Do Charisma Men need defending?

This blog has a general “no mentioning Debito” rule because with the topics we cover here, he is the gaijin/Japanophile equivalent of Godwin’s law – the topic of conversation becomes instantly derailed into what people think of him and his views and actions. And on the occasions when the man himself has chimed in it has never gone well. The Internet can be an inhospitable place, sadly.

But today I am going to make an exception because he uses his most recent Japan Times column to give us a glimpse at his worldview from a different angle and it caught my interest.

To sum up, he has a problem with the old Charisma Man comic strip from the 90s. As many of our readers will remember, it was a funny caricature of the many young white Western men who come to Japan to teach English and find their luck with the ladies and general social status is much higher here than it was back home. So far so good. Where he takes offense is that there is a character “Western Woman” in the comic that can see him for the nerd he was back home and bring him back down to that level. These people he calls Identity Police and scolds for trying to label people and put them back in a social pecking order they are escaping in Japan.

Basically, I can agree with his point. People have a right to live with dignity even if they’re different and it isn’t fair for someone to come along and insult them. And he’s right that the picture painted is overly broad, though that’s kind of why it was funny to begin with.

Unfortunately, dealing with the topic of a label like this is inherently fraught. Merely by mentioning it we are in some small part accepting the premise of its author. For his part, Debito alternates between denying CM is important and addressing the entire column to anyone who thinks the label might apply to them (presumably a broad group of Western white men living in Japan). Oh well, such are the cards we are dealt.

Thing is, I don’t think this group is exactly under constant attack. There are definitely haters out there, but it’s overdoing it to call them “police.” If you let a detractor have that much power over your life decisions, it’s time to develop a thicker skin.

Any group of people that makes a decision outside the range of possibilities for the majority is going to meet with misunderstanding, ridicule, and even outright hostility. It just comes with the territory. “Charisma Men” are sometimes used as a safe target. For example, this entry on satire blog Stuff White People Like summed up many Americans’ attitude on Japan pretty well: “All white people either have/will/or wished they had taught English in Japan.  It is a dream for them to go over seas and actually live in Japan…White people love Japan… but you have to be careful about how much you like Japan.  If you know how to speak Japanese, you kind of ruin it for everyone else.”

On the other hand, the spread of the Internet has given rise to many ways for such outsiders to compartmentalize themselves. Unfortunately, a kind of siege mentality often develops where people pat each other on the back and find camaraderie among their ilk. These same people will then turn around and scorn some other group they see as different or inferior. In the process all hope of mutual understanding is lost. Something Awful’s Weekend Web feature has many, many great examples of this self-justifying, indulgent, and cliquey behavior.

Probably the best way to bridge these gaps is to appreciate and respect people who are different and resist the temptation to define yourself by putting down the things that you’re not. It’s an impossible task, but it’s important to at least try.


In the column Debito seems to accept the premise that most Westerners who come to live in Japan would be “losers in their home countries.” In effect, he is making the Identity Police’s case for them! He also defends “those derided as Charisma Men” as “providing valued, profitable service to society,” which again is just playing the same game as the detractors. It seems like he doesn’t have a problem with Identity Policing as long as he gets to wear the badge.

There are probably tens of thousands of Westerners living in Japan for various reasons, with hundreds if not thousands coming and going every year. And almost 30 years since the founding of Nova and more than 20 for the JET Program, many of the original Charisma Men have become Charisma Husbands and Charisma Dads, and maybe even Charisma Grandpas. So many people and such a long history make for an incredible amount of diversity. And that includes the nerds and losers remaking their identities along with jocks, former soldiers, nice people, criminals, weirdos, and completely normal and boring people. In fact, I am willing to bet that more than a few of them actually do “coast on charisma” as Debito insists they don’t.

