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.

Story of Miu 7

Suddenly, strangely, Miu feels power turn on like a tungsten flame inside her _ maybe that hot spot in between her breasts. And her breath turns a bit quicker, warmer.
As a young Asian female, she never feels power anywhere else _ at high school, at shopping malls, at summer jobs, even at home, she has long grown used to her role that is not to challenge but to accept and approve.
But in that dingy darkness of that Tokyo club, she _ and others like her _ have truer deeper powers.
The heads turn, their eyes shiny like those of hungry animals in a cave sniffing for prey.
She knows all she has to do is return that look to have them do whatever she wants _ get off their chairs in a scamper, rushing to her at her beck and call: “Hi, are you alone?” “What’s your name?” “Do you want a drink?”
It is merely up to her whim to choose which of those young men will be that lucky one.
She doesn’t want the easy ones. She doesn’t want the obviously handsome ones.
Being so easy and so obvious, such a catch does not speak to the heights of her powers.
That’s not the kind of entertainment she is looking for on this night out on the town with her girlfriends _ her shoulder-length hair neatly rolled like Cinderella’s, her skinny legs showing flesh, stockingless, beneath her short patent-black boots, her clutch bag covered with Swarovski crystals.
The man must be worthy of all this work and investment and taste, she thinks, laughing to herself.
And the man, naturally, must have that undiscovered look.
Shy, quiet and impeccably innocent, downcast eyes hiding under soft bangs, he doesn’t know how beautiful or how bestial he can be, until he meets her, she muses.
She doesn’t have any specific characteristic in mind _ he doesn’t have to be tall, dark, smart, rich _ he can be anything and everything as long as he has that something special that makes her feel powerful not only over him but over everyone else who has looked down upon her for being Asian, young and female and has forgotten to credit her with the intelligence, insight and passion of choosing how to live life.
He must look at her as his all in that moment when they exchange glances and he approaches her and they dance, moving their hips in time to that deafening beat, and he must believe, as she does, that they have known each other from the beginning of time.
Which one is that special man? She scans the scene, taking her time, going from one dirty room to another, balancing herself carefully on the spiral metallic staircase on golden stiletto heels.
When she sees him, it can’t be more definite or fatalistic.
She walks up to him, standing, looking bored, so undistinguished and so plain and so unknowing by the giant speakers blasting with noise, so one-way is this selection, hers and not his.
He may even be there, waiting for his girlfriend, or he is drinking away his disappointment because his girlfriend has chosen to go somewhere else, or luckier still, he has just broken up and isn’t quite ready to look for someone new.
This is important: That she picks him, not the other way around.
She reaches up to his neck, pulls his face down gently, as though she needs to whisper an urgent question.
He accommodates, not too eager, just because he is trying to be nice to someone who may have a question, and as he faces her, she puts her mouth to his, forcing her tongue through his cold lips, and their tongues merge as one in the best kept secret in that club, that night, that city, that universe.
Her mind goes blank. And all she sees is that soft black one-ness inside her head, swirling, and she feels happy as though the games people play and the question of who is powerful no longer matter.

Continued from Story of Miu 6.

Letter from Miu (Story of Miu 5)

I got a letter from Miu:

Just dropping a note to tell you about my first ever outing to Shinjuku’s Sanchome district.
I was out with a couple friends for midnight mugs of beer at a tiny dingy cafe bar that spilled out into the alleys, dotted by sex-toy shops and gay bars, lonely souls occupying their time between yesterday and tomorrow _ one of those rare places in ethnocentric Tokyo where status/national origin/even sexuality go out the window.
Or so you’d like to think.
Then suddenly this Japanese guy comes up to me: “Are you with somebody?”
His next question: “Are you looking for gaijin?”
That bar, like others in that scene and Roppongi, attracts a fair share of foreigners.
I’d never forget that look in his eyes _ so afraid, so pathetic, so sad.
It was a totally depressing end to the evening.
What happened to this nation with its supposed reputation for right-wing conservative stuck up glorification of Japanese-ness!?
It’s like reliving colonialism.
You read about how Japanese women are staying single because they earn their own livelihood and don’t find the marrying lifestyle particularly attractive.
But my question is: Do they find the Japanese male attractive?
It would be a total lie to deny this phenomenon _ hordes of Japanese women who thrive on relationships with foreigners, seek them out at bars, hang from their arms, modern-day Suzy Wongs, and worship the foreigner, even unattractive ones, for their foreign-ness!
There’s a sexual crisis of some sort going on between the Japanese male and the Japanese female.
They don’t find the physical traits, mannerisms, social connotations from their own peers erotically arousing.
They find the alien intriguing.
Maybe exoticism is sexy by definition. But isn’t that just a fetish, and certainly not a way to a healthy romantic relationship?

