Is Chivalry Alive in Japan?

I’m from a country that most Japanese women like to associate the term, “gentlemen” with; England. No, I’m not going to go all patriotic again, and discuss how British men surpass the Japanese man. This post is merely to ponder over the question, “Is chivalry alive in Japan?” I’m exclusively referring to the behaviour associated with courting and not the knight’s code of honour, – or samurai seems to be more appropriate here-.  I’ve heard contradictory opinions on the matter.  Unfortunately, I have a rather obscured view on the matter, so most of this post’s sources come from;  friends, students, acquaintances (and sometimes from myself).

The thought occurred to me today actually, when I was discussing the matter with my university students.  It was clear that there was a strong divide  in the room, some agreed it depended on the man, others flat out refused to believe that there were men in Japan who would hold the door for them.  In my own experience, I can’t recall a man ever holding the door for me in Tokyo, but that can be largely blamed on the urbanite’s way of thinking. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had much experience dating in Japan, but I won’t mention so much of my own disasters at dating (maybe sometimes).  I have, however, had a lot of interaction with Japanese men, partly due to my job as a teacher and also my experience attending a Japanese university.

Some of my students told me, they were surprised to hear that in Europe a lot of men paid for the women’s meals. Though, to be honest I thought Japanese men were renowned for their generosity, or at least that’s word on the streets in London.  In Europe, this is true to an extent, in all my time in the U.K, I only paid for a meal a couple of times, when in the presence of male friends. This could be attributed to the fact that the company I kept was always older than me, by at least five years or so. I’m not here to discuss if men should pay for women; frankly that’s a sexist attitude, which is clearly on its way out. Though one could argue, since women haven’t been endowed with full equality, (women still receive 20% less salary than men in England and it’s far worse in Japan), is it not proper that maybe a man with higher earnings -not because of his skill, but because of his gender- pay for the woman?

I have to share one of acquaintance’s  nasty experience on a date in Japan, so much so that she wishes she could extinguish it from her memory. When one is invited on a date, you expect that person to pay -regardless of gender- not only did she pay for her share -she also paid for his (smack face!) Later, when she was invited to karaoke and had run out of money, he told her nonchalantly that he would pay for her this time, but next time she would have to pay him back, (Mind you, this was after she’s paid for his dinner). What an assumption!  As if there would be another date;  I was glad to hear that he was unapologetically let down. (I must express that this is the only time I’ve heard about this sort of thing, whilst in Japan; usually the guy -foreign or Japanese- pays for me.)

It might not be the lack of consideration, holding a door, and paying for a meal are all superficial worries after all.  What I have heard however, numerous times, over and over again is that Japanese men lack – romance.  I’m going down a slippery slope here, since I believe it all depends on the sort of man one dates. However, I can’t pretend that this notion is not vital in understanding the problems with dating or courtship in Japan.  One factor that I think contributes to the reason why Japanese women have all, but given up; Japanese men find it difficult to express their feelings to their partners. These are a few complaints I’ve heard;

“Why doesn’t he say he likes me?”
“He always calls me cute, not beautiful.”
“He doesn’t kiss me goodbye.”

In England, most of the time,  despite people’s stereotype of the English being reserved, a boy will let a girl know when they’re interested,  and of course, vice-versa.   This issue could be attributed because many Japanese nowadays grow up with fewer siblings, so therefore lack the social skills to communicate with others, but that wouldn’t be exclusive to just men.  I’ve known very forward Japanese men, funnily enough from mostly the rural parts, where family sizes are a lot larger. Therefore, maybe this sentiment does has some validity.

According to the Japan Times, many Japanese men are now scared of the idea of commitment, or so the Japanese media would have us believe. However, what I can gather from the evidence is that a lot of Japanese men are fairly emotionally shy, some friends have used the words, “emotionally immature.”  But, one shred of proof that backs up women search for more assertive men,  is the rising number of  Japanese women who are on a mission to look for a foreign boyfriend. So the age old story in Japan is that foreign men are emotionally mature in comparison to the Japanese.  I never understood this myself, I’ve met immature and mature men from different countries.  Can Japanese men really be that different from the foreign counterparts, especially since “foreign” in Japan is a very loose term. What is foreign? European? Korean? Chinese? American? And are we all painted with the same brush?

I’ve heard many things of late about Japan’s declining population, many pointing fingers at women for being too career-focused, others blaming the high cost of living in Japan. While some of the blame has been placed on young Japanese men themselves. One prime minister accusing them of not being “macho” enough. I’ve only once been interested romantically once in a Japanese man of late,  enough to try and pursue something and believe me I did. I’m not saying a boy has to do the chasing, but it got to a point of blatant irresolution that I quickly gave up.  It’s like a misconception I have now,  because of the constant moaning everywhere.

Four years in Japan and I can now understand how the phrase “Herbivore boy” came to existence, despite hating labeling . The current question is; have Japanese men got weaker?”  Herbivores are the type of  men who prefer to go holidaying around Japan than go abroad- or even worse stay at home, shocking, (especially for someone like me, who can’t even sit still for ten minutes.)    Apparently Japanese women aren’t taking this sitting down, and a new term has been coined to describe women who actively pursue the guys; carnivorous women, sounds like a group of yokai (ghouls), right?   Although this might not be such an alien concept to most Japanese women.  Unlike the West,  where it’s mostly the male’s responsibility to buy chocolate or presents for their girlfriends, in Japan it’s the women’s job. Furthermore, White Day, which happens in March is the day where the male returns the favour.  So maybe chivalry hasn’t died after all, maybe it has just found a new home. And perhaps it’s better this way…