Japan from the inside out

Wired magazine short circuits on Japan article

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A FASCINATING ASPECT of learning a foreign language is the encounter with proverbs and colorful expressions that open a window into a culture and offer insights into the character of the people. That these phrases are either untranslatable into one’s own language, or have an enigmatic strangeness, adds to the appeal.

This is particularly true of the Japanese language. The Japanese love proverbs, and estimates of the number of proverbs in the language run as high as 20,000 to 30,000. The ability to employ one appropriately in everyday speech and writing is a sign of the culture and erudition of the user. I have a proverb dictionary published in Japan that is more than 500 pages long, and each page contains an average of 10 proverbs with explanations of their origin and meaning.

One example of a proverb that wouldn’t make much sense in English was brought up in the Comments section here the other day. A few posts down is a story about a Hiroshima festival conducted in a Shinto shrine in which sardine heads are roasted to create an unpleasant odor and drive away evil spirits. Frequent posters Overthinker and Camphortree discussed a proverb related to this practice, which is “Even the head of a sardine can become holy”. Understanding that proverb would be impossible without being aware of the custom.

Here’s another interesting expression: Jibun no koto wo tana ni ageru. Literally translated, that means, “To put one’s ‘thing’ (oneself, one’s attributes, behavior, etc.) on a shelf.” But that doesn’t make much sense without context, does it? Here’s an illustration that might make it clearer.

Today’s issue of Wired magazine has an article in the Culture and Lifestyle section called Inside the Bizarre World of Japanese Pickup Schools.

It is a brief feature on Fujita Satoshi, who operates a school for teaching backward men how to be successful with women. Mr. Fujita has also written three self-help books. Attending one of his classes costs 30,000 yen, which the author, one Lisa Katayama, says is worth about $280.

Here’s how Ms. Katayama describes him:

Satoshi Fujita is not a good-looking man. He has oily skin, beady eyes, short legs and a boy-band wig to cover his balding head.

But since a picture is worth a thousand words, it would be easier to show a photo of him. Here’s what he looks like:


Mr. Fujita admits that he used to be an introverted geek until he bought a wig and learned some magic tricks. He also made a study of the science of seduction. Here’s what happened next:

Women like laughter, compliments and magic tricks. Using these concepts, he devised a proprietary “science” for picking up women that takes into consideration things like reading signals and timing. After 10 years and 10 new wigs, he’d become so successful with women, he says, that he decided to quit his job and make dating his profession. Among other tricks, Fujita’s method involves a deck of “psychoanalytic” cards that help him determine what kind of girl he has picked up. He’s also got a bag of tricks — literally — that includes flaming wallets, talking ferrets and animated algae balls. “This may seem ridiculous, but if you follow a specific equation, it really works,” he says.

The article also suggests that bizarre pickup schools are becoming a trend in Japan, because there are six schools for seduction in the Tokyo area alone.

How, you may be wondering, is this an illustration of the proverb of “putting your ‘thing’ on a shelf”? And if it is, how does it apply to the Wired article?

Stick with me a little longer. I’m coming to that.

Ms. Katayama and Wired magazine put Mr. Fujita on parade for their readers to symbolize this “bizarre world”. They describe this world by focusing on a geek with a wig and “beady eyes” who teaches men how to be successful with women—for a fee–by carrying flaming wallets and animated algae balls on the street.

We all understand the intent of this article. It is yet another installment in the never-ending stream of stories from the Western media that portray Japan as the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia. The 24/7 media machine needs a constant supply of infotainment for the breakfast table.

Now if Wired thinks this is bizarre, we should assume they believe guys like Mr. Fujita just don’t exist in the United States, where the magazine is published. Bizarre people live in smelly rabbit hutches in Tokyo, not New York or Los Angeles, where all the men are straight-up studly guys who know how to handle the ladies and make them love it.

Presumably, here’s what Ms. Katayama and Wired think is perfectly normal: in the U.S., there is now something called the “seduction community”. It has become a profitable business, with Internet forums, mailing lists, more than 100 clubs nationwide, and its own Wikipedia page. It has been the subject of a best-selling book called The Game by Neil Strauss, who calls himself a pickup artist (PUA) and cruises under the nickname “Style”.

When the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed his book, it said:

“…if women in the book are sometimes treated as a commodity, they come out looking better than the men, who can be downright loathsome — and show themselves eventually to be pretty sad, dysfunctional characters.”

