Almost everyone who voluntarily relocates to a country besides the one they grew up in enjoys some kind of honeymoon phase in their new surroundings. Everything about their adopted home feels shiny and praiseworthy, with all of the memories of one’s past suddenly looking far rustier than it ever did before.
It’s not surprising, then, that Twitter user @b_taka_d was charmed by Finland three months into a study abroad program. His experiences also inspired him to compare the Nordic country to his homeland of Japan, primarily focusing on the failings of the latter.
He compiled 12 points of difference, highlighting Japan’s male-dominated society, its overuse of plastic and, somewhat surprisingly, its low prices. The tweet blew up, attracting more than 20,000 retweets and endless discussion, so much so that @b_taka_d published an English version.
What followed is probably familiar to anyone on social media, with the familiar pendulum of responses including those agreeing with his central argument and calling for Japan to learn from the Nordic nation, people digging into specific arguments in order to give them more nuance and plenty of push back. The Twitter user who started it all is already thinking of compiling a list that looks at Japan’s positive aspects.
The specifics of the list aren’t new issues, but the response the tweet garnered online is noteworthy. It underlines how conversations about Japan in comparison to other countries have changed, moving from surface-level “gawkathons” to more complex — and often entertaining — discussions.
Before the internet helped generate conversation, television served as one of the most prominent ways to get a glance at life outside of Japan. It wasn’t particularly compelling and often focused on finding Japanese people living in far-flung places and asking them about the vestiges of life from their home country they were able to replicate abroad.
Internet communities, meanwhile, were significantly worse, with netizens often focusing on weirder stories coming out from other countries (or, when taking a more nationalistic stance, just being xenophobic).
This strain of online discourse still crowds plenty of spaces online — a recent topic that attracted attention on message boards was “Sailor Moon” fan art from America that recast the characters as black — but in recent years more nuanced and thoughtful comparisons have emerged.
While @b_taka_d grabbed attention on Twitter, many of the better examples of this have appeared on the site Note, a platform similar to Medium. One noteworthy essay that appeared on the site earlier in 2019 was penned by Nami Mirairo and compared how her mother, who uses a wheelchair, was treated in Japan, the United States and Myanmar. She said the last place treated her mom like a king.
Another person on the site has tried to argue that Fiji is an ideal society to live in, again comparing life there to life in Japan.
A separate post focused on why Japanese people only seemed to talk about Japan, despite a whole world being out there.
On the other hand, being able to compare elements of Japan with similar offerings from abroad could actually help people to expand their horizons. Japanese TV might not offer the most nuanced take on other cultures, but broadcasters have correctly noted that people often spend more time these days watching videos.
Enter YouTube, which has provided a new platform for netizens to compare and contrast Japan with other countries. YouTube channel The Muscle TV, for example, went to a branch of steak restaurant chain Sizzler in the United States and compared it to the same franchise in Japan. Other creators such as KaoruTV base all of their videos on a specific niche, in her case food in Seoul.
Even media companies have gotten into it. BuzzFeed Japan has put a greater focus on video over the past year, with a number of series focused on cultural differences. Topics run from the relatively playful “Indian people try Japanese curry” to the more antithetical “Japanese raised outside Japan vs. foreigner raised in Japan.”
The analysis presented in such discussion isn’t always the deepest, but it still offers insight that helps people learn more about one another. Even when the honeymoon phase of living in a foreign country has worn off, there’s plenty to be gleaned from these conversations.