Dear Naked Man fans,
Our last episode left our hero hanging in suspense. Would he get his girl? Or would he have to settle for a seedy romance with her Korean coworker? I reveal it all to you now.
The winter was long and hard for the Naked Man. Ahem! (Throat clearing noise) If you know what I mean. Of course, to keep from going stir crazy, I did engage in the occasional "photo session" with the hairy handed travel agent, as well as other brief intercultural escapades. But my heart still longed for Ms. Fuji.
Time passed. A glimmer of hope was on the horizon. It turns-out that Valentines Day has made its way to Japan, albeit with a few mutations: Here it is a day only for women to give and men to receive. (Dont worry ladies, youll get yours too. Keep reading). The gift of choice that says everything and nothing is a simple box of chocolate no card necessary. While a mother load of varieties can be found in stores and boutiques in early February, the gift is always the same. No flowers, no love letters, just chocolate. Japanese lovers need no more clarity than this.
I did however. I got my chocolate from Ms. Fuji all right. It was after a night together at one of Okayamas only jazz clubs (her plan -- she knows I dig jazz). The music was ok, but the show finished up promptly at 11pm, much to my disappointment. We left the club and before our usual wave good-bye, she handed me what looked like a roll of "Rollos." I found-out later they were actually imported from Belgium. Then she gave me a little good-bye bow and sped away on her bicycle. I wandered home, vexed as usual.
Some of my closer Japanese friends would later tell me that this was in fact a very important gift! Not only had I gotten chocolate, shed given me imported BELGIAN chocolate -- some of the best! This meant her feelings for me were deep, and that I should return the favor on White Day.
| What is "White Day" you ask? "White Day" occurs on March 14th, exactly one month after Valentines. This is the day when men are supposed to reciprocate by giving a love offering of their own, in the form of -- get this white chocolate! Now lest we begin to believe that the people of this country are totally unimaginative, it turns out that there are some variations on the White Day gift theme: White panties are a common second option. |
While I would have enjoyed seeing Ms Fuji in a little white Fredricks of Hollywood something or other, I dared not go there just yet. Ms. Fuji, despite the Belgian chocolate offering, was not yet mine. I had to give her something back that would seal the deal.
Deciding to play on the "white" theme, I invited her over for dinner. I started the meal with an appetizer of strawberries and various white cheeses. For the main course, I prepared a salmon and chive pasta in white sauce, accompanied with a bottle of Chardonnay. In the background, I played a special compilation of "white" music (The Carpenters, Pat Boone, John Denver). For desert, we had vanilla ice cream and finally, I gave her myself: A White Man.
Without going into detail, let me just say that she accepted all these offerings and was finally mine. I could not wait to see her again. I had finally reached the summit of Ms. Fuji!
Or had I? Ms. Fuji didnt like keeping secrets from her parents. Within a week of the consecration of our love, she confessed to me a strong need to inform them of our romance. Naively I told her to go ahead, if she felt so strongly about it. A few days later, I relayed the whole story to ToShun, my closest friend and confidant in Japan. At the time, we were on a plane to Thailand, where we were going to spend our spring vacation. ToShun, like myself is an English teacher (from Mississippi), working for the Japanese government in Okayama. We met at the Tokyo orientation last July and have been best friends ever since. As you all know, at that time, I was still quite new to this land and culture. ToShun however, was well on his way to becoming a Jedi Knight in the art of understanding Japan especially The Realm of Love.
"Tom I cant believe you let her tell her parents. You just werent even thinkin."
"Whats so bad about her telling her parents?"
"Cause their gonna react one of two ways: Youre either in FOR LIFE or youre out FOR GOOD. There can be no in between. Can you HANDLE that?"
Unconvinced that I was in such an extreme predicament, I explained how her family spent time in Detroit when she was growing up in the 70s and how both parents are open to other cultures. In fact her father, one of the higher-ups at Okayama University and a professor of some renown, mentors a number of foreign graduate students. In other words, she felt that her parents would have no qualms with their only daughter dating a foreigner.
"Oh, so were talkin samurai class here! You aint got a chance! This girls Okayama royalty if her Dads running a university!"
| His words rang true. Ms. Fujis father was well known and respected. So much so that she once confided to me that she wished she could be the daughter of someone less conspicuous. According to ToShun, in some ways the old caste system of Edo Japan was still alive and well. While theoretically not at the top (I believe farmers were given token status at the top, but I might be off on this), the samurai held all of the power and the merchants, all of the money. Not mixing in order to keep power in the right hands (as well as to keep the bloodlines pure), was and still remains crucial to some members of Japanese society. This being the case, going beyond friends with foreigners is still quite taboo. |
He went on to describe the scenario of how I would meet her parents upon my return from Thailand:
"When you get back, youre all gonna have soup."
