Non-Asians mistaking that all Asian peoples are of one ethnicity in particular. It is most commonly applied to East Asian countries such as China and Japan, but confusion may set in between South Asian countries as well, like conflating India with the Middle East.
Asia is a large and culturally diverse place, but East Asian cultures often get lumped together into one general mishmash. This is not unique to Asia, however, as most people will do the same to African and European countries as well. People who are generally unfamiliar with the intricacies of Asian cultures will often confuse the country of origin of various phenomena, such as karate being a shortcut term for any Asian martial art, when karate is specifically Okinawan/Japanese in origin; note, however, that sometimes this confusion is justified: taekwondo (Korean) was directly inspired by karate (Japanese). In places where the Asian and Nerdy trope exists, Asians from a variety of different cultures (including Indians) will be lumped together in the same stereotype.
It's something of an ongoing controversy over whether people should be able to identify the ethnicity of Asian people based on their physical characteristics. Audiences sometimes react negatively when an Asian actor plays a character with a different ethnic ancestry, such as an actor of Japanese descent playing a Korean, because it carries the implication that Asian ethnicities are not physically distinguishable. However, other people (such as Margaret Cho) insist that ethnicity is not always so obvious to the naked eye, and that telling a Thai from a Tibetan can be as difficult as telling a Dane from a German.
Part of the problem is that many Americans, as in the case of African-Americans and Latinos (and, to a lesser extent, whites), insist on treating "Asian" itself as one big ethnicity, evidently confusing "ethnicity" with "race" - and even "race" wouldn't be accurate, since, anthropologically speaking, Asia is home to at least four different races. For since at least the dawn of civilization, Asia has been the native continent of four distinct racial groups: Caucasians (Armenians, Georgians, Indo-Iranians), Afro-Asiatic people (Arabs, etc.), Mongoloid people (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and all the other groups the West is thinking of when they say "Asian"), and the Austro-Asiatic people or Negritos (people from the southern half of the Indian subcontinent as well as Vietnamese, Cambodians, many ethnic groups from the East Indies, and New Guineans); in colorist terms, these people can be classified, respectively, as "white," "tan," "yellow," and "brown/black." In addition, many Asian groups are actually of mixed race: Turks are mixed Mongoloid and Afro-Asiatic, and Indonesians are mixed Mongoloid and Austro-Asiatic. Some American publications and documents go further by grouping together most or all of the above people and people native to the Pacific islands into one huge category called "Asian/Pacific Islander"; but physical studies have confirmed that Micronesians, Melanesians, and Polynesians are three distinct races, and that they are distinct from the races of Asia as well.
An especially common variant of this trope is "All Asians Are Chinese" - which, again, is understandable, both because Chinese (specifically, Cantonese) have been the most prolific immigrant group in the United States and because so many East Asian cultures (Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, etc.) were either culturally influenced by China or have languages that sound similar to Chinese.
The similarity in appearance between Asian cultures is sometimes taken further, to say that all Asian individuals look the same. This could all be partially explained by the commonality of brown eyes and straight black hair in Asia; blondes and brunettes are generally restricted to the Caucasian part of Asia. However, it's a psychologicalfact that humans have a harder time distinguishing details in faces from races that are unfamiliar to them. This trope is often turned on its head for comedy when Asian people will claim, "All white people look the same!"
Related to They Just Didn't Care and As Long as It Sounds Foreign. A Sub Trope of Mistaken Nationality. Stepfather to the Far East.
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Hei, the protagonist of Darker Than Black is (probably) Chinese, but briefly poses as a Korean in the second season.
In Gosick, most of the Sauville residents guess wrongly on Kazuya's country of origin, the common answer among them being that he's Chinese. One kid even calls him "Mr. Chinese" despite Kazuya's vehemence and, when they introduce themselves properly, comments that his name is weird. This is hardly surprising, given the relative lack of international travel during The Roaring Twenties.
Exploited in Monster, a young German cop denounces the protagonist Tenma (a Japanese doctor wanted for murder) to his superiors, but after Tenma saves his mother's life he then lies to his superiors by telling them that his suspect was called Dr. Chang and that he mistook him because of his oriental features.
Detective Conan discusses and inverts this in the episode introducing James Black. Kidnappers mistake Black for the wealthy American owner of a trained dolphin show. Conan explains to the Detective Boys that, just as All Asians Are Alike to many Westerners, all Caucasians look alike to many Asians. At the same time, this is subverted when Conan is able to differentiate Black from the show-owner because he speaks English with a British rather than Texan accent (at least for the show's purposes. However, he actually speaks it with a "Japanese actor reading phonetically" accent).
Kitsune no Yomeiri has a variation of this. When Ousuke traveled to his girlfriend's homeland, a bunch of fox spirits come up to him and he believes Tsunemaru has multiplied. Tsunemaru soon appears and feels insulted that he was mistaken for children, only for Ousuke to think they all look the same.
An apparently Japanese man turns out to be a Chinese feng shui practitioner.