He closes by asking his audience of self-identified CMs to “unite” in pride as nerds-turned-immigrants. I find the idea hard to comprehend. It’s like asking everyone who ever got cosmetic surgery to unite. Despite the superficial similarity, there’s simply very little to unite around. I don’t mean to sound antisocial or apathetic. Organizing and getting together is important for groups that have a reason to unite, like teachers’ unions or people who actually share cultural traditions. I realize that the question of identity has special resonance for the type that might be drawn in by a “Charisma Men, unite!” message, but these people should have more important things to worry about.

So I have an alternative recommendation for Debito’s readers: rather than worrying about what someone might be saying behind your back, why not work on being a better husband, spending time with your kids, or improving your career? Or maybe go back to coasting on your charisma if that’s your thing?

45 thoughts on “Do Charisma Men need defending?”

  1. Personally when I read the column I thought the writer got the whole point of the strip exactly backwards. Charisma Man was not doomed to being a loser and a nerd because Western Woman called him one; Western Woman called him a loser and a nerd because he was one. His problems were internal, his failings of his own making, but in Japan he was “successful” because he was “exotic”, “different”, and Japanese people around him looked at those aspects and didn’t bother to dig deeper. If they had, most would probably have reached the same conclusion about him as Western Woman did.

    Having a steady job and income does not mean you are suddenly a “better person”. Steve Jobs has (had?) a very good job and a very good income. But he has to wear turtlenecks all the time to keep the foreskin from rolling up over his head. Bill Gates has earned my respect for his philanthropy, but he is still a geek and always will be.

    There are people who emigrate, like my grandparents did, because they are looking for a better life and they are not going to have the chances to move up in the society they live in that they are if they move. Success may not be guaranteed, but there’s a chance. They are chasing a dream.

    Then there are people who are just running from themselves. That is something one cannot do – it’s impossible. But Charisma Man tries anyway – and as expected, he fails.

  2. one notable fact missing from the article in my opinion is that to get a english teaching job in quite a few case, the main requirement is you are able to speak english not if you have any qualifications in teaching it. so not that far removed from flipping burgers really.

    so just like flipping burgers is an easy ‘goto no brainer’ type of job so ‘teaching english’ because of a lack of ‘proof of skills’ is veiwed as the same. That doesnt stop some people that have qualifications and enjoy teaching from doing the job its just that they are unfortunately tarred with the same brush.

    I live in japan, Im a web programer/designer and it still surprises me the amount of japanese people that asume my job is teaching english and look surprised when I tell them what I actualy do.

  3. The fact is that the environment changes the individual, for better or for worse. To use an extreme example, there was a discussion on NPR’s “Planet Money” earlier this week about the most brilliant people in Libya being relegated to dead-end backwater jobs (and denied opportunities to learn foreign languages) because Ghadaffi is afraid of their potential to usurp him. They are losers by social design even though they would be game-changing winners anywhere else. To a person also stuck in that society, the true genius’s strengths might never be apparent because of where the society leaves them to rot.

    America and Japan do similar things to their young people, but it is an accidental process rather than an intentional one. The institutional school system is the main culprit in both cases. Normal 5-year-olds get mingled with all kinds of wacky peers, under nominal adult supervision, for the better part of ten to twelve years of their lives, and everyone walks out with a really bizarre set of complexes. (Wacky parents and relatives don’t help, either.)

    I went from being a small nerdy guy (what I was from first grade to tenth grade in the States) to being a big clueless dumb guy for a year in Osaka, almost overnight. I hadn’t really changed that much — to the contrary, I actually lost a lot of weight in Osaka. But I changed who I was in the context of my environment, and that had the effect of actually changing who I was, to the extent that I stopped taking my environment so seriously once I got back to the US.

    In another sense, each person changes their perception of the people around them to suit whatever worldview they happen to have. I liken Charisma Man to Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes (quite possibly the greatest comic strip ever made). To Calvin, Hobbes is a real tiger; to everyone else, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger. In the same way, Charisma Man is a hopeless dork to Western Woman at the same time that he’s a buff hero to Japanese Woman. Both views are “right” in the eyes of the respective viewers; which one you think is “right” is mostly based on your own prejudices.

