Your Friend in Japan

Why Does Japan Look So Strange? The Lens of the Internet

Written by HotAnime

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Viewing Japan Through the ‘Lens of the Internet’

Before the Internet, Japan was a truly mysterious place, and it was difficult to find information about the country that didn’t feel like it was filtered through our grandfather who was stationed there during the Occupation, or perhaps a James Clavell novel. These days, getting access to Japan is much easier, thanks to bloggers, YouTubers and many others. Still, while it’s great to be able to find out about the latest in Gothic Lolita cat-ear fashions in Tokyo, viewing Japan through the lens of the Internet is not without its problems because the stranger aspects of the country can be magnified while less-flamboyant details lost.

A good example of this phenomenon is ice cream. Different regions of Japan offer unique flavors of ice cream to tourists, like miso, squid ink and basashi (that is, horse sashimi, try not to think about it too deeply), which is sometimes reported on the Internet. And yet 99% of the ice cream actually consumed by Japanese is vanilla, or possibly green tea. But since this ho-hum fact isn’t that interesting, we’re far more likely to be influenced by messages like, “OMG OMG the Japanese have seaweed ice cream!!”

There are other examples. Sometimes on the Internet you might see people discussing shops with “no foreigners” signs displayed, since some owners don’t speak English and would rather not try to communicate with customers from other countries. And yet, in 26 years of living in Japan, I’ve only had service declined once, in a video store that had had some videos absconded with by a foreign customer the week before. Japan’s “panty vending machines” are pretty famous on the Internet, yet as I’ve never encountered one, I have to assume they’re mostly urban legend.

So bottom line, while we all love fun and wacky tidbits of news about Japan, sometimes the information we see online should be taken with a few grains of salt.

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