Superman meets Charisma Man

I’ve been back in the US for about two months now, and while I’ve settled back into the full-time student routine here, I can’t get over the feeling that I’ve left something better behind.

A few weeks back I came across this post by Debito while I was having a minor bout of insomnia, and it sums up the feeling perfectly.

I liken a trip back to America to Superman making a trip back to Krypton.

When Siegel and Schuster first made the Man of Steel, they had to inject a little science into their fiction, because comic-book hero or not, an invulnerable superhuman was a little hard to believe. So they talked about Clark Kent coming from a planet called Krypton, which being more dense than Earth has a higher amount of gravity. So when Clark crashlanded on Earth, he was superstrong because things were physically lighter, and he had X-Ray vision from eyes attuned to a different opacity. Superman’s nemesis was, of course, fragments of rock from his home world–Kryptonite–which made him lose all his powers.

Hence America becomes my Krypton because I feel absolutely sapped of strength there, even at the most interpersonal levels.

Here in Japan, I can relate more to people; they generally give me the time of day and listen to what I say. This could be due to their interest in America, their tendency towards deference with White people, or my ability to describe in Japanese what I see around me–my X-Ray vision, so to speak.

In terms of strength, here I feel I can accomplish more in a negotiation than the average Japanese–with the right mix of loud voice, humility, deliberate ignorance of custom, and choices of which battles to fight.

Then there’s the financial and emotional integrity in Japan (something which even Clark Kent, with a shitty job as a reporter at the Daily Planet, didn’t have); here, I’m not troubled for money, bored with bad food, starved for pretty women to gaze at, or frustrated by a lack of intellectual challenge.

Now, anyone who’s been in Japan for a substantial amount of time probably knows about Charisma Man, the little comic book about a Canadian “geek” who goes to Japan and becomes the ultra-cute “Charisma Man.” Charisma Man can clear a train car in 5 seconds and scare away oyaji by showing off his elephant-like penis. His arch-enemy, naturally, is Western Woman! who can turn him back into a geek just by looking at him.

It’s a true enough phenomenon. Western guys who go to Japan all become Charisma Men to some degree, and the ones who have charisma before they come to Japan become practically superhuman. But the mystery is: why? And everyone seems to have their theories.

I talked about this with Roy, and he seems to believe that it’s a question of audience selection: there’s just a subset of Japanese people who are interested in foreigners (particularly women interested in men), and that’s the attention that turns foreign guys into Charisma Men. That’s probably not a bad theory.

But there’s another half to it, and I think Debito hits it squarely on the head. When you aren’t brought up in Japan, you don’t worry about being the deru kugi–the nail sticking up–and that puts you ahead of those who do. I think it’s a lack of that dreaded word from elementary school: self-esteem. I vaguely remember trying to explain that concept when I was in high school in Osaka. I had to look it up in my electronic dictionary. That communicated the word, but not the concept. The teacher said: “Oh, like selfish?

And indeed, when I talk to Japanese people in America, many seem to feel the exact opposite effect as Debito and I do. They come to the US, and often they become Charisma People (men and women alike), living freely without a society telling them what to do.

Maybe it’s just psychosomatic. Maybe we just have to be in the environment that we enjoy. So maybe it’s more appropriate to give each their own. Let Mariko have freeways and beaches and pizza: let me have subways and sakura and sushi, and we’ll be even. Which is why I’m all about a world with fewer borders.

21 thoughts on “Superman meets Charisma Man”

  1. Maybe we just have to be in the environment that we enjoy.

    That’s why I live in Japan.

    But call me ‘Charisma Man’ and I’ll punch you in the mouth.

  2. One common theme I see from expats is that being away from immediate family/friend concerns is a major liberating factor, and I think some people project that feeling of freedom they get onto the society they’ve moved to. If no one knows you and you’re too far away to get calls from your mother on a daily basis then it’s like you’ve moved to another planet.

  3. Boy that was an old essay of mine–nearly ten years old, in fact. My feelings are a little more sophisticated now (one would hope–especially now that I have citizenship, not just Permanent Residency), but the essence is the same. Change your environment, change your acumen.

    And I agree with Curzon–call me Charisma Man and I’ll punch you in the mouth too. 😉 All of us here (given our hard-earned education and cultivated talents) are certainly not “no-hopers” in our societies of birth. We just saw a better thing elsewhere and gravitated towards it. Natch.

    But in defense of Charisma Man, why SHOULDN”T Charisma Man take advantage of the factors working in his favor? Why should a “loser” in one society be consigned from birth or upbringing to his assigned role as “loser” until death? Why should other people feel justified in controlling the fate and make light of the fact that he’s breaking out of his mold? Why shouldn’t that “loser” try to make the best of his life as best as humanly possible–even if that means emigration?

    What makes the comic amusing instead of inspiring is the added element that the character is a fraud and a faker, not just a loser. But that’s rarely commented upon because it’s easier to make fun of a loser.

