If the pink charms on the end of men's cell phones and the floral fans that they carry in the summer weren't enough to make me wonder about the masculinity of this male dominated country, then the "manzeer" has succeeded. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the men are now wearing bras in colors such as black, white, and yes, pink. I have asked if they also come in lace and the answer is no. I guess a lacey model would be weird....(??)
And, no this is not some underground sub-culture that I have discovered where this sort of behavior is to be expected and encouraged, but instead in board rooms, amongst high executives in top Japanese companies. It was the latest news on a major news channel in Japan, NHK. The bras have been selling out each and every week. According to the men themselves, they feel more "secure" and "confident" while they wear their pink bras under their pinstripe suits and ties. But apparently, not so secure as to admit that they are wearing them as the interviews blanked out their faces. Seinfeld truly had something here....and here I thought the used-pantie vending machines were strange. Yes, you read that correctly.
This country is never boring, I will give it that.
My students definitely add to the interesting experience that I have here, but also the visitors that my school gets of people who want to sign up for English lessons. I have two very memorable visitors that I would like to share.
The first was a woman in her 50's who walked into the school. From the start I had my suspicions in part because I have a sense for these things, but also the turquoise sweatpants, purple coat, and hot pink scarf was a slight give-a-way. Japan is very fashion-forward, but even this was a bit over the line. To top off the ensemble, she had on some over sized, red boots. She was also carrying a violin case, very carefully, and almost lovingly. Anyway, she walked in the door, and immediately her eyes met mine. Many of you know, I am a magnet for crazy people. I have been offered emphatic advice from Vietnam Vets ("never get stuck in a rat hole-NEVER!") and have been given coupons for restaurants that no one has heard of from toothless old men (at least that one is logical). I even had one women tell me her entire life story on the bus (colorful and racially offensive), then all of the sudden ask me if I was the Eliot Spitzer girl (no comment). I don't know what it is, but for some reason, they gravitate towards me and try to lure me in. But since I feel I have had the monopoly on crazy for awhile, I decided to let my co-worker, Paul, have this one. I couldn't help but listen to Paul and Rainbow Brights conversation, and it went something like this:
Paul: Hi, I'm....
RB: I like you.
Paul (starting to blush): Uh, thank you. So, my name is Paul, and I am from England. Where are you from?
RB: I really like you...
Paul (The blush had turned into full crimson): Uh, thank you. So, I see you have a violin case there...
RB (fondly touching the case): Yes.
Paul: How long have you played violin?
RB (confused and a little haughty): I don't play violin. I can't play violin.
Paul: Oh, uh...I thought the case...
RB (a little agitated): I don't play violin. Why do you think I play violin?
Paul(with a sweaty brow): I'm sorry, I misunderstood...I thought....
RB: I don't play violin. But, I do like classical music...
Paul: Right, Ok then. It was nice meeting you.
Paul, a little shaken, quickly walked out of the room, and told me to stay far away from that woman. Part of me wanted to know what was in that case, since obviously it wasn't a violin, but the other part of me hopes for the sake of humanity that she never opens it. Ever. Unfortunately, she didn't sign up for English classes at my school.
The second one I had the pleasure of talking to. She was a pretty woman, 30 years old, and spoke some English.
Andrea: Hi, I'm Andrea. What's your name?
Mio: My name is Mio.
Andrea: Nice to meet you, Mio. So why do you want to learn English?
Mio: I like Navy boys.
Andrea: Uh, ok. That's a good reason. What do you do?
Mio: Go to clubs and look for Navy boys. Where are you from?
Andrea: The U.S.
Mio: Do you like Navy boys?
Mio: I have a picture on my phone.
At this point she fishes her phone from her bag. Flips through what seems like a million pictures while I waited in fear that it was going to be some picture of Mio and a "Navy boy" doing things that nobody wants to see.
Mio: Here. Look.
Dear God. I brace myself.
Andrea (relieved-for now): Oh, is this your boyfriend?
