Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nagai Kafū, A Parallax View: Whoremonger or Kōshoku Otoko?

Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi responds to this recent post from Avram Moskowitz, defense lawyer in Duluth:
Avram Moskowitz,

And so we have these two very different versions of the same Nagai Kafū: to Westerners like Jonathan Crow and Edward Seidensticker, he’s a “whoremonger” incapable of love, while for most Japanese he’s the archetypal kōshoku otoko, or “amorous man of leisure.” With a quick shift in perspective, loveless whoremongery becomes playful dalliance, or vice versa.

These differences in perception become even clearer when one examines how each language deals with, for lack of a better word, “Kafū-esque” male sexual behavior. In Japanese, the words that come to mind are onnazuki (“lady-loving”), onnagurui (“girl-crazy”), irogotoshi (“love doctor”), sukimono (“gallant”), sukebe (“lusty”), uwaki (“playboy”), irogonomi (“amorous”), and so on, each of which is either positive or neutral in connotation.

This isn’t to say, however, that connotatively negative words don’t exist. They do. There’s midara (“lewd”), hiwai (“obscene”), inpon (“wanton”), tajō (“lustful”), inran (“lecherous”), and gyoshoku (“debaucherous”), to name a few. But such terms of disapprobation are usually reserved for sexually unreserved women or reprobates, and are rarely if ever used to describe the more esteemed kōshoku male.

Like Japanese, English too has an abundance of both neutral/positive terms (e.g., amorous, amatory, ardent, randy, etc.) and negative terms (e.g., rakish, lecherous, libidinous, lascivious, concupiscent, prurient, salacious, etc.). Yet for some reason observers writing in English more often than not draw from the set of disparaging terms when describing this Kafū-esque male. (Examples abound, but I’m afraid I haven’t the time right now to dredge them up.)

Wherefore, I ask, is this? What is to account for this radical difference in perception? Why have the Japanese managed to retain a general tolerance for asobi, or play, while such tolerance seems to have eroded in the West? What’s to blame for this erosion? Protestantism? The Puritans? Certainly it wasn’t the Jews. Or was it Marx and Engels and their gender-equality-seeking legions who left us with no room for asobi? I don’t pretend to know, so I’ll conclude with this rather acerbic and not-entirely-related quote from Mr. Kafū:

“Equality of the sexes is all very well as an ideal, but in practice American women are not very desirable. When a woman has really awakened, there is nothing for a man to enjoy dallying with” (Kafū the Scribbler, 22).

Nabil al-Tasnimi


Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Let's see some evidence, 'cause I don't buy it. Seems to me that the Japanese are much more conservative than the "anti-asobi" Americans.

-Ian Hogarth

Anonymous said...

Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi,

"Marx and Engels and their gender-equality-seeking legions" . . . ?

What are you, an Islamo-fascist? Don't you believe in gender equality?

-Maggie of Dublin

Anonymous said...

Ian and Maggie,

In response to your questions:

You're right about there being too much conjecture and not enough evidence. I'll try to include some examples, in both Japanese and English, of descriptions of Kafu which illustrate this difference in perception. This shouldn't be too hard to find.

Also, though I have no sociological data, I still feel that there's more room for "asobi" in Japan than in the states, especially with regard to "asobi-tekina" infidelity. Then again, this is just an impression gained from my own limited experience and from reading old books, so I shouldn't rely too heavily on these impressions.

And as for the "gender-equality-seeking legions," I say this of course as a gender-equality-seeking communist, so there's no need to mistake me for an Islamo-fascist. I probably should have made allegiances clear from the start.

Nabil al-Tasnimi

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ian Hogarth. Need to see some examples, so make the time to dredge them up.

-Josh Landars

Peony said...

I agree with your careful analysis and personally blame-- in the following order:

The Victorians
Augustine of Hippo
Roman Stoics

I state the above in a loving way and linked below to one of half a dozen posts on love and virtue in the analects.

How was your victory parade? Here the northern wind is blowing cold...

Ryan said...

Why thank you, Ms. Peony. I'll have to look into Augustine of Hippo, though.

The victory parade was, I regret, without lions. Now I'm at home watching my parents watch American Idol re-runs.

techoneup said...

Perhaps as a culture the Japanese are more distant traditionally in their love lives, by which I mean that they are more repressed sexually. An American woman who is more free to express herself sexually was perhaps threatening to Kafu or merely threatened his way of dealing with women which was exploitation of rigid boundaries to create this false little world where they could live in debauchery as free spirits. Once this debauchery is stripped of meaning, for instance by an American woman who can dress a certain way in public as well as freely choose male partners as often as they want outside marriage, his little world comes crashing down.

A. Sanders