Continued from Story of Miu 7.
(Scene: A Kyoto-style restaurant on the 14th Floor of the Takashimaya Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The delicately shaped servings in modern geometric cups and plates line a wooden counter facing wall-to-wall glass that overlooks a noontime luscious view of Shinjuku Gyoen garden.)
Miu (Fingering traditional “tenugui” cotton towels the restaurant has given as napkins): Cool!
Me (Trying not to sound too curious): And so how’s it going?
Me: You were telling me you picked up … met someone, right, the other day? And so what’s the latest news?
(Silence for several minutes; waiter from the other side of the counter brings cups of tea.)
Miu: Yes, there have been developments. He said we were supposed to meet at Alta in Shinjuku _ that was, I guess, last weekend _ to see a movie. But I didn’t go.
Me: You didn’t go.
Miu (Shaking head): But I did meet another guy. I went to a different club with some other friends, and there was this other guy.
Me: That’s great.
Miu: Actually, I am building a database.
Miu: I figure you have to be scientific about this procedure. (Begins to explain hurriedly) My Japanese really improves, spending time with these guys. Free lessons! (Laughs.)
Me: And so how does the database work?
Miu: It’s easy. You collect phone numbers. It must be harder for males but for females, you don’t have to do much.
Me: And how many have you collected?
Miu: Lots. I haven’t checked.
Me: Like 10? 20?
Miu (Giggling:) More like 100.
Me: Gosh. How can you possibly keep track?
Miu: That’s the challenge. You have to take good notes _ oh, you’d know about that. How do you keep track of all the people you interview?
Me: I have to write down the person’s characteristics on their meishi. Thank God Japanese are into their meishi.
Miu: What do you write?
Me: Like “did most of the talking,” “said nothing,” “glasses,” “made joke about such and such.” It’s tough. They tend to be all male and old and wear dark suits.
Miu: Similar problem here. All male, young, eager to get into bed, very very boring!
But I write down what they said and stuff. And I can sometimes even take their photo with my cell phone. My cell phone has a better digital camera than my camera.
Me: At least, you are getting around and meeting a lot of people and learning about Japan. And no sense rushing into settling down with one person. Maybe I could have gotten someone better if I had held out, too. (Sighs)
Miu: Oh, don’t say that. You have a great marriage.
Me: Thanks. So what do you do with all that information? You call one of them up randomly when you need to go out or something?
Miu: Something like that.
Me: Your generation _ there is so much technology available like SNS, e-mail, messaging, all that, to connect in so many ways maybe you don’t feel like you’ve checked out all your options unless you build this … database. (Miu shrugs as they eat with lacquered chopsticks soy-flavored grilled fish, chopped seaweed and daikon in vinegar sauce and miso soup with tofu.) The world was a simpler place when all you did was sit around at home and wait for a call on that fixed line.
Miu: You didn’t do that, did you?
Me: Of course, I did. Everybody did. What if he calls and you’re out? You’d miss that chance to go out with him, right?
Miu: How can you stand it?
Me: Right, it is quite oppressive, isn’t it? (Pauses) Yes, you’re right. The new technology is progress. But don’t you feel that Japan is still stuck in the 1950s as far as images of women?
Miu: What do you mean?
Me: There aren’t that many outlets for older women still, except maybe flamenco classes for housewives or something. We know studies say more women are working and some are even successful. We see them on TV. But the most desirable roles for women are defined as young and cute because it’s the men who are behind the definitions. I mean, look at the U.S. presidential race. What a contrast.
Miu: But maybe Yuriko Koike will run for the LDP presidential race, and there you go: Japan’s first female prime minister.
(Miu and Me laugh.)
Me: What comes to mind when you hear “obasan?” Nothing good, right?
Miu: No one wants to be called “obasan.” That’s like the worst derogatory thing in Japanese you can call a woman.
Me: There is “babaa.”
(They laugh. Waiter brings dessert, a traditional rice-cake pastry with fruit and sweet black beans )
Have you noticed what word the sales people at Shibuya 109, the Kyoto “maiko” and night club hostesses use to refer to older women to avoid saying “obasan?”
Miu (Visibly curious): No, what?
(They sip tea.)
Me: Forever young _ although older. But I think this shows how society hasn’t recognized the value of the female after women have gotten past their roles of reproduction.
Miu: Oh, wasn’t there some minister who got in trouble for calling women “reproductive machines?”
Me: Exactly. That mentality. There are lots of women in their 30s and older who truly dread being called “obasan.” If it hasn’t happened already, then it could happen any second. Horrors!
Miu: Moment of metamorphosis. Society decrees you useless for preservation of the species.
Me: I like being obasan. I am proud of being obasan.
Miu: OK, obasan.
Me: Obasan is a title that you earn as a woman when you grow older and wiser and better. Sounds a bit like sour grapes, doesn’t it? But I think I learned so much about womanhood _ maybe “personhood” _ through my motherhood _ or through my son, I guess, having a child.
Miu: That’s wonderful.
Me: All the years my son was growing up, his friends who spoke Japanese would call me obasan. They would look at me with those big innocent eyes of theirs, trusting me because I was their friend’s mother. It’s respect I earned not only because of my relationship with my son but also my son’s relationship with others. That’s why I get to be obasan. It’s real and very beautiful and full of dignity. Not some derogatory place in the hierarchy as defined by sexual desirability, work performance, whatever. It’s deeper than all that.
Miu: It is. And it should be like that.
Me: Women should be proud of being obasan.
Miu: Of course.
Me: Obasan Power!
Miu: That’s a good way to put it.
Me: But all you see in the Japanese media much of the time are obasan rushing to bargains, gossiping, taking flamenco lessons.
Miu: What’s the solution?
Me: I’m not sure. Data show Japanese women are choosing not to get married and not to have children, even if they do by some miracle get married. (Looks into Miu’s eyes.) I try to tell young women this every chance I get, but it’s the most important experience in life to have a child, OK? No one really told me this. I was so lucky I did get married and have a child. The common wisdom back then was that women had to prove we could be just as good as men. And so worrying too much about marriage and children was seen as backward, something that women who weren’t “liberated” (Holds up her hands to make quotation marks in the air with her fingers) did _ not women who wanted to make something of themselves and have careers.
Miu: I want a child. Maybe not now. But I want a baby someday.
Me: You will. You will. And you have plenty of time. To build databases and everything else.
Miu: This database I am building isn’t about that though. I’m not sure what it’s about. But I don’t want to be trapped into someone just because he picks me out from the crowd. Why do I have to wait for some coincidental accident in the office elevator or some freakish event like in a TV drama to meet someone?
Me: Maybe old-style Japan was on to something when they had omiai. That’s pretty orderly. So Japanese.
Miu: Then I wouldn’t have to spend all this time on a database.
Me: Someday you will meet that special person _ that man who will throw that whole database out the window.
Miu (Silent then): How do you know?
Me: You’ll know. You won’t have to ask.
Miu: I will hear my heart go thump thump. Uh-oh, I think that’s just the music blasting off at the club. I probably won’t be able to hear it _ it’s so loud in there (Laughs).
Story of Miu 6 with links at end to previous chapters.