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Japanese Stereotypes (ETJ Show 52 Discussion) – transcript


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ETJ Show 52 (begins at 24:42)
Please see the complete transcript for ETJ Show 52

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===== Start Transcript: Japanese Stereotypes Discussion =====

This is segment 4 of today’s show and it’s a discussion.
Just this week, I had a nice discussion about stereotypes. From OneLook.com, a stereotype is:

stereotype: something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.

We began the discussion by looking at page 17 from a book called “This is Culture” which was written by my friends Greg Goodmacher and his wife Asako Kajiura. The unit is called stereotypes and here is a list of the Japanese sterotypes that are in that unit:


  1. efficient
  2. too polite
  3. always give presents
  4. wear kimonos
  5. shy
  6. difficult to get to know
  7. not religious
  8. not interested in politics
  9. clean
  10. respect parents
  11. love American culture
  12. not environmentalists
  13. love electronic toys
  14. not physically affectionate
  15. do not have opinions
  16. quiet unless drinking
  17. intelligent
  18. careful
  19. fashion conscious
  20. love brand names
  21. rarely ask questions
  22. game-loving
  23. play in college
  24. fun-loving
  25. masters of technology
  26. good at math
  27. parents take care of adult children

[Start of Discussion Audio]

John: Okay! Today, we have a discussion of Japanese stereotypes. My name is John and
today, we have three students with us; Yuji, Hideki and YJ. Alright! Let’s go!
[Gong sounds]
John: So quickly, let’s go down. Alright, this is John speaking.
Student: This is Yuji speaking.
I’m Hideki speaking.
I’m YJ.
John: There you go…YJ.
Student: [Giggles]
We are talking about stereotypes. Japanese people are…so, this is kind of a…

Student: Yeah!
John: What does the world think about Japanese people? Before we get “Brazilian people are…” “American people are…” stereotype so a little bit different then we saw racism and prejudice in the movie like “Crash.” Stereotype, general idea about seeing Japanese as a group that has some common characteristics, some common character. So are these…Are most of these true stereotypes, do you think? Do you think people think about the Japanese as having these stereotypes?
Student: Yeah! I think so.
John: Alright so we have many of them here. Let’s think about, is it a positive neutral or negative stereotype? So, efficient, Japanese people are efficient. Is it a…I think this is a true stereotype that people have, yeah!

Student: I do.
John: Positive, negative, neutral?
Student: I think it’s positive.
John: Positive?
Student: Yes!
John: Are Japanese people efficient?
Student: I hope so!
John: You can ask your classmate.
Student: What mean efficient?
Efficient means talent or real work.
John: Hmmm…Efficient, talent or…
Student: You mean, good worker?

John: Good worker, yeah!
Student: Japanese are good worker.
John: Let’s see! If Yuji has to clean his room, maybe he cleans it for a few minutes and then he goes and has a cup of coffee and then it takes him maybe four hours and Hideki does it in two hours, same job, same job less time, less effort. Who is more efficient?
Student: Oh, Hideki’s efficient.
John: Good! Say, they did the same job. Less effort, less time.
Student: Efficient, Hideki.
John: So getting the job done using less things, time or money or ways, something like that. Good!
Student: I see!

John: That is efficient. Let’s see, what are some of the…Hideki, which one do you like? Which one is a positive stereotype?
Student: What do you like?
Which one?
Which one do you like?
John: Clean! Japanese people are clean.
Student: Hmm…Still, didn’t get that!
Yeah, but he did. We have job and we have a bus everyday.
John: Back everyday?

Student: Affirms] Okay! Positive, negative, neutral?
Maybe positive.
John: Positive? Yeah, clean. I agree. Japanese people are clean. Let’s see. Yuji, which one let’s look at a stereotype…Stereotype, Japanese people are…
Student: Japanese people are rarely ask questions.
John: Rarely ask questions. So, are they…do you agree with it?

Student: I agree with you.
John: Is it a stereotype of Japanese, rarely ask questions? Is it positive, negative or neutral?
Student: Negative.
John: Negative.
Student: Negative.
John: Negative, yeah! Rarely ask questions. What do we call someone who really likes to ask questions? What’s a good English word for that?
Student: Shy!
John: No! Someone who likes to ask questions? It comes a little like Q-U, isn’t it, connected to questions.

