Even In Japan, Bashing Gays Is Not Okay. Behind The Scenes Of The First Sugita Protest

Bashing Gays Is Not Okay Says Crowd At Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters

“We don’t need Parliamentarians who ignore human rights” (人権無視する議員はいらない)

“Mio Sugita, resign now” (杉田水脈は今すぐ辞めろ)

Silence is death” ˆ(沈黙は死)

These were just some of the statements protesters were chanting in unity, in front of the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters on July 27th, demanding for the resignation of the parliamentarian, Mio Sugita. On July 24th, in the monthly magazine, Shukan Shincho, Sugita published an essay in which she said, among many other offensive things, that no tax money should be spent on lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) individuals because “they can’t reproduce and are therefore not valuable to society.” At first, the protests were confined to the internet, but in a short time, they spilt out into real life–an actual protest, and that was pivotal in getting the Japanese media to pay attention and finally force the LDP to address the issue. 

Individuals- active citizens, representatives of NGOs as well as some politicians all gathered together in front of the LDP, angered by Mio Sugita’s comments clearly dissing the LGBTQ+ community.

It seems to be that an eclectic variety of individuals gathered. Those who identify to be LGBTQ+, those who do not, students and surprisingly (in the context of Japan,) a few people seemingly salarymen who came after work in their suits. To me, it seemed like there was an equal ratio of women to men. The crowd was mostly Japanese but there were a handful of foreigners who came to show support too. There were young women angered, who came alone, university students who came with their friends including myself. I believe there were a lot of men who seemed to be in their thirties to forties too. The crowd was very diverse.

There were all kinds of posters and signs held. There were many posters available online and they spread through social platforms such as Twitter. There was an identification number for the posters one could then input in a machine at a convenience store and get printed out. There were rainbow flags held up and most of the posters advocated for acceptance of diversity, lgbtq+. Some of these signs had statements like 生産性で価値を図るな which translates to something like Don’t measure our worth by “productivity.” Many of them criticised Sugita’s comment un “unproductiveness” and how it discriminates against many other groups of people in society. One thing which came a little of a shock to me were some other posters which came off as more aggressive. It wasn’t a majority but there were a handful of people with posters with Sugita’s face on it, however with a little twist. Some of them had a target on her face or one which made her look like a zombie, strongly demonizing her. I personally think this is going a little far and it’s better to argue against her comments and advocating for diversity but various perspectives were apparent.

There were countless numbers of policemen trying to control the people so that the participants were not standing over the studded part of the pedestrian road which is an aid for the blind. The police were trying to control the number of people in the main street and restricted participants from going onto the main street. The police were making some people stand against streets going around other blocks to limit the demonstration, but eventually, people overflowed onto the main street.

This issue may have caught a lot of people’s attention because many individuals saw this not only as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community but as one to all citizens, one to women, men, disabled people or the elderly. Sugita’s comments about how LGBTQ+ individuals are “unproductive” (生産性がない) as “they cannot have children” is inaccurate and extremely discriminatory to everyone as childbearing is an autonomous choice of an individual, not an obligation a citizen has to its government.

So, what exactly happened at the demonstration?

Apart from trying to get the attention of the LDP, the media and the rest of the public by simply being there and protesting, some participants, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, a few university professors, and some politicians delivered speeches explaining how hurtful Sugita’s comments were personally, how they could not sleep for days, illuminating how backwards Japan still is. Some participants also went up to the LDP to hand in a sort of a request for the resignation of Mio Sugita. Even though the few individuals who went up to the LDP headquarters seemed to contain their composure, they were denied a chance to even simply hand in the documents.

This demonstration was certainly not one the LDP could simply dismiss and move on with as they often do. There has been a lot of backlash to Sugita’s discriminatory comments on various social platforms and many other demonstrations have popped up in other parts of Japan. Recently, there was one on August 5th in Shibuya, Osaka and Fukuoka. There was also one on August 6th in Mie prefecture.

The LDP did acknowledge Sugita’s comments but have not condemned her, except for Shigeta Ishiba, who is running against Abe in the LDP internal party elections. Although modern Japanese governments prior to the current one have certainly not been the most transparent and democratic, the current one under Prime Minister Abe has continuously been moving far and far away from democracy, with its powerful members pulling strings in their favour, ultimately guiding the government away from democratic rule. It is does not bode well that since Abe took office Japan has dropped to 67 in World Press Freedom (it was ranked 11 in 2011) and not surprisingly Japan ranks lower than ever in the annual gender equality rankings, 114 out of 144 countries.

 

Erika Bulach is a university student in Tokyo majoring in social sciences. 

UPDATE: Oh Lucy! A darkly funny movie that asks: Can learning English in Japan change a woman’s life? The answer…..

Oh Lucy! has been doing so well in it’s Japan release, that the distributors, for one night only, will  be showing the English subtitled version. May 17th, from 18:50 at the Eurospace Theater in Shibuya.

Shinobu Terashima is one of the few Japanese actresses who plays hardball, consistently choosing roles that blow holes in the cardboard stereotype of the Japanese woman. We all know this woman: saintly, supportive, long-suffering AND a wildcat in bed. Yawn.

作品名:『オー・ルーシー!』
公開表記:4月28(土) ユーロスペース、テアトル新宿 他にてロードショー
配給:ファントム・フィルム 
コピーライト:(c) Oh Lucy,LLC

While Terashima (the thoroughbred scion of veteran actress Junko Fuji and the late Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro) can probably do sexy wildcat with both her hands in cuffs and wearing a straitjacket (wait a minute, maybe this is TOO sexy) she’s far less accommodating when it comes to the saintly and long-suffering bit.

Shinobu Terajima is a perfect fit for the role of Setsuko aka “Lucy,” in a funny, sardonic and ultimately warm-hearted film called “Oh Lucy!” Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi who first penned the screenplay as a graduation project for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, said she was actually taken aback by the movie’s success. “Oh Lucy!” was nominated for two awards in last year’s Cannes Film Festival – a first for a Japanese director – besides winning the NHK award at the Sundance Film Festival. “I was never really interested in portraying a heroic woman, or a beautiful woman or any of that. I guess I was really tired of seeing those types up there on the screen,” said Hirayanagi. “I needed to see someone different, and came up with the idea of Lucy. She’s not young or cute but she’s really, really watchable.”

Atsuko Hirayanagi penned the screenplay to this highly rated film.

Indeed, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from Terashima as Setsuko, a 43 year old Tokyo OL (Office Lady) with just the right amount of inner venom and outward politeness, neatly balanced on the scale of Japanese womanhood. Setsuko, whose name means restraint and saving money, divides her time between a dreary office in a small company and an apartment packed to the gills with her stuff. Tokyo media has stories galore about single Japanese women of a certain age who can’t stop hoarding, and Setsuko’s little room is straight out of this urban folklore. Then one day Setsuko gets a call from her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna), and invited to attend an English conversation class. “The teacher is friendly and very nice,” assures Mika and Setsuko decides to go, not least because she had witnessed a suicide on the train tracks that morning. For a few minutes she had felt the chill hand of death on her shoulder, and well, life is too short to spend it being miserable, right? She may as well try something new. And new it is, with a vengeance. The drop-dead handsome English teacher, John (Josh Hartnett), makes her wear a blonde wig, pushes a ping pong ball in her mouth to correct her pronunciation, and tells Setsuko that from that moment on, her name is Lucy. Then John gives Lucy a big, tight hug. Cue, Setsuko, I mean Lucy’s swooning face.

Unfortunately, her new-found happiness is destroyed overnight. The next day she goes to class and John has left for LA, accompanied by Mika who it turns out, is his girlfriend. Setsuko/Lucy PTSDs for awhile before springing to action and books a flight to LA. That she ends up boarding the plane with her prim, correct sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) who is Mika’s mom and direly worried about her daughter – can only be described as a typically Japanese female predicament. Every time one wants to do something totally crazy, a prim correct female relative appears to drag you back to sanity. No wonder so many women remain single in this country.

Every time one wants to do something totally crazy, a prim correct female relative appears to drag you back to sanity. No wonder so many women remain single in this country.

