"France for food, Japan for wives." That was basically the conclusion made by French journalist/novelist Pierre Loti, who dropped by our shores in 1885 and wrote a book about his stay called "Madame Chrysantheme." Loti hadn't exactly caught the Japan bug — he was critical of many facets of Japanese society, weather and men. Of the Yamato nadeshiko (大和撫子, the born and bred, quintessential Japanese women) however, he sang praises.

Some 130 years later, the Yamato nadeshiko still has an allure that goes beyond mere sexuality. She exudes a subtle exoticism and quirky mystery. She also sports a steely resolve that comes with the conviction that romantic love — that all-important concept imported from the West — is vastly overrated. The Yamato nadeshiko lives for many things but she very rarely lives for romance. Maybe that's why she makes an excellent wife.

So who is this exalted woman, long touted by seiyōjin (西洋人, people of the West) as the tōyō no hana (東洋の花, flower of the Orient), who prompted the making of such ridiculous Hollywood films as "Memoirs of a Geisha"? Actually, it's hard to say. The original meaning refers to a woman who's so adorable she makes you want to sit her down and naderu (撫でる, pat) her all day long. As my British friend Ian declares: "Even the most obnoxious of J-girls are adorable."