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Big in Japan: Charisma Man

The release of The Dark Knight in Japan has me thinking about superheroes. Every culture has them, whether they come from ancient Vedic texts or faded dusty scrolls. Heroes are often social commentaries about life, society and morality.

After walking out of the Piccadilly Cinema in Shinjuku with the events of a Chicago-tinged Gotham City fresh in my memory, I started thinking about Japanese superheroes. There are too many to mention, but the most famous in the States are the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Pokemon and Ultraman. Take into account hundreds of Japanese anime movies (Akira, Ghost in the Machine, etc.) and many more thousands of manga anime comic books, and there are quite a few to choose from here.

In this installment of BiJ, however, I shall refrain from delving into the Japanese superhero and instead discuss a different, and much more mundane 'hero' that is truly unique to this country.

Who is this (not so) masked man?

It's Charisma Man.


Charisma Man is a comic book character created in the late 1990's by a pair of Canadian expats working for the now defunct Alien magazine. His mythology is loosely based on Superman and his power is his ability to impress and pick up Japanese women.

In his home country of Canada, Charisma Man is a burger-flipping 98-pound weakling who can't get a date to save his scrawny life. But when he travels to the mysterious Japanese Archipelago, his muscles bulge, his jaw squares, his quaff flares and his confidence soars. He is Charisma Man (or as he says in the comic strip, "Watashi wa CHARISMA MAN DESU!"). Of course, his powers fade whenever his archnemesis, Western Woman, enters the picture.

What is noteworthy about Charisma Man is that he is based on the very real subculture of white expats living in Japan. I can speak from experience; these people do exist.

Much like the "hot chicks with douchebags" phenomenon in the States, Charisma Man defies all previously held social stereotypes and makes us all say, "WTF!"

They are found all over Tokyo. Although the metropolitan area boasts a population of nearly 35 million people, Tokyo itself has a relatively small population of about 50,000 American citizens.

It is a strange thing walking down the street seeing a guy who would be generally perceived as a dork in America walking down the street with a beautiful Japanese woman on his arm. It is even stranger to walk into a club and see a skinny, dorky guy with two or three Japanese girls clinging to him and fawning over every one of the broken Japanese words he utters.

Something about the "geek" does not translate culturally. Interestingly, whenever I see these guys, I can't help but imagine the wannabes on Rush Street after a long night of pathetic drinking. Somehow I doubt that the Chicago women would respond to them in quite the same way.

I asked a few Japanese women about the Charisma Man phenomenon and I was met mostly with blank stares. One friend of mine, however, did offer some insight. "There is an expression in Japanese, which I am not quite sure how to translate into English," he said. "Basically, here in Japan, just like anywhere else, there are some that Japanese men don't want to date. We let the foreigners go out with these women."

His feeling was that many foreigners date the women that would be otherwise considered "undatable" from a normal Japanese man's perspective. Why are they undatable? Supposedly they are a little "off" and sometimes it is simply their infatuation with foreign guys that alienates them from Japanese men. Sometimes, too, they are not quite what Japanese men look for in a woman (whatever that may be).

When I quizzed a former co-worker of mine about the Charisma Man, he said that some Japanese girls go out looking specifically for a foreign boyfriend. He added that often these girls have struck out with Japanese men and feel that a foreign guy is the only way to go. I have encountered these women as well. Sometimes they are pretty obvious about their aims and tend to carry around a lot of baggage.

There are different types of expatriates in Tokyo. There are some, like yours truly, who ventured to Japan for a job and to learn about the culture and language. There also bankers and high rollers who came here for the action and/or high-paying gigs with large Japanese or foreign companies.

The stereotype of Charisma Man often is with a third group of foreigners, those who have come here as English teachers. Of course, not all of them fall into the Charisma Man classification. But many who do are in Japan because they have washed out at home socially and professionally, or they came here for an adventure and realized that they did better away from home. Add an Asian fetish on top, and you have the perfect recipe for an expatriate superhero.

The truth is that Charisma Man is alive and well, and he is prowling the streets of Tokyo. He looks harmless and yes, even weak, but he has something that many in the city want: a hot girlfriend.

Christian Bale declared himself something between a hero and something else in the latest Batman movie. Depending on how you look at it, Charisma Man too is either a hero or an anathema.

Call him the "White Knight" of this Asian Gotham.



Previously in Big in Japan:
* Not Fukudome
* The Yokohama Cubs
* The Chicago Way
* Not The Olympics


Posted on August 14, 2008

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BOOKS - All About Poop.


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