Hirayanagi’s understanding of this particular terrain (English conversation classes, being a single woman in Tokyo, the uniformity and blandness that come with being Japanese) is frighteningly accurate. “I think being able to speak English will change a Japanese person in the most unexpected ways,” she said. “The Japanese language is just not conducive to self-expression, whereas English is all about expressing yourself, your needs, your emotions. Setsuko discovers after landing in LA that in the US, life isn’t about getting by and being right, it’s all about survival. You have to speak up, you have to make your needs known and you have to convince people of your worth. Otherwise, it’s over. It’s as simple as that.” Hirayanagi herself has been living the sink-or-swim scenario since the age of 17 when she first went to LA as a language student. After this stint, she wrangled a student visa, enrolled in San Francisco State University and launched an acting career in LA while waitressing at “Nobu” in Malibu. “Back then, I loved the anything-goes mentality of LA,” she said. “I went to every audition I could get, hustled and worked and generally lived the life of an almost-actor in LA. There are thousands and thousands of people like me. But in the end, I knew that I wasn’t really cut out for acting. I would much rather stand behind the camera, work on screenplays and make something on my own.”

Josh Hartnett even shows up playing a modern-day Charisma Man

Looking back, Hirayanagi added that her experience as an actor has proved invaluable to her filmmaking career.

“I know what actors go through, what they’re up against, their joys and struggles. I also know my way around a film set, so I could establish a rapport with the actor and crew right away.” Indeed, Hirayanagi has a reputation for being wonderful to work with – no less a personage than Kaori Momoi starred pro bono, in the short film version of “Oh Lucy!” and Josh Hartnett consented to play John because he loved the vibe of her screenplay. “They say that a director loses a limb every time s/he makes a film,” laughed Hirayanagi. “I believe that. But I think this space is where I want to be. It’s never going to get easy but at least I have the conviction that I belong here.”

作品名:『オー・ルーシー!』
公開表記:4月28(土) ユーロスペース、テアトル新宿 他にてロードショー
配給:ファントム・フィルム 
コピーライト:(c) Oh Lucy,LLC

 

Setsuko/Lucy isn’t so lucky. The trip to LA turns out to be a journey of self-discovery as she learns some unsavory aspects of her personality and forced to admit that John – stripped of the Charisma-man status he enjoyed in Tokyo – is actually a loser. Mika had dumped him in short order and is nowhere to be found. Toxic animosity with her sister comes bubbling up to the surface. Unwanted and unhappy, Setsuko must dig deep in her heart to unearth what it is she really wants. Her life may be banal but her pain and struggle is real, and sure to strike a chord with women everywhere. More importantly, in the end she’s a different woman from the one she left behind in that monstrously cluttered apartment. Maybe learning English IS the cure-all antidote. Hey, I’m sold.

作品名:『オー・ルーシー!』

公開表記:4月28(土) ユーロスペース、テアトル新宿 他にてロードショー

配給:ファントム・フィルム 

コピーライト:(c) Oh Lucy,LLC

 

 

監督・脚本:平栁敦子

 

出演:寺島しのぶ 南果歩 忽那汐里 ・ 役所広司 ・ ジョシュ・ハートネット

 

プロデューサー:ハン・ウェスト、木藤幸江、ジェシカ・エルバーム、平栁敦子

エグゼクティブ・プロデューサー:ウィル・フェレル、アダム・マッケイ

共同脚本:ボリス・フルーミン

音楽:エリク・フリードランダー

 

2016年サンダンス・インスティテュート/NHK脚本賞受賞作品

 

(2017年/日本・アメリカ合作/5.1ch/ビスタ/カラー/原題:OH LUCY!/95分)

 

Happy Uniquely Japanese Valentine’s Day! What we talk about when we talk about love & sex in Japan

It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”

According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure.  “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled.  Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.

But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ  (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)”  chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).

When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.

Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.

The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex--which are definitely not the same thing here.
The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex–which are definitely not the same thing here.

*出会い(Deai)–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.

不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki

慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.

 

*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous

*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”

*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”

*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines

*恋い (Koi) “love”

*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing”  According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).

*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.

*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”

*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.

ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.

*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”

*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)

*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.

純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.

*惚れる (horeru) fall in love

*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love

*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)

満足manzoku (satisfied)

*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.

*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前)means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”.  Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.

*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..

アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.

*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.

*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)

*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”.  Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり

*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.

*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm

オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus

絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language

*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.

潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.

鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.

Note:

In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”

 

楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失(shitsu) means “loss” or as a verb 失う(ushinau) to lose.

 

If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気(uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise?Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.

*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).

Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking

*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines

–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.

性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 +  love 愛)

For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.

 

*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—

コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)

 

密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.

*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love

*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting

*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something

*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”

REVISED: February 14th, 2018

“Eriko’s Facebook Life”/The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of short fiction by Ms. Kaori Shoji  entitled “The Amazing Japanese Wife” about international marriages in Japan gone off the deep end. This is the first of the stories told from the women’s perspective. Any similarity to real events, persons, or incidents are your imagination and probably means that you really should have a stiff drink and contemplate the meaning of happiness, karma, and the universe. You need Suntory time. Previous chapters are below, although not all stories are clearly connected. 

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part 1

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part 2 “Fucked Up In Six Trees” 

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part 3 “A Man Needs His Carcinogen” 

I hear his car slow down, approaching the driveway, and immediately feel nauseous. I take a breath and will the corners of my mouth to turn upwards. Americans always smile and two years of Oakland living has convinced me that Northern Californians are the smiliest Americans of all. With dazzling white teeth and clear eyes, these people broadcast an unshakeable confidence, a mineral streak of inner satisfaction embedded right in the bloodstream. At first, it was unnerving to see all those supremely happy expressions, the isense of entitlement apparent in their every movement, even in the way they waved to each other from their cars, under the bright blue Californian sky. What if they had problems, like their houses burned down or spouses betrayed them or…what then?

“The point is not to BE happy, it’s to assimilate a SENSE of happiness,” said my friend Mayu-san, about a year after I got here with my husband Douglas. “Whatever is happening in your personal life, it’s only polite to present your best and happiest self. That’s how it works around here. Anything that’s not suitable for Facebook, isn’t suitable for real life.”

I remember that moment because Mayu-san never said anything out of the ordinary and suddenly there she was, articulating words that pierced me with the spear of truth. I think I responded with my mouth agape, just looking at her. And then the moment ended, Mayu-san went into the kitchen to get more drinks and the afternoon picked up where it left off–mired in banalities.

Still, Mayu-san’s words surface in my consciousness from time to time, like right about now when Douglas turns the key in the lock and walks into the foyer. I go over to greet him and we exchange a light hug. “Hey Eri,” he says. “God, what a day.”

And I follow him into the kitchen, quelling the urge to retch. Another wave of nausea washes over me like polluted sea water. “Are you tired?” I ask in Japanese and he answers in English though I’m no longer listening. He’ll want to have a Bloody Mary, and then a bite to eat and then he’ll get ready to go to the gym. I calculate that in a little over two and a half hours, Douglas will be gone again. I feel my composure returning.

This nausea thing has been going on for the past 3 months. I haven’t told Douglas because he’ll immediately say: “You’re pregnant! I gotta call my dad!” . Then, I’ll have the horrible task of telling him that no, that’s not it and no, it’s not worth going to a doctor (because I already had a check-up four months ago) and yes, I was fine. Fine. Smile. Confidence. Happiness. Words to live by if you want to survive in California.

Not that I’m not having a good time. Everyone I know back in Japan is so envious of the life I have out here, the privileges of being a wife in Silicon Valley, with her own Honda to get around in and her own circle of friends consisting of well-to-do Japanese women. There’s a whole club of them here, and when we stroll around the malls together or have lunch at a swank restaurant, white men stare with frank interest. I never knew Japanese women had such magnetism in the US, I always thought everyone preferred blondes, period. Everyday I get compliments about my smooth skin, petite figure, my flawless fashion and femininity. At parties, men come up to flirt and seem enthralled that my English isn’t that great. I also discovered that there’s a gated community known locally as ‘The Japan Palace,’ where tech moguls like Jerry Ang and the CEO of Oracle live with their Japanese wives, in huge, splendid villas.

In my head though, I’m constantly making excuses to friends and family back in Japan about my wonderful Californian life. It’s not THAT great, I would say weakly. In these imaginary conversations, I’m mostly talking to my mother or my female colleagues back in Tokyo who are trying to juggle kids, day care and a full-time job while clutching at the last strands of youth before collapsing into middle age.