  4. This blog has a no mentioning Debito rule? No one told me.

    I agree, the article has been horribly written, no one has edited it, and there are about five or six different themes and points going on with. But it was all worth it for this quote from Joe: “I changed who I was in the context of my environment, and that had the effect of actually changing who I was, to the extent that I stopped taking my environment so seriously once I got back to the US.”

  5. I’m really happy to see all the comments about Charisma Man. I thought it was funny for the first couple years when the first team was writing/drawing it. And for the record I think LB has it right, Charisma Man was a nerd and the comic was answering the question “Why do such dorky white guys end up with such beautiful Japanese ladies?”

    Anyway, I was afraid no one else was going to be old enough to know who Charisma Man was. Or maybe everyone else on this board is just old too.

    I’m going to go and see if I still have some issues of The Alien in a box somewhere…

  6. @Joe – yes, perhaps both the views of Charisma Man (those of Western Woman and those of Japanese Women, as portrayed in the strip) were “real” to those holding those views, but it was always made clear (I thought) that the view of Charisma Man as a stud muffin was at best hopelessly shallow and superficial, at worst an outright illusion. Charisma Man found an environment that was telling him he was something he wasn’t. I suppose that is all well and good if one is satisfied with an illusion, but it would make for a sad and empty life IMHO.

    I do agree with the fact that the environment shapes who we are – for better or worse. I would like to consider myself someone who tries to adapt to the environment around me, but I have also met several, and know of several more, individuals who have been here a decade or two and wear their absolute refusal to give even an inch in terms of adapting to Japan as almost a badge of honor. I am sure you know the type – the folks who after two decades complain about how all Japanese lump foreigners into one big monolithic group without even realizing the irony of that statement. And I bet we’ve all met real-life Charisma Men who have been here a couple of decades, got married, got kids, and are now well past middle age and finally realizing that they’ve grown up while they weren’t looking and never “became” anything. Now the Eikaiwa market has largely collapsed, they have no skills other than “speaking English” and “sponging off the wife” and are completely unable to figure out what to do next. I had to interview one of those guys for a job once – 50 years old and he borrowed his daughter’s car to drive the hour to our office. His wife had a car (and an actual job), but he couldn’t use it and when asked “if we hired you, how would you come in every morning?” he couldn’t answer. Couldn’t answer! He actually admitted he hadn’t thought of it! He was a nice guy and all, but had been cruising on Charima well past his best-by date and it finally caught up with him.

    How did he get that far? His environment let him. There’s that double-edged sword again.

    But anyway, this whole article, especially the closing, was drivel:

    All you readers out there being derided as Charisma Men — unite. Be proud that you’re making a better way for yourself. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a second chance at life.

    Thank you Stuart Smalley: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

    The people that is aimed at, and who then lap it up, refuse to realize that the only skills they have are English “soft skills.” They are in denial. The only reason they had a middle class background in their home country was because they won the lucky sperm lottery and were born white men there. When they came to Japan, the value of all that dropped to zero. They were shocked to discover that the Japanese weren’t going to give them anything but the lowest level white-collar work, because that was all they were found to be qualified for.

    These people read columns like the one referred to here for affirmation. They have skills, dammit! If they are unemployed or underemployed or underutilized it’s discrimination! If people weren’t so prejudiced their lives in Japan would be great! It’s not their fault!

    Columns like this are dangerous because they feed people’s delusions and give people a cop-out. People who should be getting a swift kick and told to learn that life in a foreign country (or just life in general) is tough are instead being told that it’s not them, it’s the “haters” out to bring them down.

    “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”

  7. The truth about Debito is that he’s a ‘Charisma Man’, but shouldn’t let it bother him so much. We’re all sad bastards with complexes, no matter how successful we are, as was ‘Western Woman’. People who cannot laugh at themselves are always pathetic, and if they have any influence at all, highly dangerous.

