Boil the Scrapings from Under His Fingernails and Drink Them

This is, apparently, a standard Japanese phrase: 爪のあかを煎じて飲む. It means “learn from him by imitation”. Yuriko suddenly used it last night, with reference to me, and it was the first time I’d heard it, so there followed a short clarificatory discussion. (“Why do they want to boil my fingernails? What have I ever done to them?”) Yuriko guessed that it might have something to do with the practices of traditional Chinese medicine, but it’s still a rather strange phrase.

The context was that she met some other Japanese mothers yesterday, and they were talking about their husbands. Apparently, most Japanese husbands still think that socks unball themselves and walk to the linen basket in the middle of the night, and are happy to watch the baby occasionally, as long as it doesn’t cry, or complain, or want to do anything. The idea that he might bathe the baby, or look after her for a whole day, seems to be regarded as plainly ridiculous.

This makes it very easy to be a comparatively good husband over here. It also probably explains why, in marriages between a Westerner and a Japanese, the Westerner is overwhelmingly male and the Japanese female. There are a handful of exceptions, but they seem to be very rare. The same bias does not apply to international marriages in general; there are a lot of Filipinas or Chinese women married to Japanese men, so it balances out, at least. But still, I suspect that there are very few Western women who would put up with a typical Japanese husband, so marriages that way probably only happen with exceptional examples. They do exist, and the culture is shifting in favour of the husband helping at home, but Westerners have at least a thirty year head start.