Really, I say to them. Silicon Valley is the most expensive place on the face of the earth! Our rental house costs a little under 3000 dollars a month but that’s because we have only 2 bedrooms and even then the locals told us what a bargain and an exceptional piece of luck. And: A packet of organic eggs came to 6.50 at Whole Foods before the Amazon merger lowered that by about 1 dollar, like yeah, that’s supposed to make everyone feel better! And the Californians make such a big deal about the Farmer’s Markets but the produce is about 40 percent more expensive than the supermarkets in Tokyo. We can never afford to have kids, because day care is just too costly and nannies are..

What I leave out is this: I don’t want children. I’m fine with being a Japanese Wife but I would never want to be a Japanese Mother. I think about sex with Douglas, and a spasm of pain shoots up from the bottom of my spine to the back of my eyes. Mayu-san who has two kids with her husband Michael, told me that unlike Japanese husbands, American men will demand sex after childbirth and fall into black rages if their wives refuse. Mayu-san shrugged and said it was a trade-off but she didn’t specify what she was getting in return. Something she didn’t care to post on Facebook, I guess.

I recall the thrill and slight disgust of making love to Douglas for the first time and how, during the course of our dating, he never wanted to use a condom. “In America, a lot of women would qualify this as rape,” he’d say matter-of-factly as I wiped his goo off my chest. “But Japanese women love it, don’t you sweetie?”

Last month on our wedding anniversary he took me to French Laundry for dinner and then in the car heading back, leaned over and said: “I’m a great husband, aren’t I? Now you have to be extra nice to me tonight.” The fact that he said this in Japanese secretly enraged me but I laughed it off. Later, at home, after he was finally done, I locked myself in the bathroom and gargled with mouthwash over and over and when I came back to the bed, Douglas said “hey baby, did you have a good time? Oh, by the way, don’t tell my mom I took you to French Laundry, she’s dying to go but Dad’s never taken her.”

Unsuitable for Facebook again.

Once the voices in my head die down, I find myself calmly going through the day. After all, why worry? Life is so good here, and so easy. Douglas is fine with eating cereal for breakfast, he never wants to bring a Bento box lunch like he did when we were living in Tokyo. For dinner, he just grazes on whatever’s available in the fridge, a glass of vodka clutched in one hand. I make my own meals but apart from weekends when events like pot-luck parties and brunch with Douglas’s parents crowd my calendar, I never cook anything elaborate. I don’t have to, and when I think of how hard I used to work in Tokyo, earning a steady income and being the good Japanese wife, I can’t help scoffing at my poor, overworked self. If there was a time machine, I would use that to go back and tell my 36-year old self to relax. In a little while, I would be crying to my husband Douglas that I was sick of Japan and Tokyo. I would implore him to get a lucrative tech job in Nor Cal. And then I would move to a real American home with a backyard and two-car garage. So go easy on yourself because you will be SO all right, I would say. And now? Apart from this nausea and the suspicion that deep down I hated Douglas, I was having the time of my life.

 

“Just don’t go to Whole Foods, and avoid that fucking Aveda place like the plague,” Douglas said when we first got here. “Man, talk about overpriced BS.” Already, he was mixing Americanisms in his conversations, ignoring the fact that I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying. Not that it bothered me. In Tokyo, where we lived for 5 years before coming out here, Douglas would often launch into long diatribes against the Japanese government, Tokyo life, the joylessness of Japanese society and why we were so ‘insular’ and ‘defeatist’ and ‘fucking depressed.’ I didn’t really understand then, either.

 

To me, it was all the same. I grew up in a typical Japanese salariman household and there was never much smiling going on. Depression was more or less the norm. As far back as I can remember, my parents had bickered and fought. My mother sighed and washed the dishes by hand and acted tired to the very dregs of her existence, every single day. Her mantra in life went to the tune of: it was a terrible thing for a woman to be a wife and mother, tied to household drudgery for life. But equally terrible was to remain single. Either way, a woman was doomed. And then she would bend over the sink filled with dishes and it would be time for me to go to cram school, so I could at least get into a good university before becoming the ill-fated wife/mother to carry on the cycle of Japanese womanhood.

 

But even my seemingly miserable mom perked up whenever there was a family event, like my brother being promoted and sent to his company office in London. Or my sister’s wedding, when Mother splurged on a formal kimono with a price tag that enraged my father. He had just spent 5 million yen (a little over 50,000 USD) in getting his older daughter married and settled down and was devastated to see that his wife had gone and spent another million yen on what he saw as a completely unnecessary extravagance. “How can you say that?,” my mother wept and screamed. “All my life, I gave everything to this house and the family and now I can’t buy a little something for myself?” When she calmed down, my mother said plaintively that she will wear the same kimono at my wedding, so this purchase was actually a money-saver.

 

Well, she lied. Seven years later I had my own wedding in Honolulu and my mother bought a flowing silk summer dress with a hat and heels and a Fendi handbag she has never used since and is tucked away in a closet crammed with similar “little somethings” she had bought for herself over the years. “Japanese women are scary,” Douglas said to me when I told him about it. “That’s what happens when men let housewives hold the purse strings. It’s just stupid to do that, I don’t get why the majority of men in this nation insist on making their own lives miserable. I never would.” True to his word, back in Tokyo, Douglas and I had separate bank accounts. He would hand over 200,000 yen out of his payment every month. I would spend another 150,000 to cover the rest of our monthly expenses. But I had another, secret account from when I was single, in which I hoarded my personal savings. That account is still in Japan, waiting for me. I learned from watching American TV that this was called a Fuck Off Fund. Douglas was only half right – Japanese or American, women are scary. How else were we going to protect ourselves?

 

I have money on my mind a lot because I worked in a Tokyo bank for 16 years and 10 of those years were spent at the counter, counting the customers’ cash and helping them with their little financial problems. I wore a suit and heels to work but changed into the bank uniform once I got there, in the women’s locker room with 23 other females. I worked 10 to 11 hour days, rode a crowded train for 2 hours everyday and by the time I hit 30. I was exhausted. I was more than ready to quit the job and get married. Never mind that I would be tied to housework for life – at least I could stop forcing my body every morning into the bank uniform with its tight skirt and tiny vest. I told Naolki- my boyfriend of six years what I was feeling and he said, okay we may as well take the plunge.

But a week after this dicussion he injured a knee playing futsal–which is like indoor soccer for Japanese salarymen.He  was in the hospital for 2 weeks. During that time, he got real friendly with the other patients on the floor, all with sports injuries. One of them was a 17-year old girl who hurt her spine playing volleyball for her school team. She wasn’t one of those sex-kitten high school girls of Japanese media lore – she was in fact, so wholesome and exuberant she made everyone laugh just by showing up for medication at the nurse statiom. Her hair was short, her limbs too long, she was clumsy and had no sensuality to speak of. Yet, my boyfriend fell head over heels for her.

 

“She’s young, she’s SO young,” he kept saying, as if I didn’t get it the first time. He talked incessantly about the latest funny thing she did, how she bit into an apple without peeling the skin, how she giggled with her family when they came to visit, and broke down in tears when they went home. “She reminds me of what it’s like to be 17 again,” he said wistfully, and would engage her in long conversations about volleyball (he too, had played in high school) and help her with school work so she wouldn’t lag behind. By the end of those 2 weeks, I really had enough of this but didn’t know how to tell him without sounding like a jealous nag. And then my boyfriend Naoki looked me right in the eye and said: “I can’t marry you. I’m sorry. I just can’t.” I did put up a fight, telling him it was just an infatuation that would go away but he shook his head. “It’s not her. It’s just that the thought of marriage is suffocating to me. It’s got nothing to do with you personally.”

 

Three years later when he was 33, Naoki married a woman aged 26, and the whole thing was so wounding I took time off and spent three days lying in my bed at home. By that time though, I had come to realize the horrible truth about being a woman in Japan – the options dwindle with each passing year and the number 3 at the left side of one’s age may as well have been a poisonous smudge. Up until age 29, I was used to male attention and could count on a few invitations a week to ‘networking parties’ which were actually matchmaking parties. I’ll admit that on a few occasions I went to love hotels with one or another of the men who expressed more than a passing interest, but it didn’t lead to anything much and my heart was set on Naoki anyway. And then my 30th birthday came and went. The invitations dried up and at the end of that year, Naoki was gone.

