It’s not. Japanese culture is underrated if anything. IMO Korea is the country with the overrated culture.
Why is Korea overrated?
And keep in mind – I’m saying this while being someone who loves Korea, learned Korean, moved to Korea to live there for a few years, and have more Korean friends than American/Canadian friends. Korea culture was previously underrated – but now it’s overrated due to all the Kpop/Kdrama stuff going on. Their culture is fairly derivative and copied from either China/HK, Japan, or US and wrapped it in a pleasing aesthetic to sell to the worldwide audience. Effectively Korea is one of the best at marketing their cultures to the world – but Korean culture at it’s core isn’t as deep or original as they make it seem.
Their music is derived from Japanese idol culture and USA 90s pop culture. Their movies are derived from 1980s HK films and 1990s Japanese films. Their food are just a subset of Chinese foods, modified to suit their tastes (i.e made more spicier or adding a grill). And their fashion is overall very clean looking and elegant but not diverse and overly too dependent on trends. Koreans have a culture of conformity which prevents them from showing their uniqueness or from having true passions. When you look around in Korea, everyone is always doing the same things either studying or working menial jobs, and very few Koreans seem to want to break out of that box they’ve been taught to live in their whole lives. (Don’t hate me Koreans, I still <3 your country, but this had to be said).
Now, why is Japan underrated?
There are elements of Japanese culture that have become overrated like ramen of example. Everytime there’s a new ramen shop opening up in the West, people go nuts over it. It’s just ramen, guys. It’s not some super special food. But for the most part there’s a lot of Japanese cultural elements I feel go unnoticed or under appreciated by people.
For example, Anime. Yes, everyone knows the big hits. Dragonball, Gundam, Sailor Moon, Naruto, One Piece, Studio Ghibli etc but there’s also alot of really cool Anime that most people don’t really know.
For example, Millenium Actress by Satoshi Kon (and his other films too) is one of the greatest most deep animes I’ve ever seen, and it’s hardly known outside of anime enthusiasts. Most Japanese anime contain far more mature themes and graphical sex or violence compared to most American cartoons, which are mostly geared towards kids and contain very simple messages in comparison.
Or alot of the 1980s anime like Maison Ikoku
and Night on the Galactic Railroad
Alot of these lesser popular animes from the 80s are actually very deep, innovative, unique and interesting to watch.
Japanese cinema also deserve more love I think.
Classic Japanese cinema from the 1950s by masters Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi etc rivaled even the best American cinema films of the era and had a massive influence on American films later on. For example, did you know that most Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s were directly influenced by Kurosawa’s samurai works? The Magnificent Seven (1960) for example was directly inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954).
And it’s not just the golden age Japanese films. Even current day Japanese films are rather overlooked.
Hirokazu Koreeda for example is an incredible modern Japanese director and I’ve been impressed by all his films and the storytelling and the depth and emotional connections he creates. Everyone knows Parasite by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, but Koreeda’s films make it look Parasite look like a shallow pretentious work by comparison. I encourage everyone to check out Koreeda’s films.
Of course then there’s Japanese food, which Japanese have been downplaying for a long time.
Wagyu is no longer a secret – but for the longest time, Westerners never knew about how good Japanese beef was. It was Japan’s secret for a long time. And trust me, I love my Hanwoo beef and I think it’s underrated and amazing, but there’s a reason why A5 Wagyu is so famous now. In the 1970s, foreigners starting finding out about it, and by the 21st century, everyone knew about it.
and it’s not just beef.
Do you know Japanese fruits are special too?
Did you know Japanese Hokkaido potatoes are special in flavor too?
How about Kurobuta pork?
Or a remote Japanese ramen shop that has been run for generations with their own twist on their recipe?
Alot of Japanese foods are unique and have special characteristics and properties, but they are rarely known outside of Japan (unless it spreads by word of mouth which is what happened to wagyu)
Lastly, I want to talk about Japanese craftsmanship mentality
No matter what they do or make, whether it be making a pair of jeans, or forging a katana or nurturing a bonsai tree, or a serving up a bowl of ramen, Japanese people are some of the most dedicated craftsman I’ve ever seen. They dedicated their whole lives to making something as good as they possibly can. And profit and money comes secondary to them. That’s what I admire about Japanese. It’s ingrained into their culture. Western companies always put business, money and profit margins first ahead of anything else. Marketing makes up a huge chunk of their budget, and if they have a long history like with a lot of European countries – you bet they are going to hype up their history.
With Japanese, they don’t really hype up their history nor are they going to put a lot of money into marketing and try to nickel and dime you like Western companies. They just focus on making the best things that they possibly can. Even if they are expensive, they are expensive because of the labor intensive costs not because of marketing and heritage hype.
And it’s not just the everyday items. Everything from Grand Seiko watches to Sony speakers you can tell how much engineering went into it and how passionate they are about the process. The process of making it, not just the results. This is quite different than China and Korea which I find when they manufacture items they focus more on the results than the process.
This old man dedicated his whole life to growing the rice, his own curry and putting it inside one vending machine in the countryside. That’s all he wanted to do, his whole life. That’s the Japanese mentality and dedication.
And again.. I love Korea, but I have to be honest, they are not like this. They live cookie cutter lives where study to get into a SKY school then try to get into one of the big 4 companies (Lotte, Hyundai, LG, Samsung) and that’s their goal. For girls, their dream is to be an airline attendant. They all have similar aspirations. With Japanese, you can see how each and every person has such specialized ambitions and how unique they are with their mentality.
That’s why I think Japanese culture, as much admired as it is by the West, is actually still underrated and I think Japan and Japanese still deserve more props than they get.