In the United States being called futsū or just ‘average’ is not a compliment. We are to always aim for the stars, be better than others, kagayaku, stand out, and/or get noticed. But if you’ve read anything about Japan you’ve heard the saying “deru kugi wa utareru” meaning that the protruding nail will be struck down. If you consider this literally, a nail does need to be struck down so that it can do its job properly so that whatever it is part of will work as it should. Imagine a bench with a nail sticking out of it. But this expression is not meant literally. Obviously. Right?
And once again, if you know anything about Japan, you know that the group is more important than the individual. That has been said ad nauseam but it certainly has been true, traditionally. For those of us who don’t particularly care about standing out and are happy to be part of a crowd Japan is a true refuge (though if you are kinpatsu that doesn’t work out very well for you). Being dark-haired myself, I was always amazed by the attention that my blonde friends would draw back in the 1970s and 80s. I was really happy to be more of a heibon type and not draw attention solely due to my appearance.
Miyako Harumi was a very popular singer back in the day. But in 1984 at the age of 36 and at the height of her career she announced her retirement saying that she just wanted to be a regular middle-aged woman saying “futsū no obasan ni naritai.” Her words caught on and it became a topic of discussion. In fact if you google this phrase the first thing that comes up is Miyako Harumi. For the most part, she was admired for expressing this sentiment. (By the way, it didn’t last; she announced her full fukkatsu in 1990 after having tentatively tested the waters for a few years.) So maybe futsū got boring for her or she realized she had options.
There used to be a popular magazine called Heibon or “Nothing Special.” Can you imagine a magazine like that in the United States? When I’d question the choice of title and express the idea that it was a weird name for a magazine, people would just look puzzled. Because being heibon was an aspiration for many. Not sure if it still is, though. I’m guessing the concept looked more attractive after the war when it would be an indication of upward mobility to be heibon.
After all, the magazine was first published in 1959 and went through several iterations before publishing the last issue in 1987. Coincidentally (or not) during the bubble era. The publishing house Heibonsha still exists. I doubt they’d ever see a need for a name change at this point.
I guess Japanese people see words differently than we do. It’s like how they named a drink “Pokkari Sweat” and saw no problem with it at all. Sure, it is combining a Japanese word with an English word and any English word can be fashionable. But when I explain that we don’t want to drink something called Sweat, I just get those puzzled looks. And they patiently explain to me that it is a sports drink, which I do understand. But, still.
I have digressed, but I have to admit that Japan impacted me to the point where I don’t mind being unremarkable in the world than most Americans would feel comfortable with. I’d rather be the brick layer than the castle designer. I’m happy not to stand out and to just play my futsū role in daily life and never get involved in a one-upping conversation! Futsū de ii desu.
- futsū – 普通 average, normal, usual, regular
- kagayaku – 輝く to shine or sparkle (verb). This is used for stars in the sky but can also be used for people. For example a bride on her wedding day (one hopes.)
- deru kugi wa utareru – 出る釘は打たれる The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Every single Japanese person knows this one.
- kinpatsu – 金髪 blonde hair
- heibon – 平凡 ordinary, unremarkable, common
- futsū no obasan ni naritai.普通のおばさんになりたい – “I just want to be a normal middle aged woman.” The famous words of Miyako Harumi when she retired from her singing career.
- fukkatsu – 復活 revival, or comeback
- Futsū de ii desu – 普通で良いです “I’m fine with [being] the usual.” A useful expression when you’re given too many choices or just want to blend in.