No, We’re Not All Dolphin-Eaters

Feb 25, 2011

Japanese American blogger Lisa Shoreland tells us just how far off the mark perceptions about Japanese can be.


449 Photo by Alex Bruda


The following are my top 10 mistaken beliefs about Japanese people based on questions carelessly thrown in my direction by Westerners.

1. Everyone watches anime. As little kids everyone watches anime, the way American kids grow up watching SpongeBob. Usually, kids stop watching anime and start reading manga, which is socially accepted even among adults in Japan. Fanatics of anime or manga are treated in Japan much like they are in other countries—with neglect. In English speaking countries, they’re called nerds or losers; in Japan, they’re called otaku.

2. Japanese people are still angry about WWII and would plot the next Pearl Harbor in a heartbeat. Most Japanese I’ve known love western culture or at least show more interest in and respect for it than I’ve seen Americans show for Japanese culture (except for yuppies in Whole Foods). When I first got to America at age 19, speaking fluent English, a store clerk asked me where in Japan I was from. When I replied without thinking twice, “Hiroshima,” she went dead silent and all but ducked under her desk after bagging my merchandise. She must have read this article and feared retribution.

Thanks to The Cove, everyone not in Japan thinks Japanese willingly or unknowingly eat whale and dolphin.”

3. Everyone eats whales and dolphins. Thanks to documentary-film The Cove, everyone not in Japan thinks Japanese people willingly or unknowingly eat whale and dolphin meat. In my 19 years of living in Japan, never once did I even encounter either types of meat in stores or restaurants. For those of you bleeding hearts saying, “You didn’t know it was dolphin meat because it’s not labelled that way,” here’s a statistic: according to Greenpeace research, only one in five major supermarket operators said it continues to sell whale meat. The others don’t because there’s no demand.

4. Japan is such a homogenous country, everyone’s racist! Most of this rumour is latent Yellow-peril from WWII. While Japan is a racially homogenous country and many gaijin are in fact gawked at by locals, Japanese are no more or less racist than anyone else. Oh, and that Obama commercial back in 2008? That monkey is to EMobile as the gecko is to Geico. Moreover, Japanese people generally don’t know that black people and monkeys have a nasty history. We just think monkeys are cute and Obama is awesome.

5. Japanese people don’t celebrate Christmas. False. . . sort of. While some Japanese are Christian and celebrate Christmas, most are not . . . and still celebrate Christmas. Why? Presents. And Santa Claus is also cute. Thank your flat world for your commercial hilarity.

6. Japanese people are short and skinny. A traditionally Japanese diet keeps most Far East Asians slender and small (and lets us live to be, like, 200 years old). With the advent of globalization and increasing consumption of beef, however, Japanese are growing both vertically (3 to 5 inches since WWII) and horizontally. Now, we have more heart disease, breast cancer, and other rich-diet-induced conditions than ever before. Thanks for that, too.

7. There are used women’s underwear vending machines everywhere. I’ve never seen one but I know some who have, all of them scattered in the Tokyo area. Suffice it to say that Japanese pop culture is one obsessed with all things young and cute (hence the kawaii culture), and for creepy perverts who exist not just in Japan but all over the world, a schoolgirl’s used underwear item is a wet dream come true.

8. Japanese people will never learn to use the ‘R’ and ‘L’ sounds right. Many Italian- and Spanish-speakers do well when learning Japanese, as the tongue-rolling for the R/L sound translates. Let’s see you English-speakers pronounce the Ra Ri Ru Re Ro part of our alphabet without sounding like you just stepped out of a bad comedy sketch.

Let’s see you English-speakers pronounce the Ra Ri Ru Re Ro part of our alphabet without sounding like…a bad comedy sketch.”

9. Japanese people invented the hibachi steakhouse. A hibachi is actually a traditional heating device involving an open-topped container made from porcelain or something heatproof in which charcoal is burned. Unlike westerners, most Japanese don’t go to these restaurants to eat steak or be impressed by skilled cooks. These were popularized after WWII, and we trained these cooks just to distract you Americans while we plot our next Pearl Harbor attack.

10. Japanese people can’t hold their liquor. Got me there, but we can’t help it. Genetically, those of European descent have a higher tolerance to alcohol than Asians due higher body mass and higher levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (the stuff that lets your body break down the alcohol you chug). In fact, one in three people in East Asia have an alcohol flush reaction, in which the body can’t break down the alcohol because we lack a specific genetically coded enzyme, making us grow red in the face, laugh uncontrollably, and pass out on strangers’ couches.


Born to a US marine and a Hiroshima survivor, Japanese-American Lisa Shoreland is a resident blogger at Go College. She was raised in Japan and went to college in America.


This post was originally published on Lonelee Planet in December 2010.