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Sunday, Aug. 6, 2000


Breaking down the Japanese inferiority myth

Do Japanese people have an inferiority complex? Japanese people often tell me they feel inferior to foreigners. You've probably heard Japanese people say some of following yourself:

Japanese people can't hold their liquor as well as foreigners because they lack a certain enzyme that helps in the digestion of liquor. It's true that an incredible number of people have to be carried home from bars in Japan. It's common to see drunk people staggering through the streets at night, accompanied by friends supporting them on each shoulder. Foreigners are always surprised to learn how socially acceptable this is in Japan.

Indeed, drinking with Japanese people can be a unique experience. I went out the other night with my friend, Midori. Midori and I are the same height, same weight and even have the same shoe size. We were drinking the same beer. But when I looked over at Midori, I was surprised to see that she had suddenly slumped over and was sleeping at the table. She had keeled over! Her friends merely ignored her and said, "Oh, it's normal."

I often see people who have keeled over like this in bars. Often, a few hours later, the keeled over will come back to life, drink some more, then keel over again. There's a whole keeling cycle that ends when they are supported by their friends and stagger to the nearest taxi.

In the United States, we always have the designated driver, one person in the group who stays sober so he can safely drive everyone home. In Japan, since everyone uses taxis, they don't need a designated driver. Instead they have a keeper of the keeled.

I suppose this "lack of enzyme" is also responsible for the fact that many Japanese people's faces turn red when they drink. Last week I was drinking with my friend Emi, when her face started turning bright red. "Are you OK?" I asked her. "Oh, yes, it's normal," she told me. When the redness gradually spread to her neck and collarbone, I started getting a little nervous and glanced around for the nearest fire extinguisher. Within a half-hour even the palms of her hands had turned red too. She said her skin was hot and itchy. Convinced that at any moment she would burst into flames or perhaps even erupt, I suggested, "Shouldn't someone call the fire department?"

"Oh no, this is normal," she assured me.

Japanese people are bad at music and foreign languages because they lack something in their inner ear.

I don't know where this theory comes from. Seiji Ozawa is a famous symphony conductor. The Japanese invented the Suzuki method of learning musical instruments. Japanese people are huge fans of classical music. Many Japanese people can speak foreign languages with no problem. If you're having problems with music or foreign languages, I suggest it's a hygiene issue -- maybe you just need to clean out your ears more often.

Japanese people sleep a lot because they eat rice. There is some element in rice that makes Japanese people sleepy. I disagree. It's true that Japanese people catnap a lot. Japanese people are always sleeping on the train (my friend Etsuko says it's healthy) and students always nod off during class. But, it's not the rice that makes people sleepy -- it's kanji. I know because whenever I have trouble sleeping, I just pull out my kanji book, study a few characters, and I'm fast asleep.

It's the same thing with Japanese people. When they get on the train, in the time it takes them to read one ad inside the train, they're asleep. The kanji on the chalkboard puts students to sleep. If you combine the effects of kanji with the fact that many people have keeled the night before, there is a good chance that at certain times during the day, half the entire nation is asleep.

Japanese people are not as beautiful as foreigners; Japanese people have such big faces.

It's true that Japanese people have bigger heads than Westerners, and bigger faces. They look like the trademark "smiley face" of the '70s. When Japanese people meet me for the first time, they often say, "Oh, your face is so small." It's supposed to be a compliment. But I think big faces are beautiful too. Besides, the '70s retro look is in.

So Japanese people -- accept your differences with a big smile!

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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