My reply to Miu:
How can you blame the Japanese female for seeking Western-style liberalism in attitudes toward women?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for their definitions of sexual beauty and sexual relationships when they have been fed Hollywood from birth?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for seeking personal partners outside Japanese society, when so many are doing so already with their careers (practically forced to do so, given sexism at major Japanese companies)?
But I see your point.
It is unfortunate how their personal lives fit like a jigsaw puzzle into the larger oppressive landscape of race/sex/class.
When Black Power rose in the 1960s, part of that was an awakening by the people to face up to that to overcome those larger social forces in their personal lives _ by redefining beauty, sexuality, love.
But cooking for/sleeping with/kissing XXX for the Male Master simply don’t get fixed by switching His Color.
Staying within one’s Color certainly simplifies the dilemma by at least knocking off one possible horrible fetish one has to confront in a sexual relationship.
But that’s about it.
Just curious, but what happened in the end with that Japanese guy in Sanchome?
Stay well,

Continued from Story of Miu 4.

Story of Miu 4: Bon Odori _ Japan’s answer to the Dance Party

Japanese summers are never complete without Bon Odori, the neighborhood thanksgiving celebration of the harvest, the annual homecoming of ancestral ghosts, the end of summer.
The dress code: cotton yukata kimonos in white, indigo and goldfish red, splashed with bold patterns of flowers, bursting fireworks, waves of water. Wooden clogs or woven straw slippers on the feet. Big uchiwa fans, the kind that don’t fold out gracefully, upper-class, but just stay flat (also with bold patterns) to get flapped around to swat mosquitoes and cool off in the evening breeze.
The smell in the air: Grilled noodles, pancakes and octopus dumplings topped with seaweed and dried fish, peddled at stalls set up like tents, which also sell manga-character masks, goldfish, shaved ice, bobbing balloon yo-yos, chocolate-covered bananas on sticks.
The sound: Deep intestine-curdling thumps of a taiko drum from a stage that’s set up _ just for the weekend.
The drum plays in time to funky songs. Some are minyo folk tunes, but others are pop concoctions, like Tokyo Ondo, which has become the rallying theme song for the Yakult Swallows, and children’s songs like Anpanman or Obakyu Bon Odori.
The drummers play loud and strong.
They strike poses, fling their arms, twirling and throwing their sticks, staccato out rhythms, swinging with the beat.
The dancing goes in a circle around the stage, repetitions of steps, arm moves and turns that don’t require acrobatic skills to execute (although the instructors on stage _ you can pick them out because they wear the same white and blue yukata _ do every move with a certain elegant nuance you can’t imitate without taking real lessons.)
Maybe there are only five, six choreography patterns you have to get in your head, but each song is a little different and so it’s harder than you think.
Most of the time you end up looking totally ridiculous.
Never mind _ the point isn’t about showing off.
The point is about getting down and having fun and doing the best you can.
And knowing another summer is over.
“Oh, this is so much fun,” said Miu, who had never been to a real Bon Odori before, wiping sweat she’s worked up from dancing. “There is something about this place that’s movie-like. It’s surreal.”
Something about those lanterns hung from the poles and around the makeshift stage bouncing in time with the embryonic heartbeat booms of the drum surround that place where we are gathered in a soft, strange glow _ reminding us of both our cosmic isolation and the terrible death that is so always there but telling us all this in a warm, comforting way, like a grandmother telling us a story: It’s going to be OK; there is nothing to be afraid of.
The way I explained it to Miu is that when the moment comes for me to die, and flashes of images like a multicultural slide show play in my mind in a lazy dozing off of death, somehow, I know Bon Odori will be one of those scenes.
My son was just 6 when he played drums with the other children at his first Bon Odori. He was barely bigger than the drum, challenging the drum, until blisters tore his fingers.
He is 25 this year.
It’s not hard to understand why Japanese believe ancestral ghosts come home for Bon.

Story of Miu 3.