Monday 23 January 2012

Nadeshiko Redux: Keeping the Punters Happy

(Skip This Bit if You’ve Come for the Ladies)

I’ve recently inadvertently discovered the benefits of link-bait/search engine optimization. As well, I suppose, as the benefits of putting stuff up while it’s fresh instead of sitting on it for a few weeks in case I don’t get any other new ideas.

It used to be said that the easiest way to ensure a decent hit count for an online article was to include the words BRITNEY SPEARS SEX PICS in it. Though this was back when the internet was young and lawless, and when pictures of Britney Spears getting serviced were something you might actually want to see. I don’t know who the current equivalent would be. One of those ‘reality’ stars maybe. Simon Cowell? Please god not Simon Cowell. Don’t make me link to SIMON COWELL SEX PICS.

Fuck. I feel dirty and cheapened (yet also ever so slightly aroused).

My own personal version of BRITNEY SPEARS + SIMON COWELL SEX PICS has turned out to be Homare Sawa. I suspect that sentence may need some explaining.

Someone's always got it tougher,

Last week I put up a post about Homare Sawa. Given that I usually write about fairly local stuff, writing about something with a genuinely global reach was a bit of a departure. The post got picked up by a pretty small subset of a pretty large football forum, and the hit rate for that article shot up by literally a few. Being the engaging and talkative fellow that I am, I wondered over to explain myself. The experience was a useful reminder of a few things.

I write this blog mainly for myself, but I’m all about fitting the message to the audience so I have a ‘virtual reader’ that I imagine I write for. After all, I already know what I think. This reader is a combination of my brother (hence the casual tone and swearing) and a friend who’s half British, half Japanese and grew up in Texas (so I assume they know a bit about the background to all the Japanese stuff, and have a bit of an international outlook).

I’ve also, more through luck than judgment, managed to accumulate a few regular readers/commenters. Believe me when I say that I value their/your input, and this wouldn’t be half as interesting without them/you, but they/we do all seem to share a common baseline, at least as regards an understanding of Japan. This can lead me to taking shortcuts that I might not otherwise take, or glossing over what I assume we all already understand.

The recent excitement about Loco’s book, for example. Some blog-rolls over the last few days have resembled terrestrial television when a big story breaks; every channel showing exactly the same picture no matter what button you press. It’s fully justified, of course, and I’ll get a copy as soon as the print version comes out, but it’s good to take a look outside the in-group every once in a while.

'Course, staying in's nice, too

Engaging over at Big Soccer reminded me that, for all I go on about Japan being fundamentally the same as most other developed countries, it can and does look very different from the outside. Not least because it deliberately promotes that image. Many of the questions or assumptions I’d now regard as naïve or even stupid were questions and assumptions that I’d made myself when I first came here, and are actually pretty reasonable. It also reminded me that the word ‘soccer’ makes my teeth hurt.

They were asking the questions that I’d asked myself when I wrote that piece, but eventually thought better of pursuing. Which gives me all the excuse I need to re-re-assess and write it all anyway.

(This is Where the Ladies Start)

Sometimes it's just too easy
to write sarcastic captions

Shortly after Sawa won her World Player of the Year award she was interviewed on one of the morning magazine shows. Mezamashi TV, I think. Now, I wouldn’t have expected serious in-depth interviews from The Big Breakfast or GMTV, despite recent Prime Ministers’ attempts to seem like ordinary people by appearing on them. And while it would be unfair to expect depth here, Mezamashi TV is one of the most insultingly vapid, insubstantial pieces of fluff ever committed to the screen. It’s a particularly egregious exponent of the Cute Young Women + Creepy Old Man presenter combination, and its horoscopes are things of terrifying beauty. It also has a section called ‘Kyo no Wanko’ which I still find amusing, much to my wife’s annoyance.

It’s not Newsnight or 60 Minutes, is what I’m saying. As such, it would be unwise to read too much into any specific aspect of it, beyond its continued existence.

Seriously, it's like shooting fish in a barrel

So Mezamashi (I assume, it might have been ZIP! which is also awful but for different reasons) gets an interview with Homare Sawa and sends one of its few female presenters over the age of 30 to interview her. I missed most of the interview, but at the last she asks Sawa if she’s concerned that winning World Player of the Year will scare off potential husbands. Sawa bats it away nicely by saying ‘Well, you’re my sempai, so I’ll let you get married first,’ or words to that effect.