    Hm… another essay out of thin air. Gotta stop responding like this. Got to finish my powerpoint presentation for the FCCJ and UN on Monday in Tokyo. That’s where claims of “charisma” can get you? I’ll hack it. Debito

  4. Isn’t there an old Japanese proverb that goes something like “the man away from home has no neighbours”?

  5. “Like rolling stones gather no moss”kind?
    This is the country with anthem like”may your reign last until pebbles turn into boulders and covered in moss.”Jade.What many think about the issue is obvious without any proverb.

    I too am sort of a charisma man in Mongolia.(was not so in U.S)
    But I’m ashamed of it.For simply it is the power of yen that make me so.
    So tell me my gaijin friends,do you all want to be a selfpitiful “oppressed class” or
    Suoer ego”Charisma man”or just plain “nextdoor neighbor”?It’s your call.

  6. For whatever it’s worth, 出る杭 gets way more hits than 出る釘 on the Google machine. That version of the phrase has entries in all the main dictionaries, too.

  7. I always get energised simply by the “otherness” when I’m in Japan. Life at home in the UK is just so familiar I don’t really bother checking what’s around me. Maybe that’s the source of the change: the fact that you become more interested in what’s around you. After all, people who are interested in things are always more interesting than those who aren’t.

  8. Someone pointed out the fact that no one wants to be a loser anywhere, but by going to another country to become “Charisma Man” you are not becoming any stronger. I would trade fifty “Charisma Men” for one “Reality” Person when hiring an individual for a job (Notice I said person here because gender is not important, quality of work is) since I know that person knows how to perform well, even without “Charisma”. Debito, congratulations on your Japanese Citizenship, and best of luck to you. You are not “Charisma Man” as your article could not have been written by a “Charisma Man” so anyone who has called you so has either A. Not read the article, or B. Does not get the cynicism in the article. Curzon, no need to be so hostile. No one is calling you “Charisma Man”, and randomly punching people can lead to dangerous situations.
    Incidentally, I lived in Japan and was not really treated as “Charisma Man” there, despite being American born. I was born in New Jersey to mostly Mongolian and Sicilian lineage, so I have neither the 6’+ height or the Blond hair and blue eyes that give “Charisma Man” his magic powers, but I’m not complaining. I smiled when I was treated less than special, because I was being treated like “Real Person” even in Japan, and for that I am thankful. For all you Charisma men, try this one out. Go to Little Tokyo in L.A. It is like Japan, complete with your Charisma Man powers. Walk about two blocks away and keep up your Charisma Man attitude with the locals. If you are lucky enough to get out of there alive, you can feel good about yourself. Most likely, however, you will go from “Charisma Man” to “Statistic Man” real fast.
    I still remember a few months back here in the “Real World” when a gentleman pointed a .357 in my face and asked me why I was “dissing” him while I was speaking on a phone. I told him I was not talking to him, and I let him know I wasn’t scared. He actually went away. I know if I ran, my wife would now be a widow.
    If you have not had such an experience in your life, Charisma Men of the world, then you can call yourself Charisma-chan, since you are no more than a spoiled child. (And I don’t mean you, Curzon, so put away your fists. If you do try to punch me, however, I will defend myself).

  9. I still remember a few months back here in the “Real World” when a gentleman pointed a .357 in my face and asked me why I was “dissing” him while I was speaking on a phone. I told him I was not talking to him, and I let him know I wasn’t scared. He actually went away.

    Sounds just like an experience I had a block away from my house in North Philadelphia, back in the misguided days when I lived there.

    I would rather think of that sort of experience as the type of thing you should enjoy from time to time so you never forget how good you have it when you’re in the safe lap of civilization.

  10. Remind me not to move to the US if this sort of thing is remotely common….

    Here’s a wee hypothesis: the Charisma Man stereotype exists in part due to bullshit. People won’t admit they can’t even get laid in Japan “where even geeks and nerds can get laid if they’re white” so lie about how much they are getting. And the more people lie about this, the greater the pressure for other people to join in the lie.

  11. “I was born in New Jersey to mostly Mongolian and Sicilian lineage,”

    OK,now I’m interested.Is your relative one of Kalmyk settled in New Jersey,Kublai Khan?

    “People won’t admit they can’t even get laid in Japan “where even geeks and nerds can get laid if they’re white” ”

    Should see TV this morning Jade.
    There was one of those “What do you like about Japan,Ask Gaijin”inteviews and this Italian geeky looking fellow innocently said “I came to Japan to meet cute girls!”.The place was Akihabara,ofcourse.

  12. I havent been to Japan, but Ive traveled enough to realize, that there are many countries that are not multi culti like the US…I think its probably genetic that women are attracted to foreigners its called hybrid vigor- when you have offspring who come from very different genetic pools, the likelyhood of disease and defects goes way down… Its funny because south americans love blonds because there are very few…germans and the scandanavians love dark eyes dark skin and black hair. Whats more all of your cultural values that are more or less given to you may very well be highly desired and or hated in a different culture. In America most younger women are attracted to bad boys…in colombia women would die for a man who’s faithful-its not that there boyfriends are cheating on them with one woman…its that he’s cheating with 4 others! So travel! life is more interesting and YOU”RE more interesting.

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