  8. What ever happened to that Gaijin hierarchy we made like back in 2009? I think Debito should write his next column on it.

  9. Of course, the biggest online Charisma Man hatchet jobbing that I can think of, complete with a rather cruel cartoon, is Debito’s repeated bludgeoning of Tony Laszlo. He also identity polices him – suggesting that it is dishonest for Laszlo to present himself as “European” when he is REALLY American.

    “But yeah, it must be nice to be the appendage-half of a very successful business partnership, one that became a social phenomenon (of debatable benefit) this past decade. It’s produced a person who reportedly once cared about helping the downtrodden in Japanese society, yet can still make media hay in places like the Japan Times just by indulging in idle sweetmeat pursuits.”

    “people like these are singularly unconcerned about working for the greater good”

    “Win the world yet lose your soul?”

    “Given the Laszlo I knew would not let himself be made into the Gaijin Clown, the aim of DWG was originally different. Once it became a cash cow, however, the marketing changed.”

    “It’s apparently based upon Tony Laszlo, one-time unicyclist, “journalist”, “activist” … and now happy multimillionaire thanks to his partnership with and characterization by his very talented wife.”

    “So she probably didn’t know about his impending conversion to cartoon character and cute keitai mascot (beats sullying his hands in real activism, anyway, or tainting his cutie-pie salability with any connection to controversial topics).”

    “Yep, the person who’s been portrayed as kinda European (his nationality has been ambiguously expressed both by the first Daarin wa Gaikokujin book, and reviews in Rakuten Books et al, as “Hungarian father and and Italian mother, raised in the US”), finally comes out as a garden-variety American! Howdy, pardner! Not that there’s anything wrong with being American, of course. It’s just good to see your stripes at last.”

    Laszlo is a perfect example of a (self-professed) geeky guy doing well for himself mainly because of his Japanese wife and use of charisma to build a niche for himself and yet Debito thinks that is bad, bad, bad – even calling him a “gaijin clown” (better than Uncle Tom, anyway). Being a Charisma Man is great, it seems, as long as you aren’t doing better than Debito.

  10. The problem with the gaijin hierarchy is that it won’t make a lick to sense to anyone not actually involved in the discussion –

    The emperor if he actually has a surfer dude accent > Steven Seagal > all foreign sumo wrestlers except Konishiki and those Russians that got caught with weed > Naturalized Japanese citizen (some overlap here)* > Street performer who hooked up with a famous idol > Japanese-speaking corporate executive > other foreign fighter/athlete> Attorney > Professor > Interpreter > Token gaijin at a large corporation* > Translator > Konishiki > Mombusho scholar > first-generation JET/BET who was totally not an English teacher > Translator who pisses on people > Professor who only teaches ESL > Jesus in Toyama > Gaijin tarento > JLPT 1 passer > JLPT 1 passer who speaks in dialect to show off > Genki English guy* > NGO Worker > eikaiwa teacher-turned-entrepreneur > Foreign Geisha > Journalist > high school exchange student > Akihabara tour guide (with Son Goku costume)* > Portuguese-speaking CIR > CIR > Convenience store clerk/electronics salesman* > Eikaiwa teacher >Bonsai (or other traditional Japanese craft) master > Bonsai (or other traditional Japanese craft) student > Buddhist convert > Shinto convert > Headhunter > Eikaiwa teachers who are milking the system > Street performer > Hostess > guy handing out event fliers in Roppongi > Foreign psychic > Evangelical Christian

  11. “Anyway, I was afraid no one else was going to be old enough to know who Charisma Man was. Or maybe everyone else on this board is just old too.”

    I have literally only seen the Charisma Man comic in paper form once, when a classmate in my first study abroad program back in 2002 or 2003 bought a used copy of it. I see/hear the term once in a while, but I think everybody knows it’s really a 90s thing. I’ve never even heard of, much less seen, the original magazine that it was from.

