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Why is Japan Romanticized?

Japan red leaves autumn

The more time I live in Japan, the more it becomes clear that so many people around the world romanticize it as a destination. While I’ve created this website which is dedicated to my love of the country, it’s important to realise that Japan, like everywhere else, isn’t perfect. It still has its problems and definitely isn’t a perfect place to live. So why is Japan romanticised by so many people across the globe?

Japan is a country that benefits not only from incredible natural beauty, but also from a thriving pop culture scene, rich history, and a captivating relationship with technology. A lot of these things come across as stark differences for tourists or people interested in Japan in comparison to their home country, and thus they idealise Japan wishing their country would do, or have the same things.

Let’s delve into each of these points a little deeper, and find out the main reasons that Japan is so often romanticised as a country. Is it a well-founded love, or are people being taken for fools with their rose-tinted spectacles?

1. “Crazy” Japan 

crazy osaka sign

This might not be a reason that people romanticize Japan, but it’s certainly a reason why people are interested in the country so much. I think people have this idea when they take a trip to Japan, everything will be weird and wacky. While not everything is like that, it’s certainly a far cry from what they’re used to.

Certain normal things in Japan are vastly different from what a western tourist would have experienced which is partly why they get a wrap for being ‘Crazy’ or ‘Different’. I think one of the most common differences that people seem to find so interesting is Japan’s love for vending machines. 

I’m sure you already know if you’ve read these 63 facts about Japan, but Japan has vending machines for pretty much everything. I’m all about it, and it seems everyone else is as well.

Does it classify as ‘Weird’ or ‘Crazy’? Maybe crazy is a little too strong, or perhaps I’ve become a little too used to it after living out here. But is it enough to think Japan is a cool place with a huge amount of convenience? I think so. 

Plus, the fact there are about 4 million vending machines across the country is pretty neat, at least to me anyway. In fact, if you ever visit Japan, I challenge you to walk further than 100 meters in any direction and not find a vending machine.

Aside from the convenience of vending machines, Japan also has a $25,000 melon, eats KFC for Christmas, and has the most high-tech toilets in the world. Definitely enough to peak curiosity in all of us!

2. Natural Beauty

A cool picture I managed to grab in Japan this autumn!

Japan’s natural landscape is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful things in the world. Of course, that’s entirely subjective, but it’s honestly not hard to understand why people make such a big deal out of it and use it as a reason to romanticize Japan.

With nature that’s intertwined with Japanese zen ideologies, temples, and stunning garden designs, I’d challenge anyone to not fantasize about its beauty on the odd occasion.

While some people come to Japan for the high-tech (although it’s actually retro tech believe it or not) cities and world-class infrastructure, you’ll find the other half visit Japan to see the opposite. The rice paddies, the mountains, the bamboo forests, the world-famous skiing and the indescribable natural light are all solid reasons one may tend to romanticize Japan.

3. Anime

Japan anime poster

Japanese anime does its job to capture the hearts and minds of millions across the globe, and its pull is quite diverse when you think about it. On the one hand, you’ve got a selection of people who’ve watched certain anime for years who want to visit the country that made it. 

Perhaps they’ve been introduced to several cultural differences between Japan and their home country, though the vast majority of everything they’ve seen is likely to be positive. In any case, they’ll definitely be buying anime figurines on their trip over!

Then you have another group of people that maybe just dabble in the odd anime from time to time. Things like studio ghibli movies, Your Name., anything that does the rounds on social media really. 

On the whole, these mainstream Anime seem to focus heavily on lighting, emotional storylines (though I’m sure some don’t), and the natural beauty of Japan. You’ve only got to look at the first Japanese Instagram account on this list to know what I’m talking about.

Of course, Anime isn’t real life, and while those who watch it know that, it’s not hard to see why they have such a love of the country they’ve potentially grown up watching content about.

