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Thursday, April 15, 2004

BILINGUAL

One day, Japan's 'losing dogs' will howl in unison


There's a new phrase out there and it's making a lot of people self-conscious. "Makeinu (losing dog)," which once meant nothing more than the literal translation, now indicates that swelling segment of the Japanese population: single people over 30.

According to novelist Junko Sakai, who coined the phrase with her bestseller "Makeinu no Toboe (The Howl of the Losing Dog)," losing dogs are hopeless losers until they find an appropriate mate or (in the case of women) at least become a single parent. It's especially tough for women, writes Ms. Sakai, "because no matter how good-looking or successful she may be in her career, if she's alone that means she's a losing dog." Gee.

A big consolation is that losing dogs are becoming the majority. Ever since the Koyokikai Kintoho (Equal Employment Opportunities Law) kicked in 20 years ago, generations of professional women have been coming to the same conclusion: that marriage, at least in the Japanese social system, just ain't worth it.

For example, my friend Aya (art director, 35) says with calm conviction: "sKekkon hiteru onna wa dasai (Married women are tacky)." She observes that nothing could be more ruinous to a Japanese relationship than a Japanese marriage, especially when supplemented by children. "Married people stop being a man and a woman and turn into otosan (father) and okasan (mother)," says Aya. "I hate it when a couple with kids call each other 'Mama' and 'Papa.' It's so sexless."

Speaking of which, it's no secret that many married people in this country just don't sleep with each other. In fact, if we're to believe the surveys in women's magazines, more than 80 percent of couples refrain from intimacy after a period of anywhere between 6 months to 2 years after the wedding and remain that way for, like, years. Aya sums up with a superior smile: "Personally, I think it's the married folks who are the losers."

Not all losing dogs, however, have Aya's confidence. Ms. Sakai's book goes into detail about how a losing dog can cover her loser identity with a few simple tricks, such as taking care to always wear nachularu stokkingu (sheer panty-hose) instead of socks or kuro-taitsu (black tights). Panty-hose implies nudity, at least as far as legs are concerned -- and nudity is eroi (erotic), she writes.

Apparently, for a losing-dog woman to surrender her eroi-ness is to admit complete and utter defeat. She should, at least, advertise to the world that her losing-dog status is optional, and the panty-hose is a visible indicator. In industries where women are not required to wear panty hose, there are apparently higher than the normal number of losing dogs.

This is especially true in the masucomi (media), which has long been known as the straight and narrow road to issho dokushin (single for life). The long hours and friendly, college dorm-like working environment gradually sap all inclination for romance, and before she knows it, the not-quite losing dog woman will have become a losing dog in earnest -- or what the media guys refer to as nanimo kanjiru kotoga dekinai onna (a woman who inspires zero sexuality).

But don't worry, women have their own disdainful language for losing-dog men. The aforementioned Aya bemoans the lack of ii otoko (lovable men) in this country, and is always threatening to move to Australia where the men outnumber the women. (She has high hopes that the long years of fierce competition have honed their romantic skills.)

Actually, ii otoko ga inai (there are no lovable men) is the losing-dog woman's perpetual gripe. Put two single women on a bench and one or the other will trot out this familiar complaint within the first 15 minutes.

Needless to say, losing-dog men are mightily put out by this phrase, and at the same time are saddled with an inferiority complex the size of Hokkaido. My losing-dog brother, for instance, says strong and independent professional women have come to frighten him. "Let's face it, losing-dog men have it a lot worse than losing-dog women. We're merely pathetic, but they'll always have the excuse of being too good for Japanese men."

I tell him not to worry. After all, Japan is fast on its way to having the highest divorce rate in Asia. Pretty soon, the nation will be saturated with singles, everyone will be losing dogs and we'll all be able to howl in unison.



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