A recent Atlantic article gave me an opportunity to have one of those “Wow, here’s something unexpected” moments, on a larger scale than usual. The article describes a company that provides Japanese women with the chance to cry. “Handsome Weeping Boys” is the rough translation of the company’s name. Their service involves going to a place of business and showing an emotional film. When the women viewing the film shed tears, a handsome man gently wipes their tears away. This short documentary includes interviews with clients. As a little bonus language tip, I’ll share that the word that sounds like “Hi” is the Japanese for yes.
It’s hard not to simply gape at the strangeness of a situation in which such a business could be viable. I grant that sometimes having a good cry can be cathartic, but it’s much more difficult to imagine being so buttoned up (personally, and as a society) that my employer would hire a firm to come in and provide the service described.
But I didn’t bring this up so that we could all say, “those Japanese are so strange!” Instead, I have a couple of thoughts. First, the fact that conditions in Japan gave rise to this business ought to completely dash any hopes that a foreigner* might have of easily gaining a deep understanding of a Japanese person’s inner life. By extension, we ought to be appropriately humble about the prospects of thoroughly and easily understanding anyone coming from a culture very different from our own.
We probably overestimate the extent to which we understand others in a variety of situations, if we get right down to it. Acknowledging that there are things we don’t really understand should be something we do early and often, in my view.
Second, I don’t have a strong desire to run this entrepreneur out of business, per se, but I would dearly love for these women, and for others in their situation, to have personal relationships that would entirely eliminate the need for some “handsome” Okinawan man to dab at their cheeks with a handkerchief. This seems like something you shouldn’t have to pay someone to help with.
As so often happens when I meet a strange cultural situation, I wonder if there’s something about my own culture that would cause someone (maybe a nice Japanese woman) to say, “Wow, here’s something unexpected!”
*According to an article in the Japan Times from a few years ago, foreigners make up only 1.5% of Japan’s populace, so there aren’t a lot of outsiders observing this sort of thing up close. The characters pictured above are for the Japanese word gaijin, meaning foreigner or outsider. I’ve read that some consider the word to be racially insensitive, but from the little research I did, plus memories of a friend who lived in Japan for a few years, it seems like it’s generally not intended as such.