Here’s an open secret: Japanese men have a bad international reputation on the romance front. Duh! Global surveys consistently reveal they’re pretty low on the list of desired men by Western women, often huddled together at the lower tiers of the pyramid along with Chinese, North Korean and Nigerian men. Sad, sad, sad.
Still, speaking from a Japanese woman’s perspective, this is not entirely incomprehensible. While some Japanese men can be absolute dreamboats in business suits, the majority of Nippon danji (true-blue, born-and-bred-in-Japan males) often elicit complaints from their fellow countrywomen, and the list of amorous ailments is long. Very long.
One author has decided to do something about it: Caroline Pover. Having lived in Tokyo since 1996 and brought to the English-language publication scene such notable works as “Being A Broad in Japan: Everything a Western Woman Needs to Survive and Thrive” and the first in her series for women “Ask Caroline,” Pover has now come out with the very detailed and extremely instructional “Love With a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men.”
Let it be noted right now that on the back of the book there’s an “Adult Content” warning. Also worth mentioning is the frequency of passages devoted to discussions about sex and, er, the size of the Japanese male organ. (Good news: It doesn’t matter. Really.)
Not to say that the contents are offensive or reprehensible (maybe a PG-13 rating) in any way — rather, large dollops of honesty and humor top every page like whipped cream and the writing is fast-paced, friendly and enormous fun.
The book is based on 150 interviews conducted with Western women either already locked into relationships with Japanese men or who have had that experience. Or maybe they’d like to give the whole enterprise a try.
In either case, the interviewees show an astonishing amount of knowledge in dealing with Japanese men, a field Japanese women can of course relate to and certainly learn from. Pover herself has been married twice to Englishmen and mentions in the book that if her second husband doesn’t work out, she’ll be on the lookout for a Japanese one.
Readers — especially if they happen to be Japanese men looking to brush up on English skills and get some dating tips while they’re at it — may be surprised and extremely gratified to know how highly desirable they really are in the eyes of many Western women. (According to the findings of Pover, the No. 1 most desirable Nippon danji is actor Ken Watanabe.)
OK, so Ken-sama is a tough act to follow but no matter: Western women aren’t looking for icons but real-life Japanese men willing to share real-life love, preferably on a long-term-commitment basis. Pover takes the reader step by step through getting to know a Western woman, asking her out on a date (casual and otherwise), what to talk about and what not to do (whatever else you do, do not shake hands when saying goodbye), how to utilize body language, and what Western women most appreciate in Japanese men.
A lot of times, this could be physical. The book discusses the physicality of Japanese men at length, and though many Japanese men feel they could do better with a hairy chest, Pover’s book assures them that a lot of Western women are actually turned off by body hair and totally turned on by the firm, moist skin texture of the typical Japanese male.
And if your English conversational skills aren’t up to scratch, no worries. These days, Western women are more likely to be versatile Japanese speakers and, unless she happens to be your English teacher, the Western woman doesn’t really give a hoot what your TOEFL scores are.
“Rather, I think everyone’s looking for what we’ve always been looking for,” Pover said during a phone interview. “Qualities like sincerity and kindness and the ability to show affection and to say ‘I love you’ are always in favor with Western women. And I would guess for women everywhere.”
For Pover, expensive dinner dates followed by gifts of flowers are never the point of romantic relationships, but “when you have a cold and your husband or boyfriend brings you tea with lemon and ginger — now that’s romantic.”
No arguments there. But Japanese women know that this particular variety of romance is hard to come by on the archipelago. Many of us feel that the chances of encountering a man who actually knows how to make a lemon and ginger tea in the first place — much less bring it to a sick woman’s bed — could be on par with the chances of being abducted by an alien. Maybe slightly less than that. Japanese men are among the most fastidious and finicky on the planet — if their wives or girlfriends had a cold, they’d be worried about getting germs first and then maybe express concern later.
“I think it depends on the man,” says Pover (whose book avoids generalizations, skepticism and cynicism like the plague). “I find that Japanese men can be great caregivers, and the women I’ve interviewed say Japanese men take great pride in caring for their families. They really have a strong sense of duty. That can make a woman feel very loved, and secure.”
As with her other works, “Love With a Western Woman” makes observations and draws conclusions almost exclusively from interviews, rather than turning to reference material.
“I like to base my writing on real interviews,” says Pover. “I like giving people a voice and that whole process, you know, of talking to people and writing about them.”
After collecting the interviews, Pover took off for a weeklong writing session in Saipan and finished the book in the course of six or so days. “That was in first week of March 2011,” she says. “And then the tsunami came and I was evacuated along with everyone else in the hotel.”
