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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Men Vs Women - Rules of Engagement In Japan

What’s the difference between the male AET (assistant English teacher) and the female AET on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme?

(Let's get this out of the way... above is a photo of myself and AET friend Melissa... a friend, sure, but not a woman I came even remotely close to dating.) 

To be honest, we could extend it quite easily to any woman or man teaching English as a second language in Japan.

First off, this is just my opinion, built upon observation of my own experiences (yes, some 23-26 years in the past), plus reading the experiences of various past and current AETs via their blogs.

So, what ever I happen to write after this is neither right nor wrong - merely an observation. Others may have differing views, and I respect that.

Japan is a male-dominated society.

So, too are most global societies, despite claims that insist men and women are equal in status.

To think that, is us dipping our heads in the sand like a frightened ostrich.

Anyone who has read of my exploits in Japan knows that I was a guy who slept around a helluva lot.

Aside from one woman… one solitary woman… I never asked any woman out or to sleep with me.

That one woman was Noboko, whom I fell in love with a first sight - yes, I believe it happens all the time, to quote The Beatles.

In most instances, women would intrude on my solitary drinking at my local bar, and chat me up. I was indeed a willing participant, and the fact that more often than not they would end up back at my apartment had little to do with anything I said, and perhaps more to do with Japanese curiosity.

The fact that I also slept with my more-than fair share of female AETs is because in the early days of my three-year stay in Japan, I didn’t know enough Japanese or broken Japlish to engage or even to want to engage in a conversation with a Japanese single. I was shy about my lack of conversation ability, and the only time it was overcome was when they spoke enough English to engage me.

The female AETs, well… when I arrived in Japan in late July of 1990, without fail every single guy on the program was eyeing the female Japanese populace - and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The female AETs… they, quite often were stuck… not wanting to date a Japanese guy for perhaps the very same reason I mentioned about myself and Japanese women. Shyness… Impropriety, and even the stereotype that Japanese men were sexist pigs.

Now I know from conversations with many of you readers, that not every single Japanese man is a sexist pig… but dammit, a lot of them were. They exuded a sense of male superiority when it came to women.

For the AET women, there was a lot on the line.

In Japan, while there are a plethora of love hotels for men and women to engage in sexual activity for the night or for a short stay ranging between one to four hours (paying accordingly), openly stating one’s pre-marital sexual activity was a no-no… especially for a Japanese woman.

Unfortunately, the same standard was held up for the foreign woman in Japan. If you sleep around in pre-marital congress, you are acting like a slut.

How draconian. How un-American, un-Canadian… how… Japanese.

Hey… Japan’s rules, eh… but just like in the 1950s out west, when a woman sleeps around, they are a slut, and when a guy sleeps around they are congratulated for their sexual proclivity.

It’s why my first girlfriend upon arriving in Japan, female AET Ash, did not want anyone to know that she and I were dating, let along engaging in any monkey business.

The problem was… everyone knew… but no one cared, because we weren’t being outward about things. There was never any outward displays of affection like hand-holding or kissing… we did our best to make it look like we were just friends… however… we did spend a lot of time together and were seen traveling around our small city often… which is no big deal, right?

Except to Japanese eyes, it meant that we must be a couple. They were right, of course, but the implication is that men can not be friends with women unless sex is involved.

It’s like something right out of When Harry Met Sally.

I’m pretty sure I have always wanted to sleep with every female I have been friends with. It may even have been why I wanted to be friends in the first place. I make no apologies for it, but aside from Noboko, I never acted upon things first. Too much of a chicken. Rooster. Whatever. I dislike rejection.

So… Ash… if everyone knew that she was my girlfriend simply because we were always together, we therefore must be sleeping together.

Perhaps it’s because we were both foreigners, that nobody really cared… because I’m sure the Japanese figured that’s the way the gaijin (foreigners) are.

Or… maybe no one cared, because we weren’t so open about it.

Now… I admit that I wasn’t aware of Ash’s intent to keep things a secret in Japan… at least not initially.

As you can tell from this blog, I am pretty open, and as a writer I certainly don’t believe in the concept of TMI (Too Much Information)… though I obviously don’t tell you everything all the time. 

Ash was the first woman I had ever slept with. I had only ever had one long-term summer romance girlfriend previously, so to say I knew the rules of the game would be stretching it.

