An excerpt from Story of Miu (a performance piece in the works) by Yuri Kageyama

An excerpt from Story of Miu (a performance piece in the works)
By Yuri Kageyama

You are curled up tight, in fetal position, eyes still closed but seeing red blindness, throbbing flesh, still alive, deep inside our stomachs so entrenched within us but also disjointed and expanding like our pain and like all the solar systems in the universe.
I was already there in that moment. We shared in that secret of knowing you will someday be born, before anyone else knew, and then grow up and become man _ or woman _ with a yelping gasping flash-of-light wail, the newborn’s cry in that first breath, and recognizing from the very start that you will someday have this same joy and same pain, growing inside you and being born.
It doesn’t matter that you will make towers. You will make music. You will make computer programs. You will make money. You will make babies.
It doesn’t matter that you will be a pillar of society. You will be an outcast. You will win rewards. You will be abused as a stranger.
It doesn’t matter that you will witness a great northern earthquake, although it is a once-in-a-century disaster setting off a torrent of outraged water that turns farmland into mud, buildings and homes into rubble, and quiet untouched happy towns into ghost towns covered with radiation.
I was there, with you, before it all _ in that redness and blackness and all seeing blindness that was here and everywhere, bleeding and beating and breathing and being, inside my uterus, that spot near my navel that connects with your navel, before and even after your newborn cry.
This is the same cosmos inside the bodies of all mothers, where we fall in our slumber, snuggling against our blankets, the safe and eternal place we visit that are called dreams after we awaken.
This is the same cosmos in the resonance of the giant taiko drum, shaking and deafening, but we hear and understand every note like our mother’s heartbeat.
The otherworldly world that awaits behind the mirror in a Tadanori Yokoo painting, the crooked road not taken behind the church in a Vincent Van Gogh painting _ a world from this end we fear might be the Michelangelo hell of a nuclear meltdown with faces and arms peeled, stunted and melted by an erring god scientists will never admit was provoked by anything other than a mother’s mistake, or else it could smell like lotuses and incense and candles, sinking into a Claude Monet lake of sheer light and blindness that is canvas and museum walls no more but total artist’s vision.
This is the same cosmos where ghosts with long black hair reside, sometimes standing besides riverside willow trees weeping about their lovers’ betrayal, and at other times mysteriously saving children from car crashes as benevolent all-knowing ancestors.
After all these years, I finally know this is where I return when I die.
To be with you again, all the time, in that moment of eternity that is before birth, so perfectly connected we don’t need to speak or breathe or remember.

“Story of Miu,” a film written and directed by Yuri Kageyama. Dance and choreography by Yuki Kawahisa starring as Miu.

“Story of Miu,” written, directed and edited by Yuri Kageyama.
Yuki Kawahisa as Miu.
Dance and Choreography by Yuki Kawahisa.
Man and chief camera work by Rodrigo Albuquerque.
Woman in park Desiree Cantuaria.
Camera and other production work Raquel Prado, Rodrigo Albuquerque, Desiree Cantuaria and Yuri Kageyama.
Music “Nikata Bushi” by Isaku Kageyama on taiko drums and his Hybrid Soul, Chris Young guitar and Pat Glynn bass, with Yoshinori Kikuchi on shakuhachi.
Credit roll music “My Africa” composed and sung by Ayumi Ueda with Isaku Kageyama on percussion, Yoshinori Kikuchi shakuhachi, Yumi Sugimoto piano, Keisuke Higashino bass and Seiemon Sawada shamisen.
A TOKYO FLOWER CHILDREN PRODUCTION.
New York Film Academy.
October 2014.

STORY OF MIU by Yuri Kageyama, a reading with dance and music at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York (synopsis video)

STORY OF MIU a reading in New York _ synopsis video of a 40 minuted performance piece

Written by Yuri Kageyama. Directed by Carla Blank. Dance by Yuki Kawahisa.
Read by Yuri Kageyama and Yuki Kawahisa.
Music by Pheeroan akLaff and Tecla Esposito.
At the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, N.Y. April 1, 2012.
Film by Luis Silva.
Camera by Shiho Kataoka, Rebecca MacNiece and Khach Turabian.
A COLLAGE OF WORDS, SOUND AND MOVEMENT, A LATTER DAY NOH PLAY OF PAIN, LOVE AND SURVIVAL THAT DEFIES RACISM AND SEXISM OVER MOMENTS AND GENERATIONS.
A Tokyo Flower Children Production
“Story of Miu” was first published in “The New and Selected Yuri: Writing From Peeling Till Now” (Ishmael Reed Publishing Co., 2011).