Wow! One, two, three, four…Inquisitive! Yes. So, always asks questions. So, are Japanese people inquisitive?
Student: No!
John: No! No! When you like to ask questions, you are inquisitive. Also, what’s the more common English word?
Student: Curious.
John: Good. Curious. Alright YJ, which one do you like here?
Student: Japanese are intelligent.
John: Intelligent! [laughter]
Student: We study English.
John: You’re studying English and your English is very good. So Hideki is it true, Japanese people are intelligent?
[Student laughs]

Student: Very much.
[Student laughs]
John: Yeah! Is it a stereotype? Do people in general think Japanese are intelligent? Yeah, probably. I think some of this other stereotypes are little bit stronger or more common. Japanese love American culture. That’s on our paper here. They love American culture.
Student: Yes.
[Student laughs]
John: True? But negative or false but negative?
Student: Some are positive.
Yeah! But some parts are positive.
John: Positive, negative? Japanese love American culture.
Student: I think it’s neutral.
John: Hideki, what do you think?
Student: Positive.
John: Positive, love American culture?
Student: Negative.

John: May I say that it is debatable, right? Positive, neutral, negative. You know, I can’t really say. For example, what kinds of things do Japanese like about American culture?
Student: Junk food.
John: Junk food or…that’s positive.
Student: Negative.
[Student laughs]
John: Negative, back to [indistinguishable
Student: High cholesterol.
Supersize me.
Japanese study English.
John: Okay so, English, American English comes from the States, junk food. Other things from American culture that we have here in Japan?
Student: Convenient store.
John: Convenient store. Does it come from American culture? But I think now, you have more in Japan than we have in the States. Hideki, something from American culture?

Student: Starbucks coffee.
John: Starbucks coffee, yeah café. Did Japan had cafes before many western people started to come to Japan? Is there anything like a café in Japanese culture?
Student: Well, yeah!
John: Completely from western culture?
Student: We did. We have Japanese-type coffee shop.
John: Japanese-type coffee house. Like a tea house or tea pool or coffee shop?
Student: Both.
John: Both. Here’s one, quiet unless drinking. Another stereotype. They are quiet unless drinking. Positive, negative, neutral?
Student: Negative.
John: YJ, are you quiet unless you’re drinking?
[Student laughs]

Student: Typical Japanese. I am typical Japanese.
John: How about your friends, are they also quiet unless they’re drinking?
Student: Almost, almost all Japanese friends.
John: Almost all Japanese?
[Student laughs]
I know, Yuji is a little bit louder after…oh, I’ve seen Yuji at the Bottom Dollar. He gets a little louder as he’s drinking a little more…[interrupted]
Student: Typically.
John: …beverages. Yeah! Yeah, I think it’s true.
Student: American people…All of those people, they loudly eat or drink.
John: But, I think American people and western people but especially American people are already loud.
[Student laughs]

We, you know, we speak a lot more loudly and we use more gestures so I think even we’re just louder in general, our voices, our actions.
Student: More loudly when you drink.
John: And even more when we drink but I think most people I have seen around the world, they get louder when they drink but the Japanese are pretty quiet, that’s why I think it’s on our stereotype list.
Student: [Affirms]
John: Do not have opinions or do not have individual opinions.
Student: Agree.
John: Positive, negative?

Student: Negative.
John: Kind of negative. That’s kind of a stereotype.

Student: I think it’s not true.
John: Not true?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Maybe there’s a difference between having opinions and what do we call it when we communicate with something? Expressing your opinion. Japanese are more maybe cerebral, inside. I think western people are more…Japanese are more inside, western people…
Student: Outside.
John: Yeah! A little more outside
Student: …expression.
John: Not interested in global events. Japanese are not interested in global events.
Student: More interested in domestic events.
John: Okay! Interested in domestic events.
Student: [Affirms]

John: For example, what’s…Give me an example. What’s a global event? What are they talking about?
Student: They are talking about…if it occur…An accident.
John: Okay.
Student: We say, Japanese people…No Japanese people involved.
John: Ah! So, people don’t care so much?
Student: Yeah!
John: I think that’s probably, other countries maybe have the same kind of thing globally. So what are some global events right now that are happening?
Student: Now?
John: Yeah, right now. Some situations.
Student: Around the world?
John: Yeah! Global event. What’s the situation? What’s the global event right now in the world?

