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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Protecting the Weak/Preserving Tradition


(photo credits go to Dilbit)
She was only trying to extricate his flimsy lifeless soul once again from falling into that abyss of self loathing and pity, if only resurrecting his soul back to the banality of his meager existence that night was enough, enough to make him even just half a man, even this would surely be enough for her to continue loving him.   Something about cheap booze that makes you hit rock bottom sometimes, and then having to maintain some semblance of sobriety while trying to save face at the same time, especially in the company of non-Japanese.    His better half shook him, and straightened his face. She supported his back so that he would stand upright. I admired this quality in his girlfriend.    She was protecting his image.



I could, from the watery glassiness of his eyes and weakened neck, see his own broken soul glaring back at me from a distance.   His own rage shrouded under the veneer of his overly obsequious behavior as he smiled towards us.  Shortly afterwards, I was greeted by that same nervous smile, a nod, and a sweaty limp palm handshake while all the long his better half was orchestrating and cueing his every move whispering to him in his ear what to say, how to sit upright.   From the looks of him, I thought he was unemployed, and that maybe they both had some loose ties with the Gokudo, or some other group.    ("The tradition of tattooing in Japanese is called "Irezumi" and has nothing to do with the Yakuza, at all.   The art of tattooing can be traced as far back as the Jomon period, or about 10,000 years ago!  It was after the Meiji era that it was outlawed and became analogous with people associated with the mafia.    Later the tattoo ban was repealed by GHQ").




I remember that night when all of this took place.    It was in December a few years back when I had attended a sake tasting party with a friend in Tokyo.   At one table, you had Japanese, at another table you had Americans, and at the middle table you had your  other Asians.   I guess people naturally gravitate towards the people they feel most comfortable around.   Japanese table there were an assorted mix of drinks; cocktails, sake, shochu.  I never mix alcohol personally.   The geeky all white table everybody drank straight Japanese sake, including me, and we were all acting a little pretentious that night.    Each of us with our own sake lore, spouting off fancy terms in Japanese and knowing full well that neither of us would be able to recognize hardly any of the kanji associated with a sake beverage.




This spectacle of ignorance provided the most entertainment for the Japanese group.  You could hear them snickering and laughing at how big a stupid we all looked trying to outclass the Japanese at their own national drink.   And then, I motioned over to one of the girls to come sit next to me.   She obliged and came over, but for her boyfriend this was crushing.  The fact that I could motion to the guys girlfriend to sit next to me, a total stranger and a foreigner to boot.  This enraged the other girl who was trying to help her lifeless boyfriend save face.   She motioned to her with flailing hands to return to her boyfriends side at once.



As the night progressed, things started to wind down a bit, everybody recuperated themselves and then finally gathering their belongings headed to the exit, party was over.  The lady I was with returned to her table in order to resuscitate her boyfriends shattered ego. I gathered my things and as I was heading out the door shook his cold sweaty limp palm.   Ohh, how Japanese men owe a debt of gratitude to their better halves. They get so little in return for putting up with so much man(lessness).





There's just something about a Japanese woman who accepts the lesser role in order to support her own man that's intriguing to me, even though she doesn't have to, she has more choices than her mother. It is a commonly held stereotype that Western men tend to nurture and pamper their women - henpecked types.   Open doors, come at their every beck - n - call whereas their Japanese male counterparts do just the opposites.   This Western treatment ruins Japanese women in a sense because it makes it harder for them to readjust to a Japanese man if things don't work out in their marriage with a foreigner. Treating foreign spouses better doesn't always mean marriages last.   Just because a foreigner takes a Japanese wife and treats her like a little princess doesn't guarantee a happy marriage, in fact more of these types of marriages end in divorce or separation, even worse, the wife steals the baby.   That's for another discussion.



The traditional Japanese wife who has held the position as second class to her man or husband is by far the most courageous and noble act.  Why...?   Because, once again, she doesn't have to accept that role in modern day Japan, yet she chooses to accept this role anyway because this is tradition, and not all traditions have to change according to the times.   Many Japanese women are happily married and have no problems supporting their husband/boyfriend from a lesser capacity.   Japan does not have to shed all of its traditions because of a growing minority of discontented Japanese housewives/boyfriends, or what have you.   I admit, upholding traditions is not for the faint or weak at heart, it's tough, and there are few rewards for those who accept that role in life.   But I guess that's why it's called tradition.  For many Japanese upholding tradition is quintessentially the Japanese thing to do, even if it doesn't produce happiness.   Being Japanese is a duty sometimes I think, and not so much a nationality.



According to the wise and the sapient, they teach us that all life is about suffering, and that the only way to escape that suffering is by detaching oneself from the triggers that cause emotional stress.  Some may call this "taking the middle ground. " And all though I'm sure they mean well, I don't encourage escapism.  In order for life to progress all elements of pain, suffering, and beauty must be reconciled and harmonized.   Science and religion must be reconciled; life & death must be reconciled; natural & spiritual elements must be reconciled.   Japan cannot escape tradition, much like the sun whose rays pierce the pitch blackness of uncertainty and doubt,  Japan as we know it today is and will always have the underpinnings of tradition as its foundation, and that without it there can be no reconciliation from within to the things which have made this country so great.

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