Although we've mentioned it a few times on other posts, Japanese ナンパ has thus far only been loosely explained as "flirting". It turns out that - surprise, surprise - there is some history to the word. Today we're going to shed some light on the origins of Japanese flirting.
The first thing you ought to wonder about ナンパ is where the word comes from. After all, カタカナ is usually reserved for foreign words, so one's first impression might be that Japanese people didn't really have a solid concept of flirting until Westerners went and mucked the whole thing up (kind of like プライバシー. Hilarious!). The truth is way more complicated, but just as interesting.
The kanji for ナンパ is 軟派, which breaks down to "soft faction/school," which seems to make no sense at first glance. That is until you pair it up with its opposite, 硬派, or "こうは (kouha)", ie "hard faction/school." These words hail from the Showa Period (1926 - 89) and originally had meanings with scopes beyond flirtation.
First, a quick definition from a Japanese dictionary:
Followed by the translation:
1. A school of thought that supports flexible opinions.
2. Literature concerning the world of sex/romance.
3. A reporter who works on a local news page or a news/magazine section dealing with definition two.
4. Buddying up with the opposite sex.
The key point to take away from these definitions is that they all carry/ied the connotation of weakness. Somebody who would constantly change their opinions would be considered weak-willed, works of art dealing with eroticism and romance are a frivolity, reporting on the happenings of your neighborhood is no reporting at all, and dudes hanging around with a bunch of chicks should get some tampons for their birthday. Oh what, you gonna cry again? Why don't you talk about your feelings more, wah wah wah, maybe that'll help.
So was nanpa a way of saying something was "sissy?" Looks that way. Which is why it should come as no surprise that 硬派 (kouha) encompassed all the opposite ends of the spectrum: your opinions are rigidly set, you concern yourself with economic, scientific, and political affairs, and love nothing more than to crack open a brew with the guys and watch a football game. Or sumo match.
The modern usage of the word can be described as one's method of getting the ladies. A "soft faction" practitioner, ie ナンパ, would woo his lady friend with words. "Oh, you like The Notebook, too?! Why don't we go up to my room and talk about it!" A "hard faction" (こうは) practitioner, on the other hand, had no need for fancy words, and would rather lure a girl with his manly trappings. Think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
So there you have it! The next part of this bit of trivia (likely slated for next week) will delve into a few 日本ナンパ仕方, and how they stack up against American equivalents. AWAY!
PS. To our female readers: Pardon the apparent sexism of this post. It's just that these two terms, like some others we've covered, are inherently... gender-divisive. I'd like to think that the Yoji alienates people equally, regardless of gender, race or creed!