"Yeah soup. And you need to be prepared. Heres how its gonna work: Youre going to go to her place and after all the introductions, youll have soup. Her family speaks English, so at least you cant make an ass out of yourself with your shitty Japanese no offense. Now if anybody has the diplomatic skills to pull this off, its you, Tom. But still Im bettin that somewhere along the line, youre going to screw up. Thats when youre gonna need code words."
"Yeah code words. You and Ms. Fuji need to have a code word ready for when you eventually say the wrong thing. That way, she can say the code word and you can duck."
"Yeah, before her pops has a chance to take your head off with the katana (samurai sword), he will no doubt have resting under the table."
ToShun and I decided that the code word should be "suihanki." It means "rice cooker" and sounds a lot like "honky" (white guy me). We had a good laugh imagining me unknowingly insulting her ancestors and her protecting my neck yelling, "SUIHANKI" as her dad slashed at me with his sword. This would become a recurring joke during our tour of Thailand.
Two weeks later, I flew home ready to "have soup" with Ms. Fujis parents. Fate had other plans, however. I called her the morning after I arrived. Her mother pleasantly answered the phone, just as she had so many times before, during my "ascension" phase. Back in those days, I was only her daughters "foreign friend." Im guessing she enjoyed the idea of her daughter having foreign acquaintances. It made her feel proud that her daughter was so "international." But now I was more. I had crossed the line and her mother knew it. Upon hearing my voice, she yelled, "You cant talk to my daughter! Never call here again!" Click.
It appeared as though ToShun was right about me being "in" or "out." I slumped down on my couch, realizing that I was the latter. All those months of climbing! Only to be thrown off the summit and into the volcanos fiery crater of death!
The phone rang. It was Ms. Fuji.
It seems that while I had been enjoying myself in Thailand, she had been enduring a personal hell in her own home. Thinking her parents would have no problem with her dating me, she had decided casually to tell them over dinner. Their reaction was not good. Her mother was no longer speaking to her and would remain silent for 6 whole weeks! Her father, despite his seeming openness toward foreigners was also very against the relationship, but "because she was 29" he would allow her to do what she thought was best. Fortunately, she told me she wished to continue, despite her parents.
Ms. Fuji was my girlfriend during those spring and summer months but in name only. As it turned out, I saw less of her than I had when we werent even dating! I had no way of contacting her other than to call her at work, which was frowned upon by her boss (this was about one year before the cell phone explosion in Japan. Now I believe there is one cell phone for every single member of the population kids included!). Many were the times I would be in the bathroom or taking a shower and hear the phone ring. Dripping wet, I would lunge toward the receiver, only to hear her voice saying, "maybe Ill see you some other time" on the machine. When we did see each other, there was a pronounced lack of intimacy out of fear her parents might somehow discover us. She was attempting to make all parties happy by taking some middle approach to our relationship. She was only making things worse for everybody.
Meanwhile, I was still getting calls from the hairy-handed travel agent and other women I had entertained in the past. Not receiving the attention I needed so much from Ms. Fuji, I was sorely tempted to stray from the path of righteousness. By July, I was an emotional wreck with an imaginary girlfriend.
Fortunately summer vacation was on the horizon. I suggested to ToShun that we go to Venezuela for a couple weeks R&R. ToShun, a man who enjoys a full-bodied woman, jumped on the chance to see the country that has produced more Miss Universes than any other in history. He spent our entire first day in Caracas on a park bench, doing nothing but drooling as women walked past. ToShun was in heaven. He looked like a free man just released from five years in prison (Japanese women apparently just dont have enough meat on their bones). On the second day, I actually had to slap some sense into him. He started to laugh uncontrollably when a sea of gorgeous Latinas came pouring out of a subway car, rubbing past him on all sides. "Get a hold of yourself Man!" I had to tell him, before we missed our train.
As far as ToShun was concerned, we had found paradise. As for myself, I was shocked to discover that for the first time in my entire life, I wanted nothing to do with women. I longed to climb deep into the Andes and meditate in solitude on a mountaintop. We did this but only after spending five days on the lusty beaches of Margarita Island. There, ToShun desperately tried to drag me out of my funk. He figured he needed my help to gain access to the local ladies. I told him to use his "special powers" as a foreigner, just as he had done in Japan. But ToShun was a fish out of water. While he may be a Jedi Knight in Japan, he knew all too well that I am the "Obi-wan" of the Americas (for those of you who are unaware, the Naked Man speaks Spanish fluently and spent his early years of adventure in places like Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Spain). Unfortunately for ToShun, I just wasnt in the mood. My heart longed to be with Ms. Fuji. As stated above, we did eventually reach the Venezuelan Andes and it was an invigorating experience. I returned to Japan knowing that if I could conquer the Andes, surely I could handle Ms. Fujis parents.
