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Men with ‘yellow fever’ get a taste of their own medicine

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Lafcadio Hearn called the Japanese woman a creature “shaped for the service of gods and men.” John Lennon divorced his English wife and took to eating stinky natto (fermented soybeans) to be with Yoko Ono. Major League baseball legend Pete Rose is famed for hooking up with a much younger Korean Playboy model while separated (but not legally divorced) from his wife of 20 years. There’s no need for serious digging; just scrape the surface of history and there are plenty of examples of Caucasian men who showed the symptoms of a phenomenon known as “yellow fever.”

Now a sizzling six-part series titled “They’re All So Beautiful” on that very topic is being released online  on April 1. Despite being created by Asian women — it’s directed by Debbie Lum and coproduced by Makiko James — the series is in no way a diatribe against white men attracted to Asian women. There is, however, a sense that it’s about time the tables were turned. Surely the exotic objects of men’s desire are entitled to do some analyzing about who they are and what exactly is behind all the attention they get.

Anne Ishii, spokesperson for the series and a bicultural professional, says, “I think of yellow fever as both a white man’s burden and a fetish.”

In 1980s Los Angeles, her first-generation Japanese family had to face the racist backlash of Japan’s bubble economy (this was the era when U.S. politicians trashed Toshiba TVs on Capitol Hill and New York real estate was being gobbled up by Japanese developers), and Ishii longed for life in Japan, even though that implied a different blight, as her relatives in Chiba were Korean; a whole other can of worms. Still, Ishii says, “I’d have rather been a disenfranchised Korean in a Japanese suburb than an Asian in Los Angeles.”

But as L.A. became a hub for Korean businesses and immigrants, Ishii rose to prominent hottie status. In high school she was wildly popular; in college she was an “exotic wonder.” Her list of laughable pickup lines generated by white men panting — panting! — for a date with an Asian babe is long, varied and hilarious. “Asian women taste better” is just one of the not-so-subtle recurring utterances she heard.

On this side of the Pacific, the 1980s and ’90s marked a period of ethnic-inferiority complex run amok. All the fashion magazines here at the time featured white models and lectured Japanese readers on what exactly was wrong with us (too thin in the wrong places, short legs, slitty eyes, etc., etc.), and why gentlemen all over the globe preferred leggy blondes. Back then, a reasonably pretty white girl from Ohio could casually board a plane, land in Tokyo and by the end of the week make $8,000 posing for fashion magazine Anan. Japanese models, on the other hand, were not in demand anywhere. Instead they were often hired by escort agencies for the benefit of foreign businessmen.

The self-imposed racial inequality going on in Japan was so bad there should have been U.N. sanctions! Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but we Japanese accepted our apparently inferior position as the norm.

In the past 10 or so years, however, the scales have tipped. Japanese models and actresses now adorn magazine covers, and Korean pop culture came in with a vengeance and fueled the fire of an adoration of the Asian Woman.

Hair and makeup artist Kazuo Watanabe, who has been an avid “Asian-woman watcher” for three decades, says, “The Japanese finally woke up to the fact that Northeast Asian skin, hair and a slim body are all things to be cherished.”

The good news was that as Japanese women gained in confidence, they were less likely to be flattered by advances from white men enamoured by their exotica.

Take the case of 42-year-old Mika (she prefers not to disclose her last name), who runs her own beauty consultation firm and is married to her second American husband.

“The first time was to an English teacher, 20 years ago,” she says. “I was so flattered by his interest, so grateful that he found me beautiful. But then I got disappointed by his lack of ambition. I married my second husband for the right reasons — we’re wonderful business partners, we respect and understand each other and we share the same hobbies. Nationality or differentness doesn’t come into it anymore. It’s such a relief for me.”

On the other hand, that “differentness” could be the driving force behind yellow fever, says “Tokyo Vice” author Jake Adelstein. Having been in Japan over 20 years, Adelstein says, “I believe yellow fever comes from the male ability to project onto women their own fantasies of the ideal woman, which is very possible when there is a language barrier in place that makes communication itself mysterious. If you can’t understand what a woman is asking for or she doesn’t overtly ask for things in a Western way, such a woman may seem less demanding.”

