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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

BILINGUAL

It's still tough being a man, but it's a whole new ball game


As a Japanese woman, I've always had this niggling suspicion that men had it better in my native land. They were encouraged and coddled and waited upon. They were allowed liberties that a female could only dream about. They considered entitlement a prerequisite, a birthright!

Believe me, I know. I grew up in a crowded, male-dominated household where men outnumbered women three to one, which meant that the towels were always wet and stank of bukatsu (部活, extracurricular activities) sweat, the fridge was perpetually empty of goodies and the trash bins overflowed with empty plastic bottles of Pocari Sweat — and later empty cans of Asahi Super Dry.

My father and brothers had extra portions and bigger servings of everything, and they still fought over the last, limp ebifurai (海老フライ, fried shrimp) on the serving plate as if they had just returned from a long trek in the Sahara. Any attempt at rebellion was quelled with "Onna wa damattero (女は黙ってろ, Women should just shut up)." This was inevitably followed by that all-too-familiar Japanese male line: "Otoko wa iroiro taihennanda (男はいろいろ大変なんだ, Things are tough for men)."

To a teenage female, this made no sense. Or rather, it simply meant that the sink was crammed with dishes to wash and there were no clean towels in the bathroom. AGAIN.

Back then, I had recurring fantasies of running away to a kakekomi dera (駆け込み寺, a temple open specifically for abused and/or overworked women, where no male can enter beyond the front gate), armed with a stack of towels embroidered with my initials, all smelling of lavender. 

But many years into adulthood, I've come to realize the accuracy of that saying. Things are tough for men, now more than ever. Overworked, tired and dateless, it's generally acknowledged that after 28, the Japanese male wilts like a daikon (大根, large white radish) left out in the sun, or (more increasingly these days) morphs into a aburakkoi (脂っこい, greasy) oyaji (オヤジ, old man).

My youngest brother (age 32) sighs that as soon as he hit 30, the party invitations and fun date offers went into fēdo auto (フェード アウト, fade-out) mode and the gears shifted to konkatsu (婚活 campaign to get married) — a crushing blow to a dokushinkizoku (独身貴族, single life aristocrat). The women he meets now are a couple of years older than him and primarily interested in "kekkon wo zenteitoshita majimena otsukiai (結婚を前提としたまじめなおつきあい, a serious relationship with marriage in view)." Says my little bro: "Ore wa tada tanoshiku nomitai dakenanoni (俺はただ楽しく飲みたいだけなのに, All I want is to drink and have fun)."

But such a gripe is better suited to a man at least five years younger. These days an arasā (アラサー, around 30) male who just "wants to have fun" is viewed with suspicion or pity, stamped with the "kekkon futekikakusha (結婚不適格者, unsuitable material for marriage)" logo and pushed off the dating conveyor belt. Poor, poor guy.

Yes, the tables have turned, dramatically. It's women who hold the relationship reins, organize the dating schedules and decide when or if marriage is in the works. More women opt to remain single anyway, since married life in Japan is hugely similar to Japanese family life with a lot of brothers, trash bins choked with beer cans and no dishwasher. And let's not forget women today have to face the dirty dishes and laundry after a long, hard day at the office. The Japanese "otona no onna (大人の女, adult woman)" is too smart to trade in her freedom for a lot of unwanted aggravation; after work she'd rather go to the gym for kaatsu torēningu (加圧トレーニング, muscle-pressure training) and then curl up with a bottle of wine or go out for a nice, relaxing dinner with a nice, relaxing toshishita-kun (年下くん, younger toy boy).

Which brings us to the atsui (熱い, hot) subject of toshishita-kun. Usually, this type of boy has very little seikatsuryoku (生活力, providing ability) since, very often, he doesn't have a steady job. But that's perfectly acceptable for the "otona no onna," because all she's looking for is a little fun and romance with a pretty young thing, and she's willing to foot the bill for it, too.

After centuries of enforced ignorance and hapless subservience, the Japanese adult woman has reached a stage where she can actually behave like my brothers did when they were 24. Now, if she can only get someone to wash her socks and stock the fridge. 



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