 

On my 35th birthday I took fate into my own hands and started looking for a foreigner husband. A little before this, my mother’s brother – my uncle who had always praised me and said I would go far in life because I was intelligent and pretty, went to Cebu on a business trip and ended up getting engaged to a 16 year old Fillippina waitress. The whole family was dumbfounded, but my uncle was ecstatic and it turned out, so was my mom. “He says that the women over there age really quickly and by the time she turns 30, there won’t be much of a difference between them,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Now I call that smart. At his age, he wants a young woman to take care of him.” My uncle was 59 at the time. It was, as Douglas said to me later, “an obscene WTF situation.” We didn’t invite him to our wedding, ostensibly because Honolulu was so far away from Cebu where he now lived with his young wife. He didn’t ask to come anyway.

In some dark and torturous way, my uncle’s impending marriage hurt me even more than Naokl’s betrayal. It seemed there was just no dignity, much less happiness, to be found in a society where men placed such value on young women. For a long time, I crossed the street whenever I saw a girl in a school uniform walking alone – she seemed like a hooker or a temptress, the symbol of all that made me want to scream and scream every morning while I waited on the station platform for the train to come in.

So I spotted Douglas one night at the gym and walked right up to him, swinging my hips as I casually took one earphone out, like I had seen some actress do on a dubbed “The Mentalist” episode. I asked for instructions on working the elliptical, in what I hoped was endearingly broken English. Sure enough, Douglas’s eyes flew open and he stared at my torso and thighs. “Sure, okay. Let me help you with that.” After that he wouldn’t leave my side. He asked what kind of music I liked to work out to, and I told him “American rock. Like…’Born in the USA’ “and I could see him going all woozy inside. No American woman would say that, it was too ordinary. But coming from the mouth of a pale, fragile Japanese woman, it was the turn-on line to beat all others. Six months later, we were engaged. Two years after our marriage, on my 37th birthday, I quit my job at the bank and threw out that wretched uniform. A year after that, I told Douglas that I wanted to move to the US and he started looking for a job in the Bay Area.

When I’m not with my Japanese girlfriends, and just by myself in a Safeway aisle, I’ll encounter a young girl who reminds me of that 17-year old volleyball player so long ago. In fact, a lot of the teenagers here are tall and lanky like her, without artifice or evil and so, SO young. They have no idea what life has in store for them. They don’t know that one day their butterfly wings would turn brown and spotted, and they would still have to flutter along, pretending that it’s all right, willing the corners of their mouths to turn up. “Ganbatte (Good luck),”, I whisper in Japanese. Good luck to you all.

And then I catch a glimpse of myself in the big mirror mounted on the wall and hastily look away. I really have to get to that Asian salon to have my hair done, and possibly get a facial before Douglas gets back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good signs: Japan’s APU graduate creates successful deaf cafe in Indonesia

“Fingertalk” a cafe run by the deaf in Indonesia has become a successful philanthropic business in Indonesia. It owes its success to the experience and determination of Dissa Syakina Ahdanisa, a graduate from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). APU is a university located in the famous hot spring city of Japan — Beppu, Oita prefecture. It was after her graduation that she has embarked on a path to become a social entrepreneur focusing on helping the deaf community in her home country of Indonesia. APU is renowned for having multicultural environment with foreign students from 86 countries (as of May, 2017) and for having a strong bond between the university and Oita community through various local activities. The school aims to give students more than just a four-year higher education, but also a unique life experience, which is hoped will result in producing open-minded, brilliant, and inspiring graduates who embrace the term ‘differences’ and challenge the world to do the same.

Dissa founded ‘Fingertalk’ in May 2015, a business which has expanded from a single cafe to two fully operating cafes, one workshop/craft store, and a recently branched out into a car wash business. What’s special about Fingertalk’s business model is its goal to connect the deaf community with the hearing community by hiring all deaf employees. While aiming for that long term goal, Dissa hopes that for now, Fingertalk can create job opportunities for the deaf, be a fun place where people enjoy universal pleasures, such as food and artwork, and be a place where people can learn something new — particularly sign language. Hence, ‘Fingertalk’, named by the young social entrepreneur herself, represents the way the deaf community communicate by sign language. In Indonesia, sign language is called Bisindo.

On 2 June 2017, Dissa came to APU’s Tokyo campus to give a talk about her life after APU, specifically about the Fingertalk business and her recent visit to schools for the disabled in Oita prefecture, supported by the local government. The event was flooded with interest from APU alumni owing partly to the fact that in September 2016, the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, had spoken of Dissa and praised her for her inspiring work in the Youth Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in Laos.

Dissa said when she was 10 years old, she became fascinated with sign language having met a deaf person who taught her how to spell her name at an event in an old folks home where she accompanied her mother. During her time in APU, she found her passion for volunteer work and took several trips to many countries with a mission to contribute in some way to a better society. After graduating from APU, Dissa obtained her masters’ degree in Australia and worked in the Singapore headquarter of one of the world’s top financial institutions. However, she continued to pursue her passion for volunteer work. During one of her volunteering missions, she spent three months in Nicaragua where she heard of a cafe with deaf employees called ‘Cafe de Las Sonrisas’. She decided to visit the cafe and was very inspired by the concept. Having remembered the man she met as 10-year-old combining with her passion for the non-profit field, Dissa felt an urge to create a similar cafe in Indonesia. After  a considerable amount of research, she found that Indonesia has more than 6 million people with disabilities, and of which, more than 470,000 are deaf. And the more prominent problem is that more than 70% of people with disabilities there are not working, let alone receiving proper education.

Fingertalk cafe & car wash business

At the event in Tokyo, when asked about her biggest obstacles in opening ‘Fingertalk’, Dissa admitted that she had a rough beginning. Though some people supported her idea, it was hard for her to raise funds to realize her cause. So, she decided that she would have to do it all by herself. She intended to save as much money as she could from her job in Singapore and at the same time, she started learning Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) and American Sign Language (ASL) in order to understand more about the deaf community and make new friends. Eventually, she kickstarted ‘Fingertalk’ in Tangerang City, Indonesia, and soon after, left her job at the financial institution to pursue her dream full-time.

‘It all started by getting to know someone from the deaf community. Then, they started introducing me to their friends and people they know. That’s how I started recruiting people for Fingertalk. I started by interviewing them with pen and paper when I wasn’t fluent at Bisindo. I needed to find out what they can do, and what they aimed to be. Through the process, I luckily met one deaf lady who allowed Fingertalk to use part of her house as the first cafe for free. This jumpstarted our business.’ says Dissa. Despite the hurdles of the financial obstacles, the location, and the staff recruiting she had to manage, the cafe took off and people started coming into the cafe. In the cafe, there are sign language posters everywhere in order for the people from the hearing world to try and communicate with the employees. With this, Fingertalk took one step closer to its mission—connecting the two worlds and teaching people something new. With more and more people coming in, the employees also feel more motivated to communicate and work hard. More importantly, this help them to believe in themselves and their abilities. According to Dissa, the biggest challenge she faces is ensuring that the employees’ self esteem remains intact; that they don’t feel any less confident than those who hear.

This year, Dissa and some of the staff from Fingertalk came to visit Beppu, Oita where APU is located. She also visited schools for children with disabilities. The city government of Oita Prefecture generously supported Dissa fully in all the trip arrangements. Together, they visited Oita School For The Deaf  (大分県立聾学校) and Beppu Special School.

Oita School For The Deaf

According to Dissa, the schools have such great facilities for children that can support their learning and creativity. The atmosphere was warm and fun. Even in a deaf school, they have a piano where the children can enjoy music through the vibrations on the floor. Dissa felt like Japan is at least 40 years more advanced than Indonesia in terms of educational and life opportunities support for people with disabilities. She was also impressed with how caring the teachers are. One teacher in particular, a deaf teacher who did not let his abilities be an obstacle for him to doing things such as learning English, she found to be very inspirational. Other than the schools, she also visited Taiyo no ie (太陽の家)or ‘The Sun Industries’ — an organization established in 1965 after the Paralympics in 1964 with the motto that more than charity, what’s more important today is creating employment opportunities for disabled people. To provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities, Sun Industries have made partnerships with large companies such as Sony, Omron, Denso, Fujitsu, and others. This is another example of a good support system that Japan has for people with disabilities. After the trip, Dissa is determined to make use of her new knowledge to help people in Indonesia through Fingertalk.

