Posted by Susan Scutti and Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN " | 3 August 2018 | 97,710 times
Unless you have interesting input coming into you all the time, you will psychologically die."
"You learn by seeing through other people's eyes."
"People live too seriously, and that kind of narrows down their vision."
These thoughts have not been generated by an algorithm or crowd sourced on Twitter. They are the accumulated wisdom of a middle-aged man in Japan.
A middle-aged man who's available for rent.
Wearing a shirt with a miniature panda bear print and smiling inscrutably, Ken Sasaki, 48, has a vibe that is anything but that of a disgruntled middle-aged Tokyo man.
With gray hair, visible lines on his face and loss of youthful slimness, he is more like a free-spirited bohemian in a strange disguise.
Throughout an hourlong Skype interview, in which comments are tediously ferried back and forth through an interpreter, his energy and enthusiasm never flag, and his answers grow more expressive and thoughtful with each question.
It's all part of his job as a rented "ossan," the Japanese word for a middle-aged man.
He allows himself to be hired by anyone, for nearly any purpose -- not involving physical contact -- as long as they pay his hourly wage: a mere 1,000 yen (about US $9). And he loves it.
As in many cities around the globe, most people in Tokyo prefer anonymity when it comes to their wants, needs and vulnerabilities.
Urban citizens may be desperate to get advice from an older, wiser person, but they don't want to turn to the guy they've worked with for years or the uncle who remembers the tears shed over a broken toy truck. Someone familiar might judge them.
After Japan's defeat in World War II, "militarized masculinity," in which an officer was seen as a key version of virility, essentially came to an end, said Sabine Fruhstuck, director of the East Asia Center and a professor of modern Japanese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"During the postwar decades, a new ideal of masculinity emerged, primarily embodied in the white-collar salaryman (essentially, a middle-class business man type)," Fruhstuck wrote in an email.
The dominant ideal of masculinity became a man with a "good income, clean office work, willing to sacrifice himself more or less for a company, married, with two children," she added.
Yet even that ideal soon ended.
Many middle-aged men became jobless amid economic troubles in 1989, and a new class of predominantly male freelance workers (known as "freeters" in Japan) emerged in an economy further battered by the 2008 financial crisis and the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.
Freeters work short-term or part-time positions in a variety of businesses, including IT, marketing, retail and restaurants.
"During the last couple of decades, particularly, middle-aged middle-class men have lost a lot of their cultural power," Fruhstuck said. "In popular media, they are often cast as backward, stodgy, and uninteresting."
But the cultural power vacuum has not been an opportunity for women either, as male-dominated institutions continue to discourage them from entering leadership positions, Fruhstuck said.
Ultimately, she believes that Nishimoto's sense of lost honor is not imaginary, but whether his rental business can restore the reputation of middle-aged men is another matter. (CNN)
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