Matt of No-sword has an essay of that title over at Néojaponisme (“We too are non-Japanese inspired by Japanese culture, and we too hope to advocate Japanese products and creative culture that may have been devalued or ignored in Japan”), and it’s a corker. Nanpa is familiar as a term for guys offering public compliments to gals (what they call piropo in Argentina), but it started out very differently:

Nanpa apparently dates back to Edo time but was certainly in popular use during the Meiji period. Back then, it was written in kanji (軟派) and used in relation to its antithesis — kōha (硬派). The words mean “soft faction” and “hard faction,” respectively, and at the time, denoted diametrically opposed philosophical outlooks. Softs were thoughtful, introverted and open to compromise; Hards were aggressive, inflexible, and beat up Softs for kicks.
You can find numerous examples of the words nanpa and kōha being used to bisect various social groups, ranging from newspaper reporters (Softs did society and the arts, Hards did politics) to black marketeers operating in early 20th-century China (Softs dealt drugs, Hards ran guns). The usage that eventually evolved into the modern meaning, however, was the one that applied to young men. Simply put: Softs liked women, and Hards didn’t.

Read his piece for more of this fascinating history.


  1. So did the Hards like men instead?
    I’m sure there’s a joke in there. But prolly too crude for me to attempt in this austere place.

  2. Not really. It’s more the distinction between “man’s man” and “ladies man”. Man’s man just prefers to be around men, though he’s straight. Ladies’ man actually would rather be around women than men, because he thinks men are idiotic also because the man’s men probably want to beat him up. And the most successful ladies man types that I knew were often a bit androgynous.
    When I was growing up, the man’s men often thought some of the ladies’ men types were sort of gay or bi or something – it was a continuous accusation, and no matter how many women some of the ladies’ men seduced, they could never seem to be rid of it. But back in history there is a tendency of these man’s man types to engage in gay sex – see Ancient Greece for example, and even some misogynistic Arab, Afghan and Pakistani societies.
    There was a lot of this stuff under Taliban rule, and there were even gay brothels that some of even the leadership frequented. I read an article that quoted some of these guys as saying, “A woman is for children; a man is for love.”

  3. Nanpa is also a Japanese porn genre where I think the guys go out and try to pick up strangers on street, and the camera tries to see how successful they are. I think it’s real, too, non scripted and fake, like the vast majority of the similar “reality porn” that took off on the Net in the US.

  4. John Cowan says

    Ladies’ man actually would rather be around women than men, because he thinks men are idiotic also because the man’s men probably want to beat him up.

    That describes two different types. Men who actually like women and prefer their company, and the type that ladies’ man historically referred to (as exemplified by the 1961 Jerry Lewis movie of that name): what is now called a player, a man whose interest in women is limited to “find ’em, feel ’em, fuck ’em, and forget ’em”. This in turn was historically “the four F’s”, but that term seems now to be applied to the functions of the limbic system and the hypothalamus in particular: “feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fucking”. (Dr. Google also tells me that it’s a mnemonic for the four risk factors for gallstones; “female, fertile, fat, and forty”.)

  5. Néojaponisme seems to have gone quiet for a couple of years. Sic transit…

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