There are quite a few so-called “seduction gurus” in the United States these days, many of whom choose to be known by colorful names. In addition to Style, there is Mystery, Juggler, Zan Perrion, Steve P/Piccus, Carlos Xuma, Hypnotica, Gunwitch, Tenmagnet, Savoy, and Gambler, among others.

Others use their real names. One of them is Ross Jeffries. He is a former insurance claims adjuster and failed comedian who discovered a practice initiated by Richard Bandler called Neuro Linguistic Programming ©.

Many books have been written about NLP, and there is no space here for a full description, but briefly, it is based on the theory that people are moved by the emotions expressed in the language patterns used by other people, and that the speaker can therefore covertly influence the behavior of the listener. Mr. Jeffries applies this theory to seduction by claiming it is possible to sexually arouse women with preconceived word patterns, sometimes with phonetic ambiguity.

For example, one might say to a woman, “I’d like to explore your mine.” The woman will hear this as “mind”, but it will subconsciously register as “mine”, as in “mine shaft”. Wink wink nudge nudge. One of his more well-known verbal techniques is the use of “below me” as a substitute for “blow me”. His term for hunting for women is “sarging”, which he named after his pet cat Sarge.

He also uses the technique of “anchoring”, in which the man begins by creating a pleasant emotional state in the woman through the use of language and suggestion. When he has successfully created that state, he touches her in an innocuous location, such as her wrist. The theory holds that when he touches her wrist in that same location again, he will recreate that state in her mind, which he can then utilize to influence her behavior; i.e., seduce her.

Mr. Jeffries holds seminars and has a home study course with 13 CDs and a 107 page book. He charges $1,500 for an hour of his personal time. He calls this Speed Seduction ® and claims that a man can use these techniques to get a woman in bed in about 20 minutes from the time he meets her.

What does he look like? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, they say:


Another seduction guru with a colorful name, one R. Don Steele, claims that once upon a time Mr. Jeffries was a sweaty-palmed nervous virgin that came to him begging for help. He doesn’t seem to need help now. Here’s the Ross Jeffries home page, where you can sign up to master the art “as seen by millions on TV worldwide”.

If Mr. Jeffries’s techniques do not suit your fancy, perhaps you might prefer those of the man called Mystery. He is the main character of Mr. Strauss’s book. He teaches the Mystery Method of seduction, which he now refers to as the Venusian Arts. Mystery also charges thousands of dollars for seminars, and has introduced new techniques into “the game”. One of these is called “negging”, in which the man indirectly insults the woman and makes her want to please the PUA.

Here’s an example of negging: The man says to the woman, “You have beautiful nails. Are they real?”

Like both Mr. Jeffries and Mr. Fujita, Mystery was a backwards boy who was a flop with chicks. And like Mr. Fujita, he also became skillful at magic, though he probably doesn’t use flaming wallets. He also has lost some of his mystery, now that he has allowed his photograph to be used. It too is worth a thousand words:


He has beautiful nails. I wonder if they’re real.

One thing that is definitely real is the money he makes. He had a falling out with his business partner—nicknamed Savoy—and this led to a costly legal battle. This page is worth reading to discover the various financial and personal spats that can arise between pickup artists. It concludes this way:

After hanging out with Mystery, Lovedrop, and Matador this past weekend, it seemed none of them are too concerned with the legal stuff. Apparently they’re making good money from their workshops and the VH1 show, and there’s talk of a season 2 and possibly a spin off show, so money is the least of their worries. Lovedrop even told me that he doesn’t mind dropping loads of cash on lawyers and legal fees to fight this – possibly $15,000 – $20,000 a month, so who knows how long this feud will go on.

Speaking of Savoy, he’s still in “the game” himself, using the Mystery Method that Mystery developed. That method requires an investment of a few hours, which is longer than Ross Jeffries’s 20 minutes.

Savoy sells a book called Magic Bullets. He says he’s developed a new aspect to the Mystery Method called Transitioning, which he describes in his book:

MAGIC BULLETS contains the most complete explanation of Transitioning available ANYWHERE. In MAGIC BULLETS I explain – in detail – how to use a Transition to bridge the gap between Opening and Attraction. I also explain different types of transitions like Content Transitions, Observational Transitions and making a Transition without using a transition at all.

If he can make a transition without using a transition, he must be using magic bullets!

Here’s what else Savoy promises:

• An in-depth discussion of the opener “risk-reward continuum” that allows you to use the best opener for ANY situation you find yourself in. And the best way to transition from each type of opener to the next phase of the model.

• How to create your own material and bypass “lines” and generic routines. NEVER AGAIN get caught running something she’s heard before!

• How you can effectively approach a woman with NO OPENER at all.