Upon her return to Tokyo, Pover decided to put the book off for a while and see what could be done to help people in Tohoku. “I put the book aside for 1½ years, because I really wanted to focus on Tohoku and activities relating to the area.”
She currently divides her time between living/working in the U.K. and Oshika Peninsula off the coast of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. After 3/11, the peninsula actually moved 5.3 meters from its original position, a stat often cited as an example of the scale and impact of the earthquake.
Pover says that though she will continue to work (lecturing, fund-raising) in and for Tohoku, she decided it was time for the book to come out. “I had gotten a lot of traffic on my website from Japanese men wanting tips on love relationships,” she says. “I was so surprised, because I didn’t really think Japanese men were all that interested.”
But there was an audience, and with an entire book already written, it seemed like the right time for Pover (who runs her own publishing company called Alexandra Press) to get it out into the world. “Originally, I had just meant to get the Japanese translation version out,” she says. “But so many people told me they would love to read it in English as well.” True, Pover’s warm and spontaneous writing style may be diminished in translation, and there’s nothing like an extensive self-help book to improve language skills.
Though Pover’s book is encouraging and positive throughout — and she herself comes off at times as a head cheerleader for the Japanese Male Team — there have got to be some things about the Nippon danji that annoy the daylights out of her, right? She replies: “Women I interviewed says it’s the long working hours. I’ve heard that often, and it’s the No.1 complaint.” Yeah, we hear you.
At the same time, Pover says because they are used to being on equal footing with men, and also used to voicing their needs, a Western woman will come right out at the beginning of the relationship and let the man know what she’s looking for. “And he must do the same. Both parties should talk things over, communicate with each other and reach an agreement.”
In her view, “the problem starts when people start lowering their standards. I think men and women should go into relationships really wanting to be better friends, better lovers, lovelier people — and to give more of themselves and be more than they are.”
Below are choice excerpts from the novel (arranged by chapter):
1. Japanese men and their image
• A lot of the women had assumed you would be geeky, too interested in your work, rather uptight, sexually repressed, and not very respectful of women. And they had somehow got the impression that you were afraid of Western women.
Now gentlemen, this is not a good image to have if you’re interested in attracting Western women; in fact, it’s not a good image to have circulating about if you’re interested in attracting women in general!
• The additional time you spend at work can be a big shock to Western women — going out after work is not necessarily a regular occurrence in our culture.
However, please don’t think that working hard is something that we don’t admire in our partners. Many of us find it quite admirable that Japanese men tend to be so diligent and conscientious, and so loyal to their jobs. In many ways this shows that you are reliable and steady, that you can remain committed even when times are tough — these qualities are very attractive in a potential long-term partner. But a balance needs to be struck.
• I’m not going to suggest that you take up body building, but I am going to suggest that you don’t make any comments about your build in relation to a Western woman’s size. We are generally bigger than Japanese women and while this may be something different you need to get used to, we don’t want to feel that you are not very much enjoying getting used to it!
We are Western women with Western curves; we love your bodies just as they are. Please love ours the way they are too.
• Japanese men that Western women LOVE!: Musashi Miyamoto, Jo Odagiri, Kenichi Matsuyama, Tite Kubo, Shikao Suga, Jun Matsumoto, Yoshiki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Daisuke Nakata, Cornelius, Jake E. Lee, Tadanobu Asano, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joji Kato, Takaaki Ishibashi, Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Junya Watanabe, Akira Kurosawa, all of Arashi, SMAP, Shun Oguri, Razor Ramon, Takenaka Naoto, Beat Takeshi, Shigeki Hosokawa, Ken Takakura, Koichi Sato, Issey Miyake . . . and by far the most popular is Ken Watanabe.
2. Being attractive to us
• The great news is that after spending some time around Japanese men, almost 60 percent of the women I interviewed generally find you to be very attractive. What a relief, considering the bad PR about you that is floating around outside of Japan! And this news should provide a great deal of encouragement to you because you can probably estimate that 2 out of 3 Western women that you might be interested in could be looking upon you very favourably even before they get to know you!
• Western women find the most attractive elements of your appearance to be your skin and hair. Your thick, glossy, dark hair is quite sexy to many of us, and we really like it if you don’t dye it!
And as for your skin — so many women find your smooth, tanned-looking skin to be quite mesmerizing! I still remember very clearly being on a train, many years ago, standing behind a Japanese man who was wearing a suit. The train was quite crowded and he was about 10 cm taller than me, so his neck was at the level of my nose. I could not stop looking at his beautiful skin. I will never forget the urge I had to just lean forward and run my tongue up the back of his neck.
• Pretty high on the list of things we find attractive about you are your eyes. Depending on where we come from, and depending on our own ethnicity, your dark eyes can seem extremely exotic. Many of us are perhaps drawn to you in the same way that you find yourself drawn to us, because we generally look different to you. Lots of women talked about Japanese men’s beautifully shaped eyes as part of what can make you very handsome indeed!