Inverted when Kenshin finds a Western man waiting for him at home, he greets him with a "Bonjour." Turns out the man is actually German.
In Black Lagoon, Revy refers to Shenhua as "Chinglish" and is corrected and told that Shenhua is in fact, Taiwanese. Although the island of Taiwan is technically part of the Republic of China and almost all Taiwanese are ethnically Han Chinese, Taiwan maintains a distinct cultural identity from the mainland.
Likewise Inverted in Azumanga Daioh. In order to show off her English skills, Yukari goes up to a blonde, blue-eyed man and starts speaking English to him. Turns out he's German.
Inverted in Axis Powers Hetalia; at least twice, England is mistaken for an American. Germany and Prussia also sneak into America disguising themselves as Americans.
Random man: Hmm...you look kinda German to me, you couldn't be...
Germany: Hahaha! Well that's because I'm German-American! I'm just crazy for hamburgers! *American smile*
Inverted in one Ijiwaru Baa-san (Granny Mischief) strip: the title character watches a television report about the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and congratulates the first foreigner she sees in broken English. Unfortunately, said foreigner was Russian. Granny tries to pass off her action as "all foreigners look alike" while her neighbors accuse her of being offensive on purpose.
Played straight, but with a twist, by Henry Cho, a Korean comedian born and raised in Knoxville, Tennesse. At home, he never had problems finding his parents in a crowd, but in Korea?
There's a French comic where this is both evoked (a Chinese mook tells his [white] boss he can easily pass for a Korean) and inverted (another mook tells the boss that to Orientals, all whites look the same).
One of the dumber early Silver AgeCaptain America stories had Cap going to Vietnam and confronting a general who is a giant sumo wrestler. A sumo wrestler, the national sport of Japan, as a high officer in Vietnam less than 20 years after the despised Japanese occupation, sure.
Lady Shiva, the fighter who taught Bruce Wayne the art of unarmed combat in the Batman comics, is usually depicted as Chinese and is sometimes given the improbable surname of "Wusan", but her title of "Shiva" is Hindu and describes the name of an Indian god (and a male god, no less). Just to add to the confusion, Shiva has in the past been drawn as a Caucasian woman, even when it's clear from the context that she is supposed to be Chinese.
Fat Cowboy: ...Looks like a Jap to me. Toothless Cowboy: Naaaw. He's Chinese. Fat Cowboy: How do you know? Toothless Cowboy: 'Cause I ain't stupid!
Mentioned in Falling Down, when a police officer snarks that he is Japanese, unlike the robbed store owner who is Korean.
Quite a few of Chris Tucker's lines throughout the Rush Hour series refer to this, along with every other crude Asian stereotype in the book. During a fight with a gang of Triads in Rush Hour 2 he accidentally punches Jackie's character in the face:
Carter: All a y'all look alike!
In Brain Smasher A Love Story, the Chinese assassination team is constantly having to say, "We are notNinjas!" They are happy the one time someone else says it first. "They're not ninjas. They're Chinese." So happy that they don't beat any one up there.
Invoked in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, where Harold (who is Korean) is repeatedly mistaken for Chinese/Japanese. Kumar is Indian, but mistaken for Arab in the second movie.
The Zero Gravity short film Cha Cha Chinaman drops this in at the beginning of Part 2.
Some people criticized Memoirs of a Geisha for casting Chinese and Korean actors in Japanese roles.
In Goldfinger, Harold Sakata (Japanese) plays Oddjob (Korean), even though in the book Goldfinger's Korean Mooks hate being called "Japs" by Americans.
In Angels Revenge, Keiko has a Japanese name and wields a katana, but is introduced as being from... Vietnam. Technically it's not impossible, but given the general intelligence level of this movie as a whole, it's far more likely that They Just Didn't Care.
The Mask of Fu Manchu shows all the peoples of Asia rallying behind the resurrected spirit of Genghis Khan who would lead them to conquer the West. Never mind that most Asians, including the Chinese, would view Genghis Khan as a foreign invader rather than a beloved leader.
In Christopher Lambert's J.F. Lawton's The Hunted (not to be mistaken for the more popular film of the same name) the very Chinese John Lone plays uber-ninja Kinjo. It isn't so bad at first, unless you can tell the difference between Hong Kong and Japanese accented English; but when the script calls for him to exchange dialogue with actual Japanese actors in Nihonggo, his lack of fluency becomes painfully obvious even to someone who only knows 3 words of Japanese.
In Bend It Like Beckham, Indian lead Jess gets yellow-carded when she reacts to being called a "Paki," which is a considered a horrific racial slur. Also, when her father complains about not being allowed to play cricket in his youth on racial grounds, she points out that Nasser Hussain is (at the time the film was made) captain of England. Her father says "He's a Muslim. They're different" — a line which there is an Ironic Echo of later in the film in an inversion of the trope, when her father disapproves of Jess having an English boyfriend:
Jess: He's not English, he's Irish!
Jess' father: It's the same thing!
