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Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

WEEK 3

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Classified information

What, and who, lies behind those beguiling personal ads?


Staff writer

Every week in Japan, English-language magazines carry upward of 200 classified ads placed by both Japanese and non-Japanese people seeking to meet strangers whom they hope to strike up a relationship with.

News photo
English-language magazines in Japan carry upward of 200 adverts a week from people looking to meet strangers. Some attract hundreds of replies. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

For the average reader the ads are often the first thing they turn to when they pick up the magazine. It's not that most aim to pursue what's offered or sought through those few cryptic lines -- and even a quick inspection will take in such predilections as spanking, bondage and group sex, as well as plenty craving true love. Instead, the ads' magnetic appeal is in the titillation of imagining what they will lead to, and what kind of romantic, funny, weird, tortured or obsessive people post or respond to such pleas.

So, to find out who lies behind the ads, whether they are regular people or freaks, and what response they get, it seemed sensible to send out some e-mails asking to meet.

How could I resist, for example, a man who declared that he likes "women who are normal outside but naughty inside," a married Frenchman who said he was looking for an open-minded woman for "passionate rendezvous in mutual understanding" or a British man who described himself as "99, ugly, fat, boring, smelly, stupid and bald" -- and was merely in search of "boring conversations and bland evenings out with a cool girl under 99."

Unfortunately, all those obviously found my e-mail plea easy to resist, but out of 30 shots I was more than delighted to receive replies from 11 classified advertisers, though in the end not all agreed to take it any further.

First up I was thrilled to find that "Super busty blockbuster" saw fit to send me an e-mail. Having posted an ad that read -- "Mistress available. Blonde. You have always dreamed of one, secretly! Why torture yourself needlessly? Once in a lifetime chance. Just do it. You only live once" -- I'd had high hopes of tapping in to just such a "secret" world.

Alas, my hopes were soon dashed when her second e-mail declared: "Baby, I would need 50,000 yen for the interview. 50 percent payable in advance. Absolutely no discussion. Yes or No." That, due to my paltry expense account, was that.

Next came the only respondent who, in the end, agreed to meet face-to-face -- but it was an encounter I anticipated with some concern, and so a female colleague accompanied me as a chaperone. After all, this was a man whose ad had said: "European master is ready to teach you about submission. Don't be shy, take the first step and you will never regret it."

As the day of the interview approached, I was increasingly comforted to know that I wouldn't be meeting this "master" alone, as through his mails to me he was clearly beginning to show interest in us as potential candidates, asking what we knew about submission and whether we were interested in it.

Then, the day before, he mailed to name the meeting point -- and to say: "I'm gonna use a technique I use with new people I meet to recognize them: Can you both wear a red scarf?"

We didn't, but he approached us at the meeting point near Yurakucho Station in central Tokyo and identified himself. The "master" turned out to be a slim and rather dapper 39-year-old Frenchman who's lived in Tokyo for six years. He wouldn't say whether he was married or in a relationship -- but he was unreserved when he announced: "I'm looking for women to teach submission," he said, explaining that "submission," to him, was a bit more than run-of-the-mill S&M.

"It's not just sex, it's also the mind. It can also be about pain," he said.

He said he especially likes to meet people who are unsure whether they are submissive or not, as he can push them to understand themselves and discover how far they can go. "It's like an art or philosophy," he assured us.

"The first time, you meet in a public place. After a few times, you meet in a hotel room, you blindfold the girl and tie her with a rope. Her reaction the first time is always the most interesting."

He claimed that we all have this part in us -- "We are all S or M," he asserted. Then, as we walked, he said he can easily tell which way people lean. "She's M. That one's S. That one, definitely a good M!" he commented about passersby -- throwing in for good measure that my colleague would also "make a good M." Hmm.

Warming to his theme, this monsieur in cowboy boots then told us there were many types of lessons he gives "students," and some are carried out with friends of his who share similar tastes.

"I organize evenings with other foreign guys in an apartment and tell a girl to come, but she doesn't know what will happen. She imagines a lot beforehand," he said, pointing out that this was good because "submission has a lot to do with the mind."

"For example, three guys may be drinking, and the girl has to be totally naked and serve us drinks all night, but nobody does anything to her. We totally ignore her, which is the worst thing for her."

As to who these foreign friends of his are, all he would say was that some were in very high positions, including in diplomatic circles. "You'd be surprised to know," he teased.

And as for the women's welfare, this "master" was adamant that he took "utmost care" that his "students" understood in advance what submission was all about. He made sure, he said, that they were never hurt in any way, and that he would only ask friends to join who would strictly follow the rule of not harming the women.

But back to those ads. In the last four years, he said he had posted 20 ads and trained about 10 women aged from 22 to 45 "to a level where they would do anything." As well as being imaginative, he said that his best candidates are usually intellectual people and married women.

"They are good students because they are looking for something they are missing. And because they need to protect their own lives, they don't ask me to marry them or call me late at night," he explained.

