Busting Japanese Society Myths





Hello all,

When I first came to Japan, I had some pretty set ideas on Japan and its society. However, I knew that everything I read online couldn’t possibly be true. So this semester, I took Intro to Japanese Society – a specialized sociology course. I learned a lot of surprising facts in this class. Here are some that I found the most surprising.

1. University is Optional

In my society class, in of the first chapters, we discussed class stratification and the role education plays. It turns out that, many will complete high school and skip obtaining a university degree entirely. These students are part of the largest class in Japan (approx. 57%), who identify as lower middle class. Despite not having much education or a high paying occupation, many of them own homes and are financially stable.

Many begin working in the family business in high school, and later inherit it

This group is comprised of either blue-collar workers or agricultural workers; about two-thirds of this class are employed by or own small businesses. Thus students don’t worry about attending university; because they can simply work at, and eventually take over, the family business. This is especially true in prefectures like Akita, where the main industries are agriculture and lumber.

2. The Average Employee

When one thinks of an employee in Japan, the first image that comes to mind, is that of the white-collar salary man. In actuality, the average employee in Japan is a woman, with only a high school diploma, working part-time, temporary, or contract based jobs.

This makes sense, as women actually make up over half of the Japanese population; many are not expected to attend college and don’t. In addition, many simply inherit family businesses, which are usually blue-collar jobs. The image of a recent college grad finding full time work in a company, where they continue to work until retirement, is actually just a frequently perpetuated stereotype.

3. Discrimination Exists

As mentioned in my last post, Japan is not completely homogeneous. There is a large Zainichi Korean population in Japan, as well as indigenous and mixed race populations, and they are severely discriminated against. Zainichi Koreans, or ethnic Koreans, who live in Japan with their Korean nationality intact, are often denied housing, employment, and even schooling – because they are not considered Japanese.

Even if the Korean national has lived in Japan their entire life, and knows nothing but this culture, they are not considered to be Japanese: not socially or legally, as Zainichi Koreans usually only have permanent residencies, not Japanese citizenship. The Brazilian, mixed race, and indigenous populations face similar bouts of discrimination, for varying reasons but with the same undertone – they are not considered to be Japanese.

A Healthy Dose of Realism

While Japan certainly seems like an idyllic paradise, it is also important to remember that it is just a nation, made up of very human people. And just like any nation, Japan has it’s own problems, stereotypes, and misconceptions. While I certainly do not admire or condone these characteristics of Japan, I believe it was important for me to learn about the side of Japan not often considered by many. For me, I know it has certainly allowed me to understand Japan more, as a society and as a people, in ways I could have never fully grasped back home.