• Not that there is anything wrong with being gay, of course, but you certainly don’t want the woman you fancy thinking you are interested in men more than you are in her! The handbags and pointy shoes look a little too feminine to us, but in general we really like your androgynous, unmacho look.
• Be relaxed and confident when you approach us. Do not be afraid of Western women! You don’t have to approach us using English if you’re not comfortable — many of us speak at least some Japanese and most of us won’t feel like you’re looking for a free English lesson.
Take the initiative and let us know that you like us. If you’re not quite ready to take the initiative, then at least be open and approachable so that we feel comfortable giving you a few signals. And what could be more open than a big friendly smile as you catch our eye?!”
• Understand and respect women, and how about showing admiration for the men you know who already do so? We want to be treated as equals at work and at home, and we don’t want you to be looking at our breasts when you should be looking into our eyes.
We don’t like it when you read porn in public (and most of us aren’t really comfortable with you reading it in private either); this goes hand-in-hand with the whole concept of hostess bars, soaplands, and prostitution, which are completely distasteful to most of us.
• First, please don’t take her to any kind of family restaurant. One woman was actually taken to a Wendy’s — this is not a good start at all. If you do take her to a restaurant, then it should be quite a nice one, and it would be thoughtful to check beforehand to find out whether she is vegetarian. Being vegetarian isn’t understood in most restaurants in Japan, so perhaps going to a specialized restaurant would be a good idea — I’m sure she would appreciate your efforts!
Now, on the topic of food, we like to choose our own food. If you choose for us, then you’re at great risk of being instantly dismissed as someone we won’t be sharing any more meals with — it can make us feel that you want to control us.
• I’m not about to suggest for one minute that you do anything that you’re not comfortable doing, but you do need to be aware that the vast majority of Western women I interviewed were absolutely bewildered to get nothing but a polite “goodbye” at the end of their dates. Only a small percentage of you managed a polite kiss on the cheek, although about the same percentage managed something a bit more passionate that perhaps more closely resembles what a Western woman might expect. (About 20% of dates, on average, ended up in bed, just in case you were wondering. Most of us do not expect sex after a first date nor will we necessarily respond favourably if you suggest it. In fact, it is more likely to put us off you.)
• Well, I asked [the interviewees] outright whether they thought Japanese men had small penises, and half of them said yes, they are smaller than they were used to, and half of them said your penises are no different from other men. So basically your penis is either average or smaller than average. But almost 90 percent of the women said that size didn’t matter.
I think I’ll rephrase that statement just to be extra sure you understand: 90 percent of Western women do not care about penis size. Some women don’t even like bigger penises — they can make sex painful, and where’s the fun in that?
• A few complimentary comments might be all right, but please don’t make a fuss to the point where we feel like a different species. Try not to make the “foreignness” be the thing about us that interests you.
Definitely don’t do what one Japanese man did after I had sex with him: He called a friend on his mobile phone immediately afterward (he was still kneeling there) to say that he had sex with a foreign woman. Needless to say, I did not answer any of his phone calls after that.
• Here’s a quick word about pornographic movies and magazines: I’ll tell you right now that really fantastic sex is nothing like Japanese porn and what most women want or will be fulfilled by is the complete opposite of what Japanese porn portrays. So stop watching it.
• It is very rare in our culture for children to sleep with their parents, and it makes the practicalities of when and where to have sex difficult. Many Western women are willing to follow the Japanese tradition of sleeping together as a family, so you need to be a bit more creative about having sex instead of using sleeping arrangements as an excuse not to have it. You have love hotels! Use them!
• Now come on boys, don’t you all want to put some big smiles on the faces of your Western sweethearts?!”
5. Getting serious
• What we don’t love are the noises you make when you eat. We talked a little bit about this in the dating chapter — please remember that slurping your food at home is something that could really drive her mad! We understand it’s cultural and really don’t want to nag, but it’s very hard to share meals with someone every day when they are eating in a way that in our culture would be considered to be very impolite.
• I am sure you are familiar with the traditional idea of the ‘marriage proposal’ that we have in Western culture, but please don’t feel that you have to conform to this tradition if doesn’t suit your style.”
• “You will get an independent woman who will need her ‘me time,’ girls’ nights, and help with the house chores. My husband loves to jokingly tease me about how ‘a Japanese wife would never do that’ on a lot of things. So just know that you are signing up for something a little different.” — unnamed interviewee
• “You cheat, I rip your balls off.” — interviewee
I'm just cackling and laughing like some parts are just...I really can't. I thought it's what is on the inside that matters. I also don't think the average western woman would be here for Matsujun.