Dissa mentioned how supportive APU alumni and the faculty members have been to Fingertalk.

APU event in Tokyo campus – Dissa signing ‘Fingertalk’

Not only have friends from APU  paid visits to the cafe, but also Professor Kenji Yokoyama, a vice-president of APU. Dissa finds suggestions from alumni from all over the world useful and interesting since each country has different pros and cons in the support system toward people with disabilities. At the event, one alumni even suggested a tool similar to Google Translate for sign language, something to consider in the future. Some others asked about the future of Fingertalk whether it is the expansion of business into different areas or expanding its focus to people with other types of disabilities. Dissa’s answer was that she is now focused on helping deaf people but the long term goal is to definitely help people with other type of disabilities as well. Now Fingertalk is still small but she is aiming to expand its services and footprints.

After two years of founding Fingertalk, the business has attracted interest from media and local government and received awards such as Tokoh Metro 2017. Fingertalk’s crew have also been invited to attend many events such as Inovasi Indonesia Forum & Expo and Festival Kewirausahaan. When asked of what keeps her going with such positive energy, her answer was that “I want people to learn something from me when they meet me, even if it is just the sign of Beppu”. She taught use our right hand to create something that looks like number three and our left hand as a horizontal C to cover the base of our right hand, making the three fingers visible. With two hands pounding each other twice, it becomes ‘Bep-pu’ — the three fingers represent steam wafting from hot water, for Beppu is famous for its hot springs. Later, she personally taught me how to say ‘Thailand’ in sign language. It’s a very clever and fun way to sign my homeland. You use an index finger to point to one’s nose and slide the finger down and outward from yourself. This represents elephants, the symbol of Thailand. It’s something I’ll never forget. And that is part of why Fingertalk works so well, because the people working there and those visiting are always learning something from each other. It’s not just a meal and a drink, it’s a rewarding experience.

Bisindo (Indonesian Sign Language)

Japan’s Board Game “The Hellish Game Of Life” Is Terrifyingly Realistic

 

Life in Japanese Hell.
Life in Japanese Hell.

So you’ve just arrived in Japan and you’re experiencing culture shock. Will you ever acclimate? If you want to understand Japanese life, try playing “The Game of Life.” It’s not the US version and if you really want to understand the game, play the SUPER PAINFUL GAME OF LIFE edition. It’s as close to as you may come to living in Japan’s dystopian society without being Japanese.

THE GAME OF LIFE known popularly here as “人生ゲーム” (jinsei game) was first released in 1968 amidst Japan’s period of rapid economic growth and has released 55 versions since, always staying relevant by reflecting the trends of the times. The basic scenario of the game has not changed which is to get a job, get married, have a family, buy a house and all the while aiming at becoming a millionaire. The winner is determined by the amount of money each player has at the end of the game, just like in real life (maybe?).

The “SUPER PAINFUL GAME OF LIFE (人生ゲーム極辛) was released in September 2014 again, reflecting the times in Japanese society where nothing seems to go right. Taxes are raised, evil corporations are everywhere, blogs are trolled and taking into consideration the lowest marriage rates in Japan, the game also has the record lowest marriage rates for the players. Many of the blocks are full of stressful events that hit hard on the wallet, and the board is peppered with “panic cards” where you only get half of your salary and also pitfalls where you must draw a “trouble card” which as you can imagine in one way or other blindsides you, forcing you to pay painful amounts as a result.

Here are some of the life troubles, you, the adventurous player will encounter:

-Busted for copy and pasting a letter of apology

-the new hire at your temp job quit in a nano second

-your parents read your secret poem

-you were walking with your head held high (上を向いて歩こう) to keep your tears at bay and you fell into the gutter

-you get hiring offers from all the infamous black companies (like 711, DENTSU)

-you get hired as a love letter ghost writer

-so lonely…coming home past midnight to dinner alone

-your SNS accounts get hacked and your blog is under fire from trolls

-you end up working for a dark corporation or “ブラック企業” (burakku kigyo)

gokukara 

The omnipresence of “the dark corporation” is an essential part of the new game of life in modern Japan. As with The Game of Life, SUPER PAINFUL GAME OF LIFE” portrays the realities of modern day Japan. Hence, the references to Japan’s exploitive and inhumane corporate behemoths and the notion of job insecurity and childlessness, all hits a little too close to home. For instance, dark corporations have become the symbol of all that is wrong in Japan today and in 2013, a year before the release of the SUPER PAINFUL GAME OF LIFE sure enough it was among the top trending words of the year. So what are dark corporations? They are defined as companies that “typically hire young employees and then force them to work large amounts of overtime without extra pay. While specifics may vary from company to company, conditions are generally poor and workers are subject to verbal abuse, sexual harassment and bullying” according to Haruki Konno head of Posse a group that helps young people with working environment problems. In a word, it’s a buffet of horrors with every kind of HR nightmare: sexual harassment? Pawahara(power harassment from your superiors)? Karoshi(death by overwork) for unpaid overtime? Take your pick!  One would hope that this was a punishment that only existed in board games but no, as the giggles subside it dawns on you that this is the reality of life in Japan.

The even darker reality is perhaps that even a job at a dark enterprise is better than no job at all in Japan these days. The game imitates life in the sense that if you do not land on a block that allows you to get a job, you will proceed as a “Fureetar”(a neo-English coined word for unemployed people) deprived of  the good salary and benefits your peers enjoy. Such is life in Japan, if you do not manage to obtain a job straight out of college, that is, if you had the advantage of going to college to begin with, you may as well consider your career over. Even more so nowadays that the number of regular employees is roughly 60 percent, a significant decline from the 85 percent in 1985. The easing of labor dispatch laws has caused this shift in job security and people are willing to put up with compromising conditions which is a breeding ground for the dark companies to flourish and a cause of the ever-growing working poor.

If you’re going to live in Japan, you might as well learn what’s up ahead, and learn to enjoy it. This game will certainly help. Good luck!

http://www.takaratomy.co.jp/products/jinsei/product/gokukara/

A Few Words On ‘Why’ I Married My Japanese Husband (Just in case you wanted to know…)

by Cailin Hill Araki

I was having dinner with my Japanese husband and a drunk group of Japanese women starts a conversation with me (us)— commenting on how rare it is for a white women to be with a Japanese man.

They kept asking why I choose to be with him, when he is sitting right in front of me, and also speaks English.

In retrospect, I’d like to say to those Japanese women what was really on my mind.

I’m always happy to engage people in English conversation in Japan–hey, I was an English conversation instructor and sometimes still enjoy teaching some of my favorite students! I also take into consideration that my Japanese is bad, and that there is no offense meant on your part when you are asking these questions.

You are just curious. But this is not a polite question to ask a stranger when their partner is dining with them.

I am with my husband because I love him. This is not ‘rare’. That is all. Race has nothing to do with it. Thank you.

Cailin Hill is an ex-model, photographer, social media manager in Japan for OVE magazine. She is happily married to Dai Araki. 

 

 

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part II “Fucked Up in Six Trees”

This is part two of series of short-stories by culture commentator, movie reviewer, and fiction writer–Kaori Shoji–on international love gone wrong in and out of Japan. 

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By my personal estimate, the lives of most white foreigners in Tokyo start and end within the confines of a town called Roppongi, which means ‘six trees.’ Apparently, before the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships, this area was blah and nondescript save for the presence of its namesake. There were the trees and there was very little else.

A hundred and fifty years later, the trees are gone but Roppongi is prominently featured in every Japan guide book and online travel site. It heads off most tourists’ agenda in terms of must-go, must-see, must-experience. They think this is Tokyo, and a good chunk of its best offering. That’s not a lie but everyone who’s been here longer than 6 months will tell you Six Trees isn’t really Tokyo and certainly has nothing to do with Japan.

