iro otoko

Japanese saying of the week!

The ladies’ man has neither money nor power

  • 色男(いろおとこ/iro-otoko) handsome/sexy man, ladies’ man (literally “colorful man”; “color” can actually mean “erotic” sometimes!)
  • 金(かね/kane) money
  • と (to) and
  • 力(ちから/chikara) power
  • は (wa) marks a topic of a sentence (here, the money and power, because they’re what doesn’t exist)
  • なかり(nakari-) old version of ない (not, isn’t, doesn’t exist) in the form you use to attach it to other words like けり (it’s behaving almost like a verb–like なかる or something–in this form. Maybe modern Japanese なかった makes more sense now?)
  • けり(keri) old past tense and/or hearsay marker; adds a “so they say” feeling to the whole sentence. (So I guess here it’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man with no fortune at all must be in want of a wife?)

Now, I didn’t realize this until I was reading explanations of what this means, but someone who catches on faster than me might be going “hold up, is that a freaking haiku??” right about now. And they’d be basically right. Look at that pattern of syllables.

(5) いろおとこ
(7) かねとちからは
(5) なかりけり

Technically, this is a senryū, which is basically what happens when haiku writers do satire (haiku and senryū have the same syllable structure but slightly different rules about content).

As you can probably tell, it’s making fun of handsome guys who flirt with all the ladies, saying that they’re just a pretty face with no other redeeming qualities.