  12. Debito’s made this type of flawed comparison before, but it deserves repudiation once again: Being pigeonholded as a dork in an American/Canadian/British secondary school should not be equated with being a citizen in countries (Egypt, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe) where basic things like the rule of law, protection from abitrary state violence and impunity, and awful practices like female genital mutilation, sex-selective abortion, and acid attacks abound. You can grow out of being an adolescent dork; you can’t grow out of living in an authoritarian state or social setting. White male “immigrants” in Japan simply should not be grouped together with Egyptian, Indian, Kenyan, etc. immigrants around the globe. But Debito makes this ridiculous comparison again and again.

  13. Roy, you’ve never seen Japanzine? It was what the Alien morphed into. It was very much a “blind-leading-the-blind” type of publication.!

    It was only late 1990s. In fact, I think the strip was still going when you guys started this blog.

    As for what we can extrapolate from the strip to give us some understanding of the plight of the foreigner in Japan, I really only have one thought:


  14. I thought that “Alien” was a far better name. As far as I can tell the content never changed, and it is basically a publication that allows barflies to vent about how ill-at-ease they are in Japan (as well as helping them find bars). Not that it wasn’t funny at times. The advice column written by the sexagenarian salaryman was sometimes inspired.

  15. Did you see the video attached to that article, by the way? Interviewing people in Roppongi dive bars where Japanese chicks and foreign guys go to hook up about how easy it is for foreign guys to hook up with Japanese chicks in Japan speaks yet again to the journalistic powers of Ms. Lah.

  16. Perhaps you should post your letter here Joe. We do know that some (even quite good) journalists regularly read this blog.

  17. Adam,

    While I agree with the general premise of the post, the last paragraph is what gets under my skin…

    “So I have an alternative recommendation for Debito’s readers: rather than worrying about what someone might be saying behind your back, why not work on being a better husband, spending time with your kids, or improving your career? Or maybe go back to coasting on your charisma if that’s your thing?”

    Yes, you are an in-house translator for a large financial institution in the Tokyo area. But you have also studied Japanese for much longer than some other people here, and this isn’t the first time you’ve brought up English teachers as losers on the totem pole of life in Japan. It was a recurring theme of yours for a while, and the way you talk about them is sickening.

    As someone who still teaches English (but is also doing a large amount of translation on the side and trying to increase that amount) your elitism is really sickening. Have you ever considered that? Ever? And why do you care about ranking everybody if you’re in such a position?

  18. Thinking about it a bit more, this latest piece by Debito is actually a pretty reasonable “assimilation on our own terms” argument bogged down by the Charisma Man inclusion.

    I was thinking this and happened to come upon an article about immigration blowback in Italy that has some relevance for out continuing discussion on immigration and Japan’s future –;_ylt=ArTPb8e8YzMshKq7RArRKCZvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJvZ2ZucmM1BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwMzA1L2V1X2l0YWx5X3NwZWFrX291cl9sYW5ndWFnZQRwb3MDNQRzZWMDeW5fbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHNsawNpdGFseW1ha2VzaW0-

  19. Why the deleted comment? I have yet to understand Adam’s continued attacks on English teachers here, and the ranking system mentioned above is an ugly form of elitism. It’s sad because there’s a lot of good material posted on here, but posts like these are infuriating to read.

  20. I don’t think your comment got deleted.

    If that’s what you think I am saying with that last paragraph then you are reading way too much into it.

    All I am saying is “uniting” around being called a Charisma Man would be extremely lame and counterproductive. Better to live your life than worry so much about abstract labels.