Student: Right now? The war in Iraq.
John: War in Iraq?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Japanese people interested in the war in Iraq?
Student: No.
I think Japanese people are not interested in the war.
Not interested.
More interested in war than the United States people.
John: Japanese are more interested or less interested?
Student: Not more.
John: Not more interested? Less interested.
Student: Yes.
John: Is Japan involved in the war?
Student: Some part, some part.
We join, we join the war.
John: Join the war?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Alright! So maybe, yeah I find not so much discussion maybe Japanese talking about the war and other global events? Hideki, is it true, Japanese are not interested in global events? What’s your opinion?

Student: It’s negative.
John: It’s negative. Is it true?
Student: Yes, true. True! True!
John: I see. True?
Student: True.

John: Alright, let’s do another one. YJ, which one do you like?
Student: Japanese are masters of technology.
Korea, masters of technology.
John: Masters on technology?
Student: [Affirms then laughs] Master!
John: Positive, negative, neutral?
Student: Very positive.
[Student laughs]
John: For example, what kind of technology are Japanese masters of? What kind of technology for example.
Student: Robot technology.

John: Robot technology.
Student: A walking robot, we have.
John: Walking robot. Is it true, Japanese are masters of this kind of technology?
Student: I don’t know but I think cars.
New car technology.
John: Japanese make good cars.
Student: [Affirms]
Good cars.
John: I think…So Hideki, is it positive, negative, neutral, masters of technology?
Student: This is positive.
John: Yeah positive. I think so. Japanese always give presents?
Student: True.
John: 31 down, always, give presents. How about you guys? In one year, how many times do you give presents to people? For what occasion do you give…[interrupted]
Student: Many times.

John: Like for example when? When do you give presents?
Student: Birthday.
John: Birthday.
Student: Some season present.
John: Seasonal present.
Student: Seasonal present.
John: Really? Winter present? Autumn present?
Student: Some more present.
John: Some more present. Other time?
Student: Christmas present.
John: Christmas present.
Student: New Year present.
John: New Year’s present.
Student: Season presents.
John: Seasonal. How about when you go somewhere, go travelling and come back?
Student: Oh!
We give gift.
Souvenir. Souvenir.
John: What’s that?
Student: Souvenir.
John: Souvenir? Yeah! What do you call that in Japanese?
Student: Omiyage.
John: Yeah! What do you think about the omiyage system part of the culture? Do you like that when you go away to buy gifts for people? Do you enjoy it or do you like it? Yeah?

Student: Yeah, I do.
John: To buy presents and bring back some big gifts or small gifts?
Student: Small gifts.
John: Small gifts. YJ, do you like shopping for omiyage when you’re away?
Student: [Affirms] So, so.
John: So, so!
Student: I like to bring present.
John: You like big presents?
Student: Bringing.
John: Ah, bringing presents. Bringing presents. Are there any more? Any last comments which any more? We have…Hideki, what do you like? One last one.
Student: Last one. Game loving.
John: Game. Loving game. What kind of games?

Student: The television games.
John: TV games, video games…
Student: Yes, video games.
John: Pachinko?
Student: Oh! I’m not..
John: Are you doing pachinko?
Student: Yes!
John: Oh no!
Student: Typical Japanese.
John: It’s gambling, pachinko.
Student: Wow! Is it hard?
Oh yes.
[Student laughs]
All these.
John: All they are playing pachinko? Oh no. During the week or on the weekend?
Student: Few months ago.
John: Oh! Do you play during the week or just on a weekend?
Student: Just the weekend.
John: Hmmm, everyday?
Student: Oh no, no, no! [laughs] A month, one or two times.

