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On Being a Man (in Japan)

By Charlie Badenhop

Drawing people into conversations that go beyond the surface is one of my favorite pastimes, regardless of where I am. I usually begin such conversations by sharing something personal about myself, while leaving the door open for others to do the same. In my Tokyo neighborhood I'm well known for this, and people seem to look forward to the opportunity of sharing time with me.

Recently I was sitting at the counter of a small Japanese eating-drinking "shop" talking to my long time friend Tabata-san. He's a few years older than me, and has always shown me a lot of kindness.

Somehow we got into talking about "being a man" and here's what Tabata-san had to say.

"Being a man in Japan is not an easy 'job'. There are lots of expectations, and very little praise along the way."

"Boys in Japan are given special status in their families because they're the ones who will carry the family name forward. This special status leads to special treatment, but also carries with it great responsibility."

"In particular if you're the oldest son, traditionally this meant you had the responsibility of living in your parents house your entire life, and caring for them when they get older."

"Well actually, if you get married, it will be your wife's job to care for your parents when they get older, but that's a story for another time."

"What happens for most Japanese boys, is that early on they build a wall to hide behind. On the outside they act as if they do not feel fear, or even pain. But beneath the surface, a frightened boy remains."

"As a boy-man we wait our whole life to be discovered by someone. We're hoping this someone will learn to read our feelings, because we're not any good at expressing our feelings in words."

"For me, for instance, I'd like to feel I'm able to say "I love you", but I have never done so. To speak those words would simply be too much."

"Men don't feel the need to complicate things by trying to express in words everything they feel. But women, and particularly our wives, make things much more complicated than they need to be, by asking us to share our feelings. This winds up creating a distance between us that over time, leads us to drift further and further apart. This sometimes leaves me feeling somewhat lonely, but I'm not at all sure there's a better alternative."

"Men want to be loved, but without the need to create further responsibility, as we already feel overburdened by the responsibilities our families, and our companies place on us."

"Japanese men are so simple. Just like me! And in my mind, simple is better. But somehow, we often get asked to be more sophisticated, more adept at expressing the feelings we have been taught to hide."

"You know, just like me, my wife likes to have a drink from time to time. But you'll never see me out drinking with her, because she'll be sure to try and draw me into conversations that I don't want to have with her."

"She has her friends and I have mine, and I think in the long run this distance between us is better, because it makes it easier to live together, rather than following the path of high expectations, and high rates of divorce like you have in the U.S."

"By the way" Tabata-san said, "You're beginning to look too serious. Why don't we order another beer and talk about something else!"

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