Before you go to Japan, it’s important to learn about the local culture, learn as much Japanese language as you can, and in general, “get smart” about what to expect from Japan and from your interactions with Japanese people. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about Japan – sometimes you have to get to Japan to fully appreciate just how “wrong” these ideas about Japan can be.
In the same way, a lot of Japanese people sometimes get the wrong information or the wrong ideas about foreigners (especially Westerners).
If you’re going to be dating Japanese women, you need to understand some of the perspectives (and misconceptions) that the women you meet might have about you.
What are some of the common stereotypes in Japan about Western men?
Western men are tall, blond, and blue-eyed… and white
Obviously if you’re average height and dark haired with brown eyes, this doesn’t apply. Blame the post-war occupation, blame the movies, blame the silly circle of media that perpetuates these myths.
The idea of the golden-haired California boy or English gentleman has taken root as a dominant image of Western men in Japan.
Ask any Japanese woman to describe a typical “foreign” man and you can bet your cultural awareness that it stars with “white”. This too is changing, especially with the rapid increase of tourism. Black men may also sometimes meet the definition of “foreigner” (although New Yorker is more like it). The idea of Latinos and Asian-Americans as “foreigners”, especially the latter, is still a bit of a stretch for most Japanese.
And, generally, non-Japanese Asians are classified by their nationality in most conversations, and the term gaikokujin is only likely to be a common term for them in legal matters and on TV.
Western men are “ladies first” and “gentlemen”
As the world dealt with the global recession and the slowly declining image of the United States as the ultimate ideal of foreign-ness, European men (white, of course), became more desirable in the eyes of Japanese women, swayed by the ever-influential media.
In Japan, the “ladies first” concept generally only applies to respected older people, or perhaps to pregnant or disabled people. Although even then, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see anyone under age 70 hold a door for anyone else unless it’s their job.
In steps the gallant foreigner who insists on letting the lady go first. This is what we’ve been taught. To do otherwise is to be rude.
Well, let’s face it, aside from the door holding, it’s a real stretch to say Western men are gentlemen to a T. Yes, compared with Japanese men, who simply haven’t been raised that way, Western men make a few more concessions for women. Even that is changing though.
Western men are “playboys”
They’re carefree, always chasing women, not taking life seriously
This idea in isolation suggests that Western men lack a certain “substance.” They’re flashy, here today, gone tomorrow, and they lack commitment and focus.
Yes, there are playboys. And you know what? There are probably even more Japanese playboys. Japanese guys have made great “progress” in the last decade in being less passive. And no matter where you guy, there are those types of guys. It’s not the exclusive domain of the Western male.
Western men don’t know how to cook or take care of themselves
Japanese women might be impressed by the cleanliness of your apartment, the fact that you shop and cook for yourself, and your general domestic aptitudes. On the other hand, if you’re hopeless in the kitchen and you live like a slob, you’ll play right into their expectations.
In traditional Japanese households, men have been mainly expected to work long hours and provide for the family, while women took care of almost all other domestic matters. They cook, they clean, they look after the kids, they even manage the household finances and give their husbands allowances.
While this kind of lifestyle is changing for many Japanese families, many Japanese women are still surprised to meet men who can handle these things on their own.
Western men don’t know how to use chopsticks
You’re likely to get a lot of compliments on your ability to use chopsticks. (Ohashi jozu desune! people will say.)
For the most part, Japanese people compliment Westerners on their chopsticks ability in order to be hospitable and friendly, but on some level, for some Japanese people there is an underlying idea that Japanese customs (even as simple as chopsticks) are beyond the ability of Westerners.
Each time you can confidently eat your meal with chopsticks, you are helping to disprove stereotypes and break down cultural barriers. (And you thought that chopsticks were just a dining utensil.)
What are some common misconceptions that you’ve experienced in your travels in Japan, or in other Asian countries? How do you explain to people when they get “the wrong idea” about you, or when you confound their expectations?