It was a picture of some jack-ass "Navy boy." How I define a jack-ass is up to your imagination.
Mio: No. He got married yesterday.
Andrea: Oh. Uh....well, there are many, many guys out there....
Mio (voice a little raised): NO! I WANT THIS NAVY BOY!!
Andrea (maybe a compliment will soothe her-I was wrong): Don't worry. You will find another one. You are a beautiful girl.
Mio: NO! I AM NOT BEAUTIFUL!
Mio (suddenly calm): You have beautiful eyes...
Andrea: Thank you...
Mio: I want to be American.
Andrea (unsure how to respond to this impossible wish): Well, if you find another Navy boy, maybe you can be.
Mio: NO! I WANT TO BE AMERICAN! I WANT YOUR SKIN!! (At this point, she reached out and touched my hands then reached for my face)
Andrea (a little scared at this point): No you don't. I, uh, I sunburn!
Mio: I WANT YOUR SKIN!!
Andrea: Ok, well Mio, good luck. It was nice meeting you.
I left quickly, skin and eyes intact, but with a supreme sense of sadness for poor, misguided Mio.
On a different note:
I recently went to Nagasaki to see the Lantern Festival. It is actually a celebration of Chinese New Year, and they do so with an amazing abundance of beautiful yellow, orange, and pink lanterns hung all over the city. It is quite spectacular. Nagasaki was the only port in Japan that allowed foreigners into the country during a period (around the 1860's) when foreigners were prohibited to enter Japan. Because of this, Nagasaki still remains one of the most culturally diverse cities in Japan, hence the Chinese New Year celebration. Anyway, this festival was a magical experience. Hundreds of thousands of lanterns are strung alongside the canal that runs through Nagasaki and at night are all lit up. In conjunction with the lanterns are hundreds of over sized and glowing animal lanterns, such as mice, carp, tigers, and horses. It is step into an evening in Alice in Wonderland. As I happily moseyed through this haze of colors and brightness, clicking away with my camera, creating the "Lantern Collection," I came across the China Town Gate. Intrigued, I walked through it, wondering what delights I would find. The dream of Alice and Wonderland quickly turned into a nightmare of Lord of the Rings as I came face to face with 30 bodiless pigs. That's right. There were 30 pigs heads blankly staring at me with their vacant, dead eyes. To add insult to injury, they had their tails woven through their foreheads. Um...I think you're missing something. Like, YOUR BODY!!!!!!!!!
What the ....?
Of course, I had to be the one to find this little shrine of slaughtered, massacred pigs. Me, the vegetarian, who goes out of her way to buy "against animal testing" products, who is traumatized by butterflies getting stuck on windshields and gets misty-eyed during "The Dog Whisperer." (How does he get through to all those troubled dogs?)
Now, I was faced with pig heads with their own tails pierced through their foreheads. I was so stunned with horror that my friends had to drag me away from the horrendous sight. I have had 12 nightmares since Monday.
Keep in mind, this was for CHINESE New Year (apparently, the pigs represent wealth. But, hey, guess what? So do inanimate objects, like MONEY!), and every Japanese person I have told about this has shared my horror. Now, I am all about celebrating and accepting different beliefs and cultures, but I guess I prefer celebrations that don't involve tails woven through faces on heads that don't have bodies! But, hey, that's just me.
Despite the bloodshed, the lantern festival was surreal, and I would go again, but definitely avoid the pig-head-with-tail shrine.
Anyway, I am sure there are more curiosities yet to come. I will share as many of them as I can. Meanwhile, I want to say that it was so great to see everyone over Christmas and New Years while I was in NYC, especially Nick who had our apartment decorated beautifully for Christmas. I only "gently" suggested that he get a Christmas tree, and he delivered quite spectacularly, so thank you. As usual, he was a trooper with my New York City sightseeing extravaganza, which included The Statue of Liberty (much smaller than I expected), the MOMA (totally worth the 20 bucks!), and the Nutcracker (a beautiful performance!). It was a blast!!
I miss you all so much!!