Roppongi is the white male’s extra-territorial sanctuary as well as metaphorical catacomb, where pleasure draws a last gasp before crumpling into a heap of old bones. The white man’s loop of entitlement extends from the famed Roppongi intersection to the concrete mausoleum known as Roppongi Hills, then down to a quaint little neighborhood called Azabu Juban and back again. Once you get on the loop, it’s damn hard to get off so you keep repeating the run until you’ve lost track of what life was like before you thought of moving to Japan and immersing yourself in Roppongi’s cesspool of slimey privilege.

Because hey, the deal is this: if you can’t get laid in Roppongi, you may as well move to Mars. There’s no other place on Earth that promises and delivers sex with the same reliable standard. I’d give it 90%, 100% of the time you’re there. Never mind sushi – they’re overpriced and the tuna is imported from Indonesia. Forget Toyotas, they take too long to assemble and what’s all the fuss about anyway? Sex in Six Trees – now that’s Japanese quality control honed to an art form.

Jesus, I’m getting literary which means it’s past 6 AM on a Saturday morning and I’ve drunk the night away. This is not good, no fucking’ good, I chant to myself as I lurch my way past other drunks (but very few disorderlies, because this is Tokyo), on the side street that leads to the Roppongi intersection. I was at Tim’s house with a few other guys, then we hit that bar and then went over to the Cedar’s Chop House in the newly opened Remm Hotel which is supposedly a big deal but really just turned out to be a raucous gaijin hangout with Jack Johnson on the sound track – really, who are they kidding? Still, the place was kind of cozy which is a rarity in Six Trees. Not that this nice vibe is going to last. Soon, Remm Hotel will be overrun by what I call the International Working Girl Association (IWGA) and their foreign clientele, just like every other hotel in Roppongi. With the Russian Embassy on one end of the loop, the Chinese Embassy on the other and the American Embassy on the far left of the intersection, what the hell else can you expect?

Aaaaanyway. We ended up at god knows which drinking hole though I remember the toilet was filthy and Tim bleating on and on about getting pancakes for breakfast and where should we go for pancakes? What a tiresome bastard.

This time of morning the sunlight’s still feeble and I could bear to bask in its gentle rays. I hear snatches of loud conversation and automatically straighten my back, turning my feet towards the direction of voices. A pimp with broad shoulders and a bull neck in a dress shirt, is clutching the shoulder of a thin girl with bobbed hair – maybe 23 years old, it’s hard to tell at this hour. He’s trying to sell her to a potential customer, a youngish salariman in a dark suit. “I guarantee she’s nice, sir” he says in sing-song Japanese which annoys me no end. “If you won’t take her, then she wouldn’t have had a customer all night and that’s bad for her reputation, all the other girls are going to look down their noses at her. You wouldn’t want that to happen now, would you?” The salariman mumbles a few words, casting furtive glances at the girl who’s wearing nothing but a slip dress and sandals under the pimp’s oversized jacket. She looks cold and depressed and purses her lips, not about to pull out any encouraging sales talk. “I don’t have much time…” the salariman says. Inwardly, I snort with laughter. You mean, you’re not ready to shell out 20,000 yen for a throw, that’s what.

Maybe the pimp could hear inside my brain because he notices me observing with what I hope is a casual, bemused detachment. “And you sir, what about you? Japanese girl, velly velly nice!” The last bit was spoken in English and the pimp’s accent wasn’t bad. He’s been doing this long enough to know the value of a white male in Hugo Boss jeans and I’ve been stomping these streets long enough to know I’ll be treated better if I pretended zero Japanese language skills. I amble over and the salariman makes himself scarce. I get a better look at the girl, whose glassy stare gives nothing away. Her hands are pretty and lily white though, clasping the lapels of the jacket around her body like Jody Foster in that movie. I like a woman with petite, well-cared for hands and Japanese women have the loveliest pairs in the world. We exchange a look and I feel her stiffen under her sheer, thin slip.

It’s all the same to her. BUT she does need to chalk up a number on the board in the girls’ locker room, at the sex shop where she works maybe, 4 nights a week. Who else is going to do it, if not for a benevolent white guy like yours truly?

“Okay, okay.” I say this a little too loudly, with an exaggerated shrug. The pimp is wreathed in smiles. “Okaaaaay!,’ he mimics and makes a polite little gesture toward the doorway. The establishment is downstairs in a narrow, dirty, three story building tenanted by a mahjong parlor, a reflexology salon and a pizza restaurant according to the signs out front. “You will be happy, happy!” he says and leads the way into a tiny elevator stinking of roach repellent, and pushes the B1 button. I look at the girl and smile. She smiles back, grateful for even this useless token of friendship. We both know that if the salariman had taken her he wouldn’t have cracked a smile. He wouldn’t have said two words to make her feel better about her life, just stood there and waited for her to unbuckle his pants, and then would have taken pleasure as his due. White males may be self-entitled jerks but Japanese guys are the worst. No wonder the women in this country hate the lot of them.

When I emerge back out, it’s past 8 and Roppongi is teeming with tourists. The bill was 22,000 yen and I reflect that in the past two years I’ve always had to pay for sex in Six Trees. A tad humiliating, I know. I’m not young anymore – 34, and even white male entitlement has to end sometime. But I reason that the girl had been extra willing and “velly, velly nice,” which takes the twinge off the hurt. I yawn, put on my shades and consider walking to Starbucks in the Ark Hills building down the hill from the intersection. What I needed now was an espresso kick in the nerves and a blueberry muffin.

The local volunteer group is out and about in their logo-inscribed vinyl jackets (“Green Roppongi!”). These are mostly men in their 60s or older, picking up overnight litter from last night’s debaucheries, scattered in the spaces between gutter and curb. What most foreigners don’t realize is that there’s a sizable number of ordinary Japanese folk living here and they care enough about their community to do this. I stop for a moment and watch as they shuffle methodically, wielding steel tongs in one hand and clutching garbage bags with the other. Their faces are obscured by white surgical masks (one way to tell a Japanese from an Asian tourist is to see whether or not they’re wearing masks), making it impossible to read their expressions.

When I first came to Japan as an exchange student at the age of 17, my host father also volunteered at the local trash pick-up, clearing the beach of debris every Saturday morning. He worked for the municipal office, so participation was more or less mandatory. He seemed to enjoy it and I would pitch in because no one else in the family did and I felt sorry for him. When we were done, he always treated me to matcha icecream or iced coffee and said over and over how much he appreciated my help. “Brian, you are wonderful,” he said. “No, YOU are,” I would reply like a dutiful son, and we would look at each other and laugh politely.

I was home-staying in Chiba prefecture, near the Boso coastline and I was having the time of my life. Never had I felt so welcomed, valued and protected. I was loved in a way that seemed impossible back home in Illinois – not that I was abused by my biological parents or anything. But I was nothing special, just a scrawny kid with acne and too-thick eyebrows. I couldn’t make varsity on the track team, had no girlfriend and definitely was not one of the cool crowd. At school, I dreaded prom and was deeply grateful that my year in Japan would absolve me of that particular American teen torture.

In Chiba, I was a prince. On my third day in school, a girl in my class presented me with a hand-made bento and another very nicely gave me a blow job in a public restroom down by the beach. Later I learned the two girls were best friends, and they had played ‘janken (paper, rock scissors)’ over which of them would have the bento duty and which would be in charge of rolling out the sexual red carpet. I was flattered, but also baffled. What had I done to deserve such treatment? Others offered similar gifts and liaisons – in little secluded areas around the beach, in their parents’ car at night, in their rooms when they invited me over to teach them English. They baked cookies for me, presented me with handmade chocolates on Valentine’s Day, held my hand under the desk and guided it to their thighs. One or two told me that they loved me, to please marry them so I could take them to America.

By my last month in Chiba, I had the Japan experience all figured out. It was so ridiculously easy here. My acne was gone, thanks to the sea air and the string of casual girlfriends who took real good care of my teenage hormonal needs. I had learned a lot of the language, enough to ingratiate myself to my host family, school teachers and guy friends. Having run on the track team back in Illinois helped a lot, because most Japanese are ardent runners and fiercely dedicated to school sports. “You’re great, don’t worry,” said my friend Haruhiko as he inducted me into the school’s short-distance track team. Haru trained like a fiend and could whip my ass on the track any day of the week but he was also big enough to make a foreigner feel good about himself. I was a lazy bum who skipped practice to hang out with one girl or another but Haru looked the other way and pretended not to notice.