John: Once or twice a month.
Student: Twice a month.
John: Once or twice a month. Alright. I have a comment, parents take care of adult children. Parents take care of adult children or adult children.
Student: True.
John: This is I think more common in Japan than other places. I think in western countries, we turned 18 or 20 and we [slapped hands] just want to get out of the house. We will ask…Like after university, I think I lived at home for six months and then I moved out.
Student: They don’t run.
John: You know, there’s more individual like I want to do this. I think Japanese think in groups and western people think, what’s good for me and we like freedom like I can go out, I can live out of my old apartment and come home late and do what I want so…What age did you leave your houses? How old were you when you left your family’s house?

Student: 18.
John: 18?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Before university?
Student: Just entering the university.
John: Then you never lived in your family house again?
Student: No.
John: 18, that’s pretty young for a Japanese to leave home. YJ?
Student: 20.
John: 20.
Student: But I given…I was given already money.
John: You were given money?
Student: [Affirms] Given.
John: You were given money? Hideki, what age did you leave the house?
Student: Ah, I was 18 but I gave money…Gave money…

John: You were given money?
Student: Yes!
John: But your family supported you?
Student: Yes!
John: Good! My family supported me full. Fully supported me, yeah! Good! Parents take care of adult children. Is this positive stereotype, negative or neutral?
Student: It’s difficult. Negative or positive, negative but not so bad.
John: Not so bad?
Yuji, what do you think?
Student: Neutral.
John: Neutral? Can be good, can be bad? There are some times….Sometimes, there are discussions that people are 25, 30, 35 years old and they still live with their families and maybe they don’t feel that they have to get a job or something like this. So, that’s also part of the parents taking care of adult children.

Student: Yeah, I know, I know.
John: Is that positive, negative or neutral?
Student: It could be negative but I think it’s neutral.
John: Neutral?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Alright! Well, I think this is a good list of sterotypes, two, four six, eight, nine…27 stereotypes about Japanese. Let’s go around, alright! They are…We’ll start with me. Let’s read the list. Alright, Japanese sterotypes. They are efficient.
Student: They are two-part.

They are always give present.
John: Good! They always give presents.
Student: They wear Kimonos.
John: They are shy.
Student: They each got to get to know.
They not…
John: They are not…
Student: They are not reli-gious.
John: Good! Religious.
Student: Religious.
They are not interested in global events.
John: They are very clean.
Student: They stay with parents.
They are…They love American culture.
John: Good!
Student: They are not environmentalists.
John: They love electronic toys.

Student: They are not physically affectionate.
John: Oh, we didn’t talk about that one. Okay, Hideki.
Student: They didn’t have opinions.
They are quiet unless drinking.
John: They are very intelligent.
Student: They are careful.
They are fashion-consci-ous.
John: Fashion conscious.
Student: Fashion conscious, oh!
They love branded names.
John: They rarely ask questions.
Student: They gave loving.
They prey in college.
They are fun loving.
John: Good! They’re masters of technology.
Student: They are good at math.
Their parents take care of their adult children.

John: Parents take care of adult children. Japanese parents take care of adult children. Alright, any new ones? Anybody have a new one to put on the list, our Japanese stereotypes list? 27, I don’t know if you have anymore ideas. Anymore ideas? Anything left out? I think that’s it! Any questions? Religious…Hideki, what is the religion in Japan? For example in the United States, we are mostly Christians more than 50% but we have Muslims, we have Jews, and we have Buddhists so we have many different religions in the United States. What’s the main religion in Japan?

Student: It’s difficult to answer.
John: Is it one religion or is it combination?
Student: I think, about four.
John: Religions…what are the main religions in Japan? Like foreigners, when we think about religion in Japan, what do we think, Japanese are Christians?
Student: Generally speaking, we are Buddhists.
John: So Buddhism and…
Student: Shinto.
John: Shintoism. For foreigners, we look just at the kind of the simple explanation. Japanese have two religions — Buddhism and Shintoism. For many, is it so simple?