Back in Japan, things did begin to improve. This was largely due to the fact that Ms. Fujis parents had dropped their guard somewhat while I was gone. They were speaking to their daughter again, although they carefully avoided the subject of me. In late August, her parents left the country on a week vacation. For the first time in over a year I was truly able to have Ms. Fuji all to myself
For that one full week, we hardly left each others sight. This ended of course, once her parents returned, but at least now I knew she was mine and things could only get better. We began to see each other more and more that fall. Ms. Fuji began to take more and more liberties with her parents. She began to lie to them telling them she was going to see a friend and then coming to see me. This made her feel extremely guilty, but there was really no other choice given the circumstances.
Then came the next stage of our relationship. I call it the "Sweater Stage." One night over the phone, Ms. Fuji announced that she was going to make me a sweater. I was rather surprised by this, as I had no idea that she could knit. She told me that, actually, she couldnt and it was going to be her first time. Later that day, I told a close Japanese male friend of mine. He informed me that he too had once received a sweater from a former girlfriend. I then asked several other men, and it turned out almost all had received them from women at various points in their lives! Amazing! Where did this phenomenon come from?! I told ToShun the results of my survey and he wasnt surprised. "Yeah, Keiko (ex-girlfriend) knitted me a sweater once."
I got my sweater just in time for winter. It was a thick, cable knit job with a shawl collar and wooden buttons down the front. Into the pattern, she knitted her name on the right breast and mine on the left. It fit but it was about 2 inches short in the sleeves, so I had an excuse not to wear it. But I have to admit that it was perhaps the best gift Ive ever received from a woman. Yes, life was good. Little did I know that our relationship would be over in a matter of weeks.
Halloween was the last day I would know her as a girlfriend. That afternoon, she came to my apartment to say good-bye. I was on my way to Osaka to pick up a friend from the US. Unbeknownst to the two of us, Ms. Fujis mother had taken to spying recently. She followed Ms. Fuji to my place and staked us out there in her car. Her mother raced back home and, two hours later, confronted Ms. Fuji, announcing that she had been caught red-handed. A fight ensued that did not end until her mother collapsed of a nervous breakdown. In the hospital a few hours later, Ms. Fujis father told her that if she continued to see me, her mother would go completely mad.
Of course, I had no idea any of this was happening. I was too busy celebrating Halloween on the Osaka subway. Every year the local foreign community dresses up in costume, grabs a lot of alcohol and shares it with the commuters on the loop line around the city. ToShun and I were dressed like Beau and Luke of the Dukes of Hazard (but thats another story).
A whole week passed before Ms. Fuji finally got up the nerve to tell me we were finished. We met and walked along the riverbank under a full moon. She got right to the point and I was completely taken by surprise. At first, she told me it was her decision. After pressing further, she cried and revealed everything, including her fathers ultimatum.
I was powerless. She had made up her mind to break up for the sake of her parents. I couldnt believe that if we continued seeing each other, her mother would have to be institutionalized! It all seemed so melodramatic. I felt like I was living some badly written Japanese soap opera!
There was nothing more for me to do but hug her and say good-bye. Ironically, it was the first time shed ever let me show any affection to her in public. After giving me nothing for such a long time (probably because she knew we were hopeless), Ms. Fuji had sacrificed all in the end. Her heart was permanently scarred by the loss. The few times I saw her after that, she looked noticeably thin and pale. Her hair grew longer, covering her beautiful eyes and face. Occasionally, I would talk to her but got the impression that my mere presence caused her pain.
Of course, I wasnt without my scars or I wouldnt be writing this. Both Ms. Fuji and I werent hurt so much by each other as we were by the betrayal of others. I had grown to love the people of this country and to be so completely rejected by them, cut me deeply. Trying to understand why her parents blindly hated me (we never even met!), I sought sympathy and understanding from others namely Japanese people who I felt close to. I thought to myself, "These people know me and will be on my side." But no matter how I told the story, they became uncomfortable. Eventually, I tried the "I have this friend" approach. This got people talking, but I found I didnt like what I heard them say. The overwhelming message seemed to be that Japanese and foreigners just shouldnt mix in matters of love -- "too difficult" and simply "not practical" were the overwhelming reasons along with "tragic" half-Japanese children. But perhaps the greatest crime that Ms. Fuji and I had committed was that we had gone against her parents wishes. Whether they were right or wrong in their thinking was beside the point.
Hearing this caused me to feel alienated by those I had considered friends! Ms. Fuji hadnt hurt me, but her people had. It would take quite a long time for me to get over that. Perhaps I still havent to this day
After parting with Ms. Fuji, I returned home and called ToShun. I told him I was learning what it must be like to be a black man in the U.S. When he asked me to explain, I told him, "Its when everybody wants you to be on the basketball team, but nobody wants you dating their daughter." "Thats pretty damn close," he replied. "Just dont start singing any old Negro Spirituals." I didnt. But I did start listening to those depressing old Country Western songs my grandma likes.
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