Naturally, I was far from stoked about the idea of having to leave Chiba and Japan. In the plane to O’Hare, I said to myself over and over that I would come back no matter what it took.

What it took was an MA in theater from the University of Chicago and then a 3-year stint working as a Congressman’s assistant on Capitol Hill. I fulfilled my teenage resolution on the day before my 26th birthday, March 2010. I arrived, back in the Promised Land where I planned to get laid by the prettiest girls with the smoothest pale skin and go drinking with the Japanese buddies I would surely acquire as soon as I exited the airport. In a year or two, I would find the most amazing woman and get married. She would make incredibly elaborate meals, just like my host mom made every night – potato croquettes, Japanese fried chicken and rice encased in a fluffy omelet. We would have beautiful bilingual children who would grow up to attend Ivy League colleges on full scholarships. (Haruhiko, my old friend from Chiba, had gone to Yale and was now working on Wall Street.)

That was Plan A. I didn’t think to work out Plan B. And my line of defence is: Roppongi interfered.

As I walk down the long hill from the Six Trees intersection to the office complex called Ark Hills, I notice my eyes are suddenly itchy and moist. What the fuck, dude, a pathetic self pity party? I tell myself it’s just some unseasonal pollen allergy but I can’t shake off the sense of what, sadness? Regret? For a long time, no one has told me that I was great or wonderful. No Japanese woman has said she loved me, and to please take her to the United States. Now I had to pay for love, and friendships consisted of alcohol-infused rant fests with like-minded assholes. What the hell went wrong with the scenario? I had somehow played a colossal and perverted joke on myself, and could barely muster the courage to laugh. “Fuck this,” I mumble and thrust my hand into my front jeans pocket. My fingers touch a crumpled pink ‘meishi’ – the Japanese business card. It’s from that girl I just had intercourse with, and she had given it to me just before I left. “Come back soon!” she called out, but I was already closing the door behind my back. Now I smooth out the meishi to read her (professional) name: Amika. Uh-huh. Sorry, Amika but I couldn’t care less at this point. With a sigh, I toss it to the pavement and start to walk off. On second thought, I circle back and pick it up again.

You can say what you like, but I don’t throw garbage on the street. It’s the thought of making extra work for those volunteers in their little vinyl jackets. It’s also to honor the memory of my host-dad. Six Trees has at least, taught me that much.

“Womenomics” is working just as well as Abenomics–badly. 女は辛いよ

Japan is getting serious about gender equality—and there were absolutely no bribes paid by Japan to win the right to host the 2020 Olympics—and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima is under control. Decide for yourself which of these three statements is the most untrue.

Womenomics was touted by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as his progressive policy to elevate the status of women in what is still a very sexist and unequal society, where women are far from being empowered. The Global Gender Gap report published last year noted that Mr. Abe and the LDP’s pledge to bridge the gender divide resulted in actually widening the gulf, with Nippon sliding down a few notches to 111th in terms of world gender equality. 

It’s hard to see women in Japan being “empowered” when they can be sexually assaulted with near impunity. The odds that their assailant will be arrested, or prosecuted are low–less than a coin toss. And if he is actually prosecuted–he can sometimes walk free, with no jail time and no criminal record,  by paying damages and saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s a situation that the Abe administration could have changed but neglected to do so, tabling newly revised criminal codes to instead focus on passing a conspiracy bill that the United Nations warns could erode civil liberties.

Of course, some would argue that “womenomics” have never been about elevating the status of women in Japan—it’s always been about keeping Japanese business thriving and hopefully encouraging woman to work—and breed. Of course, pregnancy in the workplace often is greeted with bullying from all sides. Abe’s vision of Womenomics has certainly never been about improving the lives of Japan’s single mothers, 50% of whom live in poverty. In fact, other than talking about “shining women–it’s not clear exactly what he wants for Japan’s future potential birthing machines.*

The current Minister of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, is of course, also a man, and also in charge of improving Japan’s birthrate. Do we need to say more?

Yes, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe and the LDP are gungho about Gender Equality. Meet Katsunobu Kato, his home page will convince you.

Recently, Bloomberg published an interview with Democratic Party leader Renho, in which she pointed out the obvious, Womenomics is all talk and no walk.

“They should be ashamed to use the word ‘Womenomics’,” Democratic Party leader Renho, the 49-year-old mother of twins, said in an interview in Tokyo late Thursday when asked about the term Abe often uses to describe his efforts. “It’s an embarrassment.”

Abe had vowed to eliminate waiting lists for childcare in a bid to draw more women into the workforce to make up for Japan’s shrinking population. He also sought to have women take 30 percent of management positions in all fields by 2020.

On both goals he’s falling well short: Japan was 111th in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap ranking for 2016, down 10 places on the previous year.

“About 80 percent of those who take childcare leave are women, and if they’re forced to wait for daycare, that means unemployment,” Renho said. “You either get demoted or you give up on work. What’s womenomics about if women are being forced to make such sad choices?”

For the rest of the article, go to

Abe’s Policies Failing Women, Japan Opposition Chief Says

 

*Reference to women as “birthing machines” is sarcasm. We know that the LDP also thinks of women as much more than that–as potential nurses for the elderly, expert green tea brewers for the office, and caretakers of the children that they should be giving birth to right now for the greater prosperity of Japan. 

 

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part 1

Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal.

Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.

Without further ado, welcome to the first in the series…..

 

Smothered in Silicon Valley

We are on the patio of my parents’ house in Palo Alto – my wife Eriko and I, on a sunny Sunday morning in March. There’s a sharp nip in the air but no wind, and the lone cherry tree in my mother’s garden promises pink blossoms later in the month. Sunday brunches at this house has turned into a weekly ritual, ever since we left Tokyo for Northern California a year ago. When I tell that to people, and that I Iived in said Tokyo for 16 years before returning to the Land of the Free (note the irony in my voice), eyebrows go up. In some cases, mouths turn downward in a reverse arc, depending on the listener’s experiences or their image of Japan. (Pearl Harbor. It’s always Pearl Harbor.) I was 24 when I finished up my graduate studies at Cal Tech, and took off for a country I hardly knew. Cool Japan wasn’t yet a thing. Anime was for hard-core geeks. But I had read two novels of Haruki Murakami and decided that in some tortuously inexplicable way, I belonged in the Far Eastern capital.

“So how did you like that? Wasn’t it just very busy and expensive?” asked Tim, my supervisor during one of five interviews I had, in order to land the job at a tech company in Oakland. “Oh yeah,” I replied, with a self-deprecating chuckle – a mannerism I picked up from living in Japan. The Japanese are excessively modest, and self-deprecation with a laugh is a national pastime. “Seriously though, I learned a lot. Japan’s been good to me,” I added cautiously. What I really wanted to say was that I poured my whole youth into the experience. I made my bones. I fell in love, time and again. And if you really want to know, Tokyo is a lot cheaper than the San Francisco Bay Area. But all that would have been inappropriate in a job interview. Besides, Tim – who is laughingly WAM (White American Male) and whose trips abroad has been limited to London and Mexico City, couldn’t care less about my back story.

I stretch out on the deck chair. Behind my Oakley shades, my eyes are closed and I’m only half-listening to my wife Eriko converse with my mom about the new farmer’s market that went up near Safeway, 5 blocks from my parents’ place. I reflect that my brother and I grew up here, and the chair I’m sitting in has been around since my teens, and my mom is basically the same woman she’s been for the past 30 years.

Eriko is saying what she’s always saying. “It’s very expensive, everything is expensive. One daikon is 3 dollars! In Tokyo, I bought daikon for under 200 yen.” My mom clucks, and sighs that Palo Alto has gotten so expensive and crowded they are thinking of selling the house and moving. I let out an exasperated sigh. How can my parents move? Three years ago my dad’s name was struck off the faculty list at Stanford where he had taught American Literature for 30 years. They’re still paying mortgage on this house.

Mom and Dad are used to this 3-bedroom place with the 2-car garage, their friends and Safeway where the Mexican staff always helps my mom carry groceries to her car. If they moved, they couldn’t afford to buy, at least not in the Bay Area. The housing market is astronomical and prices on everything including water, have gone through the roof thanks to the protracted California drought. Young techies fresh out of coding boot camp are told off by their bosses that they can’t afford to live here, not even on a six-figure income. Right now, the median rent for San Francisco is something like 3500 dollars. The average monthly daycare cost for one pre-kindergarten child in the Bay Area is over 2000 dollars. (Eriko and I don’t have kids but that could change.) The Thai salad with quinoa I had for lunch the other day? Fucking 18 dollars.