Oh, demanding! Yes, we’ve heard that demanding is bad, real bad. Making no demands is what sets the Asian woman apart and makes her so desirable, according to Hearn and his set (though apparently, Hearn was unattractive and unpopular back in the West and only got to enjoy the company of accommodating females after his arrival in Japan). But does adopting the clichéd persona of a submissive Asian woman really work?

“Not in this day and age,” says Mika. “Men — whether they’re Japanese or foreign — want intelligent, self-assertive women with plenty of sense. When the economy is this bad, being submissive gets a woman nowhere, regardless of her skin color.”

While Ishii has this to say: “Asian men have pointed out that women with yellow-fever complaints are those who date white men, suggesting we’re the proponents of the very thing we complain about.”

And though she admits there’s some truth to this, it’s also a bald fact that “Asian women with white men simply become exposed to the more galling pickup lines.”

After spending a chunk of her adult life battling those lines, Ishii says, “If I’ve learned one thing in the last 10 years, it’s been simply to patronize better bars where guys don’t hit on women. I fell in love with the white guy I’m dating now in just such a bar.”

I want to know: Where is this bar and can we have one in Tokyo?

  • GIJ

    “the series is in no way a diatribe against white men attracted to Asian women.” Nice try Ms. Shoji, but that is easily the least believable phrase in this whole article.

  • etiennes

    Most Western men will have a rude awakening once they realize that women (or in general, people) in Japan, China, and Korea have slightly different attitudes towards concepts such as nationalism or xenophobia. It’s not nice to marry a beautiful Asian woman and then find out she basically wishes death upon all the neighbouring countries.

    • FredrikJones

      Spot on Etiennes.. although I find that the more better off the girls are the more laissez faire re nationalism they are

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sidney-Raphael/598856099 Sidney Raphael

    Any doofus who thinks Japanese women are non-assertive deserves the fate that’s coming to him. Chochosan was a nineteenth century creation. She probably had a kanzashi back then (kanzashi = the pin a woman wore in her hair that doubled as a deadly knife in case anyone tried to take liberties with her).

  • http://twitter.com/Yokohama_Grog Grog Blossom

    there’s also a documentary movie, Seeking Asian Female http://www.seekingasianfemale.com/

  • Adam

    On the other side of the coin, I too was approached many times, apparently because of my DNA. It became exhausting and a bit insulting.

    Respectfully, people worldwide are “all beautiful” but only in a non-romantic sense, I and many others believe.

    More to the point: suppose I date a person who is Danish or French. Is it wrong?

    • http://www.facebook.com/idenchasy Ian Denchasy

      I was thinking along the same lines; how about a documentary on Asian women with “white fever?”

      • NNNWWW

        You’re seriously trying to put the two in the same category?

        As if they’re equal phenomenons?

    • NNNWWW

      Ethnically, Danish and French people are both white.

      To make this comparison, you would have to believe we don’t see race, which is absurd, and you admit as much from your own experiences.

      • Berzerk twokaysix

        Theres still a fairly large difference between Danish and french, as for being white, many of those “yellow” peoples around east and part of south east asia are not even slightly yellow. Many actually carry similar nuances to our own. The skin color diversity within say china is huge. However the color does not indicate a race in itself. I’m of north germanic origin, that is Swedish. So even if say italians are “white” we are really quite different.

      • Setsuho

        It would be better forget the word “yellow” when talking about people. Remember what the Oxford dictionary has to say about the matter. “Yellow, an offensive word used to describe the light brown skin of people from some E Asian countries.”

  • http://twitter.com/buffalocells Leon Czolgosz

    I think the term “yellow fever” and the insistence on viewing it as a fetish makes the issue more of a sensitive topic than it needs to be. Based on my observations after living in the US and in Japan, I suspect that Asian females on average have lower testosterone levels than their white and black counterparts, which makes them seem more characteristically feminine (e.g., smaller stature, less muscular, less hirsute, less assertive), which many men of all races, consciously or unconsciously, find attractive in mates. In short, it boils down to body chemistry. There is probably also a cultural component. Note that I’m talking about averages for the population; obviously the above is not true in 100% of cases. I’ve known Japanese women who would have no problem beating up most dudes.