• The situations where you should never “neg” a woman.

• A completely new phase that you NEED to install in your game RIGHT NOW. Adding this phase will make your sets go 100% smoother. THE VERY FIRST TIME YOU USE IT!

• An in-depth chapter on Seduction that will allow you to evolve your game beyond Last Minute Resistance and freeze-outs. Through an understanding of state-breaks, how they work – and how to avoid or minimize them – you’ll virtually eliminate Last Minute Resistance. AND WATCH YOUR CLOSE RATE GO THROUGH THE ROOF!

• A chapter on Day Game written by Sinn – THE UNDISPUTED MASTER OF DAY GAME.

• Sinn’s ten rules for MEETING AND DATING STRIPPERS.

I’m sure it would be instructive to see a picture of Savoy, but I couldn’t find one.

Instead of Savoy’s picture, however, here’s a page on the Love System’s 2008 Super Conference, which promises to be the commercial event of the year in the seduction biz. Aspiring Casanovas will have the chance to meet and study at the feet of Savoy, Sinn, Tenmagnet, and Carlos Xuma all at the same place. Fortunately, the price of attending one of the big presentations has been discounted from $1,700.

Read that page, and then ask yourself this question:

Where is the Bizarre World of Pickup Schools really located–Japan or the United States?

I’m sorry for going the long way around, but I thought that was the best way to describe the meaning of the Japanese expression, “to put one’s ‘thing’ on a shelf”.

Unfortunately, Wired didn’t put their thing on a shelf high enough out of sight.

20 Responses to “Wired magazine short circuits on Japan article”

  1. RYO said

    This must have been a fun post to research. For some reason, these guys remind me of Will Ferrell.

  2. Get a Job, Son! said

    Well spotted… and rightfully put in its place.
    Did you send this to the people at Wired? It would be good if they could learn that Japan isnt as weird as other places.

    Perhaps checking in Wired’s own backyard (or a tour of the ‘hall of mirrors) might be whats needed.

  3. ampontan said

    GAJS: Thanks. I linked to the Wired article, which means they should receive notification of some sort. Whether they read it is another matter!

  4. Aceface said

    Wondering when these people would start to put up with stories from Japan instead of these “Japan stories”.

    From NYT/IHT Martin”wearable bending machine”Fackler.
    “Japan,Home of the cute and imbred dogs”.

    I laughed when the dude had made yet again whacky Japan stories.this is happening elsewhere when commercialism overrides proper breeding stock procedure.Amercan Kennel Club has same concern for years.

  5. doinkies said

    Mainichi’s WaiWai section is notorious for those types of stories, all translated from weekly tabloid rags. What’s even worse is that many people take them as completely true because the WaiWai section doesn’t state explicitly that their stories are from tabloids.

  6. Willie said

    Maybe Wired got tired of looking for the strange in San Francisco. You’d think that might keep them busy.

  7. Javaman said

    Ha! You having been paying attention to the intertubes recently, cause the world beleives,and rightfully so, that Japan is a sometimes bizarre place. Look at all the hits on the clipsites of all the strange Japanese TV shows. I think the real differnec may simply be that Japan simply puts it out there as opposed to other countries who tend to keep it hidden. The WIRED article was spot on…cause it IS weird to pay to have that guy teaching you how to pick up women. As far as I could tell, she made no claims as to whether the rest of world was just as weird.

  8. luciosilla said

    What part of the NY Times article on inbred Japanese dogs is hyperbole, Aceface?

    This part?

    “Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe.”

    This part?

    ‘”Japan is about 30 or 40 years behind in dealing with genetic defects,” said Takemi Nagamura, president of the Japan Kennel Club.”

    I’m genuinely curious. The AKC has expressed its concerns for years, as well it should; the problem of inbreeding is much worse in Japan, though, is it not?

  9. camphortree said

    I have had 3 Shih Tzu. So have my friends in California and Hawaii. Despite of the distance our Shih Tzu have shared a wide range of common genetic problems such as heart problem, skin problem, eye problem, thyroid problem etc… in this wide broad America. I am genuinly curious. Where is the America’s supposed 30 or 40 years advancement in dealing with genetic defects of our dogs?

  10. Aceface said

    This part.Luciosilla.

    “The affection for fads in Japan reflects its group-oriented culture, a product of the conformity taught in its grueling education system. ”

    I don’t think these background story do the justice,In America,where individualistic culture and personal independence and sultural diversity is taught in its grueling education system has same kind of problem.

    “The AKC has expressed its concerns for years, as well it should; the problem of inbreeding is much worse in Japan, though, is it not?”