No April Fool’s Joke: at the Bowery Poetry Club in NY

ISHMAEL REED PUBLISHING COMPANY PRESENTS A BOOK PARTY for
“The New and Selected Yuri,” poetry and stories by YURI KAGEYAMA:

Bowery Poetry Club 308 Bowery (between Houston and Bleecker) New York City
Sunday, April 1, 2012 8 p.m.

Special Guests ISHMAEL REED and TENNESSEE REED.
A reading-performance of “STORY OF MIU,” written by Yuri Kageyama, directed by CARLA BLANK, featuring dancer YUKI KAWAHISA, with music by PHEEROAN AKLAFF, in a collage of words, sound and movement, a pan-Pacific tale of pain, love and survival that defies racism and sexism over moments and generations.

Ishmael Reed is the author of “Mumbo Jumbo,” “Juice,” “The Last Days of Louisiana Red,” “Japanese by Spring,” “Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down” and some 20 other books. He is a poet, publisher, satirist, playwright, pianist, TV producer and songwriter. He taught at the University of California Berkeley for more than 30 years. He founded the Before Columbus Foundation.

Carla Blank has been a performer, director, dramaturge and teacher of dance and theater for more than 40 years. Recently, she worked with Robert Wilson on “KOOL – Dancing in My Mind” inspired by Japanese choreographer Suzushi Hanayagi, a longtime collaborator. Since 2003 she has been dramaturge and director of the two-act play “The Domestic Crusaders” by Wajahat Ali. She has taught at the University of California Berkeley, Dartmouth College and the University of Washington.

Yuki Kawahisa, a native of Japan, is an actor and performance artist. Based in New York, Kawahisa has been performing her own works and others’ works internationally, including Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. She has worked with internationally acclaimed theater directors Robert Wilson and Richard Forman, as well as with dancers, media artists, painters, vocal artists and musicians.

Pheeroan AkLaff
is a New York-based drummer and composer, who has played with Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Cecil Taylor, Yosuke Yamashita and Andrew Hill. He was a headliner at many festivals including Moers and Nurnberg. He led the Double Duo ensemble dedicated to the spiritual music of John Coltrane. He teaches at Wesleyan University.

Tennessee Reed is the author of five poetry collections and a memoir. She has read in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Japan. Her sixth poetry collection “New and Selected Poetry 1982-2010” will be published by World Parade this year. She is managing editor of Konch Magazine. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley, and an M.F.A. from Mills College.

Yuri Kageyama’s poetry, short stories and essays have been published in “Y’Bird,” “Pow Wow,” “Breaking Silence” “On a Bed of Rice,” Konch and “Pirene’s Fountain.” She reads with her band Yuricane, featuring Eric Kamau Gravatt, Isaku Kageyama, Winchester Nii Tete and other multicultural musicians. Japanese director Yoshiako Tago is documenting her readings on film, “Talking TAIKO.”

Story of Miu 12

Reading at the Kuraki Noh Theater Dec. 6, 2008
with Yumi Miyagishima on violin, playing “Sleep” by Kyosuke Koizumi and Winchester Nii Tete on kpanlogo percussion.

Story of Miu 11 including links to previous entries.

I’m sitting in a stuffy waiting room, not bothering to wonder why the others _ troubled looking women of all ages and shapes _ would need to be there.
It is clear birth is not the reason we are all here, even the nurses in pale pink outfits and the feminist gynecologist with the stern voice.
I am too nervous and worried to feel shame or guilt.
I just want Miu to come out from behind the curtains where she has gone _ safe and alive and in one piece and the job done.
This is not a good feeling.
But this is all I can think.
We have all been there _ our legs open _ to remind us of what we did, not with just anyone but a man we truly loved but maybe who didn’t love us enough _ the chilly metal enters like an uncutting but unfeeling knife, merciless, guiltless, sinless until our drugged minds leave us _ start counting: one, two, three, four _ like angels who have given up.
And we feel nothing and we remember nothing.
We do not think of the baby that was, that could have been, that never was.
It is a tiny wormlike thing that must be removed like a bloody tumor because it is not a human being yet.
And I only want her to come out of there from behind the sterile curtains, safe and healthy and smiling.
I know she doesn’t want to part with this human being that never was.
She wanted it to go on and on, feeling that person inside of her.
“It’s not something to do immediately; that’s not right,” she says. She has waited a week alone. She has not told anyone.
I don’t realize this: All I am thinking about is her, not the thing that is inside of her.
But the baby who never was is that grandchild who never was, the future of the race, generations to come, who looks like your grandfather, your father, your son, the man you love, those little feet that run to you and bring snotty cheek against cheek, filled with life when you are only nearing death.
When she finally comes out of her drugged sleep, walks courageously to me in the waiting room, faking a smile, her breath smells like an old woman.