    I can’t hide my general disrespect for eikaiwa as a teaching system but I at least try to separate that from the people involved, who have a wide variety of reasons for doing the jobs. Recently, I try not to get into the business of deciding the relative worth of people’s livelihoods, which is something I was trying to put out there in the post. But I am definitely not perfect in this regard as a search of the archives will show. That is why I also said in the post:

    “Probably the best way to bridge these gaps is to appreciate and respect people who are different and resist the temptation to define yourself by putting down the things that you’re not. It’s an impossible task, but it’s important to at least try.”

    BTW, the hierarchy is completely tongue-in-cheek, more of an attempt at identifying what the general stereotypes are rather than actually ranking people. I don’t think Ben was cheering for its reposting so he could sneer at people.

  21. ” your elitism is really sickening. Have you ever considered that? Ever? And why do you care about ranking everybody if you’re in such a position?”

    “Why the deleted comment? I have yet to understand Adam’s continued attacks on English teachers here, and the ranking system mentioned above is an ugly form of elitism.”

    English teachers in Japan are the salt of the earth.They most certainly deserve to be elevated to the Charisma man status,this coming from a Japanese guy.

    But then,this is adamu’s blog.Not the weekly newsletter of the Fraternity of Charisma man.So why even bother to read the blog.Read Fucked Gaijin instead.

  22. Just so everyone knows, the comment wasn’t deleted, just flagged for manual screening by the spam filter for some reason.

  23. Paul, for what it’s worth, the hierarchy starts with “The emperor if he actually has a surfer dude accent”. It is supposed to be a joke.

    In any case, we are always judging livelihoods and life choices. Every time we have a meta level discussion about the Japanese economy and internationalization (which is often) we are doing that – more flexible labor, people shouldn’t expect to cruise as seishain, more English, can unproductive older workers, more efforts to integrate foreign workers and management. Every time that we have one of these discussions we are outlining a world view that values certain types of work experience and the cultivation of certain types of work environments over others and in general ways can be very dismissive of, say, older workers in Japanese middle management. We try to do it, however, with evidence and a holistic take on the job market. How is that so different than saying that eikaiwa is a low-skilled job and a dead end in the current market and that people should be proactive in moving into something better? This is something that we say from personal experience (as I take it nearly every one of the bloggers and regulars has taught English or eikaiwa in at least some capacity) and a quantitative look at the industry.

    And why not have a hierarchy anyway? Back home, everyone recognizes that a doctor or lawyer is higher on the social totem pole than a primary school teacher or nurse who is higher on the totem pole than a gas station attendant or cashier. It doesn’t mean that they are better people, more friendly, happier, or anything like that but to ignore the education/training/experience level, difficulty of securing a position, salary, and abstract prestige of different jobs is impossible. You yourself are trying to move out of eikaiwa into translation, right? Is that not because you recognize its limitations in those areas?

    The problem with eikaiwa in these kinds of discussions is that it sits outside of widely recognized hierarchies “back home” and in mainstream Japanese society. Maybe comparing eikaiwa to a McJob is cruel but suggesting that it is an extremely professional field that requires a difficult and diverse skill set and has ample opportunities for advancement, as is said so often online, seems equally extreme.

  24. One thing that struck me when I read Debito’s column: was Western Woman even a real phenomenon? Yes, of course there were and are plenty of western women in Japan, but the character seemed like more like a visual shorthand for CM’s own insecurity about himself, combined with the contrast of someone who simply wasn’t under the same ‘westerners are exotic’ spell as the Japanese. The actual western women I encountered back in my own CM days (fresh-off-the-plane geek, decent-paying eikaiwa job with few qualifications and fewer responsibilities, steady stream of alcohol and girlfriends, etc) were generally more interested in pursuing their own charisma lifestyles than in putting down the guys doing the exact same things they were. To get that offended at the WW character is really protesting too much.

  25. Charisma man is a warning and a helpful one to all those gaijin who really take the adulation and praise seriously, and think that they can get away with wearing a pink hat.

    Yes your dick looks big in her small hands, yes yes yes,but not back home it don’t.

