Japanese women and the summer chill — a love story


Special To The Japan Times

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.

  • Japanish

    From this article, the challenge in understanding Japanese women lies in accepting the fact that they are completely self-centered. Is this a reason for plummeting birthrates and a fractured society?

    • Hanten

      Japanish, that is a very harsh conclusion that doesn’t seem to follow on from the article at all.
      In the three years I have spent in Japan and the 15 with Japanese people overseas, it has often fascinated me how in 35 degree heat (I think that’s 90 in American) someone can keep their jacket on, sit around a hot table-top barbeque eating hot food and want to visit hot springs. It’s not just women who are like this, I know lots of men who do these things, too.
      I still love Japan and in fact I might be becoming more Japanese by the day. I, too, prefer the aircon set at 27-29 and want to wear socks if it goes below that.

      • midnightbrewer

        I’m of European stock and have lived here for 11 years; my body refuses to adjust. Genetics trumps climate.

    • disqus_4NsfhsQIBv

      Well put. But the Biological Clock is the great equalizer. There is a trend among middle-aged J-women now: They realize, with horror, that time’s up. They wish they could go back, but it’s too late. Men, on the other hand, can always find a young woman. ;-)

    • Murasaki

      Japanese women are self-centred, where do you get that idea from? Trust me 10 years living in Japan and all the females I have been with are not self-centred.

      Coming from Australia I can say Japanese women leave any western woman for dead, Japanese women behave like ladies, dress like ladies and have manners, the so call females back in Australia are just above being feral, they behave, dress and now days look like men, claim they are equal to men, unless it is a disadvantage to them and then they will claim weaker sex.

      Gaikokujin men that think Japanese women are self-centered are the men that want some submissive Japanese women dress in a kimono, serving them like some maid on 24 hour call and because they cannot find a Japanese woman that meets their idea of how Japanese women should behave, blame the women, they should take a look at themselves and their small minded ideas on how Japanese women should behave!

      The reason for the plummeting birthrate in Japan is not because of the women, it is because of the men, they are more interested in falling in love with some anime character, a member of AKB 48 which they have a snowball chance in hell of getting with or have their heads stuck in some computer game and in love with some game character that treats them like their mothers do.

      • midnightbrewer

        You don’t have to want a submissive woman in a kimono to think a woman is selfish or not, and women being selfish is not a uniquely Japanese trait. Nor a female trait, for that matter.

  • Enteringsandman

    “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.”

    but according to actual evidence??

    • Samuraijamie

      Medically this statement is utter nonsense.

      • Jeff

        When I lived in the inaka, there were a number of people that truly
        believed that their body temperature as a Japanese person was lower than
        that of their fellow humans in the US, Europe, and elsewhere.

        source of this myth is that temperature has traditionally been measured
        under the armpit in Japan as opposed to other places like the mouth
        which are slightly warmer, and thus give a lower reading for someone who
        is at normal body temperature than in many other countries.

  • Oyaji Gag Master

    i can’t understand why newlywed “Miho” isn’t seeking more warmth from her new hubby, “Matt”. I wonder if they had a traditional Japanese wedding or not. Because もうミホの角が出るみたい!Or perhaps marriage to a Japanese spouse is an acquired taste, which takes time and patience, just like most other Japanese pursuits (i.e., booooring). Having said that, step up and be a man, and stop acquiescing to her every whim, geeeez! Your name is appropriate: (door)Matt

  • markweitzman

    I’m sitting here laughing and reciting the key phrases to my Japanese wife of 17 years. Miho is exactly like her! For years I have shared Matt’s confusion. But I’m used to it now. Here in Japan we’re experiencing the worst heatwave ever. But when she’s sleeping, my wife is all covered up just like Miho. Blanket on the midriff, cotton winter pajamas, socks. My wife has the scarf on outside in 35˚c+ temperatures. There’s no need for marriage counseling. Just give her enough blankets on her side, divide the bed.

  • disqus_4NsfhsQIBv

    This article, and all such articles and discussions, focuses on the wife’s needs. What about the husband’s needs? Miho knows what Matt needs to do to keep her happy, but is she at all conerned about what SHE needs to do to keep HIM happy? Doubtful. Like most women, she likely doesn’t give a damn what he thinks or feels. Poor Matt, poor married men. Glad I never got married. Close call!

    • JoeThePimpernel

      Not feeling cold is a fundamental health requirement. That’s not being self-centered. That’s self-preservation.

      • disqus_4NsfhsQIBv

        Agreed. But not feeling cold wasn’t my point.

  • Charlie Sommers

    A strange idea indeed. My Japanese wife of fifty years prefers a cooler house than I do and in the eight years I lived in Japan I never saw even one female sushi chef. The reason was given as “Women’s hands are too warm to handle raw fish or sushi rice.”

  • midnightbrewer

    So the source of this couple’s marriage woes is the wife’s low body temperature, or the fact that she can’t communicate, shares no interests with her husband, and spends more time with her female friends than him?

    The narrative here is troubling. Either the author is making light of a serious marriage problem, or is taking a minor issue and blowing it out of proportion. Regardless of which it seems to be in poor taste.

  • bwprager123

    Lower body temperatures than Western people. …
    This is supposed to be “stupid fun” like an article about how Japanese believe in personalities determined by blood type, or have different taste sensitivites in their mouths, right?
    All under a photo of a grinning “Japanese woman” stereotype in a kimono next to a nice bath, and a nice “cute” story about how she is too dim-witted and impatient to talk with her husband….
    Do you really not see how this promotion of stupid “beliefs” and generic gender and nationallity stereotyping and “eugenic” “opinions in your paper is serving up the underpinnings of racism, sexism, foreigner-bashing, and distaste for difference and “others” that have serious consequences in Japanese society? I know I am saying this rather bluntly, but that’s what this accomplishes, and is worth consideration.

  • Thank you for telling the truth.
    I’m always wondering how women in Western dramas or movies are often dressing so thin.
    My problem is for feet most, it’s awful cold.
    Neck is also required to take care of, not to be chilly.
    And I’m wearing Haramaki at this moment, why not?
    Love and “Hie” caring are not related with each other, just Matt doesn’t understand.
    Japanese men, they’re not claiming about everything she does, “what is it?” or “what are you doing?”, we take care of our issues, they do theirs, no problem, but they help us if a Japanese woman “asked” to do so, when any help needed to warm her.

  • mlbscout6

    I’m confused as to the message this article is trying to convey. It gives us the story of a husband trying to do what he can to make his wife happy, and a wife that can’t be bothered to talk about her needs/feelings. And the solution/conclusion is that her body temperature is too low? I fail to see how this explains her lack of desire to communicate and general disinterest in her husband. Unless I’m expecting too much from the article and the body temperature thing is just an unsophisticated pun implying that japanese women are “cold” ie. uncaring?

  • akeleven

    It is actually quite simple – I used to be an underweight woman who was cold all the time – in Florida! I only stopped being cold when I gained 100 pounds – that’s right, overweight but finally warm! There is a function for body fat and it makes the difference. That’s why the highest ice cream consumption is in Alaska – people stroll down the street at 10 deg F., eating ice cream cones.

  • akeleven

    It is simply a matter of being underweight. I used to be cold all the time – in Florida! Several extra pounds later, no longer cold – and no longer fashionable. Oh, well.