Student: I think it is so simple.
John: Okay.
Student: We respect ancestors. That’s probably most of us, that’s our religion.
John: You respect your ancestors. Does that come from Buddhism, from Shintoism or both? Which one? Respect for ancestors and elders, does that come from Buddhism or Shintoism?
Student: I think it come from Shinto.
John: It comes from Shintoism, yeah?
Student: I don’t know.
I think both but sometime Christian.
John: Christian.
Student: When you’re married, you swear to turn around to God.
[Student laughs]

John: Are you Christian?
Student: I was children…
John: When I was a child…
Student: When I was a child, we go to…
John: I went to…
Student: I went to…
John: Oh, you went to churches, Christian church?
Student: Yeah, we did.
John: Oh yeah! Hideki, why? Why did you…this is Japan. There are Christians in Japan. There are a fair amount of Christians. What…Are your mother and father Christian?
Student: No, no, no, no! But…
John: What?
Student: [laughs] I don’t know why.
John: Wow! Interesting! How about your brothers and sisters, did they go to Christian church, your brothers and sisters?

Student: Oh yes. My sister I think was going to…
John: With you?
Student: …with me.
John: And your mother and father?
Student: No.
Only you?
Only I and my sister.
John: Wow, interesting. Really?
Student: [Affirms]
You believe in God?
John: Is that a stereotype of Japanese — Japanese believe in God or don’t believe in God?
Student: He’s not religious.
John: Don’t believe in God. Not religious.
Student: Japanese…[interrupted]
John: Does anybody know we have a word for people who do not believe in God? Usually, religious people believe in God but the opposite, people who don’t believe in God.

Student: I’m atheist.
John: Ah, an atheist. An atheist don’t believe in? Don’t believe in? Yeah, good! They don’t believe in?
Student: God!
John: Good! So who doesn’t believe in God?
Student: Agoraphobia.
[Student laughs]
John: Atheist. Atheist don’t believe in God. Are there many atheists in Japan?

Student: I think, yeah!
John: Okay, we actually have two words, agnostic and atheist. I think technically, agnostic… I think common understanding is atheists are not religious and don’t believe in God but I think atheist don’t believe in religion and agnostics don’t believe in God. I forget exactly.
Student: These are difficult.
John: Yeah, we have atheists and agnostic. One of them, they don’t believe in religion and one is they don’t believe in God. I think atheists do not believe in religion, agnostics don’t believe in God. So where are you at exactly in Japan? Maybe we have a lot of, I don’t know, agnostics or atheists, maybe. Does anyone strongly believe in God in this group?

Student: [laughs]
John: Yuji?
Student: No.
John: YJ?
Student: God exists
John: God exists?
Student: [Affirms]
John: Well you know, I think that there’s a higher power. I don’t know if I like to call this power God but some higher power, some higher existence beyond human beings. I believe that.
Student: My God is different from Christian God…
John: Yeah! Yeah! Alright! Well, thank you everyone.
Student: Oh, it’s up.

John: It’s always nice to talk about stereotypes. So we are finish with stereotypes. We watched the movie Crash with prejudice and racism and stereotypes, American stereotypes. We talked about Chinese or Korean or Brazilian stereotypes. Any final questions?
Student: Indian people eat Indian curry.
John: Indian people eat Indian curry. That’s a stereotype. That’s very true!
[End of discussion audio]

2 Responses to “Japanese Stereotypes (ETJ Show 52 Discussion) – transcript”

  1. Hiromi Says:

    Hello John,

    Thanks for giving podcasts weekly. I enjoyed the discussion of Japanese stereotypes very much. Let me explain an accurate conception of religion in Japan a little bit.

    It may sound strange to do Christian celebrations like Christmas, as well as go to a shrine or a temple in the new year. And as you know, most Japanese take it for granted do their funerals in Buddhist way. (Although I don’t…I don’t have any religion.) Also, as one of them said in the discussion, some Japanese marry in church even though they are not Christian.

    Historically, we have accepted many things including religions and cultures coming from wesern and Asian countries. When Buddism came into Japan, we adapt it to fit to our lifestyle. In this way Buddhism was combined with original Japanese religion, Shintoism.

    As for Shinto goes, there are godess of the sun, the god of the moon and even old trees, rocks, mountains, or almost everything around us have their gods in them. So, we don’t have any contradiction having several gods at the same time. Maybe that’s why we are used to worshipping different gods.

    OK, that’s it for now. Have a nice holiday season and say hello to your family. Hope to see you soon!

  2. English Teacher John Says:

    Thanks for your informative message and HAPPY NEW YEAR 2007!

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