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Trials of a singleton

by Kaori Shoji

When a man’s been single for too long, he can start to exhibit strange symptoms.

Take the case of my brother, 34 and with a kanojoinaireki (girlfriendless period) of four long years. Just as people can survive in the desert for days without water, for the first two years my brother seemed perfectly happy. “I’m a dokushinkizoku (aristocratic single),” he would say, grinning, and go off to do such aristocratic things as play a 36-hour mahjongg marathon at some janso (mahjongg joint, usually equipped with no more than flimsy tables, plastic chairs and heavy-duty ashtrays). Or he might go on golfing trips with his clients followed by 12-hour drinking sessions and webu buraujingu (web browsing) until his brain turned to mush. Then he would broadcast his newfound glorious freedom to his married buddies and sum it up with: “Yappari hitori-ga ichiban! (Being single is the best).”

Then one day, he stopped saying it.

I asked him what was wrong (gently, gently), but his vacant, bloodshot eyes and 4-day growth said it all. He was lonely.

Immediately, I blew the whistle on him (as only a loving sister would), whereupon the ossekai obasan (busybody aunt) branch of the family swooped down on him like a flock of overblown Florence Nightingales. They knocked on his door on Saturday mornings armed with nukazuke (pickled veggies) and other standard obasan goodies packed in various tappa (Tupperware) containers — and, of course, the all-important omiai shashin (arranged-marriage portrait photos) of various eligible young women.

At first my brother was appalled (“What do they think I am, desperate?”) but in the end, pragmatism (or desperation) won out. He would get a haircut, don his one and only Zegna suit, buckle on his Tag Heuer watch and sally forth to the appointed lobby of some drab but expensive hotel where the lady in question and the obasan, coordinator of the whole ordeal, would be waiting. After the initial introductions, the obasan would gracefully withdraw, and leave the pair to chat in the tearoom.

Once or twice, my brother thought he’d struck gold, a feeling that was unfortunately always one-sided. Other times, he wrote off the girl like junkmail deleted from the inbox. Time passed, the omiai continued, but none ended in wedding bells. That was when my brother started to get a little unhinged.

Onna jotaini-wa hana-ga saku, otokojotaini-wa uji-ga waku (A female household will blossom flowers, but a male household breeds maggots)” goes an old saying, and in the case of my brother, this proved all too true. Dirty containers of ramen and conbini bento (convenience store lunchboxes) piled up in the sink, and bags of trash decomposed slowly on the floor of his kitchen. His bed was never made, and always dribbling socks. And when a colleague at work gave him a cactus plant, it sat on the shelf for a while and then turned completely brown. My brother was dubbed saboten-otoko (Cactus Man), a term used to describe people whose rooms are harsher to cacti than the Sahara.

These days, however, bro is on the rebound. “Yappari onna-wa mendoukusai (Women take a lot of work)” is his conclusion, and he has now taken up a new hobby that keeps him vastly entertained: ninsogaku (reading character traits and fortunes from facial features). According to him, there’s a slight shadow on his indo (between the eyebrows), blocking the pathway of prosperity and happiness. Also, his lips are too thin, which marks a man as being jo-ga usui (chilly) and unsuited to marriage.

He now shares this hobby with the aunts who had once coordinated his omiai. Last week, one of them called to say my nostrils are a hazardous shape and unhappiness was lurking in between my toes.

But, if you know of any nice girls looking to get married, can you let me know? He’s my brother, and he’s a sweet guy. Really.