same: locals, i.e., Pacific islanders whose homelands were turned into battlegrounds. In addition to the history of HI, check out where today’s US incorporated and unincorporated territories in the Pacific are (and their histories); they are living legacies of the imperial clashes b/w the US & Jpn.
    BTW, I used to live in Twin Cities and made a number of excursions to western WI with my wife, who is a Minnesotan/Minneapolitan. Love St. Croix River in the early summer!

    • Well they might have had a problem with people from other countries. He was Japanese Japanese, not Japanese American, from what I understand. Which was part of their problem with him winning, but they took it waaaay past that. It really is interesting, but in a sad way! I don’t see how people can live in this age and still say such things, or how they stay so sheltered that they stay so ignorant.

      Yeah, unfortunately in war so many innocents are always dragged in. 😦 It’s tragic.

      That’s very cool! My Dad used to live in the cities too so I went over there a lot. My hometown (not Eau Claire) is also super close to the border, so that’s why I call it “Minnesconsin.” We’d always get Twin Cities News channels, radio, etc. It is a beautiful area as far as nature scenery goes, I definitely miss the widespread spaces and forests when I go to Japan!

  3. That’s ignorance and/or racism for you!

    I’ve noticed that in countries with privilege – for example the US, UK, Western Europe – where the nations have had a history of conquering, colonialism and basically others adhering to their standards, not vice versa – there is more stubborn reluctance and resistance to outside cultures, as if they had a superiority complex and therefore deem “the outside” not as worthy to learn about. Hence all the ignorance.

    • I think you’re definitely right on the money about privilege. There is this sense of Asia being not as worthy to learn about as Europe that is pretty sad to me.

      Japan’s obviously not exactly innocent in that regard to some of its neighbors either, but living in America I obviously see a lot more of it here.

  4. That”s the America,I think Asian American r not fully accepted by the American society,it’s on both sides.Everywhere u see China or korean town,it’s the symbol that Asian people don’t want to be a part of the local,so be it.Both sides should make move.

    • While agree that a lot of times Asian Americans don’t seem to be fully accepted by society and that there are some Asians that aren’t as accepting of America and want to stay isolated, I don’t think that’s most of the population, and I’m not sure China or Korea towns are a sign of that. I guess I look at it more of a way to preserve their own culture, and get the yummy food they can’t get anywhere else!

    • You seem to be unable to make the distinction between Asian Americans (as in, born or naturalised here), and Asians from abroad who were not educated here, and thus want to “keep to their own”, probably because of the language barrier. I find this quite shocking, since judging by your surname as a latino, surely you must have faced the same generalisations???

  5. Honestly, I’m surprised that none of your bullet points mention anime! That’s what my friends studying Japanese hear the most in response, anyway.
    As for me, when I mention that I’m learning (modern Israeli) Hebrew, I’m immediately asked, “Oh, so are you Jewish?” (No. You do know there are other reasons someone might want to learn that language, right?) It doesn’t seem like people ask you if you’re Japanese (if that’s any comfort??)

    • I think I hear the anime comment more from other people studying Japanese – usually the people who know what anime is don’t say these types of things.

      Oh wow, that would be really frustrating too. Of course there are other reasons! People put things in boxes way too much.

  6. Pingback: “You mean it’s not okay to ask about penis size?” | An Inkling

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