In return, he said, "We give them attention, ask them questions, take care of them -- at least show interest, which many husbands don't." And with that he was gone, off to his next appointment -- with a woman who would probably be waiting with a red scarf round her neck.

My responses from classified advertisers were nothing if not varied, and apparently at the other extreme from him was a man living in Okinawa. Instead of replying by e-mail like most respondents, he kindly called.

I'd expected him to be arrogant, based on his ad, which read: "I am the most eligible bachelor in Japan. I am a handsome, fit, business professional and a gentleman." In fact, he was the most pleasant and humble-sounding man I've talked to in a long time.

"I think posting ads in the classifieds is an excellent means to meet someone," he said. "It was recommended by a colleague who met a very nice girl through one."

But when he started to post his own ads, he experienced unpleasant encounters due to his African-American origin. "I have a lot to offer: I look good, I have a great job in a large U.S. firm, I live in a beautiful house in Okinawa. I think I'm very eligible." He indeed seemed so, sounding very sophisticated and friendly.

"The women love everything about me until I send my photo. Then they stop responding."

He said he was so astonished by this that he posted an ad explaining what happened and asking why Japanese girls did this.

He received many replies, he said, with some women blatantly saying they didn't like black men, many saying race didn't matter as long as he was nice, and some explaining that they had heard of some African men who pretend to be American when they post ads, and then take advantage of Japanese women they meet that way.

Enlightened, but undeterred, our beau from Okinawa said he has continued to post ads since -- without reference to ethnicity.

"I want the women to get to know me inside first and to like who I am," he said like the romantic he clearly is.

In contrast, the next person in line, who said he is a 32-year-old research analyst living for 10 years in Japan, seemed to approach writing successful ads almost as a scientific challenge.

Admitting that he only started doing this in Japan, he said in his ad that he only wants replies from women who are "over 160 cm, under 25 and gorgeous, please." Currently he posts one a week, and uses many online dating sites too. "It's a lot of work," he said -- "feels like a part-time job sometimes."

The aim of this "work," he said, was to get more "coverage" and reach out to women he wouldn't otherwise have a chance to meet. But that's hard, he bemoaned, as there is so little information for men about how to attract women this way.

"Even men who are usually successful with beautiful women in real-life situations fail miserably when posting personal ads," he said. "I need to learn more about female psychology to write something that attracts powerfully."

In this quest, he said he recently got professional help from an online dating adviser called Dave M. -- and it has helped him to up his success rate. So much so, it seems, that he now bemoans his "high-quality problem" -- having too many women in his life. "They are all very charming, but I need to focus my time on just the ones who are a good match. . . . I am looking for just one special girl, but I need to meet many to find her . . . "

As high-minded and idealistic as that man sounded, the last advertiser who replied to my invitation was nothing if not down to earth.

The powerful ad that had caught my eye read: "California woman, 40, attractive, petite, slim, athletic, long hair, married, bored. Not into the bar scene. Not looking for Mr. Right, just Mr. Right now."

The woman, who described herself as an executive-level professional and longtime Tokyo resident, wouldn't confide exactly why she posted her ad, nor precisely why she was bored and keenly seeking a "Mr. Right now."

She did say, though, that classified ads are a good way to meet men, explaining that, "As a Western woman, it's very difficult to meet men in Tokyo. I know people don't believe it, but it is true . . . and so many Western men are only interested in dating Asian women. So I think classifieds are one of the only ways to meet a variety of guys."

The ad she posted was her first, she said -- and she seemed thrilled that she had got almost 100 replies within days. Asked whether she thought most of the men were serious, she wrote: "All of them are serious about sex, they are men. That is a given! They ALL want to meet." Adding that she'd already met a few, she enthused: "I absolutely think that one or two are exactly the kind of relationship I am looking for."

As to how she chose who to meet out of so many contenders, she explained: "You decide by exchanging e-mails. People don't realize how much of themselves they expose even in an e-mail of a few lines.

"You read the e-mail carefully, then craft a reply that will elicit personal information about the other person. . . . You have to be very, very careful online, of course, not to reveal too much about yourself while getting enough information about the person on the other end," she wrote.

I also wanted to know whether her husband knew about her ad, and whether she thought there was a possibility he may be posting similar ads.

"Of course he does not know. What, are you crazy?," she wrote. "Could he post an ad? Anybody can post an ad."

So there we are; behind those 200-plus ads a week, it's clear there are as many reasons why people post them as there are people. And as for the slightly sordid connotation they carry for many, famous writer and critic Noriaki Fushimi, who met his long-term gay partner through an anonymous telephone bulletin board 18 years ago, said that he thought today's online encounters were just a new means of meeting your perfect partner.

"Exposing yourself to an unspecified number of people is of course risky, but it's a matter of where you set the limits as an adult," he said. "And it's also an efficient way for minorities with specific tastes to meet each other."

In a way it's a kind of parallel social universe, but despite the air of mystery and danger, it seems that those behind these ads are no more, or less, romantic, funny, weird, tortured or obsessive than the rest of us. But more titillating they may well be to the readers of certain magazines.



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