Last month, I went to Doctor Matsuda at my local Japanese clinic, because my shoulder was killing me.
“My shoulder,” I said, “is killing me.”
“Did the pain begin gradually,” he asked, “or all at once?”
“Rather suddenly,” I replied.
“Were you doing anything in particular when it began?
“Not really,” I said, “just carrying this girl to bed. And maybe I kind of tripped.”
“Probably just a sprain,” he said. “Next time, let your girlfriend walk.”
Men’s Rights in Japan
Well, she wasn’t even my girlfriend, which shows how much doctors know. So then I was telling my buddy Brett about it. He’s sort of a Men’s Rights Activist kind of guy. In case you don’t know, Men’s Rights is a recent phenomenon based on the principle that men, uh, have rights. Okay, I don’t know all the details, but I gather that’s the overall concept.
“So you were carrying her,” Brett asked, “and not the other way around?”
“Yeah, I kinda don’t weigh ninety pounds either,” I said.
“Were you both, by chance, slightly intoxicated?” he asked.
“Well yeah, of course. I was like, ‘White wine or red?’ and she’s like, ‘Rosé,’ so I’m all, Gimme a sec and I’ll mix you up a glass.”
“But you paid for the wine, right? And probably dinner.”
“Dude, that’s just how life works.”
“In your world. When are you going to stop letting Japanese women control you?”
“About the time my balls shrivel up and fall off, I expect,” I replied.
Japanese Women and Testosterone
Recently, a reader commented that foreign guys in Japan are all “low-testosterone underachievers.” Ouch. So that was a bit harsh. On the other hand, just because it’s strong doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
By weird coincidence, a couple nights after reading that, I happened to be watching a Japanese TV show where they were testing the testosterone levels of couples. And in every case after marriage, the women’s testosterone shot up higher than normal, while the men’s plummeted. There was one couple in particular where the woman’s testosterone had increased fourfold. She squarely faced the camera and described how she made her husband do the laundry and cooking, while the poor guy just shrunk down and looked sad.
Now, I’m not a doctor. I do periodic anatomy inspections, but that’s more of a hobby. I assume that assessing human physiology involves protocols, establishing base rates, and actual science-y stuff, so I’m just talking about what I see around me. If it’s not low testosterone, then whatever, it’s something. Anyway, let’s talk about real life in Japan.
Women in the Japanese Workplace
In the Japanese workplace, men typically run the show. Women, at least while they’re young, are frequently assigned menial tasks such as demurely greeting customers, making tea, answering phones, and gossiping like plastic Barbies in 1950. It sucks, it’s demeaning, and it leads to a counterintuitive result.
It’s no secret that young Japanese women don’t make the same salary as men. That’s a bias in Japanese society (among others) and, along with racism, isn’t going away anytime soon. So a woman does what she can, which often means…looking cute, acting sexy, snagging a husband, and having children. Once that chain of events is set in motion, it’s sayonara 18-hour workdays and hello taking Junior to the Park. After the marriage is locked in, the tables turn. Now the woman runs the show.
So I was getting ready to write this and, as is my custom, figured I’d pop down to the local convenience store for a couple helpful cans of malted inspiration and possibly one of those delicious cheese-filled fish sausages.
“Ken Seeroi,” called my girlfriend, “it’s time for bed.”
“Yeah baby,” I answered, “I’m just gonna write this one thing and then I’ll be there.”
“It’s too late to go the the convenience store.”
“I suspect they’re open all night for a reason.”
“Did you do the dishes?” she hollered.
“I thought it was too late?” I replied.
“And put that bag of beer cans out for the trash,” she said. “Tomorrow’s can pickup day. And get some soy milk, eggs, and tofu if you go. Oh, and some natto.”
So after I finished about a thousand dishes and took out a massive bag o’ cans, I fumed my way to 7-Eleven mumbling obscenities about chores, groceries, and non-burnable garbage. Soy. I’d been charged with buying three kinds of soy. I could positively feel the testosterone draining from my body. Made me so mad I almost didn’t buy her an ice cream bar.
Somehow, I came to Japan thinking I’d be the man. Women would worship me, want to have sex but not babies, cook me dinner without me doing piles of dishes, and pay half for everything. Yeah, thanks for the heads-up, internet.
The reality is that, in a Japanese household, the woman’s the boss, and if there’s one thing Japanese folks excel at, it’s telling others what to do. As a Japanese guy, the best you can hope for is to stay late at the office, go out drinking with your coworkers, spend your allowance chatting up girls in hostess clubs, and be around your family as little as possible. That’s the Japanese way. As a foreign guy, you don’t even have that option.
My buddy Curtis is the foreign-guy-in-Japan prototype. The dude’s awesome—tall, good looking, several advanced degrees, funny, impressive shoulder-to-waist ratio. He was popular with women in the U.K. But after two years in Japan, he still struggles to read the lunch menu and can’t understand why the gas company keeps sending him bills printed in red. The delight of being surrounded by Japanese people has slowly been replaced by the dread of being surrounded by Japanese people, and it’s dawning on him that everybody just views him as a free English lesson. He spends half his day hunkered down on trains. If he’s lucky, he makes himself small and sits in silence.
Enter his Japanese girlfriend, Yukiko. When they go to restaurants, the waiters speak to her, not him. She reads the menu, calls out for drinks. No, she tells him, you don’t want to order that. That’s terrible. Order this. And she’s right. At home, Yukiko instructs Curtis, Don’t take a shower like that. Take it like this. And she’s right. There are a thousand tiny things, and Curtis sucks at them all. She’s in control, like Stalin in a short dress.
Now, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Women are certainly as capable as men; and in Japan, Japanese women are clearly more capable than foreign men. What concerns me, as a guy, is the effect this has on men. Understand that, if you’re a guy, when you come to Japan, you’re going to be the man for a short time, and then the bitch for a much longer time. You’re entering a world where all women can speak, read, joke, and bargain better than you. In other words, they’re the man.
Apparently, reduced testosterone isn’t just a Japanese thing, at least according to MD Magazine: “single men tend to have more testosterone than comparable men in long-term relationships.” But if that’s true in a country where you have full command of the language and at least some social standing, it doesn’t bode well for living overseas. Men who’ve settled in Japan seem to gradually lose that drive, vigor, testosterone, mojo, or whatever it was that made males of our species capable of leaving caves, sleeping in frozen forests, and clubbing bears to death. Instead, they’ve become infantilized, ridiculed, and accustomed to failing at even simple tasks like making phone calls or reading the newspaper.
Why Japanese Women Like Foreign Guys
On the flip side, ask Japanese women what they like about foreign men, and you’ll frequently hear the same answer. It’s rarely because they’re handsome, witty, or intelligent. The most common reply is: because they’re nice. And maybe that’s true. But I wonder if a component of “nice” doesn’t include the ability to take instructions, take a backseat, and let the woman run everything. Nice means she gets to have everything the way she wants it.
Well, maybe putting women in charge is for the best, I don’t know. They’re probably less likely to blow up the planet. Anyway, I spend too much time whitening my teeth and trimming my eyebrows to worry much about men’s rights. And now that I’ve got my hair set perfectly, I gotta run, since I’m taking my girlfriend to dinner and she hates when I’m late. She’s gonna be pissed as it is, once she sees what a mess I made of the ironing.