What has Western masculinity got to do with English language learning for Japanese women?

For the last so many years I have been feeling sorry for Tourism Australia. Since their Paul Hogan (our one and only Crocodile Dundee) mega hit tourism campaign in the 1980s, they have been not so successful in getting the Japanese market right – perhaps you may recall the So Where the Bloody Hell are You?” Campaign. The Japanese just didn’t get the message neither in English nor the Japanese translation (the rest of the world didn’t either …). The campaign based on the movie ‘Australia’ wasn’t a goer, either, seeing that it featured the brutal Japanese invasion of Darwin during WWII…

Now, apparently they are sending World champion ironman Shannon Eckstein to Tokyo, trying to woo young Japanese women to Australia. http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/ironman-to-woo-japanese-women-to-australia-20091104-hwac.html

Using western masculinity to entice Japanese female customers is a trick that many English language schools have relied on for many years, too. This is something Ingrid and I know very well through our research on Japanese women’s ‘akogare,’ or desire, for Western men and how it’s linked with English language teaching/learning.

In their teenage years, all our participants wanted to learn English, for example, to write a fan letter to Tom Cruise or understand what their favorite singers were singing about. Many of them wanted to find a western boyfriend, who, in their view, would be more romantic than Japanese men. Our participants considered finding an English-speaking partner as a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone-approach – enjoy much-admired Western-style romance AND have an in-house English teacher.

One of the interesting developments out of this akogare phenomenon is the Relationship English business. There are many textbooks, websites, and magazines that claim to teach Japanese women how to conduct romantic and sexual relationships with foreign men in English. One of the Relationship English textbooks we have analyzed is called “Roppongi English” and it’s probably one of the most bizarre ‘textbooks’ we’ve ever seen.

The problem with the discourse of Relationship English is that they often perpetuate existing negative stereotypes of culture, gender and sexuality in the context of cross-cultural romantic relationships. In the case of Roppongi English, for example, a traditional Japanese woman is described as socially and sexually demure and has a well-educated chivalrous White boyfriend who is caring and romantic. On the other hand, a Japanese woman who grew up bilingually in LA is portrayed as sexually loose and gets into a dysfunctional relationship with a divorced and aggressive Black American man. Here is a website which talks about Roppongi English and comments there from the general audience will give you some insights into the public discourse of cross-cultural romance in the Japanese context.

Roslyn Appleby of the University of Technology Sydney is looking at another aspect of cross-cultural romance and the ways it is exploited in global and local economies. She is exploring the concept of “Charisma Man” and shows how Western men who are considered ‘losers’ in their home countries can transform themselves into chic magnets as soon as they land in Japan where many women would put the men up on a pedestal just because they are White and English- speaking.

Now back to the tourism campaign. It may be a tough time ahead of Australian tourism officials. The young Japanese women I know have no headspace to think about holidays at the moment – they are either super-busy finding work or super-busy at work (because so many of their colleagues have been made redundant) or just busy holding on to their job.

I wish Tourism Australia and Shannon Eckstein success…. although even Hugh Jackman, ‘the sexiest man alive’, apparently didn’t quite pull it off…

Author Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江

高橋 君江 is Visiting Associate Professor at International Christian University, Tokyo. Before joining ICU in 2014, she was Lecturer at the Graduate School of English at Assumption University of Thailand (2011 - 2014) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia (2007 and 2011). Kimie is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Linguistics, and continues to co-supervise several PhD students with Ingrid Piller at Macquarie University.

More posts by Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江
  • maho asakawa

    I enjoyed reading this article as a Japanese woman.
    Especially the idea of “Charisma Man” , I totally agree with..!!
    Thanks Kimie!

  • Emi Otsuji

    charisma man is back!


    It seems that the charisma man comic book is coming back. According to Nick, the new types of charisma man will appear in the new version.

    charisma man on move!


  • Jamie


    I really enjoyed reading your article and found it interesting that here in Shanghai, China, the company I work for, which happens to be an English learning Center, employs the opposite tactics. All of the sales people are young/attractive women who are meant to entice young-middle aged Chinese men to sign up for a course. It works! Out of the 40 odd countries around the world, China has managed to win top sales globally four years running. The ladies are not forgotten, most of the teachers are young handsome foreigner men who are fluffed up like peacocks by all the adoring female student’s flattery. However, we have a strict policy of no dating between teachers and students which, of course, is strictly adhered to 🙂 I think for Chinese women it is pretty much the same motivation, more romance and practicing their English at the same time.

    Nice one!


  • Sally

    Great article – As a native ‘Aussie’ I’ve always found it so interesting/funny that an average Aussie man can be transformed into a ‘charisma man’ upon arrival in Japan !! They mustn’t know what hit them.

  • Pingback: tefl activity using grammar songs()

  • Jenny Zhang

    I did a little bit research on the internet and found some interesting statistics on Japanese people’s (especially women’s) romantic orientation (serious & sexual).

    The statistics based on an internet-based research involving 5,274 people in September of 2005 show both Japanese women and men favor Western partners to a greater or less degree. As for Japanese men, 36% of their votes were for Western wives versus 26% for Asian women. However for women there is a marked difference; about 74% in total choose the West (over 40% for the USA alone) versus a mere 7.4% for the East, a massive ten to one vote for Europe and the USA. For women, as they get older the attraction to American men only get stronger. What is more interesting to me (since I am a Chinese), Chinese women rank the third as Japanese men’s preferred sexual partner, however, Chinese men fade out the top ten list of Japanese women. The underlying reason here, I guess, is that both Japanese and Chinese men are considered as everything opposite to stereotypical romantic and caring Western “charisma men”.

    Research results (http://whatjapanthinks.com/2006/01/06/japan-women-dream-of-the-usa/ )

    Q: Other than Japanese, which country’s people do you think would be good to have as a partner (husband or wife)? (Sample size=5,274, free answer)

    Rank Votes
    1 USA 1,144
    2 Korea 505
    3 UK 442
    4 Italy 370
    5 France 344
    6 Australia 218
    7 Germany 203
    8 China 197
    9 Canada 150
    10 Russia 120

    Q: Other than Japanese, which country’s people do you think would be good to have as a partner (husband or wife)? (By sex, free answer)

    Rank Male N=2,468 Votes Rank Female N=2,806 Votes

    1 USA 368 1 USA 776
    2 Korea 297 2 UK 347
    3 China 174 3 Italy 278
    4 France 134 4 France 210
    5 Russia 117 5 Korea 208
    6 Thailand 99 6 Australia 145
    7 UK 95 7 Germany 131
    8 Italy 92 8 Canada 99
    9= Taiwan 73 9 Switzerland 47
    9= Australia 73 10 Spain 34

  • Jenny Zhang

    Some other interesting reports and posts on Japanese women’s “akogare” to follow on:

    1. Japanese Women Catch the ‘Korean Wave’

    2. Chinese women’s ‘dream lover’ VS Japanese Women’s ‘dream lover’

    3. What Japanese Women Want: A Western Husband

    4. Japanese Women: Looking for a Western Husband!