Usually I try to avoid self-help relationship books like Hepatitis B but the title to this is sort of catchy: 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck (なぜ日本にはいい男がいないのか 21の理由)
So I picked it up, said yes to writing the review and then the truth sank in: never mind the sucking Japanese men, the book itself is a D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival)
Anything with “21” in the title tells you most of what you need to know about the author, starting with such fundamentals as: 1) He’s probably between 45 and 60 and a lot of his ideas are stuck in the 20th century. 2) He’s probably a he and not a she, so what does he know about how men suck? 3) In 1999, he probably deployed the phrase Y2K more than 500 times in public. Before even cracking open the spine, I feel acute embarassment trickling over me like a faulty showerhead – not just for the author Tomonori Morikawa but for myself, the Japanese publishing industry and the Japanese dating scene in general. If we had all pulled ourselves together before the arrival of the um, century 21, we wouldn’t be floating around in this mess of 21 reasons.
On the other hand, Mr. Morikawa (58) undoubtedly means well. His good intentions ooze from the pages as does his impressive academic resume (ph.D in political science, graudate from Waseda University and post graduate stints at prestigious US universities etc.). Professor Morikawa now resides and teaches in Oregon. Judging by his back cover photo, he probably bicycles to work, shops organic and his “omiyage (coming-home gift)” of choice on the occasions he returns to Japan are packets of Stumptown coffee. Nice guy, really and most likely an ace political scientist, which is his special field. But when it comes to the relationship issue in post-3.11 Japan, I regret to have to say that the Professor is sadly uninformed and out of his depth. The book is divided into 3 chapters: “It’s the Fault of the Times,” “It’s the Fault of the Men,” and finally “It’s the Fault of the Women.” Clearly, Mr. Morikawa feels that someone or something should take the rap for this sorry state of affairs (no pun intended) but falls short of pointing a decisive finger. In another two decades, 60% of the men in this country could spend their entire lives solo, dying without ever having had a relationship, and Mr. Morikawa (for all his provocative title) doesn’t seem very upset about it. And if he’s waist high in bikini-ed women clamoring for his attention out there in Oregon, he’s certainly keep that under wraps.
“21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck” is written from the viewpoint of a Showa era (1925-1989) man, whose cultural and relationship reference points are mostly western. One of the salient points about “21 Reasons…” is the uncomfortable frequency of the phrase “in Europe and the US” – Mr. Morikawa obviously holds the western standard as sacrosanct, and ignores people like the Chinese, Indians and Africans – now a demographic and economic force to be reckoned with. Among the 21 reasons, he sites that the typical single Japanese male can’t kiss, smells bad and eats too much garlic. Elsewhere on the globe kissing is considered weird, disgusting and inappropriate, and many Turkish women for instance, actually prefer garlic breath. As for the male aroma issue, Mr. Morikawa should try riding on a Moscow subway in July.
The big problem with “21 Reasons…” is that, like a true Show-era “ojisan (uncle)” Mr. Morikawa tries to link a heavily political issue (Japan’s alarming birth rate decline) to the personal and intimate terrain of dating and sex. That such a pipeline does NOT work has been demonstrated by countless Japanese women being totally turned off by countless old-men politicans endorsing sex and pregnancy like it was the 1940s (one of the government slogans of that dark period was: “Bear children and multiply!”). None of those politicians including our present PM, never seem to get that it takes two to make babies and a lot of Japanese men are simply not interested, not ready or ill-equipped to make that sort of commitment. Mr. Morikawa at least, refrains from pinning the blame entirely on the women, but he does preach that once a woman hits 20, her marketability points go way down, along with her chances of encountering a non-smelly/good kisser who’s willing to get married and live happily ever after. According to Mr. Morikawa’s estimate, “Prince Charming on a white horse” comes around only once every 5000-plus new meet-ups. So if a woman had a blind date every single day for 14 years after her 20th birthday, she would be hitting the jackpot sometime after age 34? Gee, thanks for nothing.
The overall tone of “21 Reasons…” is pitched somewhere between midly condescending and mildly concerned – which could get intensely annoying after page 10. While professing to admonish the men by pulling his main conclusions exclusively from interviews with Japanese women locked in various stages of disappointment and frustration, Mr. Morikawa frequently slips on his own banana peels by strewing outdated stereotypical statements to explain the J-Men-Sucks phenomenon: “Japanese women just sit around and wait for a Prince Charming on a white horse to come along. Do they realize the odds of that ever happening?” “It’s imperative for Japanese men to get into good universities to ensure their futures. But it’s not so important for a Japanese woman to over-educate herself.” “Women need to play hard to get, in order to nab a desirable man. Look at the examples of Ginza bar hostesses.” In short, huge chunks of the book are not devoted to analyzing the problems proffered by the title, but given over to entitled, chauvinistic statements urging women to go out there and make themselves available.
Mr. Morikawa does make a sound observation, albeit not a very helpful one: that 10,000 years ago in the Jomon Period, Japanese couples got married at 14, had their first child at 15 and died off at 30. Even in the Edo Period, it was a huge deal if people lived past 45. Until the 1950s, he writes, couples were obligated to spend roughly 15 years together. Now the marriage years form a long, long stretch, compounded by the fact that the Japanese now live for a colossaly long time. “It’s impossible to keep loving the same man for so long,” he sighs. Duh.
So what to do? Make your body odor more acceptable and lay off the cheap booze, advises Mr. Morikawa. Otherwise, the professor doesn’t seem to have a clue.
Kaori Shoji writes about movies and movie-makers for The Japan Times and is also a writer for theInternational Herald Tribune and other publications. Well known for her sharp wit, some have likened her to “the Dorothy Parker of Japan.”