• From “Understanding Japanese Women: Taking the Mystery Out of the Mysterious Women of Japan” by David J. Radtke:
A few years back, while deeply entrenched in running a private English school here in Japan, I had the opportunity to work with a very unique individual from New York City. He was the kind of guy that almost all men were jealous of: great build, six-pack abs, the face of a movie star, and not to mention tall, dark, and handsome. In other words, the perfect man.
He had come to Japan in search of adventure, easy money teaching English, and, of course, to meet the ladies (which he did with great ease). But he had this rather annoying habit. He treated the Japanese people the same way he treated, well, everyone else — he never bothered to learn about Japanese culture. He acted, interacted, and reacted in the same way towards Japanese people just as he would towards a friend from the States, his own mother, or a cabbie from New York. His philosophy was: Everyone is the same no matter where you go. Which, in some ways, is true. But it is not all-encompassing.
Even though I still remember the good things about him, I remember the pain his philosophy inflicted more: crying children, disgruntled parents, unhappy students, Japanese English teachers scared to come to work when he was there, and lost profits.
This tale is told to try to burn into your mind the importance of learning about Japanese culture. There are far too many Western men and women in Japan who believe that it just isn’t worth their time to learn how to interact with Japanese people. Many of them say “the Japanese people around me will forgive me for my transgressions, so why should I even bother to try to do it their way?” And while it is true that the Japanese will forgive you, they only do so to your face. Behind closed doors, when talking with other Japanese people or “Japanified foreigners,” they let their real feelings out — and they aren’t pretty.
What’s important to remember is that Japanese people will genuinely forgive someone who honestly tries to follow the cultural rules more than someone who never bothers to try and just expects to be forgiven. And yes, Japanese people can tell the difference.
One custom that is hard for Western men to give up is the common practice of “ladies first.” For us, it is what a true gentleman does for the object of his affection. It is chivalrous — the mark of a man who is observant and caring of the needs of the women around him. But it exists in Japan only as the stereotypical behavior of foreign men.
Here in Japan, men always open the door and enter first. It is the samurai way — men taking the lead with his woman behind him. I use the word “his” because unlike chivalry, in which it is the duty of men to protect all women, the samurai way teaches that you only need to protect those within your familiar group. But don’t be fooled into thinking too harshly about this custom.
There is a reason . . .
As it was centuries ago, so it still is today in Japan: Women are considered the weaker sex. While times have changed and women have more power and rights than ever before, the common thinking that women are weaker still persists. With this belief firmly in mind, a Japanese man will not hold the door open and let his woman walk through first. That would leave his “weak” woman unprotected from the unknowns that lay beyond the door. Men walk through first in order to “scout ahead” and guard their women from what might be on the other side.
Of course, to say that the modern Japanese man still walks through a door first because he is protecting his woman from the dangers beyond is just like saying that Westerners still say “bless you” after a sneeze because we still believe that the sneezer has just expelled an evil spirit from his or her body. The original meaning behind the custom is long since dead, but the practice still lives on today.
If you are a Westerner living in Japan, it might feel strange and even a bit uncomfortable for you to give up “ladies first” and adopt the Japanese way. While it is true that your Japanese date might enjoy the Western custom every now and then — after all, it is something that she has never experienced before — it might not be a good idea for it to become the norm. It will depend on your date, girlfriend, or wife as to which style she prefers. If “ladies first” is overdone, the Japanese woman might begin to feel uncomfortable.
Remember, in many cases she wants you to go first. When you go first, you are showing your concern for her well being; you are taking up your role as her protector.
• From “Black Passenger Yellow Cabs: Of Exile and Excess in Japan” by Stefhen F. D. Bryan:
Japan, the island of perpetual or prolonged singleness, is littered with lonely souls — many having to resort to dance lessons with their dogs — only too eager to be penned in my schedule and that of my Western friends for a day or two a month. Almost immediately after arriving here, it became my passion to unravel the mysteries shielding the apparent ease with which sex was so readily available to Western men here. Among the contributing factors to this phenomenon are: curiosity, fetishism, inferiority complexes, lack of female empowerment, male dominance, women’s socialization as pleasure givers, the gross ineptitude of Japanese men, in-general-absent fathers and a society devoid of sexually restrictive Christian doctrine.
Among Japanese women who date inter-racially, there are those who prefer black or white men exclusively and others who swing either way. Inferiority complexes are behind their blond, blue-eyes passion, as Japan is a society twisted by collective inferiority complexes, placing the white man among the clouds while berating themselves in intense self-hate. For Japanese women who are inclined to engage in intimate interracial relations, the white male is most desirable. However, thanks to the media, with the advent of hip-hop and reggae, black men are also in demand and objectified.
Recently I observed a woman waiting in a car at Hankyu Koyoen Station, which was not an uncommon occurrence, as many women delivered and collected their husbands to and from the station on a daily basis. Patiently she sat waiting in the driver’s seat, when suddenly her face gleamed as the object of her patience emerged in view. Shortly thereafter, a man appeared and entered the vehicle through the rear door, as many Japanese husbands do, and to my surprise, blissfully greeted a dog with a hug and kiss as the woman looked on longingly, envious of the canine. Moments later her countenance changed in acquiescence as if coming to her senses, realizing she yearned for the impossible. She quickly engaged the car and departed the curb.
Upon relaying this to many of my female students, they assured me that such was the norm among Japanese men.
Also present is what I call the trophy effect. In this internationally acknowledged brand name-obsessed land, many of my Japanese encounters wore me like the latest accessory, rebelliously thumbing their noses at their society as if to say, “Hey, look at me, I broke away from your oppression and I’m free. See? I can even kiss my kokujin (black) boyfriend right here on this train.” Not minding accessorization, I was only too eager to oblige, completely relishing in it.
Print and e-book giveaway: Send your thoughts on these issues to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win one of 10 copies of “Black Passenger Yellow Cabs” (five in print, five e-books) or “Understanding Japanese Women” (e-book only). Winners may have their responses published. Please indicate which book you would prefer to receive and in which format. The deadline for submissions is Friday, July 19.