  • Bob Roberts

    How did John Lennon have yellow fever? And Pete Rose…he’s been with ONE Asian woman. But “MIKA” has been married to TWO American men….and she doesn’t have any “fever” whatsoever, right? Who are you to judge people? Yellow Fever, like Yellow Cab is a racist term. Shame on you!

  • Dana

    i think it has more to do with perception than with anything else. Asian girls in general look youthful and feminine from an average Caucasian’s point of view and vice versa, partially due to genetics (smaller, lighter), partially due to cultural standards/stereotypes (more likely to dress up cute, apply makeup etc). And people are often more dependent on having the ‘right’ looking partner (and being the ‘right ones’ themselves) than they want to admit. The girl ‘must’ be shorter, younger, cuter et cetera.

  • Inago

    California, in the US, is a majority visible minorities. San Francisco, where I am from is 35% Asian American (not “yellow”). My high school in Southern California was over 60% Asian American. In some parts of the world, minorities are regarded as just other people. In the US, over 95 percent of the population, under 30, approves of inter-ethnic dating. In fact, over 40 percent of the population feels that inter-ethnic marriage is a benefit to society. In most parts of the world, dating someone from another ethnic group is just normal.

    Overly forward males, or males that overly objectify women, are a minority that occurs in all ethnic groups. A fetish is an unusual fixation on an object, not a person; being attracted to a dissimilar person is not a fetish, it is just normal. In most parts of the world, being attracted to someone from another ethnic group is also just normal.

    A fixed, and overly simplified idea about a group of people is called a “stereotype”; making a judgement about a group of people based upon such stereotypes is called “prejudice”.

  • Kieran Tsao

    It is a two way process. Yellow Fever is obvious but it would not be to the extent it is today were it not reciprocated. Asian women – and asian men – allow these pairings to occur en masse, with little to no retaliation other than a tut or evil look. Men being men, they prescribe to the “spread their seed and multiply” mindset. Latino women are infinitely more attractive than asian women, yet there is not as much craze for them as asian women. Similar for white women for nonwhite men. The key is how the women and men of the target race respond. With asians, the men seem to do nothing and the women are literally begging to be with white men. So of course white men will oblige. If Latina women did the same, I’m sure the men would accept.

    The part where asian women realised that they were to be desired – that the slant eyes, skinniess, flat noses etc. were desired – is not entirely true. They are desired because they are easy (relatively) to their own women. Like the article mentions, they make little or no demands on the man (if they are white). The cause of this is the respective histories – white women, in both the US and Europe, have now gone through generations of feminism. They can be assertive, they have choice, they have greater (equal) rights. White men look to other parts of the world that have not gone through this – the Far East – and see it as the “good old days” – where a man can be a man and the woman can dote on her. In return, white men represent a ticket to better standards of living in the West, and there is the signficant financial disparity in incomes between White men and Asian men. And of course, simply being white – more asian women than is healthy obsess over “whiteness” and the desire to have whiter children. White supremacists are pretty much laughing at the inferiority complex of Asians.

    If you look a bit carefully at the relationships, Asian women are indeed desired – but only by certain men. The old, the socially inept, the disabled, the undesired – are the ones who disproportionately seek out asian women. Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Prince Harry, not so much. The theory is that there is a “hierarchy” with regards to relationships – all things considered, each race should be with each other – but if you are a social loser, disabled or past your prime (see all the 60+ with children and wives going to Thailand etc – these old white men want a 2nd, 3rd+ family with another young woman – “spreading their seed” so to speak – but of course, an old white man with a young white woman is impossible to achieve unless you are rich – so east asians are the only option available to them) – then they seek an asian woman because they are “beneath” whites in the relationship table. Same reason why asian men are unlikely to be with a white woman – in general, women “marry up” – asians represent a downgrade. Because of this, young asian women are compromising their youth and accept being with old white men because of the above attributes mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    With the economy veering towards the Far East, over generations I imagine the financial incentive for asian women to marry white men for money will cease, or not be as numerous. But the intrinsic need for whiteness, disgust in their own race’s facial features and a visa to a less overcrowded country, I imagine will allow Yellow Fever to continue for quite a while.