What do Americans think of the Japanese?
Overall, I would say the modern interpretation is "quite fondly." Japan brings us all kinds of neat things and gadgetry. Many people are a bit too obsessed with it - otaku is a well-known word in the English language for a reason. The history is fascinating, and people like how foreign it is.
If you go back in time a bit, though, the reputation among older generations isn't as kind. I learned Japanese and went to study in Japan... holy moly, the things that came out of WWII-era Grandma's mouth could have peeled paint. The most absurd part of is that Grandpa actually fought in Europe, and she doesn't have a bad thing to say about the Germans or Italians or whatnot. The media machine at the time did a number on the Japanese persona, and many people who were inundated with it aren't ever going to let it go.
But this doesn't color the opinions of the younger generations, or at least I've never heard a bad thing about the Japanese out of the mouths of an American younger than 70. The overall impression is more of a country that operates like a giant pinball machine full of lights, noises, cartoons, and occasional ancient temples. Most Americans think of the Japanese as orderly, polite, perhaps a bit too inclined to "groupthink," and in possession of some intriguing fetishes.
Personally, whenever anybody asks about it, I always say that Japan is, by far, the most civilized place on the planet.
Some stereotypes Americans have of the Japanese people include:
- "They look so young!" This is often though because people of European and African descent living in American tend to be harrier, heavier, and take worse care of their health and appearance.
- "They're so dedicated!" I don't know how much this is true and how much it is fantasy, but many Americans imagine Japanese people to be fanatically dedicated to whatever they choose to do. We imagine them working 60-hour weeks compared to our 40-hour ones, sleeping in tubes in their offices while we go home at 5:00 sharp to be with our families, and becoming obsessed with doing great work while we cut corners and slack off. This made us afraid of them during World War 2, and it makes us respect and often envy them as they advance past us in commercial and technological fields today.
- "They're so smart!" This is probably a bias brought about by seeing far more of the great technical advances and visiting students of Japan than of the rest of the culture. I'm sure there are dumb and foolish Japanese people somewhere in the world, but we Americans hear so little about them.
- "They're so xenophobic!" The vast diversity of races and ethnicities living together in America combines with our constant obsession with our own racism problem makes us imagine that any nation that does not have large population sectors from every continent on the Earth must therefore be racist. Our ignorance of foreign nations also cause us to draw very broad categories of "race," such that we forget that there are any differences between Jomon, Yayoi, Okinawan, etc. (or even between nations of American Indians on our own continent!)
- "They're all karate masters!" One of my favorite silly movies has a Japanese police detective come to America to aid an American detective in the recovery of a stolen automobile engine prototype. When the American detective hears that the Japanese detective does not know karate, he says, "You must be the only man in Japan who doesn't know karate." "Not true," the Japanese detective replies. "My brother also doesn't know karate." This scene exists so that Americans can laugh at ourselves and our silly, baseless prejudices.
Americans, particularly teenagers, consume a lot of Japanese entertainment in the form of ‘anime' and video games, the two AAA gaming companies being Nintendo and Sony, who also make electronics. The Japanese design a huge amount of our electronics specifically televisions and the related parts.
Americans all know what happened at Pearl Harbor, and that Japan was the first ever victim of a nuclear detonation, and at American hands.
What most Americans don't know is that the US government rebuilt the Japanese government based on our constitution and destroyed what remained of imperial Japan. Rest assured however, Americans are fully aware that the Japan of today is nothing like the Japan that attached Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese, like people of virtually every major ethnicity on earth, were once common American immigrants. This is most evident in Californian cities like San Fransisco that have been heavily influenced by thier Asian residents. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) Americans can't tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese, Korean or others, it's all just ‘Asian' to us.
Japan is only ever mentioned in the news as an ally, and as a developed nation. They are essential in keeping the infamous North Korea in check.
Overal we see Japan as a friend and a strong nation and people.
That's probably going to vary significantly depending on the age, location, "wordliness" and exposure to Japanese people. Which part of "America"? The Western Hemisphere is a really big place. Are you asking a WWII Pacific War veteran in Kansas, or a kid who wants to be a manga artist in Hawaii?
There is no place called "America." People in the US are so vastly individual it's impossible for any of one us to speak for anyone else.
What media sources focus on are superficial tropes and stereotypes because it makes better theater. All Japanese men are hard-working and sex-crazed just like all American are gun-toting Jeezus nuts.
This American will tell you a story.
I was born 48 years ago in the US. About the same time, there was a girl born in Japan. When we met, it was like...meeting a twin. We look nothing alike, we have vastly different lives and no one but us knows what I mean when I say we were separated at birth. ^_^
I feel about "the Japanese" the same as I feel about "Americans" or "the Dutch." I know some great ones, some not-so-great ones, I don't know a lot of them and how on earth could I possible have a single opinion that encompasses millions of people?
To the average, ignorant American, Japan and Japanese are synonymous with technology and high quality prodcuts. They are seen as highly intelligent people who are well versed in Karate and Jiu Jitsu and therefore can kick your ass at any unsuspecting moment. LoL I'm serious and many Americans will flat out say these things if they meet someone who is Japanese. "Dude can you teach me some Karate moves?" Or "Hey dude can fix my computer?" Also, that they like eating alot of sushi, they're cars are very good and they're fiesty too as in they can fight with num chucks and use crazy weapons. In many ways were sort of intrigued by Japanese culture, but as Good old Americans that many of us are, we have very little real interest in other countries, Japan included. As ar as WWI or WW2 whichever it was, that's long forgotten and people don't think.of Japan as our enemy in an way except for when it comes to business, cars and technology. There is a very big competition and when it comes to cars some people absolutely refuse to buy Japanese vehicles. If you belong to a certain circle of rednecks then you will be ridiculed for driving a japanese car. But there is a difference between Japanese products and actual Japanese people who, all fascination aside, have very little in common with Americans.
The same as we see anyone else. There are good people and bad people. There are geniuses and normal folks like me. The ones I've met seem very American to me in terms of work ethic and common courtesy.
There aren't any bad races, religions, colors, or creeds. Only bad people.
Edit One: I should add that my Dad fought the Japanese in the 4th Marine Division, on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He always had respect for them as soldiers, and by the early 70s, when he spoke of the war, he no longer had any hate for the Japanese as a people. He still talked negatively about their leadership, Tojo, and some of their senior officers. He realized by then, as most did, that the emperor was mostly a figurehead, and even sounded like he felt sorry for him, looking at his pictures standing beside MacArthur.
Sexy men and amazing food..... and Buddhism.