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Friday, Aug. 10, 2001
Oyaji : masters of the middle-age universe
By KAORI SHOJI
You know who has it easy in this country? It's the oyaji (middle-aged guys). You may think they're old, downtrodden and unappreciated, but in reality they're having the best time of their lives. They've reached the stage where social standards don't count anymore.
Take, for example, the three pillars of oyajidom: hage (baldness), debu (fatness) and kechi (tight-fistedness). When people look at you and automatically think of these three words, it means you're free. Totally free to go ahead and do whatever the hell you please.
And they do. A guy with the label sekuhara oyaji (sexual harassment oyaji) can get away with saying things like: "So, uhhh . . . are you into that 'miseru shitagi (flaunting underwear)' fad that young girls go for these days?" No one really takes offense since he's expected to come out with such things. Just as a "gorufu oyaji" (golfing oyaji) is allowed to practice his swings on the station platform, repeating the swing mantra under his breath: "Cha-shu-men (ramen with roast pork slices), cha-shu-men." Ours not to ask why it can't be "ham-bur-gers," ours simply to shake our heads and back off.
Meanwhile, risutora oyaji (oyaji who have been laid off) are usually not as jovial, although they have been known to whoop it up at the race tracks or spend an unbelievable number of hours in front of pachinko machines. Increasingly visible these days are the IT oyaji (oyaji who dedicate their lives to the PC) and keitai oyaji (oyaji who are addicted to the little i-mode screens on their cellphones), and whose main boasts are of download speed, chat-room registrations and vast networks of merutomo (e-mail friends).
It's OK if the oyaji launches into a long, long monologue at some izakaya (Japanese pub), since it's natural for a man over 40 to kuda o maku (be a total windbag) -- after all, they had to listen to other oyaji when they were young, and now it's their turn. At karaoke, they will insist on singing the oyaji juhachiban (the oyaji 18, i.e., personal favorites)," which almost always includes "Nagai Yoru (Long Night)" by Chiharu Matsuyama or "Subaru" by Shinji Tanimura. These, everyone can endure.
It is possible, however, to go too far. The singer may suddenly decide to opt for "Kanpaku Sengen (The Declaration of a Chauvinist Husband)" which starts like this: "Ore yori saki ni nete wa ikenai/Ore yori ato ni okite mo ikenai/Itsumo kirei de iro (I forbid you to go to sleep earlier than me/I forbid you to get up later than me/You must be beautiful at all times)." At this point, the oyaji has committed social suicide. Not only will the entire karaoke booth draw away and treat him like lice, but during the next week or so he will be completely ostracized by the younger employees. This is called oyaji-hiyashi (letting the old guy cool off) and is a time-honored custom reserved for oyaji who lose it at karaoke.
This is not to say that all gentlemen over a certain age are categorized en masse as "oyaji." One can be 25, female, and still be an oyaji, as demonstrated by my friend Kayo who won the all-time, all-star Oyaji Behavior Award by yelling "bakayaroooo! (you bastard!)" then spitting, yes, spitting onto the floor at an Oi Keibajo Twinkle Race. (She still claims it was an accident, a freak moment of passion combined with involuntary loss of control over her mouth muscles.) Or anytime anyone displays an active interest in women's chest sizes and skirt lengths, or refers to his wife as "furunyobo (worn-out, old-bag woman)" -- these actions all bear the authentic stamp of oyaji, and are part of the enduring oyaji bunka (oyaji culture) that has built and nurtured this nation for the last century.
Oh no! Somebody help us. At least take that damn "Kanpaku Sengen" song off.