In a DVD commentary for House of Flying Daggers, director Zhang Yimou admitted that he added in a new introduction scene for Andy Lau's character, who was originally supposed to be introduced already on an undercover mission, so that Western audiences wouldn't think he was two different characters. He and costar Zhang Ziyi then stated that they sometimes had trouble telling Western movie stars apart. In a separate commentary, he mentioned that he also had Lau eat peanuts in all his initial scenes in order to help audiences subconsciously identify him in his different roles.
Subverted in Help!, where Swami Clang can't tell the Beatles apart: "They look all the same in their similarity and language!"
The Karate Kid reboot movie is actually about a boy going to China and learning kung fu. The boy never does anything relating to the Japanese karate. It's basically an Artifact Title, though the it's at least handwaved in a Title Drop where Cheng uses it as an insult.
Played around with in the courtroom drama True Believer. A man on trial for murder was identified as the killer in a lineup. His defense attorney tries to get the cop who supervised the lineup to admit that all of the other people in it were Chinese, while the defendant is Korean, which could have helped set him apart from the decoys. The question is stricken by the judge, however, who rules that the detective is not an expert in ethnicity and could not distinguish between them by sight alone.
In the original Iron Man comic book, Tony Stark met professor Yinsen in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. Now, Yinsen is a Chinese rather than Vietnamese name, but the comic book character comes from a fictional place called "Timbetpal," so it's at least possible he is of Chinese descent. However, the origin of Iron Man was later retconned so that he met Yinsen while both of them were being held captive by terrorists in Afghanistan. The Iron Man 1 movie follows the retconned origin story, except that in it Yinsen comes from a village in Afghanistan and clearly looks like a man of Middle Eastern descent (he's played by the Iranian-American actor Shaun Toub), but inexplicably he still has a Chinese name.
Parodied and inverted in a Deleted Scene from Mimino: the two protagonists, a Tall, Dark and HandsomePorn Stache-wearing Georgian and a short, plump, barefaced Armenian, ride in an elevator of a Moscow hotel with two Japanese men, who happen to resemble each other like identical twins. One of the Japanese men tells the other: "Those Russians all look the same!"
Played for comedy in Black Dynamite, in which Vietnam War veteran Black Dynamite recalls a mortally wounded Viet Cong child and repeatedly calls him Chinese. He doesn't seem to be aware that Vietnam is not in China. And later in the movie, Black Dynamite is revealed to be a fluent speaker of Chinese.
Gung Ho is about American factory workers and Japanese auto executives learning to work together. The phrase "gung ho" is actually derived from Chinese words meaning "work together." Ironically, it was coined as an Americanism by soldiers in WWII who were fighting the Japanese.
Asian films often confuse or mix up ethnicities
In Fist of Legend, a Japanese man asks Chen Zhen if he's Japanese. Chen Zhen sneers and says, "Chinese!" Several Chinese actors play Japanese characters in the film.
In Legend Of The Fist, a Japanese woman passes herself off as Chinese without anyone noticing anything off about her appearance or accent. The actress is Taiwanese.
Jackie Chan's New Fist of Fury features a number of Hong Kong actors as the Japanese villains.
Jackie Chan plays a "Japanese Thug" in Kung Fu Girl
Duel to the Death features an entirely Hong Kong cast in a film where half the characters are Japanese.
Lampshaded and mocked in The Tuxedo after his character, Jimmy Tong, comes close to getting the crap beat out of him by an angry bike messenger:
Jimmy's friend: Hey, I thought all you Chinese people knew karate.note Bit of Genius Bonus folded into the joke here: Karate is a Japanese art (originally from Okinawa), not Chinese. Jimmy: Not everyone Chinese is Bruce Lee.
In Street Kings, Ludlow invokes this to goad the Korean gangsters into beating him up and stealing his car.
Thug Kim: Konnichiwa is Japanese. It's insultin' to Koreans.
Ludlow: How am I supposed to tell if you can't?
Thug Kim: Fuck's that supposed to mean, white boy?
Ludlow: It means you got eyes like apostrophes, you dress white, talk black and drive Jew, so how am I supposed to know what kind of zipperhead, dog-munching dink you are if you don't?
Boss Kim: Yo. Do you know who the fuck we are?
Ludlow: Yeah. A couple of panheads buyin' a machine gun out of a trunk.
Korean-American actor Will Yun Lee plays the Japanese villain Silver Samurai in The Wolverine.
Cannonball Run 2 brings back Jackie Chan who, in Cantonese, orders a drink at an American bar. Nonplussed, the bartender raises his voice: "Does anyone here speak Oriental?"
On a Western promotional poster for the Chinese film Hero, Jet Li's character holds a katana.
In the 1942 film version of The Jungle Book, the jungle of the title (which is in central India) includes an old Buddhist temple on a lake that is guarded by a gigantic cobra. This is justifiable, since, while Buddhism (except for Tibetan Buddhism) has pretty much disappeared from India in the modern era, there were many Buddhist temples in India in ancient times. The real problem has to do with Mowgli's village, where the women wear saris (common throughout India) but their husbands wear turbans (the traditional headgear of the Sikhs, who live only in northwestern India!). Of course, there has been intermarriage between Hindus and Sikhs, but even then it would be extremely unlikely for the villagers to wear both traditional costumes, or for them to be gender-specific.
