The myth of Japanese uniqueness

A recent discussion on the Honyaku list about the reaction of Westerners to Japanese food led to some interesting observations that the trouble Westerners have with Japanese food is often just in the minds of Japanese, who accept as conventional wisdom that their cuisine is too unusual for outsiders to appreciate.

And it occurred to me: part of the “uniquely unique” self-image of Japan is alarmingly close to the “inscrutable Asian” stereotype outside of Japan. Some Japanese people just don’t realize how exposed Japan is to the rest of the world.

  • Every few years, a particularly tactless Japanese politicians will say something outrageous, and then be bewildered when it generates an international shitstorm.
  • In another life, when I was an English teacher in 長野県, I had adult students who were amazed to learn that Sony is known outside Japan, let alone being one of the best-known companies in the world.

Perhaps an aspect of being uniquely unique is being persistently provincial.