You’ve read the entire One Piece collection. You’re decked out in Yugioh cosplay. Your bedroom is decorated from floor to ceiling in Hello Kitty. You eat sushi and edamame for every meal. You LOVE Pocky. Congratulations, you are a Japanophile. Your love for the nation is as big as a bowl of ramen. But do you really know Japan like you think you do? Here are five things you might not know about this Asian country:
1. Japan is an aging nation
Always topping the list as one of the richest, healthiest nations, Japan’s current average lifespan is approaching 83 years old. Some estimate that over 50,000 Japanese people are over 100 years old. All of that is great, but the downside is that the birth rate is plummeting. Each year the rate holds at 1.4 children/mother. These numbers are so low that in Japan adult diapers outsell baby diapers each year. That wasn’t a joke. There are a couple of reasons for the low birth rate. First, men are extremely hard working. The average week requires 70+ hours. The second reason is that most young men are already in relationships with virtual girlfriends. The daunting task of meeting, courting, and marrying a real woman is too terrifying. Some scholars have predicted that by the year 2050 the Japanese population will have dropped by 30%.
2. Japan is a depressed nation
Underneath the glittery, glowing, gleeful exterior Japan is a heavy place. Always ranking in the top 10 of world suicides, the nation has a deep-seated depression that is hard to get around. Though prevalent, the culture harbors a KITY (Keep It To Yourself) mentality. Your depression is your own problem in Japan. Traditional Buddhism goes as far as teaching that any ailment you are struggling with is your personal responsibility. There are too many stats to list and all of them are overwhelming. Some estimate that one in four middle school children suffer from depression. In fact, the number of middle school age suicides have grown so much that the government has finally stepped in and admitted there is a problem that needs addressing.
3. Japan is a communal nation
Some may not think this is the case, but as an American living here, I’m standing by my opinion. My argument? Almost every response to a question about culture, sports, religion, or hobbies begins with, “We Japanese…” Answers are given by the group for the group. This country has more structures than one of those weird cement statue roadside stores. There is a proper way to do garbage, groceries, and gardening (oh my!). The reason is behind this is very old. Since they lived on an island, the ancient Japanese people HAD to get along with each other. The culture still remains this way. This creates community in a way that most Westerners can’t understand. What did Americans of old do if they had a tiff with a neighbor? Move out West! When that’s not an option, you have to figure out how to live together.
4. Japan is an ingenious nation
This country is the absolute best country at perfecting an idea. No other country in the world competes with it in this regard. Do you like watermelons? Why not grow them bound in boxes to create square watermelons for better stacking? Need a train to travel a certain way, but a building is in the way? Build the track through the building. Japan has maglev trains that literally float along the track at +200 mph. These trains are so punctual that the margin of error is 18 seconds…. SECONDS. Taking an idea and perfecting it is as Japanese as baseball!
5. Japan is a split-personality nation
Nothing says modern Japan like walking across the Shibuya scramble (Tokyo Times Square) at night. Nothing says ancient like walking through the Horyuji Temple. It was built in 607. That’s 1409 years ago. Japan is unique in the way it accepts the modern and cherishes the past at the same time. Ancient locations are more than tourist spots in Japan. They still serve a very real function. For a country that leads the world in technological developments, don’t think for a second Japan is only new and progressive. For a country whose culture is 2,000 years old, don’t think for a second Japan is only old and stale.
This wonderful country is an enigma. It’s a mystery that would take a lifetime to understand. So next time your singing J-Pop at Karaoke remember things may be more than they appear.