China is home to at least five dozen ethnicities, but most of these groups have intermarried with each other for so long and to such an extent that, even to themselves, they tend to look homogeneous. Hence such jokes as...
A crime occurred in a Chinese village. The police composite was used to make sixty arrests.
A contest of doubles has been recently conducted in China. Everyone has won.
Terry Pratchett's Agatean Empire (part of the Discworld) deliberately confuses Chinese elements (great wall, one syllable family names like Hong etc) and Japanese ones (Sumo, Ninjas) as well as Western pseudo-Oriental things such as fortune cookies and Willow Pattern plates. It is a parody, after all.
From Our Dumb World's entry on Japan: "1942: Japan watches on in embarrassment as a confused U.S. first blames Chinese, then Korean, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and finally even Hawaiian forces for the strike on Pearl Harbor." Also, from their entry on China: "1999: NATO mistakenly bombs the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, claiming all the buildings look exactly the same."
Portrayed in Snow Crash when a mafioso uses the slur "nips" when referring to Asians and another character corrects him, saying that the word is short for Nipponese and would only refer to the Japanese.
Demonstrated in Tangerine with the (South) Asian twins Maya and Nita, whose names in the paper following a soccer match are wrong, to Paul's dismay.
In Karen Chance's Curse the Dawn, a cross-dresser says "I'd bind my feet up like a geisha" in order to fit into a pair of designer shoes.
J.K. Rowling put a lot of time and thought into choosing names for her characters in Harry Potter, but for the Asian girl? Just slap 2 generic Asian sounding names together and call it a day.
In a season two episode, the Korean liaison officer semi-sarcastically explains the difficulty in finding the father of a half-American baby as, "You all look alike to us." There are also several episodes that deal with or make reference to the difficulty in people being able to tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and Korean people. An Asian blackmarket salesmen posing as a general even uses the trope to deflect suspicion away from himself, claiming, "We all look the same." The show often reused actors as multiple races. Japanese-American Pat Morita appears as a South Korean officer, while Japanese actor Mako appears as a Chinese doctor and a South Korean interrogator.
Frank Burns: When are you going to learn about Chinese treachery? Didn't Pearl Harbor teach you anything?
Frank Burns: The Chinese are an exceptionally tricky people, you know. They don't all look alike by accident!
In the finale, Klinger's Korean fiancee (played by Rosalind Chao, Chinese-American) is looking for her family, whom she describes several times as "Short, dark hair?"
Parodied (but played straight) in Glee. In "Throwdown," Sue splits the glee club in two and takes the minority students. Being Sue, she calls African-American members Mercedes and Matt "Aretha" and "Shaft" respectively, before moving on to Asian-American Tina (Korean) and Mike (Chinese): "Asian" and "Other Asian." This gets carried forward where, in the later episode "Ballads," when the club take names out of a hat to find their partners for ballads Tina picks "Other Asian." When they eventually become a couple everything they do, from dating to family meetings, is prefaced with the adjective "Asian," including "Asian Couples Therapy." Tina wonders why the couples therapy needs to be Asian. Later, when Sunshine Corazon (Filipino) considers joining the team, only to be mistreated by Rachel, Tina and Mike confront her and, when they are asked how they even heard about the situation, explain that the Asian community is very close.
In Arrow, the Green Arrow villain Shado is depicted as being of Chinese descent despite being Japanese in the original comics. Her name is even Japanese, not Chinese.
Subverted in an episode of Touched by an Angel. An Asian woman is asked to act as a Chinese translator on a business trip to China, only for her to become offended and assert that she is Korean. Turns out, she really is Chinese, but was forced to flee the country after the Cultural Revolution.
Parodied in an episode of Sullivan & Son, where Steve's mom (who is Korean) says all white people look alike to her.
Parodied in an episode of 30 Rock. Jack Donaghy has a meeting with a group of scientists from India, who accidentally call him "John Donovan" and dismissively remark that all American names sound alike to them. For added humor, a delivery boy who looks exactly like Jack (and who like Jack, is also played by Alec Baldwin) later shows up, and one of the scientists wonders aloud if it's racist to think the two white guys look alike.
Vincent Masuka on Dexter occasionally does this to himself, referring to all Asians as "my people" and setting up a Buddhist shrine for good luck, only shrugging after Dexter asks if the Japanese are traditionally Shinto. Also, the actor who plays Masuka is actually Korean-American.
Inverted in Heroes when Ando and Hiro see a precognitive painting of Matt Parkman. When Hiro asks if they know him, Ando responds that all white people look the same to him. Hiro scolds him for being racist.
A number of Chinese period dramas, especially those set in World War 2, feature Chinese characters impersonating Japanese people with little issue. For example, one show had two female Chinese freedom fighters successfully impersonating a pair of Geisha after stealing the women's kimonos and leaving them Bound and Gagged in a closet.
