“Washing your own dishes? That’s commendable.”
This is my co-worker Ms. Oshiro, leaning over my shoulder at the office sink. I’ve got a scrubby in one hand, bento box in the other, and my first reaction is, “Well, who else’d wash ‘em?”
But then common sense kicked in. The same person who made my delicious bento: my wife, of course. Because in Japan, that’s the way it works. Ken Seeroi’s wife hand-makes him a lunch box of rice, mackerel, a hard-boiled egg, and mini sausages shaped like octopuses, then at the end of the day he takes his dirty dishes back to her. Honey, I’m home. Japan’s real 1950’s like that.
Only problem is, I didn’t have a wife, made my own bento, and was therefore stuck with a handful of rice and suds. Damn twenty-first century. But no reason to complicate Oshiro-san’s reality.
“Oh,” I said, “I’m a true gentleman.”
Japanese folks have this image of all white guys being like Prince Harry, so whatever, give the people what they want.
“Ah,” said Oshiro-san, “it must be wonderful to be married to a foreigner.”
“Heaven on earth,” I said. “Heaven on earth.”
I repeat myself a lot, I do. It’s an English-teacher thing. But then I was in English class with a bunch of high school kids the following week, and the Japanese instructor passed around sheets of discussion topics. The title was, “Questions to ask Foreigners.” We were off to a great start.
Most of it was boilerplate stuff—-Where are you from, What are your hobbies, What do you like about Japan—-until we got to question number 5.
5. If you’d been born the opposite sex, what job would you want to do?
Nothing surprises me any more. My Japanese colleagues stealing lunches from the fridge, my buddy Tanuki-san crashing his car into a city bus, the Japanese kids jacking off in train station bathrooms. All pretty normal. But this, this, caught me off guard. I couldn’t think of a single answer. So I asked the students.
“If I were a guy,” said a young girl, “I’d like to be a pilot.”
“I’d work in a bakery,” said a boy.
I stared at them. “I’m pretty sure you could still do those jobs.”
And the whole class laughed. Foreigners say the craziest things.
Feminism in Japan
So recently, a reader commented on how nice living in Japan must be, distanced from the American “cult of outrage & the corresponding politicization” with its obsession over subjects like “white privilege and mansplaining.” This digressed into feminism, American political correctness, and random nonsense until I unwisely said I’d write something and well, here we are. I really gotta think more before I type.
Anyway, feminism in Japan is clearly a great subject for me to venture into, since I’m neither Japanese, a feminist, nor female. But hey, being pitifully unqualified never stopped Ken Seeroi before, so why quit now? No doubt this’ll end well.
But before we dive into that, let me just say if you think Japan’s a place where people aren’t completely bent out of shape by every minor transgression imaginable, you’ve got the wrong nation. How you stand, walk, dress, smell—-Japanese people stress about every damn thing. Use an incorrect verb tense and people lose their minds. The difference is that since you’re, you know, a “foreigner,” Japanese folks might wait until you leave the room before they start snickering. Or not. And unless you can read Japanese newspapers and blogs, well—whoever said ignorance is bliss clearly recognized the benefits of not understanding a language.
But whatever, back to feminism. Let me venture what may be the world’s most unpopular opinion: the reason the hordes aren’t marching through Tokyo in the name of feminism is because nobody wants it. Least of all women.
The Equal Rights Movement
Somewhere in the distant past, let’s say circa 1970, the tide of “equal rights” swept over the United States. Women demanded to be welcomed into the workforce just like men. The thought of staying home became unthinkable, discriminatory. From a business, government, and military perspective, this was the most genius idea ever: sell the concept and you instantly double the nation’s workforce. It was masterfully marketed, and women gobbled it up like tiny cupcakes. We demand to be equal! You can’t keep us down! Let us work!
Japanese ladies looked across the ocean and said, Yeah, no. Or more accurately, Are you out of your fucking mind? Work? That sounds hard. Who’d want to do that? That’s why we have men.
And now looking at America, they see the huddled masses, women constantly exhausted from juggling both career and family. From the land of the free a new howl is heard: You don’t know how hard it is to be a working mother. I’m doing two jobs! Men need to do more at home. I marched to demand entry into the workforce and…what? Now I actually have to work? How is that fair? I thought that whole home and family thing would just magically resolve itself.