    It’s certainly true in case,say Chihuahuas as written in the article.But certainly not in case of Akitas.
    I think calling Japan as “the home of imbred dog” is a bit of hyperbole.

    And I’m very anxious to know the valisity of this“Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe.”

    Did you know about Fackler’s past article,Luciosilla?

  11. ampontan said

    “The affection for fads in Japan reflects its group-oriented culture, a product of the conformity taught in its grueling education system.”

    What a tiresome load of outdated, insulting, self-centered, myopic crap.

    Here it is again.


  12. luciosilla said

    Thanks for the illuminating perspective, Aceface. My personal impression is that there exists a much greater level of inbreeding among a large number of breeds in Japan vs. France, my native country. You certainly don’t see so many shops with animals caged in little rattraps like you do at every “home center” in Japan.

    Camphortree, if you’re so sincerely interested, why don’t you look up Takemi Nagamura, the person who made the statement?

  13. Aceface said

    Mind you,I should point out that I have little thing to say about foreign correspondents writing critical “stories from Japan”.It’s the trend of weird tales from Tokyo,that can be wrapped up as “Japan stories”that I’m concerned.Do you think Paris correspondent of NYT would write a piece like “France,Home of cute and inbred dog”? Never.

    Perhaps I should not be too harsh on Mr.Fackler,for it is the editor who puts all these titles.
    The International Herald Tribune article of the same was re-titled as “Genetic defects rise with fad-driven inbreeding of dogs in Japan”which is a lot more accurate to the contents however greatly diminish the impact of the origninal NYT piece.I’d assume the editors have to have in mind that IHT is being printed in three Japanese cities and widely read by English speaking community here.
    But you know,Fackler had done this before and it is fair bet that he would write this type again…

  14. TenSigh said

    It seems clear that the American “pick up artists” are the more bizarre. I’ve seen that “Mystery” idiot on TV. Who would believe a guy who dresses up that way and calls himself that? At least the Japanese PUA uses his real name!

  15. Hey ya,

    This is Lisa, I wrote the Wired article. FYI, I’m a Japanese person who grew up in Tokyo, and I understand Japanese culture very, very well. I didn’t write the “bizarre” in the headline, I just reported the story and told it like it is. It’s just as easy to look at other countries and say “it’s weird” as it is to look at people’s work and say it’s “short-sighted.” But I appreciate the feedback!

  16. ampontan said

    LK: Thanks for writing. I understand how other people can write headlines that an individual journalist doesn’t approve of.

    I regularly read a blog written by a copy editor of a US daily, who often makes the point that the publication as a whole is what the company is presenting to the public, and that’s what readers have to deal with. In other words, what he is saying is that even though you wrote it, it is not your article.

    Additionally, the links at the bottom of that article to other pieces about Japanese schoolgirls indicate a particular attitude about Japan that does not speak well of Wired magazine, regardless of who wrote them.

    I also thought the “beady eyes” comment was unfair and too easily played into Western preconceptions.

  17. brian lam said

    Actually, Lisa is a well known Japan writer who grew up in Tokyo. She isn’t writing these things as an outsider — I don’t know who you are, but unless you spent more than half your life in Japan as a Schoolgirl, I don’t think you have more authority here. A suggestion — Maybe some research on your targets before you attack? How about a retraction and apology?


    Brian Lam, friend of Lisa’s

  18. ampontan said

    A retraction for what? Incorrect information in my post? Such as?

    If you want to know who I am, read About.

    Shame you missed the point.

  19. Aceface said

    “I don’t know who you are, but unless you spent more than half your life in Japan as a Schoolgirl, I don’t think you have more authority here. A suggestion — Maybe some research on your targets before you attack? How about a retraction and apology?”

    Boy,that is a phrase I wanted to use for long time,yet had no guts to say out loud.
    You see,I have spend almost all of my life living in this country,but never as a school girl…

    You guys don’t actually want to start”I-can-write-as-much-whacky-Japan-story-as-I-want-since-this-is-my-country-and-this-is-my-people” argument here,right?

    Calm down.Lisa and Brian.We all know that these”Japan stories” are not exactly the commodity of supply-side economy.
    The writer just have to present what the editor of the head office in the other corner of the world demands,either intentionally or unintentionally.

    What we had been discussing here were not exactly what a person do for a living,but this everlasting trend in English language media of portraying a society by index of whackiness.

  20. I’m not sure having a “bag of tricks” is as important as just working on improving yourself as a man an dthen learning how to read body language to see if someone is truly interested in you.

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