4. Subcultures and freedom of expression 

Japan cosplay man schoolgirl

A glance down Harajuku’s famous Takeshita street is all you need to see some of the incredible street fashion, subcultures, and creative expression that Japan has to offer. Even if you’re not at all interested in Japanese subcultures and fashion choices, I’m sure you’ve heard about Cosplay where individuals dress up as characters from games or movies. 

It’s incredibly popular over here especially when there’s an event on. You’ve also got things like lolita fashion which bases itself on victorian era clothing, Gyaru fashion which I honestly don’t understand, and Mori Kei which has its fashionable routes inspired by living in the woods, kinda cool really.

And it’s not just fashion. If you can imagine it, there’s probably a subculture or group of people in Japan that enjoy exploring it.

Unfortunately, while a lot of people see this from the outside and assume that Japan is a free-thinking and open-minded place to be, that’s not always the case. As we explored in the retro technology article, it’s incredibly hard for people to go against the grain for fear of being outcasted. 

That goes for creating a business, social expression, and even personal identity. I would imagine there are a lot of people in Japan that are not exploring their true identity because of the pushback they may get from their friends and family. 

Not necessarily in a mean way, but there is often a lot of expectation on people in Japan to continue doing the ‘Done’ thing. If it isn’t broken, Japan probably won’t try to fix it.

5. Politeness and respect 

school children walking Japan

One of the first things I noticed and loved about Japan on my first holiday to the country was how polite everyone was. Yes, it’s a generalized view, but it is one held by many people and potentially one of the reasons why Japan is romanticized.

Here’s an example: As an English person, I thought I was fantastic at queueing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love it by any means, but I really did think that I, along with most people I knew, was great at it. Or at least appreciated a good queue, if that doesn’t sound too strange.

Well, all I had to do was go to a Japanese train station once to realize that wasn’t the case. On almost all train stations you’ll find three lanes carefully positioned by each door when the train arrives. 

These platform floor markings denote where those getting off the train should walk (through the middle) and where the people waiting to get on the train should stand in an orderly queue (either side). So, instead of standing anywhere on a train platform like the chaotic subway lines in London, it’s always incredibly organized with very minimal pushing and pulling (unless you’re traveling at Japanese rush hour, then you’ll probably just fall asleep on the train). 

Have you also noticed clean Japan is? If not, I’m sure you will as soon as you come on holiday over here. For a country that has almost no bins outside (honestly I’ve been here a few months now and have seen barely any), they have incredibly clean streets

Children are taught from a young age to keep their environment clean as a way to respect those around them and their country as a whole. Japan’s legendary politeness has even made it into the world cup a few times.

6. Safety

Japan home

The final reason people may tend to romanticize Japan is because of how safe it is. First of all, I want to preface this section by saying that all countries have their dangers and you should always take care while traveling. 

That said, on the whole, Japan is a very safe place to live and travel. It was ranked in the top 10 on the Global Peace Index by the Institute of Economics and Peace. I can comfortably walk around almost anywhere in the country, even at night, and still feel perfectly safe. I’ve read on numerous forums and spoken to many solo travelers in japan that repeat the same feelings.

My guess is it’s down to respect and self-control being taught to children at an extremely young age. And perhaps a slight inclination to not want to upset or mess with the status quo. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a rush-hour train in japan and the whole carriage has been deathly quiet. While that alone doesn’t constitute safety, it does show a willingness to keep out of one another’s business. Not always a good thing, but it certainly means you’ll be bothered a lot less.

Having been to the biggest Japan event in England, watched the rise of many japan based YouTubers, and even started an entire website dedicated to the country, I can absolutely understand why people romanticize Japan. 

While looking at a country with entirely rose-tinted spectacles is never a good thing, Japan has a lot of fantastic things going for it. That said, I’ll always do my best to explore and educate myself on all areas surrounding the country so I can bring the most valuable information straight to you.

Jonny Gleason

Photographer, Magazine owner, Matcha drinker. One of these is definitely the most important, just unsure which...

Instagram: @jonny.gleason

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