Ladies, I want you to meet the older 日本男児 (Nihon danji, Japanese male). 彼は評判が悪い (Kare wa hyōban ga warui, he has a bad reputation) but not necessarily (必ずしも kanarazushimo) in the way you think.
He’s not the sexy libertine you can’t introduce to your mom. It’s more that he’s so trustworthy as to be invisible, a nonentity of reliable boringness in glasses and a dark suit. He is the 年くった (toshikutta, “one who has eaten the years”) Japanese male, and he needs our support and understanding.
It doesn’t help that the younger, savvier Nihon danji are now appearing in lists of the world’s hottest men. (Only a few years ago, a survey pegged the attractiveness of Japanese men as somewhere down in the 100s compared to their international peers.) These may be self-obsessed shopaholics with beauty products crowding their bathroom shelves, but so what? The number of イケメン (ikemen, gorgeously handsome guys) across the archipelago has soared, making this an unprecedentedly wonderful time for the Japanese woman to be alive and dating, or just 指をくわえて見ている (yubi o kuwaete miteiru, passively staring and sucking at one’s finger).
Sadly, the joy is generated almost exclusively by young men for the benefit of 若い女性 (wakai josei, young women). Japanese men over the age of 35 — better known as おじさん (ojisan, mid-lifer) or the more derogatory オッさん (ossan) — are lumped together in a cold, lonely place where they have little choice but to huddle together for warmth.
These ojisan Nihon danji are known for the following traits: やたら昔の話をしたがる (Yatara mukashi no hanashi o shitagaru, They just want to wax nostalgic about the old days); 人の話を聞かない (Hito no hanashi o kikanai, They never listen to others); すぐ浮気する (Sugu uwaki suru, they cheat at the slightest sniff of a chance). They are also considered どケチ (dokechi, excessively stingy) and セックスレス (sekkusuresu, sexless) — at least in their marriages — among other sorry qualities.
でも待って (Demo matte, But wait). Are Japanese ojisan really that awful?
Having grown up in a household teeming with Nihon danji — going to school with and dating them, working with them and marrying them — I can vouch for the fact that nothing much separates the ojisan from the 若いイケメン (wakai ikemen, young and handsome dudes) except the outer shell. At their core, both are solidly and reliably 退屈 (taikutsu, boring). Both will prefer saying nothing over whispering sweet compliments just to please you. And both will wind up breaking your heart.
でもわたしは何も言うべきではない (Demo watashi wa nani mo iu beki dewa nai, But then I shouldn’t be the one saying these things). When it comes to Japanese men, I am an utter 変人 (henjin, weirdo) with a deep-seated, indiscriminate, unwavering love for the Nihon danji whatever his age or station in life. This love has survived burning betrayals, scathing confrontations and bone-chilling disappointments. Through the years, my girlfriends looked at me with terror, pity and, finally, with あきらめ (akirame, resignation). As my cousin Maki-chan always says: バカは死ななきゃ治らない (Baka wa shinanakya naoranai, The only cure for idiocy is death).
I have loved Japanese men my entire life, especially the finicky and difficult ojisan. It started with my paternal grandfather, who was a kendo 師範 (shihan, master) and a man of such unrelenting strictness he could make a room full of adolescents sob with fearful misery just by standing there in a corner with a 竹刀 (shinai, kendo stick) casually held in one hand.
His eldest son — my 父親 (chichioya, father) — was much the same way. He hated お喋り (o-shaberi, small talk), especially with females, and I’ve probably logged in about eight minutes of private conversation with the man since being born into the family.
My three brothers were much more accessible when we were growing up together, the four of us watching reruns of “Star Trek” in the living room. But now my oldest brother is starting to resemble our お父さん (otōsan, revered dad) in everything, from his habit of absolute 沈黙 (chinmoku, silence) to his ritual nightcap of two shots of Macallan, neat.
Last time I saw him, he reprimanded me for laughing. “女があまり笑うと下品だ” (Onna ga amari warau to gehin da, “It’s vulgar for a woman to laugh too much”) was his way of putting it — which is what our father used to say, at times when he deigned to speak. The more sour and unapproachable my brother becomes, the more familiar it feels. “Star Trek” had been a ploy to hide his inner, unrelenting ojisan, but do I love him less for it? Just the opposite, actually.
But even I have my limits. Though I forgive most things in a Nihon danji, I can’t abide a flair for communication. Show me a 話し上手 (hanashi-jōzu, verbose) Japanese male with things to say and the skills to say them and I’ll show you a woman gasping for air from a panic attack. My cousin is right — only death will cure this idiocy.