She wanted to keep things a secret… but she failed to tell that to me…. probably not believing I was a virgin (she didn’t believe me because), or maybe she thought that somethings need not be said.

Well… I was of the opinion in Japan that if someone (Japanese person) was good enough to ask me a question in English, i would give them an honest answer.

That’s what I was in Japan for, right? To foster English communication amongst the Japanese… to grow internationalization.

So, when I was asked that first day at school by a brave female student if I had a girlfriend, I answered yes.

Then they asked if Ash was my girlfriend, as they had seen her (the new Boy’s High School AET) with me on a few occasions in Ohtawara, eating Mosburger meals together or examining shops together.

They and the rest of Japan could assume that if a man was with a woman shopping, they must be together.

They were right, of course.

I do know that at other points in my stay when I was in the company of other female AETs, the next time they were able to, students would ask if she was my new girlfriend. And yes, I did want to sleep with them, even though in most cases we were just hanging out as friends).

No one ever judged me… but, conversely…

When I visited the town of a female AET, she would later be peppered if I was a new boyfriend.

To be honest… I don’t believe that the same rules for Japanese women applied to the foreign woman.

I think the Japanese were curious and simply wanted everyone to be happy.

But… when it came to me dating a Japanese woman… holy crap… it was like every single meeting was an episode of Mission Impossible… sneaking around… waiting for the coast to be clear… or when leaving my home to peek through the peephole to make sure no one saw her leaving my apartment…

There was a definite feeling that to be caught by other Japanese, talk would spread.

And it did.

I have no idea what it’s like for Japanese people to secretly date each other, but with Junko and initially with Noboko, every rendezvous was a secret rendezvous.

No one could know she was there… with the only clue being my ruffled hair and an empty orange juice container.

The room would smell of sex, too. Holy crap… I can recall Ash, no longer my girlfriend, commenting on the smell of sex enveloping the entire apartment after me being with someone the night before.

The point is, Japanese women were treated differently because there was an expected norm for Japanese women to adhere to.

You are not supposed to engage in premarital sex, but if you do, don’t get caught.

Noboko and I were caught when we went to a movie one Saturday afternoon - spotted some 40 minutes south of our town by students from the school where she taught English… as they had skipped school.

We tried blackmail… don’t tell about us, and we won’t tell about you skipping school.

That lasted until they got back up to their/our town and they told everyone.

To me, it was a relief… to Noboko… well… she never talked about it… but soon everyone knew she and I were dating…. and if a Japanese woman was dating a foreign guy, then they must be sleeping together.


It doesn’t matter that we could simply have been friends… there, it's sexual impropriety guilt by association.

Basically… the advice here is… date, sleep around, keep things out of the public eye. Keep things a  secret. I would say keep things a secret if you are a guy regardless if you are dating a foreigner or Japanese—tell your friends if you will, but keep it out of the Japanese grapevine.

I don’t know how the Japanese grapevine works.

For example… I was asked if I liked Japanese girls, or if I thought Japanese girls were pretty.

I usually answered that yes, I thought Japanese girls are pretty, but I don’t care where they are from… pretty is pretty regardless of color or nationality. That was me being honest, and me giving that internationalization lesson upon my moral soapbox I keep in my ivory tower.

So… now everyone knows I like Japanese girls.

They also knew I was dating Ash.

And yet, anytime Ash broke up with me, there would be a line-up of Japanese women trying to date me.

Somehow, the Japanese grapevine would explode into action, and everyone knew when I was a single guy who liked Japanese women.

I could be sitting there at a bar table for two all by my lonesome sucking on a bourbon and soda, and, like I had counter in front of me yelling “now serving #47” some pretty young woman would sidle over to chat me up.

First come, first served, there’d be someone new woman approach me the next time I was at the bar by myself.

They stayed the heck away when I was drinking with other AETs or other women.

But… regardless of their age of majority, as soon as it approached midnight, all the single women would skedaddle back home to make sure they made their father-stated curfew… a male instituted curfew.

Japanese guys didn’t have a curfew. At least none I ever met.

Basically, men had different rules with few expectations.

Japanese women… rules and expectations. 

Foreign women… self-created rules and expectations.

Andrew Joseph

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