The whole senpai/kohai (senior/junior) relationship is exactly one of those things which I thought was great when I first got here, but the more I learn the less I like. Broadly speaking, senpai is a term of respect for an older or more senior person in a relationship, and deference is due. Regardless of talent or ability. Which was what Sawa was playing with here; it was overtly respectful towards the interviewer, but also a bit of false modesty, what with Sawa being The Best in the World and all. Paying respect, but also very obviously saying, “Who the hell are you to be asking me that question?”

I reckon she got off lightly, considering

That’s the background, which naturally led to the question, “Would Japanese men really be scared off by a woman’s success?”

Some would, but then some men in every country would. When I was younger and less secure, I’d waste cash on FHM, Loaded, and various other Stylish Masturbator clones. In one I recall reading advice that for a relationship to work the woman should not be taller than the man, she should not be cleverer, and she should not earn more. One of these was manageable, but two or more was asking for trouble. Big power differences are difficult in any relationship, but there is still a very widely held tradition of male breadwinners, a tradition that crosses many national boundaries.

But Japanese men specifically? Would they be more scared than Europeans, say? I suspect many would, though I’ve no idea how you’d verify or falsify that. There’s the whole ‘Herbivore’ phenomenon to contend with; a seemingly growing number of Japanese men who appear to have no interest in sex or relationships whatsoever. I suspect that it’s related to the seniority thing and the social stagnation it encourages, but this post is already more than a thousand words so expanding on that will have to wait.

Except to point out that these guys always have the horn

If you’re still here, well done, we’re almost there. The next obvious question is “Can they really ask about marriage like that?”

Clearly they can. Maybe it’s another measure of how much I’ve acclimatized that the question merely struck me as rude, and not completely unaskable. A little quote –

       "I can assure you that, at least here in Italy, a question like the one Sawa received, in a public, although "light entertainement" contest [sic], could have been perceived as sexist and near-abusive.”

In Italy! This is a country where until recently this man was Head of Government–

bunga bunga baby!

If Italians are looking at your treatment of women and saying, ‘Hold on now, that’s a bit much,’ then you can be pretty sure you’re out on something of a limb. And say what you like about Berlusconi, he did at least find it in himself to promote several women to positions of authority. A lot of those women seemed to have no prior experience outside of looking good in a bikini, but this is the current Japanese cabinet. Female members: one  –

er, bunga bunga?

I watched the Nadeshiko last summer because I’ll watch most sports when they’re on (except F1). I liked them because they played good football and actually showed some of the fighting spirit Japan likes to talk about but rarely actually displays. I respect them because in a country which obsesses about process, often to the detriment of outcome, they actually got the result.

Most of all though, I’m writing about them because this is a country which has precious few worthwhile female role-models, and essentially no young female ones. I’m very suspicious of ‘new dawns’ and Japan has seen so many come and go to no effect. To see these young women, though, raising the country up after the depths of the March disasters did feel particularly significant. Change won’t come quickly but it is coming, and Homare Sawa and her team-mates give me hope that it might, in some small but real ways, be here already.


  1. I've little interest in professional sports, much less soccer/football, but some of those 'nadeshiko' women come off very well on TV, though a bit butch for me, and certainly so for most Japanese men: a metrosexual only feels like a man beside a woman acting like a pre-teen. The marriage questions are so completely daft, and desperate in this country of declining marriage, that I wonder if the Japanese version of 'the Man' didn't get them asked. What do the questions serve: to keep marriage as a presumption? To keep 'old maids' scorned? To keep the proper options of Japanese women only as housewives, or as sex-toys?

  2. Interesting almost directionless post which felt like litening to you talk to yourself which you kinda did and was cool to read

    Homare Sawa

    She can be my bodyguard when I can no longer defend myself. She should be down to break heads or atleast look that way until she's 65....the obasans can intimidate with just a look.

  3. Ant - Honestly, I think the question only served to illustrate the vapid obsessions of the interviewer. Clearly she's just something of a cipher for a wider section of Japanese society. That said 'The Man' must be having really mixed feelings about all this.

    Kathryn - Yeah, she's not just a pretty face and a world class athlete...

    Chris - This is why I like that you keep coming back. This whole post was partly an experiment to see what happens if I don't make much of an effort to keep it focussed. I'm not sure if 'directionless' is a good thing, but glad you liked it, and glad you said so.