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…

  6. I just revisited it and discovered a new post from last year (April 16, 2020) that I find appalling:

    We started Néojaponisme in 2007 — a year that carried all the promise of the Internet as a hallowed bastion for reasonable, intelligent people who liked to exchange reasonable, intelligent comments underneath long-form essays about serious topics. Little did we know at the time, 2007 was the last year someone could harbor such misconceptions about the nature of the Internet.

    More than a decade later, the Internet is a very different place, and at some point this affected how we thought about Néojaponisme as a website. The Internet is now for everyone — which is great! no really, it’s great! — but us weird folk with extreme curiosity and unusual interests are no longer left alone to mumble quietly amongst ourselves. Any webpage on the Internet will end up with angry partisans drifting in from rival taste worlds, doomed to miss the point. Meanwhile, websites are no longer destinations and clubhouses since people find their news on social media and discuss it there. Where an article is hosted feels increasingly irrelevant.

    Now, of course, we want to stand brave in the face of this upheaval. And we want Néojaponisme to continue to exist. We have a distinct (read: niche) point of view on a distinct (read: niche) set of topics that other outlets are unlikely to serve.

    But in this new media environment, maybe websites are not the answer. In the old age of our second decade (website years are like dog years), print may be a better match. A print Néojaponisme — NJP — is our latest destination: something to buy, read, enjoy, save, pull off the shelf once in a while as a reference. And by virtue of being a physical object with limited distribution, print manages to deliver our writing to the suitably sized, highly targeted audience we aimed for at the beginning. A final bonus: Print means we can collect our “occasional publishing” into bursts rather than letting you down with the false promise of regular updates.

    What bullshit. If you’re too lazy to post, or have lost interest, just say so; don’t slag the entire online world. This very website on which I am writing exemplifies “the promise of the Internet” that is supposedly long vanished, and there are plenty of others like it. Just because the lemmings have migrated to “social media” venues doesn’t mean we all have to join them. Grr, that pisses me off.

  7. Switching to print makes it a lot harder for the weird folk to mumble quietly among themselves, so that seems like a big loss, but then that is the way it was in the pre-Internet days.

  8. Yup, it’s a backward step.

  9. David Marjanović says

    So, they don’t want spam and they don’t want political battles, and they think it’s completely natural to want no comments at all as a consequence – to prefer to write into a void and to learn nothing from it. I mean, it’s not as wrong-headed as the Tangut script, but it’s approaching that order of magnitude.

  10. The Internet is now for everyone

    At most the Web is; other nooks and crannies still aren’t. Is anyone publishing cultural essay newsletters in Gopherspace or Geminispace, I wonder? There’s definitely things in the zine range still happening over there.

    There might be even some possibility of heading back towards technological bottlenecking, if free web access on smartphones / tablets withers further as major platforms and services increasingly move to their own apps, while adoption rate of general-purpose home computers falls again. But I suppose so far there’s still a bit too much of a gap between what mobile OSes and desktop OSes can support.

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