What is the ideal way to “be a man” in Japan? What do Japanese women expect from their men, and how will you compare?
As a Western man in Japan or in a relationship with a Japanese woman, you may get a totally free pass for being foreign. Despite that, she’s still very likely to apply Japanese standards of masculinity to you. She can’t help it any more than you can help applying your native standards of what makes a woman.
Knowing the basics of what makes a man a man in Japan
You don’t have to be overly conscious of it, but if you are at least aware of the differences in expectations, it will make your relationship so much better for the both of you.
Japan is in many ways a socially conservative country. Perhaps not like some other Asian societies such as Vietnam or Malaysia, but there are lots of standards of what to do and not do, the right and wrong way, etc. There are much more specific gender roles than in most Western countries.
In Japan, men are still widely expected to be the main income providers in a marriage. Yes, it’s changing, and yes you’ll hear a lot of public talk about working women, but women are still widely expected to do most of the housework and childrearing.
It may conflict with your Western ideals. And you bet it’ll conflict with Western women’s ideals, but there’s no shortage of Japanese women who would like to marry a stable man, leave work, and take care of the kids while her husband is out of her hair.
A man can still be a man, though. Not just a wallet. And often in the best long-term relationships, he stays a man, and doesn’t turn into a sad sack.
Japan (generally speaking) has long revered the following traits and characteristics in men:
You see the Japanese salarymen on the train every night, riding the 2 hours home to the suburbs. If it’s late, many of these guys have just put in a 12-hour workday, followed by several hours of drinking with the boss.
It’s no wonder they fall asleep standing up in the train. This is Tokyo, and to an extent Osaka and maybe Nagoya. You’ll see it to a lesser degree in the smaller cities and towns.
Japan has a powerful work ethic, and men are expected to bear the brunt of it. Japanese men are some of the hardest working men in business in terms of hours worked and sheer dedication to their companies – and you’ll see it every day.
You may be grinning, because you also know that some of these men are sleeping at their desks and barely getting anything done. They’re basically just hanging out and putting on a show of working hard. But anyhow, that’s hard work in and of itself.
Tip for you: It’s totally OK to state you’re a bit tired because you were working late or studying so much. In the West, especially in countries that value leisure, such as France and Australia, that may be seen as just silly. You’ll be told to relax, enjoy life. In Japan, public displays of fatigue are quite OK if you don’t overdo it.
Strong and silent men
Japanese men are not expected or encouraged to complain. Much like the rest of Japanese society, Japanese men are raised with the values of perseverance and being steadfast in the face of adversity. As soon as they enter junior high it’s all rigorous study, club activities, sports, all with long hours and lots of rules.
You listen to the boss, teacher, manager. You take it like a man. You don’t complain.
It’s highly unusual in Japan to see anyone raise their voice in anger or lose their temper. Open displays of anger are considered childish. You may go weeks without seeing any visible anger in Japan, even in Tokyo. If you do, he’s probably drunk or some young punk. And old men occasionally flip their lid. No wonder, after all those years of canning it up.
Tip for you: If you feel a complaint coming on. Maybe about a slow waitress, bad weather, or crowded train… suck it up. Don’t huff and puff. Don’t make a pouty posture. If you’re with your lady, make an observation rather than bitching. “I wonder when the food’s coming.” “Aw, rain. What bad luck.” “Sure is crowded.” You’ve just confided in her rather than looking like a child.
Japanese men are expected to work very long hours at their jobs, with very little time for vacation, family, dating, hobbies, or much of anything else. This trend started back in junior high, as mentioned above. The only break they got was if they went to college, which is the last hurrah.
And yes, it’s changing, but from junior high onward, a man is admired if he focuses. Whether it’s on his studies, his job, even on caring for his parents. That’s a man.
Being able to stay hyper-focused on a task is part of Japan’s ideal of masculinity, and it ties in with the other stoic traits. This one in particular, is pretty much valued globally. Who wants a distracted and flaky man?
Tip for you: If you find yourself drifting into daydreams of how you want to be someone else or with someone else, instead focus right on what’s in front of you. Make the very best of what you have. This a good tip anywhere, but it epitomized stoic Japanese focus.
Men who support the team
Japanese men are raised with the value of teamwork – with supporting their group, whether that group is a group of co-workers, fellow students, or a sports team.
If you ever watch a TV interview of a Japanese baseball player or other sports star, they always give credit to their team and they’re very deferential to the rest of the people involved in their success. You won’t likely hear them talking about their family, faith, or anything else. They may, however, thank the fans for their support.
This is valued in the workplace as well. The “rock star” performer may very well be a rock star, but he’s not supposed to act like he knows he is. If he mentors others and pulls the team along, then he’s really a star.
Tip for you: If you working with Japanese or you’re on a group outing, don’t try and be a leader. You have to earn that. Instead, find out how you can help, and, as a famous NFL coach says, “Do. Your. Job.” That’s being a man.
Japanese men are expected to not brag or point out how they are better than others. This kind of humility is an important part of Japanese culture – it’s part of the old Japanese saying: “the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.” Yes, this is changing too, but still, you’re very unlikely to find a bragging Japanese man apart from hosts or those in shady professions. And even then.
Tip for you: Even if you know you’re better than others and you feel you’re not getting recognition, keep up the hard work and discuss it privately with your boss or partner. Don’t boast in front of others; you’ll only distance yourself from the group, and not in a good way.
How do you compare with these Japanese values? Are you naturally humble, or do you often try to take credit for the work of others? Are you prepared to show extreme dedication to your team, your company, or your cause? Can you be stoic in the face of adversity? If you can adopt some of these Japanese values, you’ll be ahead of the game at adapting to Japanese culture.