When Jack and Toshiko are sent back to World War II in Torchwood, Tosh is a little miffed to be mistaken for Chinese. Although the fact that she told them she's Japanese when Japan was an Axis power could have gone badly, if not for Jack's "she's a codebreaker for the Allies" explanation.
In an episode of Psych, Shawn takes a wushu lesson and tells the master that he always wanted to learn karate. The (Chinese) master is furious and tells him that wushu is completely different from karate, which Shawn, being a Jerkass, ignores. He also calls the master sensei, which is a Japanese word, as opposed to shifu.
In the American version of The Office episode "A Benihana Christmas", Michael Scott (after several drinks) was confused as to which of the two Asian waitresses brought back from the episode's eponymous restaurant was with him. They even switch actresses when the waitresses come to the office. Michael goes as far as to mark the arm of the correct waitress with a sharpie.
Michael: "You know how all... waitresses look alike."
The Pacific: episode nine features angry confrontations over the rights of the Okinawan civilians versus the Imperial Japanese soldiers ("A Jap's a Jap!" one Marine protests).
LOST: Happens in-story several times to Sun and Jin, who are Korean. Hurley refers to them as "the Chinese people" before he learns their true nationality. A flashback to the airport reveals a white couple making a reference to Memoirs of a Geisha (Japanese) in relation to them. Also, in "This Place is Death," when Jin asks Charlotte to translate, knowing that she speaks Korean, Sawyer assumes he means Miles (Chinese) and encourages him to help, to which Miles replies "Dude, he's Korean, I'm from Encino."
Invoked on FlashForward (2009), when a woman describes herself saying in her flash-forward that she needs to talk to "Agent Noh, or one of those names that's Vietnamese or Chinese or something..." Cut to Noh, who informs her with open annoyance that it's Korean.
The Craw: Actually, the only girl we want is Princess Ingrid.
Maxwell Smart: Then why did you abduct the others?
The Craw: Unfortunately, Mr. Smart, all Americans look alike to us.
Played straight in another episode where CONTROL's computer was not able to identify the KAOS agent, who was from a fictional East Asian country, because apparently the computer can't tell the difference between people from there.
Another example of bad research involving South Asians. Law & Order: Criminal Intent had an episode written to feature a wealthy Kashmiri family involved in that region's struggle for secession. The episode was, for one reason or another - presumably news-related - rewritten to be about a Tamil family involved in the Sri Lankan Tamil separatist movement. They didn't change the cast and they didn't change the character names, leaving any reasonably well-educated viewer wondering how a prominent Tamil political leader would be called Bela Khan and look like near enough to being white.
In The Walking Dead episode "Vatos," when Glenn is told he has "big balls for a Chinaman," he states that he's Korean.
The Hawaiian Islands were settled by Polynesians, with a large influx of Japanese in the late 19th century. That didn't stop the new Hawaii Five-0 from casting two Korean-Americans (Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park) as ethnically Hawaiian cops Chin and Kono. The characters could conceivably be both half-Korean, though Chin is a common Chinese surname.
Chappelles Show featured a sketch where Dave had an attractive white woman sing all his prejudiced thoughts, one of which was "All Asian people look alike." He then went on to admit that pretty much everyone who isn't black looks alike to him.
Golden Girls includes a few instances of this, notably in the episode where Rose goes back to school to get her GED (with Dorothy as a class instructor). In taking attendance, Dorothy calls out the name "Jim Shu" and then mistakes it for a practical joke involving homophones ("Gym Shoe"). As Dorothy dismisses the name as a prank, an Asian American man stands up and identifies himself as "Jim Shu." Shortly thereafter, "Jim Shu" hits on Rose, who sits in front of him, by asking her to "meet me at Benihana after class" and later telling Dorothy that he couldn't "drink [enough] sake" to fool around with her. "Shu" is typically a Chinese name, while all of the character's "Asian" cultural references (Benihana, sake) are Japanese. Of course, the actor, Ralph Ahn, was Korean.
Played for laughs in an episode of Scrubs where the Janitor tricks JD into using the word "chink" in front of the Asian Franklin (it was the answer to a crossword puzzle). Throughout the rest of the episode every other Asian doctor in the hospital is shown glaring at JD as he walks past. JD then leaves a $30 tip at a Chinese restaurant.
Inverted in an episode of Life On Mars; Sam is questioning an Asian witness about whether he saw a certain white guy, and the witness (used to racism from police) says deliberately that he doesn't know, because white people all look alike.
Parodied on the Mind of Mencia segment "CSI: China" where an attempt was made to find a name that matches the profile of the Asian killer. The results were 1,000,000,000 matches.
On Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a Chinese food delivery man hears Salem talk and captures him, saying that a talking cat will make him enough money that he can move back to Japan. Salem wonders aloud why a Japanese man is working at a Chinese restaurant, only for the guy to sarcastically ask why a cat is talking.