=THE END=

Story of Miu 11

Continued from previous entries:
Story of Miu 10
Story of Miu 9
Links to Story of Miu 8 and previous entries to where it all started.

___________

The details, when put together, make for a rather fascinating profile of a young man.
Maybe because I am a writer I am by nature intrigued by descriptions of things that people do that offer insight into human nature that writers see as a mission to explore.
I still don’t really know Yuga at all.
I only know what Miu told me.
Maybe she is telling only her side of what happened as people are apt to do.
And maybe she didn’t even really know him either.
The bits and pieces came slowly and gradually.
But as our conversation went on, the crimes, the shortcomings, the mistakes of Yuga came from her in torrents.
Yuga had another identity, Miu says.
He went to clubs to pick up women.
For this, he went by a false name, Ryuga, which still sounded enough like Yuga so that if someone called out the name _ someone who really knew who he was, who happened to be at the same club, the same party, or the same sidewalk, “Hey, Yuga!” _ the girl he was trying to seduce wouldn’t find out he had told her his false name, the lie, the other identity: The boy who wasn’t a poor musician at all but an up-and-coming recruit at a PR firm, who had money and on his path to fame.
“That is so sad,” Miu said to me, scoffing and sneering, although she was almost going to cry.
“I thought I came to Japan to find human relationships that were devoid of the separation of racism, to link with people in a way that wasn’t tainted by the barriers of racial stereotypes. I just wanted a man who would look at me and not see a Jap before he saw anything else.”
I touched her shoulder, pale and frail and trembling.
But nothing I could do or say was going to make Miu feel better.
When Yuga was Ryuga, when he wasn’t practicing with Miu and the rest of his band, when he wasn’t poring over his studies, he was talking to strange women as Ryuga in darkly deafening club after club, whispering strange nothings into their ears.

Story of Miu 10

Story of Miu 9
List of links to previous Miu entries
Story of Miu 10
The Moon Stomp in Koenji is smaller than most American kitchens, and it really does have a kitchen, where sweet-smelling pizza and hot spicy curry are getting cooked up, but what’s really cooking is the music.
Miu wanted me to come and hear her play with Yuga’s band.
I’m trying not to expect too much, but I need not have worried.
Descend from the streets into that tiny smoke-filled club, packed with kids in hats and T-shirts, and the music there is so feel-good, giggles-provoking and harmonious Japanese-style it’s like soaking in sudsy lukewarm tub water.
Admission is 2,500 yen for an all-you-can-eat meal-included evening of music.
Merrychan is a trio that performs original Japanese-language versions of Cuban and other Latin music.
Hearing Japanese sung and yelled in Latin fashion is somehow funnier than you’d think. Speak about identity crisis and parodying Japan’s imitative modern music scene!
See how “Gerohaita! (He barfed!)” almost sounds Spanish? It’s that wit in not taking oneself too seriously that makes these musicians rise above their otherwise proficient but pretty hunkydory (I mean, how could a bunch of Japanese kids beat Los Van Van?) musicianship to something unique, and something definitely entertaining.
No wonder the crowd (of about 30, half of them members of the other performing bands) is ecstatic.
Funyakotsu-ting was a geeky looking pudgy guy with glasses and a T-shirt with a picture of a donkey that said in English: “Bad Ass.” He sang, narrated tales and even performed karaoke with a guitar.
A far cry from a demonstration of musical technique or artistic message, the almost-freak-show “otaku” performance still exudes a strange utterly disarming charm.
Several fans sat in the front row with multicolored light-sticks and swayed them in time to the music on one tune like they were at a Budokan rock concert.
Most straight-ahead but just as hippie-spiritied was Cigarette She Was, a folk/pop band led by guitar-strumming singer Teruyuki Kawabata. The groups were selling their CDs for something like 200 yen, the equivalent of $1.50.
Yuga plays kpanlogo in this band, his deep eyes _ those that Miu says look like those of an elephant _ buried in his long black hair as he plays with quiet concentration. He is sometimes so serious his upper lip seems to curl up in a haughty snarl.
Miu is so happy she can barely sit still as she jumps around, shaking a wooden stick covered with jangling bells.
I sit in one of the front seats surrounded by the cuddly noises and the warm smell of food and forget all thoughts.
It’s a numbing feeling of thoughtless and humble satisfaction.
Who would have imagined that just a couple of months later Miu would break up with Yuga?
They are so young maybe it was to be expected.
She says it started with a quarrel about how to play a musical phrase in a rehearsal in their tiny apartment.
But when she shouted back, he slapped her then pushed her down on the tatami mat.
“I almost hit my head on the corner of his desk,” Miu tells me, horrified.
She has to move out immediately, and so I have to go pick her up in our car.
Perhaps hoping to stop her from leaving, Yuga told her that he couldn’t end the painful cycle of violence: He was beaten as a child while he was growing up.
His parent were very strict with him because he was an only child and they had such great hopes for him.
He was the kind of kid who couldn’t even ask for a toy.
The parents would spank him and beat him and kick him and push him out, even in the winter, naked out into the backyard, although he screamed and stamped his little feet and cried as though his little lungs will tear into pieces.
But sometimes, when he feels that rage burn inside him, he is still that kid, and he can’t stop himself when he wants it set things right and he must hit that person in front of him whom he loves so dearly yet who is acting in a way that he despises.
“It’s totally messed up,” Miu says. “He says he can’t forgive his father, but I am not going to forgive him.”
It is a sad end to a totally peaceful, hippie story of young love and brainlessly joyous music.
Or so I thought _ except that wasn’t the end at all.

