A Real Man Should Be Awkward In Japan.

A very famous actor, Ken Takakura, passed away on November 10, 2014, at the age of 83.


JAPAN CUTS 2013 screening, Japan Society, NYC Photo by Joel Neville Anderson
JAPAN CUTS 2013 screening, Japan Society, NYC
Photo by Joel Neville Anderson


Ken Takakura was a Japanese actor best known for his brooding style and the stoic presence he brought to his roles.
Quoted from Internet Movie Database


As IMDb describes, he insisted to be a film actor and he did not appear in TV dramas, which is very rare in Japan now. He seldom talked about his private life in talk shows with his strong policy that film actors should be evaluated based solely on how they act on screen. Most of the Japanese over certain age recognize him as “the man of men” and the ideal Japanese man, who is modest, scarcely talks and shows consideration for others without words. The most famous phrase that represents him is;


“I’m a kind of awkward, you know…”
(In Japanese, “Jibun, bukiyo desukara…”)


This phrase became very popular as it was used in TV ad when many Japanese were basking in reflected glory toward the period of Japanese asset price bubble. I believe that the ideal image could refer to the opposite of the reality. In fact, human beings tend to be boastful and selfish…

The interesting thing is that it is highly praised for men not to be talkative in Japan. When it comes to the ideal man who appears in film, I was soon reminded of an Italian actor, Marcello Mastroianni, who is far from the image of “a quiet man”.


Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni e Sofia Loren Photo by Turismo Emilia Romagna
Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni e Sofia Loren
Photo by Turismo Emilia Romagna


In order to get logical understanding on whether “an ideal man” should be quiet or talkative, I looked at the scientific point of view. According to an American scientist and a neuropsychiatrist, Louann Brizendine in her book, The Female Brain (2006), the number of words used by women in one day is approximately three times more than that by men. On the other hand, according to the thesis published on Science in 2007, “Are women really more talkative than men?” written by Mehl MR1, Vazire S, Ramírez-Esparza N, Slatcher RB, Pennebaker JW,


Women are generally assumed to be more talkative than men. Data were analyzed from 396 participants who wore a voice recorder that sampled ambient sounds for several days. Participants’ daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.


As these two theories made in US were different and as the human behavior must be influenced also by cultural background, the result could be different if the experiment is conducted in Japan. So, I looked also at the psychological and emotional aspect. According to “Onnanoko no Kimochi (Girls’ feeling)”, many women seek for “manliness” towards men. Then how do Japanese girls/women define “manliness”?

  • consideration of the feelings or well-being of others
  • ability to take action
  • ability to make decisions
  • service minded
  • courage in dealing with danger or uncertainty
  • strong sense of responsibility
  • reliability
  • correspondence between words and deeds


A man who has these characteristics would be so nice. But a woman who has these characteristics would also be quite nice, wouldn’t she? As the new theory published in Science tells, men want to talk as much as women. But an ideal man would give way to women. Having looked through these pieces of interesting information, my hypothesis on manliness that an ideal man should have is;

An ideal man should be self-sacrificing and knows how to control his own wants giving priority to others, especially to women.


The Art of Manliness Photo taken by Ian D. Keating
The Art of Manliness
Photo taken by Ian D. Keating


Another very interesting aspect of the definition of “manliness” in Japan is men do not eat sweets. In other words, the man of men should not say that he likes something sweet. Eating ice cream outside used to be one of “don’ts” for men. Men who have a sweet tooth had to eat sweets behind closed doors. Otherwise, they would be recognized as a sissy. On the other hand, in Italy, Sofia Loren would not blame Marcello Mastroianni for eating a big ice cream, I mean Italian gelato, in Piazza Navona in Roma!


For your further information, I would like to add the reason why I used the past tense. Recently, maybe in these ten years, men’s rights have been reconsidered. A new word, “Sweets-Danshi (Sweets boys)” was created and men can declare that they love sweets without a fear of getting unjust discriminatory treatment.


gelato-eaters, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi Photo taken by David McSpadden
gelato-eaters, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Photo taken by David McSpadden


Anyway, the difference between men and women which everybody can agree would be the muscle strength other than the sexual function and the physical aspects. Simply, it would be the power. That’s why, I think, there are many movies that feature “manliness” are regarding of gangsters, mafia, or Yakuza in Japanese.

In fact, Ken Takakura appeared in many Yakuza films when he was young. One of his representative films “Showa Zankyoden” series with 9 episodes (1965-1972).

Here is a trailer of “Showa Zankyoden –episode 2- Karajishi Botan” of Toei movies. I’m afraid there is no English subtitle, but I think you could at least get a general idea of the film… And I’m sure you’ll like it!



The theme song, “Karajishi Botan”, sung by Ken Takakura was a mega hit.


This song was one of favorite songs of my father and he used to sing it so frequently at home that I memorized it when I was a small child. Good education!!

Here, I translated the lyrics into English;

If duty and love are placed on a scale
it always tips the scale towards the side of duty in men’s world.
Kwannon (Guanyin) that I’ve been familiar to since I was a kid
Knows everything what I have in my mind.
The lion with peonies on my back is barking.

Having rejected my parents’ advice,
Now I feel the wind blowing in Asakusa District No. 6.
A myriad of disobedience have been piled up,
I have no idea how to apologize to my mother.
The lion with peonies on my back is weeping.

The reflection of the moon on the water of Sumida River
Has always been clear even at a hazy moonlit night.
Until the break of dawn,
I will sustain myself with a dream.
The lion with peonies on my back is calling.


The word that I translated into “the lion with peonies” is the name of a kind of tattoo that the main character played by Ken Takakura had on his back. It is called “Karajishi Botan” in Japanese.

Ken Takakura with a lion with peonies
Photo by asb846 iconosquare.com


In the article “HOW TO ENJOY YOURSELF 100% IN HOT SPRINGS“ in our site 2 Hours Drive From Tokyo, we wrote,

Generally speaking, people who have tattoos are not welcome at hot springs because in Japan tattoos are connected strongly with mafia and people tend to be scared. We know outside Japan the situation is not like this, but here the impact of tattoos is still very negative. We personally don’t like this prejudice but please understand that it takes time to change the frame of mind. However, there are some hot springs where people who have tattoos can enter and where some private bath rooms are available.


"Beato, Felice (1834 – 1907) - Tattooed japanese men - ca. 1870". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -
“Beato, Felice (1834 – 1907) – Tattooed japanese men – ca. 1870″. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -


A guy that Ken Takakura acted is recognized as the man of men but unfortunately he cannot have a relaxing time in hot springs… However, the man of men should be a tough guy who would not have to take a rest.

But now I would like to pray for his rest in peace.

Chrysanthemum Photo by Toshihiro Gamo
Photo by Toshihiro Gamo

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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