A 1980 episode of The Muppet Show famously Flanderized the entire continent of Asia. Right after Kermit the Frog announces to the audience that the gang is going to be reenacting A Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights, as Kermit refers to it), a Chinese gong goes off, provoking laughter from the audience. Later, a random Muppet sings about going to Bombay and meeting a "sentimental Oriental" who is supposed to be a Hindu, but dresses like an Arabian harem girl and is played by the Ambiguously Jewish Muppet "Wanda." Furthermore, her love interest is a "whirling dervish," referencing the Sufi Islamic sect that exists in Turkey, Iran, and certain other countries, but not really India. Later, during the depiction of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," Ali Baba and his horse are shown traveling through what looks to be a jungle - even though tropical rain forests are nowhere to be found near Arabia.
In Star Trek, the character Sulu was supposed to represent all Asian cultures, so Gene Roddenberry deliberately gave him a name that is not nationally specific, taking it from the Sulu Sea, which touches all the shores of Asian nations. He was eventually revealed to have a Japanese given name. He's been played by a Japanese-American, George Takei, and a Korean-American, John Cho.
Played for comedy in Eastbound And Down when Ashley Schaeffer entertains some Korean business executives with Japanese food and a crossdressing geisha dancer. In the series finale, he admits his error and says that the Koreans were very offended.
Averted in Tomorrows Rejects, When Keiren is introduced to Phil Nguyen at his job interview, he said that he could tell just by looking at him that he's of Vietnamese descent, which impresses Phil so much that he gives him the job. Keiren later admits to Gilligan that Nguyen is the Vietnamese equivalent of someone with the surname Smith. In fact, it's estimated that up to 40% of the Vietnamese population have this surname.
In the first episode of the British sitcom Bad Education, teacher Alfie Wickers, who dishes out most of the titular bad education, makes his class do a reenactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbour. He gives Asian student Jing Chow the role of a Japanese soldier, even putting a Rising Sun headband on her. He is soon reminded that "She's Chinese, you muppet!"
In Code Lyoko Evolution, Yumi Ishiyama, a Japanese girl, is played by Mélanie Tran, a Vietnamese actress. That is an example in and of itself — her casting call was for an Asian. But another one is the reaction of some fans against her who said that she looked "too white" to play Yumi, perhaps not knowing that the Vietnamese don't look like the Japanese because they're two different ethnic groups.
Inverted in an episode of Barney Miller: when an asian prostitute has been purse-snatched, she looks through the mugbooks. When she comments to Sgt. Yemana that "they all look alike," he responds, "I know, I'm Japanese too."
Especially egregious in the NCIS episode "Lost at Sea". The JAG lawyer Nora Patel is played by Linda Park, a Korean-American actress (who also fell into this trope as Japanese Hoshi Sato in Star Trek: Enterprise). Patel is a name typically used by Indians of Hindu background. That's not even the same general part of Asia! She might be adopted, but really...
Parodied on 3rd Rock from the Sun. As an alien, Dick can't tell the difference between different races of humans:
Nina: In case you haven't noticed, I'm black! Dick: Well, of course I noticed! And Dr. Albright, you are... Mary: Could I be an whiter? [Dick looks back and forth between them] Dick: I'm sorry, you people all look alike to me.
The Doobie Brothers song "China Grove" is about a Chinatown in Texas. It also mentions a samurai sword, which would be Japanese.
There is a song by a bubblegum dance group called Banaroo. They have a song called "Hong Kong Song," which, in the lyrics, mentions samurais, geishas, kimonos (which were technically derived from Chinese garments, so that can be overlooked) and uses a lot of vaguely Asian-sounding words. This all results in sentences like, "The lonely construction worker." WHY.
All over the fucking place in "China in her Eyes" by Modern Talking.
When the World of Darkness had its "Year of the Lotus" event, where it released Asian-themed material for its gamelines (Kindred of the East in particular), it treated the entirety of East and Southeast Asia as the generic "Middle Kingdom"—actually an epithet for China—with mostly only lip service to cultural distinction between countries.
Avenue Q — "Tried to work in Korean deli / But I am Japanese." Or in the Australian performance, "tried to work in Chinese restaurant." The actress in the Australian performance was Filipino.
Inverted in Flower Drum Song. When Wang's son asks him what the man who robbed him looked like, he says, "Don't ask me what he looked like. All white men look alike."
Invoked in Guilty Gear: Anji Mito is a Japanese person (in this "verse," their race was almost wiped out in a war with the eponymous Gears, and are placed in protective colonies throughout Asia supposedly for their own safety) who takes up the guise of a Chinese person in order to travel freely.
In Fallout 3's Mothership Zeta expansion, Paulson (a 19th century cowboy) refers to Toshiro Kago (a 16th century Samurai) as a "Chinaman" until he is corrected.
At one point in Earthbound, a museum curator refers to Poo as a samurai. While Poo does come from the typical Asian-Fantasy Counterpart Culture-in-an-otherwise-Western-world, it subverts the Wutai trope by making it have more in common with India and Sri Lanka than Japan or anywhere else. This being Video Game/Earthbound, it's likely that the curator just didn't know any better. But then again, despite being from a takeoff South Asia, Poo is a martial artist with slanted eyes and wears a gi...