Story of Miu 9

Continued from previous Story of Miu entries.
The “plop plop plop” of electronic waterdrops sound from my cell phone, the ringtone I’ve set so I know it’s e-mail from Miu.
On the subject column, an animation icon of a glittering pink heart bounces around.
“It’s him!” her message reads, a little ominously.
I press the tiny keyboard quickly with my thumb for an immediate reply: “Who he?”
It turns out she recently joined a world-music band with African drums, guitar, keyboards, traps drumming and singing that she was introduced to by a friend in high school.
Miu is learning how to play the kpanlogo with this group.
But more importantly, she has met someone.
He is the band leader Yuga. He’s 21, and so a few years older than Miu.
This is what Miu says, a bit breathless on the phone, when I call her in the evening after I get home from work:
He has the most beautiful dark eyes like those of a wise elephant.
He write songs about being free, being in love and never forgetting the passion for life.
And what is fascinating about him is that he is not interested in money, status or careers, Miu says.
He works for a Tokyo dot.com that is contracted out to create ringtones for mobile phones.
And this is apparently a lucrative business because every tune on the Japanese pop charts has to be programmed into a ringtone.
But there’s special software to do it so it’s pretty easy, leaving Yuga a lot of time to work on his art, like composing, writing lyrics, collaborating with illustrators, rehearsing for performances and working on sound engineering on recordings.
Some of his songs are movie scores because the trend for some of the most mainstream Japanese movies lately is to use indies soundtracks.
As I gather from what Miu tells me, this person has never been abroad and doesn’t understand any English.
He doesn’t even have a passport, Miu says with a giggle, as though that only adds to his charm of being someone totally genuine whom only she has discovered.
He speaks with a slight accent of the Sea of Japan, which makes the speaker’s tone softer than the Tokyo dialect, as though that person is somehow in perpetual doubt.
The shifts in intonation are similar to the speaking style of Korean actors that older Japanese women are so crazy about, like “Yon-sama,” Miu says, to her, another profound observation.
Not that I like Yon-sama at all, Miu adds with a laugh.
He calls me “MEEEH-you-san,” it sounds so sexy!
There isn’t much point in contesting her observations.
I know Miu is in no mood to be challenged about any of them, anyway.
I am invited next weekend to what’s called “raibu,” short for “live performance,” meaning a concert, where I will have an opportunity to meet Yuga.
But I am more happy for her than worried.
I can tell from the sound of her voice that she is literally floating, so euphoric is she about Yuga’s existence.
Miu is way too young to start growing cynical about relationships.
She deserves to have, for once, this feeling of being so in love your feet don’t quite touch the ground.

Story of Miu 8

Story of Miu 7 is now Story of Miu 8 as a missed past entry 4 has been added:
first chapter of the Story of Miu.
Miu 2
Miu 3
Miu 4
Miu 5
Miu 6
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?
Miu: OK.
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.
Me: What?
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: “Oneesan.”
Miu: Oneesan.
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 8

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?
Miu: OK.
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.
Me: What?
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: “Oneesan.”
Miu: Oneesan.
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.