Now everybody’s unhappy. Raising a family has become a panic of strapping Junior into his carseat every morning while arguing over who has to drop the little fucker at daycare. Breakfast is long gone, you’re eating meals from box, everybody’s obese and you pay foreigners (gasp) to clean your house, tend your garden, and raise your kids.
Japanese women aren’t deaf to the siren call of “feminism,” sold as the modern way, particularly by international companies. Women are constantly prodded to enter and remain in the workforce. They’re plied with work/life balance initiatives, flex-time, and childcare programs. Still there’s a large contingent content to say Nope, think I’ll stay home. It’s enough to clean the house, hang out the wash, take Takeshi Jr. to the doctor, shop at the market, and prepare meals. Do that plus a job? I’m already doing a job. No thanks.
Of course, this makes marriage in Japan a frantic game of musical chairs, trying to find anyone as soon as possible. Being unwed means ironing your own clothes, wandering grocery stores late at night, and cooking for one in a tiny apartment after working 14 hours a day. Get married and . . . well, you still live in a tiny place, but at least you halve the labor. In Japan, marriage is less about love and sex and more about work reduction.
Meanwhile in the U.S., it’s demeaning to even suggest that anything could be “a man’s job” or “woman’s work.” So now nobody’s male or female. Women have grown stout, standing on their own two feet with legs like tree trunks. They’re out mowing lawns and swinging hammers, while metrosexual men gaze in the mirror at their waxed chests, then go back to watching porn. Japanese women see nothing wrong with looking and acting feminine. There’s no shame in a woman doing her nails, putting on make-up, or God forbid, being a housewife.
Now don’t get me wrong: I think everybody should be supported to pursue their dreams. If anyone wants to work—-man, woman, half-man/half-sheep or whatever—-they should be able to, for equal pay. Take my job, please. Ken Seeroi ain’t keeping nobody down.
I only question whether it naturally follows that everybody should work, because it seems there’s a lot to be gained by playing separate roles. And don’t think I haven’t suggested it. I’ve offered to be the live-in houseboy to every woman I’ve ever met in this country. I’ll be happy to shop, cook, and clean while you go off to the office. I’m a whiz with a feather duster. Yet the response has been unanimous and unequivocal: Get yer ass off the couch, put down that beer, man up, and go to work.
Equality in Japan
The U.S. dreams of equality. Of a glorious, shining country where all persons—-black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, freaky, dopey, doc, and grumpy—-are equal under the eyes of the law. A wondrous nation of men working at Hooters and women peeing standing up. Long may your stars and rainbow stripes wave.
Only Japan never got that memo. Equality isn’t even remotely a thing here. Everyone’s discriminated against. Hey, at least in that we’re fair. So you get different treatment depending upon whether you’re male, female, queer, old, young, white, brown, yellow, red…hell, even Japanese people receive different treatment based upon how “Japanese” they look.
Is everyone okay with this? Uh, pretty much nobody is. Women feel oppressed, men feel burdened, old people ignored, young people undervalued, and Chinese people, well, everybody hates them. But Japan’s a pot on “simmer.” Slights, injustices, even crimes, are kept tightly under the lid. Don’t lift the top, don’t stir the pot. The U.S., by contrast, is a constant roaring boil. Hurry, it’s a crisis, the stove’s on fire! We have to make everything right immediately! Start a protest, scream it from the rooftops. Japan is Good Housekeeping, Martha Stewart quietly dicing up herbs to make a delicious chicken pot pie while pretending she didn’t just get out of prison. America is Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsey shouting Look at this shit! Smashing plates on the wall and dumping your disgusting pot pie into the trash.
Shut up and eat Your Pie
The thing is, you’re being served the same dish. The peas, carrots, chicken, flaky crust, any way you slice it, it’s all the same. Whether you think it’s tasty or terrible only depends on which show you’re watching while you shovel it into your pie hole. So if you want to see reality, you need to focus on what’s actually in front of you. The TV, radio, internet, it’s all noise and static, enveloping us 24-7. Feminism, #Metoo, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, Donald Trump, Antarctica melting into the sea. People broadcasting from around the world, pushing their messages. But they’re not really here. We only conjure them up like genies and let them carry us off. You won’t escape them by switching countries. You just gotta turn off the noise box.
And this coming from a guy who spends his weekends blogging about Japan to strangers on the internet. It’s certainly become a weird world. Now all I need is a wife to take over half of this writing. Then everything’ll finally be perfect. Help wanted, apply within.