Rugby World Cup 2019: Four myths about Japan that need updating

The West has been fascinated by Japan for hundreds of years.

From inspiring art by the likes of Van Gogh and Monet, to hit movies such as Lost in Translation, the country has long held a special place in the West's heart.

Although the world has learnt a lot about Japan through its references in popular culture, this same culture has also created many cliches.

While many stereotypes about the country are true, just as as many things you will hear have either been wildly exaggerated or are simply untrue.

As the world descends on Japan for the Rugby World Cup, here's a list of stereotypes that might need a little updating.

1. Japan is the most technologically advanced country in the world


A woman in a kimono wearing a virtual reality headset is surrounded by Japanese scenery including a temple
Photo credit: Getty

Think of Japan, and the image that first comes to mind probably involves robots, crazy gadgets and a land that looks like it's from the future.

While it is true that the 'Land of the Rising Sun' is, in many ways, very technologically advanced, in other ways, it is stuck firmly in the past.

One obvious example is the widespread use of fax machines. Yes, that's right - in 2019, the fax machine still lives and breathes in Japan.

In fact, if you are dealing with many companies or government agencies, fax is the only way to get in touch, if you want to avoid a phone call.

(Note: if you do need to do some emergency faxing while in Japan, all copy machines at Japan's convenience stores double as fax machines.)

2. People in Japan are crazy


Rugby World Cup 2019: Four myths about Japan that need updating
Photo credit: Getty

Yes, Japan has its crazy side - a really, really crazy side.

But despite the world's fascination with portraying the country as a place of wild fashion and insane gameshows, it's actually a pretty conservative, even boring place.

In most settings, you're more likely to see businessmen clad in identical black suits than the colourful, crazy fashion Japan is famous for.

One of the main reasons the country has picked up its reputation for being zany and strange is that the world is intent on portraying it as being zany and strange. 

You don't see hundreds of stories about boring businessmen in the news, because who wants to read about that?

No, the world seems intent on confirming its own idea that Japan is super crazy.

One example of this is the eye-licking fetish controversy a few years back.

Reports of the strange fad quickly gained momentum online and everyone was quick to believe it - because, of course, something like that sounds like it would happen in Japan.

Except, of course, it didn't. 

Unsubstantiated reports of the fetish were taken up by various mainstream media outlets, with headlines such as "Japanese craze for eyeball licking leads to rise in infections" spreading far and wide.

It wasn't until a journalist and translator who had lived in Japan since the '60s actually took the time to look deeper that he found it was nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumour, originating in a dubious publication.

The world is used to hungrily devouring crazy stories about Japan and accepting everything as true, but sometimes, if it seems too strange to be true, if just might be.

3. Japan is expensive


Japan currency notes on hand
Photo credit: Getty

Japan used to be expensive and if you want it to be, Japan can be expensive still.

But the fact of the matter is, Japan doesn't have to be expensive. 

During the country's economic bubble in the 1980s and '90s , land prices were so high that Tokyo's Imperial Palace was said to be worth more than all the real estate in California.

Since the crash though, Japan's economy has been plagued by problems - in fact, for 20 years or so, prices have hardly had any increase. When an ice cream company added 10 yen (about 15 cents) to a popular product a few years back, the move prompted national and international headlines.

And in a concept that many Aucklanders may find hard to fathom, average property prices also failed to rise for almost three decades, edging up 0.1 percent last year in the first increase since 1991.

In fact, the government is so keen to get the economy moving, interest rates are at -0.1 percent - and, yes, you read that negative sign correctly.

(Rates are so low that, for a while, a few years back, Japanese housewives were making easy money by taking loans at 0.5 percent interest in Japan and putting that money in New Zealand bank accounts earning 8 percent interest).

4. There is no crime in Japan 


Rugby World Cup 2019: Four myths about Japan that need updating
Photo credit: Getty

No doubt about it, Japan is a safe country. It's so safe, you've probably heard countless stories about people forgetting their wallet or passport on a train, and then getting everything back safely. 

And by all accounts, Japan is, for the most part, a very safe country.

Young children routinely walk to and from school unaccompanied, and the scariest thing you're likely to encounter on a midnight stroll is probably your imagination conjuring up images from the movie The Ring.

Violent crime in Japan is also very rare. Figures show homicide rates there are among the lowest in the world, with UN data from 2017 showing Japan as having 0.2 homicides per 100,000 people - compared with 0.7 in New Zealand and 5.3 in the United States.

And although such crime has been steadily decreasing since the 1960s, it does still happen.

Earlier this year, the world was stunned when a man went on a stabbing frenzy in Tokyo. That was followed by an arsonist burning down a famous animation studio in Kyoto, among other headline-grabbing violent crime in recent years.

Of course, there is also the infamous Japanese mafia - or Yakuza - although these days, the tattoo-covered gang members operate more like businessmen than gangsters (albeit, still peddling in illicit industries).

But more of a risk - especially for women - is to have a run-in with a 'chikan' - a pervert or groper.

This sort of crime is surprisingly high in Japan. In 2017, 1750 such cases were reported and many, many more cases went unreported.

The most common place for this to happen is on the train, which has led to women-only carriages during peak hours on the metro. 

According to the UK government, reports of chikan are "fairly common" and it advises that if it does happen to you, the best approach is to "shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call the train staff".


Join us for live updates of the 2019 Rugby World Cup from September 20