Japan is a unique country. Egypt is a unique country. The United States is a unique country. Japan is probably not the only country that wants to tell everyone how unique it is, but anyone from abroad who lives in Japan can probably tell you many stories of how they have been told of Japan’s uniqueness.
My personal favorite dates back to the 1970s when a European ski manufacturer wanted to export skis to Japan. The manufacturer was denied by the Japanese government and told that European skis were not suitable for Japanese snow. More recent episodes from the 1980s include Japanese bureaucrats stating that Japanese cannot eat much beef due to their longer intestines.
Even today in the 21st century, if you tell either of these stories to many Japanese people, their first impulse will be to believe that Japanese snow is unique or Japanese have longer intestines. Snow is snow. Some of it is packed and some of it is powder. Japanese snow is not unique. As to Japanese having longer intestines, that is ridiculous and there is no data to back up such a claim.
Now, we all like to believe our little myths about our countries. Americans like to believe in the independent frontiersman going west. Japanese like to believe in uniqueness. We would like to pose three questions here:
- Why do Japanese believe so strongly in their uniqueness?
- Why is it so important?
- Do Japanese people realize how silly they sound to non-Japanese ears when they talk about their uniqueness?
In a way, Japanese uniqueness almost seems like a religious belief. Just as Catholics believe in the father, the son, and the holy ghost, Japanese believe in being unique. We don’t expect many people to give up their beliefs on reading this, but we would like to point out that number three above is something to remember when interacting with people from abroad.
We would like to conclude this chapter with a simpler example, that of Japan and the four seasons. Many Japanese proudly tell many people from abroad that Japan has four seasons. To many of us, that implies that it is special. We get the feeling that Japanese think that having four seasons is very rare and Japan is special for having them. We are never quite sure why people tell us that Japan has four seasons. A Canadian would never proudly announce that Canada has four seasons.
This may just be another mystery of living in a different country. We can never solve all the mysteries.