“You’re much better off where you are and you know it,” I say to my mother. “Just don’t get a new car.” My parents are living off their savings and what money Dad gets from tutoring jobs. An awkward hush settles over the patio like a foul odor and my mom purposefully looks in another direction.

As soon as the talk turned to money, my dad shuts down like an old, clunky computer. He gazes at the sky with his coffee mug cupped in both hands and I feel a sting of real sadness. I know what my father is thinking, he’s thinking that he’s fine, that this is all good. But it could be better and as a WAM with a Ph.d and his Stanford career, he should have more. A better car than his 10-year old Honda, a nicer home, all the latest gadgets, vacations, dinners out with my mom and their friends. A glittering Facebook update. They’ve never even been to French Laundry though that’s been on my mom’s wish list for a decade.

Eriko gets up and goes inside the house, undoubtedly to the kitchen. I watch her retreating figure with…what is it, boredom? I actually feel bored when I look at my wife of 6 years, though I tell myself it’s more like placidity, contentment. She herself is very comfortable in Oakland, and professes that she never wants to go back except for short vacations to her parents’ place. When we lived in Tokyo, life was much harder for Eriko. She cooked 2 meals a day, worked in an office and had a daily, two hour commute. She was also about 12 pounds thinner and seemed oh, so fragile. I’d give her a hug and feel her small rib cage under my big hands, her little breasts and narrow hips. We were both in our mid-30s when we met but she looked to me like a girl in college. Now I get comments everyday from people who have met my wife about how pretty, how slender, what a good cook, considerate, polite, supportive, accomplished…Even Tim likes her, and I’m not sure if he’s about to make some moves on her, the bastard.

The truth is, Japanese women are amazing. Half the time I spent in Japan was about chasing them down, chatting them up in my appalling Japanese and getting them in the sack as soon as humanly possible. The other half was spent bragging about my astonishing success rate to expat bros. But then it was like that for most white men anyway, unless they were spectacularly ugly or had hygiene problems, and even then they never had much trouble finding sex. Life in Japan frequently turns white men into sexist, racist, male chauvinist assholes, without our being aware of it. I call it the Japan Creep. I have said things to Japanese women that I would never say to a white American female. I took it for granted that they were only too happy to do things for me, including schoolgirl cosplay during sex (don’t judge me) and sushi dinners on their tabs. No Japanese woman I slept with seemed to resent any of that. They in turn seemed to take it for granted that they should please American men because…well if it wasn’t for us and our democracy, they’d still be wearing raggedy kimonos, they couldn’t eat at Shake Shack and they’d be forced into god-awful marriages with god-awful Japanese men, whose international popularity rates just a notch above Nigerian, according to some poll I read once. Right? I mean, COME ON.

But a couple of years after turning 30, I realized that the classiest and most well-bred of Japanese women rarely have anything to do with the average white man apart from gracious socializing. To them, we were loud, stupid and ill-mannered. And the pool of casual sex was slowly but surely, drying up. It just wasn’t as fun anymore and I felt less inclined to spew the same old tales to the same old bros, who suddenly seemed obnoxious beyond words.

And then I met Eriko at my local gym. She asked me with a shy smile if I knew how to work the elliptical, and I could tell she was trying hard to carry out our conversation in correct English. I was so touched that a sob caught in my throat. It hit me that I didn’t want to date anymore. I wanted a Japanese wife – to iron my shirts and cook my meals and greet me with a smile every time I came home from work. Japanese men had that for more than a millenia, so why couldn’t I, I mean we – all of us American jerks? Three months later, I proposed and Eriko said yes, on condition that we have the wedding in Hawaii with just our families and closest friends because we were both in our mid-30s and “too old” for a big ceremony in Tokyo. Eriko adored Hawaii. Her girlfriends adored Hawaii. Most Japanese women do.

It’s regrettable to say but Japanese women lose some of their flavor once they leave Japan. It’s only been a year but Eriko has assimilated so completely to American suburbia she may as well call herself Ellen. Not that she’s become part of the white community of Oakland. She bounces inside a comfortable bubble consisting of our house, her car (a Toyota Corolla) and a close-knit circle of Japanese housewife friends. She’s with these women all the time, texts them incessantly to cook Japanese dishes together and schedule jogs around the neighborhood. Now Eriko’s ribcage no longer feels like it might break if I squeeze too hard. She no longer smiles in silence, but laughs out loud. Her hair and skin – once moist with Asian humidity, is drier, tougher. Her neck is thicker, connecting to shoulders that suddenly seem broad and strong. I’m happy that she’s happy here. But inside a secret, inner recess somewhere in my soul, I feel like I’m being quietly smothered.

Before marriage and Eriko, I lived the Tokyo bachelor’s life in a place called Zoshigaya. The area had several temples and a big shrine, with a rickety candy shop that’s been around since the mid 18th century. My abode was on the third floor of an old apartment building, standing on a narrow street that led to the shrine. Two fairly spacious rooms facing southeast, and a wrap-around veranda for a cool, 790 a month. (Our current 2 bedroom house in Oakland is 2850, which everyone assures me is an absolute steal.) Most of the time, I complained. I whined about the heat and humidity in summer, the whipping cold winds in winter. I hated the commute to work, and the subway cars with announcements in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese) that came on before each and every stop. I cringed every time I heard a salariman cough or talk too loudly, because most Japanese men have really ugly voices.

I longed for sunny California, and the sight of white womens’ tanned legs stretching out of denim shorts, strolling the malls on a Friday afternoon. California Dreamin’. It had developed into a definite thing.

After my 40th birthday and 5 years after my marriage, I was done with Tokyo. I got my Japanese wife so had no further use for Japan, like a mercenary with his loot looking for a fast exit. I wanted to go home where there were no puddles on the sidewalks. Never did I want to stand in a crowded train again, chest to chest with a salariman. I wanted to back my own car out of my own garage, and drive my ass over to Crossfit classes. I would work on my abs. Binge watch on Netflix USA. And I would finally get to watch Superbowl with my dad. Besides, Eriko made it clear, during our numerous discussions about crossing the Pacific, that if she had wanted to stay in Japan she would have looked for a Japanese husband. “I want to go away to California” she said. “I want to change my life.” That clinched it. I applied to job openings in 5 mid-sized tech companies in and around the Bay Area, and landed one after 2 months of meetings and interviews.

Not surprisingly (for isn’t that how things work out?) I regretted the move to Nor Cal almost immediately. I missed Tokyo’s tiny alleyways, the narrow, labyrinthine streets. Most of all, I missed the complex texture of things like linen shirts and tatami mats, women’s arms, the taste of Japanese citrus. I missed the air, sticky with fumes and redolent of centuries of history. I missed the rain and how the thick, gray clouds seemed to hold the city in an unclenched fist. Sixteen years in Tokyo had spoiled me in many ways but I didn’t bargain for an annoyance – an irritation really – for the blithely ignorant, have-it-all American lifestyle. I had dreams of walking down an alley, turning the corner and seeing a cat bound across the pathway and my heart will be filled with gratitude, before I woke up to relentless sunshine streaming through the window. No fault of Nor Cal and certainly no fault of Eriko. It was me. Too far away, too long. Adjustment was going to take some time.

“Hey Eri,” I call out. “We need more potato salad!” “Okay!” I hear her yell cheerfully and I feel my mother cast an ironic glance in my direction. She doesn’t like it that my wife is the one doing the chores while her son sits around like a big galoot. On the other hand, I could see that she thinks it’s maybe okay – about 70% okay – because Eriko is an Asian. If I had married a white woman, it would be different. I would probably go into the kitchen with her and help her prep the salad. And our conversation on the patio would be more…lively? In-depth? Friendly but a little controversial? I ponder these things as Eriko emerges with a large wooden bowl. “My special potato salad,” she beams.

And my dad rouses himself from his torpor. “Did I hear potato salad? You have an incredible wife, you know that,” he says to me. “Of course I do. That’s a given,” I reply. And then we all gather around the table to help ourselves.