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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The battle of the sexes in Japan - Ken Shimura


Japan, the land of the swaggering male and the simpering female. The idea of the ‘gentleman’ is not a native Japanese one. The typical male/female couple walking down the street in Japan is characterized by the man staring straight ahead, stern, lordly and important, while two or three paces behind shuffles the woman, head bowed and dutiful. While not as ritualized among the younger generation, that basic pattern is pretty much undisturbed.

Lost in Translation

Now for the great Japan cliche: scratch the surface. What you may never get the chance to witness unless, perhaps, you marry a Japanese yourself, is that same demure woman taking the man’s pay packet at the end of the month and counting out a certain number of notes into his hand. That certain number of notes is the last he will see of any of what he earned that month! Once they run out, he is grounded.

Absolute control of the purse strings is the woman’s unchallenged prerogative in Japan, and adds to the myriad other examples of what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get that no description of Japan can be complete without.

A cursory acquaintance with neighborhood politics will quickly reveal that it is very much the housewives who are in control. The word for aunt in Japanese, oba, is used for middle-aged to elderly women in general, and a favorite, lightly derogatory, term for a band of such women is obatarian, a fusion of oba and the English battalion, clearly signifying the image of fearsome strength that they are seen to possess. Conversely, a word in vogue amongst obatarian for their useless, layabout husbands is sodaigomi, or oversize garbage.

The comedian Ken Shimura is an old staple of Japanese TV. His comedy program Daijobu daaaa (“It’s all right!”) is presently enjoying its 20th anniversary on the Fuji TV channel.

The above clip, subtitled in English by JapanVisitor.com, is a skit from Daijobu daaaa portraying that oldest of battles, the battle of the sexes. It draws its extra dose of humor from how radical the difference is that exists between the politics of a Japanese male/female couple in public and in private – a difference that, in its starkness, as you will see here, readily lends itself to full-on parody.

© JapanVisitor.com

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