Meet Matt, a software engineer in Silicon Valley, California, who recently married his college girlfriend from the University of Southern California. Her name is Miho. The pair are both in their late 30s and there was a 10-year period after university when he didn’t lay eyes on Miho or feel any interest in Japanese women, and lived the life of a true-blue Californian whose only bond to Japan was his Toyota Prius. Then the stars aligned, he and Miho ran into each other again at a sushi party thrown by a mutual friend and Matt fell in love, all over gain. Just like a movie.
Never one to do anything half-assed, Matt started taking Japanese lessons, bought heavy, expensive shashinshū (写真集, photo books) on Kyoto and matsuri (祭り, Japanese festivals) — OK, you can stop giggling — and procured the bling. He changed the music in his cāsute (カーステ, car stereo) from Jack Johnson to Miho’s favorite, Yuzu. After the wedding in Hawaii, and the settling of the shinkon (新婚, newlywed) dust, Matt found himself quietly but definitely in the throes of an anxiety attack. He couldn’t understand Miho’s particular needs and when he tried to delve into her mind, she brushed him off by saying that in-depth discussions tired her. She said it in English, and then she said it in Japanese: “Sonnano tsukareru” (「そんなの疲れる」, “That sort of thing wears me out”).
Matt came to dread that particular phrase, which Miho pulled out often. His wife wasn’t sick or stressed out; she was in fact a fitness freak, who worked out five times a week with a personal trainer shared with two other Japanese onnatomodachi (女友達, woman friends). They’d been married six months and already she seemed to be retreating to a place he couldn’t follow. I saw Matt last month, sitting in a bar and sighing into his Margarita. “Japanese women … Boy do they have issues.”
Matt seems to have hit upon a crucial and fundamental truth — Japanese women do have issues, but not in the way he suspects. They mostly have to do with her taion (体温, body temperature). You heard that right — the chronic fatigue, the obsession with staying fit, the tendency to stay rail-thin throughout their long lives; all these come from the overriding tokuchō (特徴, trait) of the J-woman, widely known in this nation as hieshō (冷え性, a tendency to be chilly).
We’re cold. Even in the hottest days of summer we can’t let go of tops, scarves and socks, for fear of reibōbyō (冷房病, air conditioning sickness). Micro skirts are okay for the under-25, but cross the border to the other side of 30 and most Japanese women will feel the hie (冷え, chill) creeping in when the temperature outside hits 34 degrees. According to urban folklore, Japanese women have teitaion (低体温, low body temperature) — a good 1 to 1.5 degrees lower than women in the United States and Europe.
Consequently the Japanese woman’s lingerie drawer is apt to be more sensible than her sisters’ across the Pacific — leaning toward jyōbuna momen (丈夫な木綿, durable cotton) rather than the skimpy nylon thong variety. Without proper underwear, the chill first sets in around the onaka (お腹, stomach) and travels around to the koshi (腰, lower back) before cutting off her circulation. A chilled Japanese woman is an annoyed and uncomfortable Japanese woman. Steer clear of her if you can.
Matt says Miho always sleeps with her socks on, and likes to drape a comforter over her midriff on even the hottest of summer nights. Speaking of which, Miho hates it when he turns the AC down to below 27 degrees (he likes it between 20 and 23). Matt can’t fathom why anyone could actually feel tsumetai (冷たい, cold) in the summer, for crying out loud. He also points out that the U.S. is in the midst of a severe drought and sees no reason to why Miho would wish to draw a bath every night. But she insists, with the classic J-woman line: “Ofuro ni hairanaito atatamaranai.” (「お風呂に入らないと暖まらない」, “I can’t get warm unless I take a bath”). Miho is also a fan of the ashiyu (足湯, foot soaking) and koshiyu (腰湯, hip soaking), which she prefers to take in privacy, with her iPad and a cup of tea. Matt would rather go with his wife to a neighborhood bar, and a pizza afterwards. Talk about differing notions of the perfect time.
Right now, Matt is pondering whether to see a marriage counselor. “I had no idea a bicultural marriage would be so high maintenance,” he says. As for Miho, she just bought a new duvet for her own personal use during the summer, because as we all know, hie wa manbyō no moto (冷えは万病のもと, being chilly is the root cause of all illnesses). I want to tell Matt that to keep his wife warm is to keep her happy. It’s as simple as that.