Blizzard Entertainment offended its Chinese fans by giving the Pandaren—a race of humanoid pandas in Warcraft—a Japanese-ish culture complete with samurai in concept art. In the real world, pandas are the national animal of China and the only place in the world where they can be found wild. Blizzard quickly gave the race Chinese markings.
For the early Mortal Kombats Midway had trouble keeping the races of the Asian characters straight, which is why you have things like Chinese Ninja and the series' main character (a Chinese Shaolin Monk) being named after a Japanese samurai in preproduction and the like. Later games retconned all of this to make sense to a certain degree. This is also likely why all of the Asian characters yell gibberish when they utter battle cries.
The portrayal of Wutai in Final Fantasy VII seems to suggest that the Japanese get traditional Japanese and Chinese culture mixed up just as much as Americans do.
It may go further: in the same world exist multiple towns and cities that are divided between very clearly North American-style center and a suspiciously Northern European periphery (the largest one Midgard being the principle location of the game). Where might this be going?
Similar to the Discworld example listed above, The Order of the Stick gives us Azure City, a deliberate mishmash of Asian tropes and settings, in homage to the "Oriental Adventures" of D&D, which played this trope alarmingly straight.
On the Instance and all his other podcasts, Scott Johnson often uses a generic Cantonese-ish accent in his impression of "Ding Pong," a fictional World of Warcraft gold-seller. This trope is invoked because he often mentions that the "real" Ding Pong is his adopted brother, who is Korean. Note: I am 99% sure he knows the difference.
"The cameraman's sister": I'm offended by this line. Critic: You're not Vietnamese. Girl: Who cares? All Asians are the same!
Parodied in the flash movie "The End of the World". The US launches a nuke at China, and China is shown to have cultural elements of Japan, including a large wooden bath tub, and a conspicuously large flag of Japan.
In Family Guy, Peter says "Oh my God, it's Jackie Chan!" to various Asian people, even his sumo wrestling opponent ("Wow, you've put on a lot of weight, Jackie Chan!"). He only gets it correct by the 3rd or 4th try. Inverted when Jackie Chan himself confuses the Griffins for Ethan Hawke (and in the case of Meg, Frankie Muniz).
Code Lyoko: In the prequel "XANA Awakens," Yumi Ishiyama yells a few times at people that she is Japanese when they mistake her for being Chinese.
Parodied on Catscratch, when Blik and Gordon both try to win the same trip to China. They call China things like the "land of cherry trees" or "the land of miso soup." Every time they do this, Waffle calls them out, saying "That's Japan." Ironically, he gets it wrong when Gordon calls China "the land of French fries." Waffle guesses, "That's... (beat) Canada?"
Subverted with Hank's father, Cotton Hill, who is able to identify Khan as Laotian without ever being told. His experiences in World War II likely helped. He is very racist (which, by the way, isn't even his most reprehensible character trait) and goes so far as to identify Khan as Laotian by smell, and then immediately assumes he's Hank's servant.
In another episode, Ted Wassonasong (also Laotian) speaks to another Asian man, Mr. Ho, in Cantonese, and Hank asks Khan what they're saying. Khan angrily retorts that they're speaking Chinese, so how is he supposed to know?
Played with in an episode where Homer is in a Chinese orphanage, trying to find a specific baby. It might not be that all Asians look the same, but all babies look the same — or more likely, both at once making it extra confusing.
Played with again about Southern Asians when Homer is in India trying to find Apu's cousin; his difficulties are mainly due to the vagueness of Apu's description — along the lines of 'he has dark hair and eyes'. (Somehow, he manages to find him in about three tries.)
Interestingly, The Simpsons applies some of the Facial Profiling described above to help distinguish between the different types of Asians (and thus subvert the trope): Chinese and Japanese characters have light skin, but Apu and the Thai restaurant owner have dark skin.
In "Conjoined Fetus Lady," all the Chinese kids look alike. One Chinese commentator remarks to the other that he is unable to identify a member of the South Park team, as "all Americans look alike." Also, bizarrely, Kevin Stoley is said to be Chinese-American yet looks totally white.
Parodied in "City Sushi" when a Japanese sushi restaurant opens next door to City Wok. The residents of the town refer to both restaurants as "Chinese" — and to the area where both restaurants are situated as "Little Tokyo" — much to the frustration of the owners, who are violently racist toward each other. The owners put aside their differences to educate residents on Asian cultural diversity in the hopes that residents will come to share their hatred of the others' culture. Ultimately it's revealed that the Chinese guy is actually a white man with multiple personality disorder.
Ironically played straight in Code Monkeys, where Japanese businessman Matsui mistakes the Korean Benny for Chinese and gets called out on it.
In a review of the 1999 animated remake of The King and I, the reviewer mentions that Crown Prince Chululongkorn practices kung fu, when as a Siamese prince he'd be much more likely to be a student of Muay Thai. And, indeed, if you watch that particular scene, you'll notice that Chululongkorn has taped-up fists, which are more commonly associated with Muay Thai than kung fu.
