A Japanese Definition of 'Love'

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Okay, let’s get one thing straight: There are no Geisha in Japan now. Okay? There haven’t been any Geisha in this country for at least 150 years, more depending on who you talk to. Comprende? That means the Geisha disappeared before moving pictures.

In Western terminology, Geisha were high-class “working women.” Besides offering entertainment that included serving drinks, food, dancing, and singing, these girls offered other “entertainment” for the male customers. We still have girls who perform these services in this country, but we don’t call them Geisha anymore. So I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about Geisha. Don’t ask me! The lingo has changed.

And while I’m complaining, I want to complain about that dumb Tom Cruise movie! No, not that one, the newest one! “The Last Samurai” that movie is just ridiculous.

I am not interested in going into too much detail about it, but there is something the Samurai followed called the “Bushido code." The Bushido code was the code of law, including martial arts training, a kind of Buddhist ritual training, mind training, etc. That all Samurai studied since childhood in order to become a warrior in the Samurai class. They all studied it all of their lives, to become a Samurai.

So, Mr. Hollywood hot-shot producer, you expect me to believe that some guy comes over to Japan, learns Japanese with all the honorifics, becomes a master at the Bushido code, an expert swordsman, and a Samurai all within the span of one year? Oh, yeah! And I am the King of Siam!

Sure there are lots of things that come from the West and fit well into Japanese society, but they are not usually blonde. The things that fit into Japanese society real quick are things like fast-food, escalators; elevators; helicopters. Things like that.

These types of things fit in so well that the Japanese don’t even make their own language for them. They just use the English words with a Japanese pronunciation. For example, Escalator is pronounced: esu-ka-re-ta. Elevator is: e-re-be-ta.

When it comes to other words the Japanese have adopted into their own language is where the confusion comes in. The Japanese have absorbed new English words into Japanese, but they have changed the original meaning of the word into something so completely different that it might as well be an entirely new word. There’s so many of these kinds of words that I have forgotten which ones were surprising to me.

Except for one: The word “glamorous.”

This isn’t Mrs. Howell. It’s Ginger from Gilligan’s Island.
I searched but couldn’t find a photo of Mrs. Howell! Why? Go figure!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines glamorous to mean: alluring, bewitching, captivating, charming, enchanting, fascinating, magnetic, seductive, siren. Kind of like that lady on Gilligan’s island…. Um, what’s her name?… Mrs. Thurston Howell! That’s it!

In Japan, glamorous means a woman with who is, how do you Americans say, “well-built.”

The first time I heard some old Japanese gentleman use this word I had no idea what he was talking about. He had me at a “Hostess” bar and was talking about one of the girls working there. A Hostess bar is a bar where young girls sit with you and pour your drinks and chat. It’s pretty strange. Old rich guys go into these places and spend money like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve only been to them a few times when I was a guest with some company president. And did I ever feel like a fish out of water!

Here we are sitting down at this high class bar, usually members only, drinking some crappy whiskey with these beautiful young girls who keep sitting too close to me and giving me alluring looks. The other part that makes me uncomfortable is that the old president guy I’m with usually has on a silk three-piece suit that probably cost $5000. The girls are all dressed up like they’re going to the Queen’s ball. And I’m sitting there, with uncombed hair, usually unshaven, jeans and a T-shirt on. I’m sure these places have a dress code, but when big daddy war-bux shows up with his dumb foreign friend, no one says, “No!”

I guess sometimes at these Hostess bars if the customer coughs up enough money, they can start a “relationship” with one of the girls.

How you want to define “relationship” is up to you. Now if you have a lick of sense then you’d know that how these two people define their relationship is none of your business. But if you are a married guy like me, then you might define this relation as “sinful.”

“Women involved in the world’s oldest profession” is, by law, illegal in Japan. Gambling is also, by law, illegal in Japan. So there is no gambling in Japan. But you know what? I won about $850 playing Pachinko the other day. No! I was not gambling! I was playing Pachinko!… It’s different!

In Japan, people usually just mind their own business and don’t really care what you do. Of course Japanese people, like all people, enjoy gossip. But generally, if you are not interfering with their “space” they will leave you alone.

In Japan, “working women” have an image of girls standing around on street corners looking for customers. That’s no good. Bad for the neighborhood image. That’s illegal.

But if you consider that many years ago, Geisha were considered a part of the fabric of society and fulfilled a need, you’d understand why — for lack of a better term, “women offering services” is tolerated here. This is a Buddhist country, for all practical purposes. And Buddhists practice a “live and let live” philosophy.

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me to go to what I considered a “house of vice” with him. I declined of course. And no, I have never been to one of those! I’m a romantic guy! None of this, “Wham bam, thank you, ma’am!” stuff for me! Before I was married, if a girl wanted to get me into the sack, she had to wine and dine me!

Anyhow my friend wants to go to what the Japanese refer to as “Soapland.” I protest to my friend that, these sorts of businesses were illegal. And they are, according to the law decided by the local government. But my friend explained to me in inimitable Japanese logic: “Yes Mike, that is illegal in Japan. But if a man and a woman at Soapland fall in love with each other, who is to stop them from ‘making love’?”

“Yeah, right!” I thought. But, this is where the difference in Western thinking and Japanese thinking comes into play. My Japanese friend, an older gentleman who is quite well known and respected in this country, explained it to me this way:

“The man is given his bath by the maid. He tips her to show her his appreciation and that he is a man ‘well to do’ in this society and has the means to support a family. The girl is touched by the man’s kindness and wonders, “Could this finally be my prince on a white horse who has come to take me away from all this?”

“So she decides to gamble on ‘love.’ And they ‘fall in love.’ As with all people who fall in love at first, they think about each other all the time. But love at first sight is very rare and usually does not end in marriage. In this case, too, it’s not to be! She realizes that he is not ‘Mr. Right’ and a blossoming love affair ends as abruptly as it started.

“Perhaps on their next meeting, they can work out their problems and build a better relationship. Who knows?”

My friend added, “In the West it is acceptable for a man and woman to meet and sleep together on their first date. Who is to say they know what will happen in the future? Who can say without reservation that this man and this woman will not marry?”

You know what a court of law in America would have to say about that!…

By the way, the very first Prime Minister of Japan, Ito Hirogumi, is said to have married a “working girl.” But they didn’t call them “working girls” back then. They were called Geisha. And these were high-class, professional, women.

Anyway, I have come to like the live-and-let-live way the law is interpreted here.

(This article was directed by Mr. Lew Rockwell and is rated “G” — suitable for all audiences.)

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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