  26. Not exactly Charisma Man, but this whiny article by a lady who tried living in Taiwan and never got past the second stage of culture shock is a good example of the kind of attempted-expat who never even makes it nearly far enough to become a Charisma Man. Who is more of a “loser”?

  27. Roy – Link?

    I’ve never met anyone like this, don’t think that it is a “trend” or anything (certainly not nearly as prevalent as Charisma Man, who actually exists – even people who have never read the strip know it as it has become a part of the Japan expat vocabulary) but I have seen a few (and just a few) comments online and can recall one or two conversations in dorms or gaijin bars that suggest a female equivalent to Charisma man cluelessness – these are comments like “local guys are too shy to talk to me and gaijin all chase J-girls. J-girls are easy, stupid, crazy, anorexic, and those relationships always end bad. If those guys weren’t such losers they would be getting with a mature adult woman like me.”) This combination of appeal to one’s own maturity and attractiveness in a spectacularly immature and silly way speaks to a level of cluelessness approaching Charisma man’s own.

    The vast majority of “Western Women” that I met or came to know in Japan had a perfectly sensible attitude and seemed to have no trouble meeting either Japanese guys or finding foreigners to date if they were interested in a relationship but there seems to be a tiny minority that you could call “Complete Lack of Charisma Woman”, eternally bitter in Japan.

  28. So the translators are above the eikaiwa teachers, and the interpreters are above the translators. And then the free-lance interpreters are above the in-house interpreters, and Robert Feldman trumps all free-lance interpreters and Japanese-speaking Hollywood stars.

    Forget about the stupid hierarchy. No matter how high you go, every rung on the ladder has really great people mixed with assholes suffering from insecurities.

    Or if you really want to be ranked…this morning’s Nikkei ran a story about how the government is going to introduce a new system for acquiring permanent residency in Japan, where one can get his/her PR visa with only five years of residency if their score is 70 or higher on a scale of 100. That score qualifies one as 高度人材 (double-speak for high-output, low-crime individual). It seemed like a bit much for P.1 of the Nikkei, but perhaps it’s a perfect story to lampoon here at MFT…

  29. “So the translators are above the eikaiwa teachers, and the interpreters are above the translators. And then the free-lance interpreters are above the in-house interpreters, and Robert Feldman trumps all free-lance interpreters and Japanese-speaking Hollywood stars.”

    Woah, woah, that’s a little too simplistic for us Peter. For a complete breakdown, please reference:

  30. Curzon, indeed. As the one who lobbied for the street performer that hit it with Fumie Hosokawa, I do remember that hierarchy. But I think someone already mentioned it earlier in the comments…

    And furthermore, that’s just how *we* see them. How would the J-gov score each one? How does Western Woman score each one?

  31. I don’t think many Japanese are aware of “Charisma Man” as a label, although I’m sure plenty would understand the idea very quickly if it was explained to them. I bought the book a few years ago for a Japanese bartender who deals with foreigners a good deal. He thought it was hilarious and asked me to buy half a dozen more copies to give to friends.

    Many Japanese do have a similar concept in reverse, however. Most of us here must have heard the idea that foreign guys seem to fall for Japanese girls who wouldn’t get far in local beauty contests. That’s seems especially widely held when it comes to Japanese girls who have gone abroad. Yoko Ono wasn’t regarded as a great catch for John Lennon, for instance.

    It’s not just a question of looks: some of the girls who go abroad, and find themselves popular, are often regarded as being slightly prickly customers or else having a screw loose.