In the 19th century, the Filipino patriot Jose Rizal (who is himself of mixed Malay/Chinese blood) once pretended to be a Japanese in a European museum, answering questions about Japanese artists and culture. He didn't know one word of Japanese at that time. When a member of the audience asked him to translate the words on a painting, he got away with by saying that because of his supposed background (was shipped to Europe to learn about European culture very well), he didn't have time to learn Japanese. Looks like he did it For the Lulz.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, anti-Japanese sentiment in the US reached literally murderous levels. Asian-Americans who were not of Japanese descent often took steps to distance themselves from Japanese-Americans to escape spillover persecution.
Often, many Asian-Americans would wear buttons that said "I'm Chinese" (or any other Asian ethnicity) to avoid deportation. Japanese-Americans often tried to pass themselves off as such, too.
LIFE magazine published an article called "How to Tell Japs from the Chinese"◊. The features of Han Chinese, who apparently represent all Chinese ethnicities in the article, are described as fine and graceful, while Japanese are described as mostly "aboriginal."
Similarly, TIME magazine published "How to Tell Your Friends from the Japs" after the Pearl Harbor attack.
These were parodied (can't remember where) by an image claiming to be from a Japanese pamphlet to help Japanese soldiers distinguish their allies the Germans from their enemies the Americans. The supposed German was very much from the Kaiser Wilhelm era, complete with bushy mustache and spiked helmet.
When political pundit Michelle Malkin made an argument in defense of Japanese-American internment during World War II, her critics noted that, given her Malayo-Polynesian ethnicity, she might have been lumped in with Japanese-Americans herself due to this trope. Malkin is frequently the victim of racial slurs from trolls on her site, many of which involve China or Vietnam.
The tragic murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American who was murdered by Chrysler plant workers who blamed Japanese automakers for taking their business. The outrage over the lenient sentencing of the murderers was a catalyst for the political organization of Asians in America.
Thienh Minh Ly, a Vietnamese American, was stabbed and killed by two white youths, one of whom wrote in his journal that he "killed a jap ..."
Since the 9/11 attacks the number of hate crimes against Sikhs in the US skyrocketed in number as many Sikh immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and their families were mistaken for Arab-American Muslims and horrifically beaten. This most likely relates to clothing customs: Sikhs are required to wear a turban by the customs of their religion. Many Westerns don't know the difference between Sikhs and Arabs, and typically associate turbans with Arabs. After the tragic shooting of a Sikh temple in Milwaukee in 2012, an image went viral stating, "I was gonna post something explaining the difference between Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, but then I realized that you don't need to know anything about someone's religion to know that you shouldn't shoot them."
The website AllLookSame invokes this trope and challenges you to tell the difference.
For the 2011 The Green Hornet movie, The Internet Movie Database at one point listed Korean-American John Cho as Kato, when in fact the role was played by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. About 500 subsequent movie reviews have also committed the same error. Cho himself joked on Twitter: "I am beginning to suspect that I am not in the Green Hornet movie."
Actor Daniel Dae Kim, who plays the Korean Jin on LOST reportedly said that having played characters of every Asian ethnicity except his own, it was nice to be able to play Jin.
Yoshiko Otaka (AKA Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Shirley Yamaguchi), is a Japanese actress-turned-politician who was born in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Speaking fluent Chinese and Japanese, she became an actress and singer under the name Li Xianglan, and played Chinese women in propaganda films supporting the Japanese position. Her Japanese nationality was not reported in China, and most Chinese people at the time really did believe she was Chinese. She became one of the "Seven Great Singing Stars" of 1940's Chinese shidaiqu popular music, and several of the songs she recorded under this identity (夜來香, "Tuberose"/"Fragrance of the Night" for example) became enduring classics. After the war, she was arrested for treason and collaboration with the occupying Japanese, but cleared of all charges and simply deported. As a Japanese citizen, she was legally an enemy (subjected to deportation), not a traitor (punishable by death).
During the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a downed Japanese pilot landed on the island of Niihau and was approached by a native Hawaiian. The pilot's first English words to the man were, "Are you Japanese?" (Nearly 30% of the population of the islands were ethnic Japanese at the time.)
You don't even have to be Asian for the trope to affect you. During World War II, Navajo soldiers (Code Talkers and otherwise) were often deliberately assigned to units with whites. Code Talkers had bodyguards (who had orders to shoot them to prevent their capture), but ordinary Navajos were told to stick close to white people so other Americans wouldn't mistake them for Japanese (Navajos are very Asian-looking, though darker-skinned than most East Asians).
Many Chinatowns in any major city will feature stores targeting other Asian cultures, such as Korea and Japan. Cleveland officially renamed its Chinatown "Asiatown" to acknowledge the mix of cultures.
Australian comedian Ahn Do appeared on family history/talk show Pictures of You and invoked this trope, talking about how his father pulled off a Dressing as the Enemy ploy: