Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Classes of myths

There are so many myths going about the foreign community in Japan that I have decided to commence an extensive scientific analysis of their development, nature and implications. I shall begin with a taxonomy of the mythology of modern Japan, i.e. a descrition of the different sorts which fly about in this land, and how I think they came to be.

  1. The complete fiction: This is the most obvious myth, in which someone makes up a complete and idiotic story for no reason. There are a few very good myths in this category, my favourite being: milk in Japan is 70% recycled. How there can be a basis for this myth is beyond me. It`s kind of like saying "there is a mysterious creature in the sky, invisible and undetectable, which controls your fate." How can anyone think of such a thing?
  2. The Eighties extension: this is a common myth in Japan, and I suppose should really be called a legend, since it is a ridiculous story based in fact. These myths develop because someone experienced something in the 80s in Japan, when it had no tourism industry to speak of and a bubble economy, and then reported that story in the West. This story became truth in the west even long after the phenomenon passed. For example, some of you may recall my efforts last year to find a man who would push me onto a train in Tokyo, and my complete lack of success in so doing. This pusher man is apparently a phenomenon from the 80s, which no longer exists. But the story persists ...
  3. The big city myth: many things happen in Tokyo which perhaps do not happen in the rest of the country. Tokyo is an insane city with more people than grains of sand, and things can happen there which are impossible in more sane cities. For example, rent in Tokyo is much higher than the rest of Japan. Since many foreigners go to Tokyo only, they report stories from Tokyo as if they were facts about Japan, without any sense of what the rest of Japan is doing. It is from Tokyo that everyone has the impression that Japan is expensive.
  4. The non-comparative myth: in the non-comparative myth, someone experiences something in Japan and fails to compare it with life in their own country, and concludes a profound social phenomenon from the thing they have experienced. For example, women in Japan often have to stop working when they get pregnant - hence the society is "more sexist than the west." True, perhaps, but women in Japan can wear whatever they want and go wherever they want without fear of harrassment or sexual assault. A deeper level of comparison is needed before comparative conclusions can be drawn.
  5. The baka-gaijin myth: there are many completely stupid, idiotic foreigners in this country. They report things they have experienced once as if they were gospel truth, and because they move in very restricted and isolated communities their myths do not get tested. For example, all the moslems in my little town believe that the fresh noodles here have pork extract in them, even though they do not. Someone said this, and everyone believes it, but it is not true. The myth spreads, and people tell you it as if it were a fact. Because of this little myth the moslems never go to restaurants, so most of them do not know about a Pakistani-run curry restaurant in the centre of Tottori. Too bad for any moslem from India who wants to eat good curry ...
  6. The uncontrolled myth: by this I mean a myth created by a stupid foreigner who decided to conduct an experiment in Japan without having a western control group. The classic example of this is the early-20s female english teacher who, having heard a few bad things about japanese porn, decides to investigate for herself. She enters a 4-story porn shop in Tokyo and is shocked by what she sees. But has she ever been in a porn-shop in her life before? Has she ever seen porn in her home country? If challenged, I`m sure she would find it rather difficult to tell you what "good" porn would be. In which case the issue for her is not Japanese porn, but porn. Had she first examined porn in her home country she might not venture to give an opinion about the Japanese based on her opinion of porn.
  7. The cultural-ignorance myth: sometimes people just fail to understand that what is bad for them is not bad for someone else, or vice versa. Many people seem to think the Japanese are very unhappy on account of their high suicide rate, which is certainly the conclusion one would draw in the West. But in Japan suicide has always been considered an honourable way to atone for one`s mistakes, and there is no religious taboo against it. Even the kamikaze are often only seen as a tragedy today because the war itself is seen as a tragic mistake, not because they were doing anything intrinsically wrong. A failure to understand this cultural difference leads to many myths about how the Japanese view their own society.
  8. The Lonely planet myth: the lonely planet maintains some silly things. It only ever seems to mention the worst internet cafes, not the good ones, and it also makes two completely false claims: 1, that the Yushukan in Tokyo denies Japan started the war (I have been and read the exhibits, it says the opposite); and 2, that Japan is unsafe for women. Whatever the reasons, these are myths.

Here are a few examples of crazy myths and their categories:

  • The Japanese do not like chocolate: this is a baka-gaijin myth, which I have heard amongst the moslems in my town and which is a complete crock of shite. The same man who told me this shops in a local supermarket which has a whole aisle devoted to chocolate, mostly made by Japanese companies. Have these companies sprung up only to serve foreigners, and have a whole aisle in Tottori just to serve the 30 non-chinese foreigners who live here? I don`t think so. This is like coming to Australia, standing outside an Asian grocer, and saying "Australians don`t like Asian food."
  • Japanese milk is recycled: this is a complete fiction. How does one recycle milk? How do the milk companies get the milk to recycle? We have 5 types of rubbish in my town, but none of them are `milk`. Do they extract it from the water system? How do they separate the sour milk? Sadly, I heard this myth from a man who had lived in Japan for years.
  • The trains in Tokyo are so packed that you cannot use them in rush hour: as far as I can tell, this is an 80s myth. The shops in Tokyo open at a different time to the offices, so rush hour is 4 hours long and, having caught the train in rush hour to and from various stations in Tokyo, I can safely say they are not impossible. No worse than London or Sydney. I think they might once have been bad, and hence the myth.

So these are the categories of myth I have so far experienced in Japan. Read on to encounter some of the more significant myths, and my view of them.

4 Comments:

Blogger Sgt M said...

Hold your horses there chappy

You recycle milk by taking all the milk that has not been sold in the supermarket and add it to the fresh batch during the homogenization.

But, again dear boy - this appears to be a Tokyo phenomenon and may only be particular brands.

I'll ask Q to do some research into the matter and we shall see what rises to the surface...

8:33 AM  
Blogger Cracklypork said...

I was in Tokyo when I was 15, so that would have been 1991. Mind you, it was Nov/Dec and leading up to Christmas and rush hour was preeeetty bad, though maybe not worse than what Sydney experiences on a regular daily basis.

Oh I don't know. It was 15 years ago and everything was writ large at that age.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Sgt M said...

And here we have some more information about milk recycling from the BBC in 2002 in regards to a Japanese company called SNOW BRAND

"History of scandals

The scandal comes less than two years after more than 10,000 people became ill from drinking milk produced by the parent company, Snow Brand Milk Products.

A subsequent probe revealed that the company was guilty of sloppy sanitation practices - including recycling old milk returned from stores."

Looks like a seed for a myth right there. Apparently though, to some extent this is allowed under Japanese law but it was the sanitation process that got them into trouble.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Sgt M said...

And to continue dear boy. It would appear that the SNOW BRAND recycled milk scandal was what caused the government (or legislative body for dairy products) to bring in laws that state that milk must have at least 70% fresh milk.

10:45 AM  

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