    I thought about this the other day when listening to the new album from the band Asobi Seksu, featuring the singer Yuki Chikudate. A few years ago, one American journalist described her as follows:

    “Here’s what I’m guessing: Yuki Chikudate gets asked about sex a lot. Not in a dirty, romping, rated X way by lust mongering droolers, but in a way that could be genially struck up at a hoity-toity tea party or anywhere in fading light. She’s exotic and beautiful and all of the things that lend themselves to stumbling and mental undressing – the lascivious nature of the species coming into a fullness of lighting – but it’s not the physical action of sex or the extras that she truly sparks in the casual or intimate listener. From the time that she opens her mouth, Chikudate takes you as her property. With glazed but dizzy eyes, you hand over the keys, the title and the deed. They kind of fall limply from you to her and she doesn’t even have a need for your things, no matter how much you might value them…”

    I’m certainly nothing to write home about myself but that description seemed somewhat at odds with photos of the girl.

    Another example that recently came to mind was Yasuko Hiraoka. Back in the seventies, she won the heart of retailing magnate Ken Myer, who scandalized society circles by promptly leaving his wife and leaning on the Australian ambassador to issue Yasuko a visa so she could join him. People assumed he’d been snared by some siren working as a bar hostess or geisha and were unprepared for the woman who turned up. Here’s an account of Myer’s first encounter with her:

    “Yasuko, a diminutive 150cm tall, turned up at Fukudaya wearing a green parka which Ken thought made her look like “a little green frog”. She also wore plus-fours with brown-checked knickerbockers. ‘She was so tiny,’ Myer said later, ‘I thought Oh God!'”

    The full story of the couple is fascinating, and well worth hunting down.

    When locals wonder why foreigners seem to go for plain-looking or hard-faced oddballs, the reply is usually something about how Japanese men don’t appreciate the same character traits which appeal to foreigners. I certainly hope no-one here with a Japanese partner will feel the need to come up with any justification for their choice. Incidentally, this doesn’t seem to be something limited to Westerners: the same comments come up for Japanese girls who marry Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs.

  32. Interesting – I had never heard of Yuki Chikudate, but I see what you mean. She kind of looks like an older sister of Imoto Ayako – not really anything I’d call “exotic and beautiful” nor leading to “mental undressing”, but then again not Mitsuura Yasuko or Koyuki either…

    Then again, there seem to be more than a few people who think Koyuki is “beautiful” too…

  33. I recall stumbling across a group on Mixi some time ago devoted to the question “Why are foreign guys into ugly Japanese women?” It was a pretty active discussion. Personally, I think the correlation is entirely invented by Japanese guys who want to feel better about themselves.

    One thing I have noticed is that Japanese women who are into foreign guys are more “real” — they seem to have a much less active tatemae then their compatriots who are into Japanese guys. Less social deference to men, laughing at un-funny jokes, faked innocence, etc.

  34. This is a topic that begs to be approached anecdotally.

    In one sense, seeing groups of Japanese housewives with young kids getting together overseas, I don’t think that it is at all obvious who is married to a foreigner and who is married to a Japanese. There are oddballs and abrasive characters that end up splitting the “community” into factions in both camps. Likewise, there are hotties and notties in both camps as well.

    In Japan, however, I have seen Charisma Man egos stoked by some pretty “strange” characters. One woman (that I must admit that I still have a bit of a crush on years later – she was smart) that I knew was in her mid 30s and had shacked up with 5 generations of JET ALTs in her smalish town. When I met her, her boyfriend couldn’t speak Japanese and she was pretty starved for conversation at parties so I ended up chatting with her quite a bit. I asked her “seriously, WTF is up with your lifestyle” and she basically said “okay sex, they buy me stuff, I move into their apartments and save on rent, don’t need to put up with Japanese family BS, what’s not to like?” Part of the Charisma Man myth is that Japanese women are duped or simply can’t help themselves. Many hookups (in this case, five whole generations of JET “Japanese girls are easy” stories) are with women who don’t have any illusions, know exactly what they are doing, and are totally okay with it.

    “they seem to have a much less active tatemae then their compatriots who are into Japanese guys.”

    Are you sure this isn’t something that the smarter women know how to turn on and off?

  35. Are you sure this isn’t something that the smarter women know how to turn on and off?

    It probably is, but I don’t notice women turning it on and off.

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