One of my younger cousins, aged 23, managed to pull off what he calls the kotoshino igyō (今年の偉業, the great accomplishment of this year).

In case you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with nuclear reactors or government reform. A sōshoku danshi (草食男子, herbivore male) with wrists and ankles like matchsticks, this cousin was invited to be the sole male member of a joshikai (女子会, girls only party), all expenses footed by the joshi (女子, girls), their ages varying between 28 and 34. According to my cousin, the ladies were typical nikushoku joshi (肉食女子, carnivorous women) who pulled his hair, told him what was wrong with his wardrobe, probed incessantly about his sex life and kept him drinking until the wee hours. He’s still recovering from the experience, and said to me (coughing a little): “Shōganaiyo, anoyoru boku wa petto mitaina mono dattakara” (「しょうがないよ、あの夜ぼくはペットみたいなものだったから」”It can’t be helped because that night, I was like a pet).” Maji (まじ, really)? Elsewhere in the world, pets are treated with more respect.

The joshikai-plus-one is a nifty invention and the joshi that plan these events usually like to make sure the additional male is of the young and adorable variety. Even better if the boy is susceptible to seduction and unoffended by the inevitable ijiritaoshi (いじりたおし merciless poking fun) that add extra zing to these gatherings.

Generally though, Japanese women and men prefer to stick to their own genders. Lunchtime at any ofisugai (オフィス街, office town) in and around Tokyo will show men lined up around greasy ramen joints or bentō shops while women sit down at nicer venues in groups of three and four. Dōryō(同僚, colleagues) may smile and call out to each other on the street but only rarely do you see mixed gender groups enjoying a meal together. My grandfather used to say that men and women should sit at the same table no more than once a week, because it led to bickering and stress. Indeed, my obāchan (おばあちゃん, grandmother), his wife, served his meals and poured out his beer, but when the necessary chores were done, she often retreated to the kitchen to tend to her own needs. She held it was more restful that way and said: “Daidokoro wa onna no seiiki” (「台所は女の聖域」”For women, the kitchen is their sanctuary”), unviolated by the male presence.

That was a scene from the late 20th century, but decades later, gender separation is still an enduring custom. Restaurants have redīsu menu (レディースメニュー, ladies menu) that are daintier and easier on the eye than male-oriented fare. Internet cafes have “Josei senyō būsu (女性専用ブース, women’s only booths) that have softer lighting and extra amenities. Nearly all hotels give out the redīsu setto (レディースセット, ladies set, i.e., little satchels containing cotton puffs, hair bands, plastic brushes and maybe a facial pack. Commuter trains have josei senyōsha (女性専用車, women-only cars) that were originally set up to protect women from chikan (痴漢, sexual perverts), but are now seen as an ideal way to avoid trouble between the sexes.

My personal take on it is that the men and women on this archipelago have never really learned to get along. Shakaigakusha (社会学者, sociologists) say that the history of the bukeshakai (武家社会, samurai society) have had a profound effect on the way Japanese men view women and vice-versa. Take for example, the first samurai to set up a shogunate in 1192: Minamoto Yoritomo (源頼朝). The guy was a calculating, conniving SOB who killed his own brother in the interests of power, but even he was no match for his wife Masako (政子). Masako was the prototype for smart, ambitious Japanese women, willing to sacrifice everything for the kamei (家名, family name) and by many accounts, she nagged Yoritomo to solidify his position, accumulate wealth and show that he deserved her — a famed beauty (with brains to match) born a princess of the prestigious Hojo warrior clan.

Masako also made sure that after her husband died, everything went to her own parental clan with herself pulling the political strings and manipulating the warlords. It should be noted that the kanji masa (政) in “Masako” means politics, or boss around. The lady certainly lived up to her name.

The next samurai to really nail the man-woman issue in this country was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who came along four centuries after Yoritomo and unified Japan in 1603, when he was in his 70s. Ieyasu was deeply mistrustful of women and maintained that a samurai man and woman should occupy the same room for just one purpose: procreation. And to prevent unnecessary cuddling or conversation, he decreed there should always be a posse of chaperones in the next chamber, to make sure no one had a nice time and everyone did their duty. No doubt he would have approved of the women-only train cars.

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