I-“MURSE” Yourself in Japanese Style

I’ve noticed an astounding trend here in Japan: the man purse. They’re ubiquitous. Every man I see taking the train or walking down the street has some form of bag. There are the usual suspects: messenger bags, backpacks, briefcases. But also full-on purses made of black or brown leather that would make any woman swoon. I’m particularly attracted to the shoulder sling, which looks like a fanny pack you wear on your back. I mean, how sexy is this?

Murse 2

Whatever the style, I am down with the “murse!”

Japan relies on public transportation to move its countless citizens around the entire country. Commuters take their daily train to-and-from work, while tourists and locals alike enjoy the freedom of hopping on in Yokohama and ending up hundreds of miles south in Hiroshima. For women, these constant rides are no problem. Within our purses we carry anything and everything we might need. A water bottle, some snacks, Advil in case of headache, Band-Aids, Kleenex and cough drops, a cell phone to entertain, makeup for touchups, a brush and extra bobby pins, hand lotion, Chapstick, and other assorted accouterments. We all adhere to the Girl Scout motto of “be prepared!”

But men are a different story. Most American men would argue that everything they need fits within their pocket. But is that realistic? Yes you can fit your wallet and keys in your jeans, but where will you put those sunglasses after dark? Does that digital camera really belong in your back pocket? And what if you want some gum or a mint? I don’t know how single men deal with these dilemmas, but I know that married men have figured out the trick. They carry their wallet and their wives haul everything else. The moment we exit the car, Alex sidles up next to me and casually drops his heavy keys into my bag without the slightest hesitation. After all, what’s his is ours. So I’m sure I’m not alone when I declare that I’m tired of being my husband’s Sherpa!

Thus, the man purse! It’s a pretty ingenious invention. Here, men carelessly walk around town sporting their own purse – a wife’s dream. Murse 5I watch in awe as Japanese men casually carry their own sunglasses and cell phones in their satchels. Wives are free to tote smaller purses, helping both their backs as well as their relationships! In the US, men might carry a book bag in college or a brief case to and from the office. But otherwise it isn’t common for a man to embrace the purse. My father won’t even touch mine; someone might see him with a hot pink Michael Kors and mistake it for his! If I ask him to hold it while I am putting on or taking off my coat, he receives it from me and then places it directly on the floor. Thanks a lot!

But I know my dad isn’t alone. Many men have a purse phobia. Murse 7Heightened, perhaps, by the comedic image of the “murse” in American television. I’ll never forget the Friends episode – “The One with Joey’s Bag” – in which the lovable, but unaware, Joey adopts a “European carry all” to look more sophisticated for an audition. Like the Japanese men, he realizes the utility of such an item and falls in love with his bag, defending it to his friends. But the public reaction isn’t favorable. Women and men alike look askance as he dons his black leather satchel, and losing dates just isn’t an option. By the end of the episode, the forlorn Joey finally admits that the world simply isn’t ready for him and his bag.

Clearly, the man purse is a bit taboo for the American male. But why? It’s so practical! Everyone, and I mean everyone, has stuff they need to carry. Whether it be a laptop or a handkerchief (quite common for men in Japan), they have to be stored somewhere. And why should women carry the load?

Murse 6

Needless to say, I was a more than a little surprised when Alex told me last week that he wants to get an “every day bag.”

My response: “Uh… a man purse?”

“No!” he retorts. “Just a bag that can carry my camera and a water bottle when we go sight-seeing. Not a purse.”

“Okay…” (sheepish grin). “So, a messenger bag?”

“Yeah, just something useful for the train. All the Japanese men carry one,” he protests defensively, as if trying to convince himself it’d really be okay.

Well, babe, you don’t have to convince me! This wife is thrilled to give up her role as camel; my hump is beginning to show. So we bought a “man bag” that very evening at Yokohama’s Takashimaya shopping mall, where you can find reasonably priced Japanese brands, American mall classics like Gap, or the crème de la crème of haute couture. Every price point is represented. (Alex had to drag me out of Burberry – it’s just so pretty!)

But I digress… He decided on a “stylish, rugged travel bag,” as described
by L.L.Bean. It isn’t fancy or frilly, appealing to an outdoorMurse 3sier type of guy. Alex proclaims it’s “practical without all the fuss – the bare essentials. Nothing ridiculous.” (That’s a direct quote, people). Websites like EveryDayCarry are inspiring men across the globe to upgrade their gear and embrace the technical, tactical, and occasionally, the ridiculous. Hey, whatever it takes to get the ball rolling!

It’s 2015, and I think the world should get over it and immerse itself in the “murse.” Not only is it a useful accessory, but its yet another move toward gender equality. The Daddy Diaper Bag is a step in the right direction. These days men don’t have to blush at the thought of carrying their wives’ feminine baby accessories. Websites like DadGear and DiaperDude offer men more masculine options to save their sensitive self-esteem. And I can only hope that the “murse” is right around the corner. Or, if it makes you feel better, we can refer to it as a “European Carry All.” Because truly, it’s all about semantics!

Murse 1

*P.S. For your entertainment, I offer this link. I’m not usually a fan of tacky Facebook clickbait, but this one is too good to resist. 11 Men Who Totally Rock the Murse.

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