For the first time since … never, the ojisan (middle-aged man) is on a roll. 

Until recently, many have treated middle-aged men in Japan with a sense of dismissiveness, if not outright contempt. 

Mainstream media have always portrayed middle-aged men as being overbearing and clueless at home, while also being miserable and stressed out at work. 

In terms of their private lives, they often came across as being despicable letches with body odor to boot. So disliked are these men that rail operators, hotels and other public spaces created gender-specific zones in order to separate them from Japanese women. 

This year, however, the world of middle-aged men could change forever.

The harbinger for change started in 2017, when the first volume of a manga titled “Ojisan to Joshi Kōsei” (“The Middle-aged Man and the High School Girl”) penned by Mayumi Kato debuted on Twitter. The story, which focuses on a redundant middle-aged man who forms a platonic relationship with a teenage girl in a park, has since gone viral. 

A year later, an online manga by Haru Hisakawa titled “Ojisan ga Joshi Kōsei ni Warui Koto o Oshieru Hanashi” (“The Story of How a Middle-aged Man Teaches a Teenage Girl Some Bad Things”) also started making waves.

In this tale, the protagonist spends time with a teenager, playing video games, binge-eating snacks and talking. Many praised this character on social media, and the manga racked up more than 130,000 likes and was retweeted more than 50,000 times in the two weeks after being released.

Meanwhile, video game developer Bandai Namco sponsored an event titled Ojisan no Mori (The Forest of Middle-aged Men) in Ikebukuro this winter. 

Visitors to this event were invited to experience the life of a middle-aged man, smelling his scent and tasting stereotypical dishes such as katsudon (pork cutlet with rice) at a pop-up restaurant. Naturally, the event featured a souvenir shop selling figurines and stickers of your favorite types of middle-aged men

However, not everything is rosy for middle-aged men in Japan.

In 2019, the Asahi Shimbun coined the phrase “yōsei-san” (“Mr. Fairy”) to describe male corporate employees in their 50s and 60s who can’t keep up with the demands of work but still clock in at the office each day and receive a monthly salary.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, a typical Mr. Fairy arrives at his office a little earlier than everyone else, sits back in his chair and sips on a can of coffee while thumbing through a newspaper. He disappears before lunchtime, resurfaces in the afternoon and quietly leaves at around 6 p.m., having contributed almost nothing to the business. 

According to a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun in January, 95 out of 191 respondents replied that a Mr. Fairy worked in their office. Sixty-nine respondents admitted to harboring feelings of resentment toward such individuals, largely because the person’s salary was much higher than their own and they did next-to-no work. A further 55 people said such individuals were a burden on companies and damaged workplace morale.

Responding to the article online, a man in his 50s admitted to being a Mr. Fairy and genuinely felt bad about it. However, he was at a loss as to what to do since he could not afford to quit his job. 

One man in his 60s wrote that Mr. Fairies were finally getting the benefits they deserved after working without a break for many years. I suppose he has a point. 

Having said that, perhaps these men would benefit from scanning the classified sections of those daily newspapers they’re thumbing through every morning.

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