Thursday, November 25, 2010

Did You Get Fat?

Japanese people are typically thin. We're noted one of the healthiest and longest living nations in the world. So you'd think people would be happy with the way they look, but no, we're just as obsessed with diets and appearances as people in The States. When I was growing up, most of the models in fashion magazines were Westerners because that was thought to be more beautiful. That trend has changed over the years, but many of the popular models are what we call "Halves," which means they are half breed of Westerner and Japanese. If you have ever seen a Japanese "Manga" or Anime, the characters' eyes are large, and hair color often not black. Cosmetic surgeries to make an extra fold in your upper eye lids are popular and even colored contact lenses are a fad amongst young people. If you watch any info-mercial, it's all products that will make you look thinner and younger.

Japanese people are also often thought to be polite. This is generally true, EXCEPT on two occasions. One is in a crowd (like subways) and two is about people's weight. I didn't really notice this second characteristic until I was married. I would bring my husband-- who is not lean, but pretty average US man sized--and my mother would tell him how he looked (which was often that he gained weight) within the first 5 minutes of seeing him. Even if he had lost weight, she would add a comment like, "good! a little more to go, yes?" I was horrified and had to pull her aside to tell her that he was very self conscious and that it was not OK with me for her to comment on his weight that way. She seemed surprised by that fact but respected my wish. But then, on one trip, my politest, sweetest friend said "did you get a little bigger?" to him which almost caused him to punch her in the mouth even though she was pregnant (the most unfortunate thing in this case was that she speaks flawless English, so I couldn't mask or soften the comment through translation). My husband, who had been so open to everything Japanese, gave me a look at this point as if to say, "what's with your people?" After that, I realized when I describe someone to my mother, she often says, "oh, the chubby one?" and I have to pause to think if we're talking about the same person and often when my parents are talking about friends and relatives, they begin by saying whether this person got fat or thin.

Then I started noticing that fat people are great in Japan, as long as they are funny and on TV. And by "fat", they are about average or would be categorized as "slightly overweight" in The States. And most of their jokes are about being fat, and other comedians would also do endless amount of fat jokes in front of them, which seems so mean by American standard.

And yet, Sumo wrestlers are respected and hold a certain high status in our society. They are not to be made fun of, but admired for their size.

Seriously, what is with my people on this?

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Chopsticks in Hair

I got a Bed Bath & Beyond catalog in the mail and this was what was on the cover:

It is a Cuisinart type contraption that "slices and dices" that is named---Ninja. There are about 11 things wrong with that name alone, but here is what I focused on:

Where do I begin?

1. She is a white lady
2. She is carrying a pair of martial arts weapon (Ninjas carry swords) that have tomatoes on them
3. She is barefoot (a bad idea for Ninjas and chefs)
4. She is wearing--you said it--three chopsticks in her hair

Seriously. It's 2010. Surely you could have at least an Asian male dressed more accurately for this. It's not like you can't get a picture of a ninja on the internet.

image borrowed from:

There, was that so hard?

Monday, November 1, 2010

So This Is Halloween

Last night, I took my 3-1/2 year old daughter trick-or-treating. We have taken her to a local outdoor mall Halloween event in the past two years, but felt that she was old enough to understand and appreciate the door-to-door candy solicitation. So while my husband stayed home to hand out candy, she and I ventured out into the darkness with flashlight in hand.

Halloween does not occur in Japan. Therefore, I have no childhood memory or tradition around this holiday. When I came to the States, I was 15 and attended a boarding school. The school had an event during where each dorm would take turns running to other dorms to obtain as much candy as possible in our pillow cases. We would all stand in the doorways of our rooms and just chuck candy at people who ran past us. They gave us something like 3 minutes to run. In addition, they would have a special dinner in the cafeteria with the costume contest and what have you. It was a good time. By the time I got to college and several years after that, Halloween was just parties with friends in costume. Then by the time I outgrew that, I lived in a house to receive trick-or-treaters, so that is what I did.

As I held my fully costumed daughter's hand and looked around on our street for a good house to visit, it occurred to me that I had actually never done this before. And suddenly I had a slight bit of stress to do it just right for my daughter's first experience. I had to call my husband to make sure that I understood the rules--that houses with jack-o-lantern were the ones to approach, but the ones with front porch lights on with no pumpkins confused me. He advised me that when in doubt, just go with the houses with jack-o-lanterns so that is what we did.

Daughter and I had practiced what she is supposed to say so we went from house to house, knocking on doors or ringing doorbells. My daughter got better at it with each house and seemed very excited in between to find the next house. We ran into several other kids, many in large groups, walking and I felt that I had succeeded in introducing my daughter to this very American tradition that I have come to enjoy so much.

This kicks off the time of year full of things I have learned after age 15 that I love. And while it was odd to run into a "first" in this country after being here for so long I realize those things will come up more as my daughter grows up and experiences parts of life I never did in this country. That is why it is handy to be married to a native.