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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Tie Game - Nobody Wins

What's a guy to do?

The woman I am in love with has just challenged me to a game of badminton.

She loves me too, just so everyone is aware, and so the initial thought would be, with all things equal in love, go ahead and beat the heck out of her.

There are multiple birds in the bush here, however.
  1. This is 1993 Japan, and my Japanese girlfriend is 27 years old and since she is unmarried, has brought shame to her parents who cling to such old-fashioned traditions just as most Japanese seem to do - that is, when it is convenient. Not married by 25? you're an old maid. Family earns scorn for your thoughtlessness.
  2. Noboko (the girlfriend) was once engaged to a guy—a Japanese guy—and broke it off… she never talks about it, so I have no idea just how close to the actual wedding date it was. By ending a marriage proposal—and here I am also unsure if it was arranged by the parents or real love—Noboko brought shame to her parents and blah-blah-blah.
  3. I will marry Noboko right now. I love her. This is not a problem for me.
  4. Noboko marrying me, however, despite her love for me, would bring shame to her father, as even the fact she is dating me has done.
  5. When a Japanese woman dates a gaijin (foreigner or really… an 'outsider'), public Japanese perception is that they are having sex. Well, yeah… probably. We were. We just did before she sprung the whole badminton idea on me at 10AM.  But the problem is that Japanese society dictates that premarital sex is a no-no. For the man - not really - but definitely for that slut-of-a-woman (which, of course, brings loads of shame onto the whole family).
  6. To protect gaijin/nihonjin (foreigner/Japanese) internationalization, and even Japanese-on-Japanese full-on contact, the past 30 years has seen the love hotel industry spring up, where consenting couples can rent a hotel room for the night or for a couple of hours, depending on how much eel you eat (later). Enterprising love hotels offer theme rooms such as the Hello Kitty chalet, Star Wars boudoir replete with slavegirl Leia bikini outfit for her to put on... or you, god help you; or basically a themed room containing whatever one's pervy-little heart or other organ desires. I wanted something special, but a decided lack of availability one evening scuttled me, matey. Ashley and I had to settle for a regular round bed that I fell off of three times through the night.
  7. Oh yeah… in my case, my girlfriend's father was a high-level mucky-muck in the province's educational system. Noboko was a new English teacher, and I was a third-year pro (and now recently retired from the JET Programme) assistant English teacher. That's a lot of education… and my relationship… or rather Noboko's involvement with me put her father in a bad light with his co-workers… especially were possible job promotions might be concerned.
  8. Everyone does a good job at their work in Japan, so any blot caused by family members can be taken into account in who gets promoted or more poignantly, who doesn't get promoted. Or so I'm told. In this case… it's probably true.
  9. I was the typical guy growing up in Canada who played whatever sport we felt like playing with my friends. Football, basketball, road hockey, tree climbing - sure! It doesn't mean I was any good - I wasn't at basketball or football… and yet, because when I was asked in Japan what sports I liked, I pretty much ran the gamut of every sport out there not involving water (can't ski or swim - I can cross-country… ski, that is). I've played league soccer and baseball, intramural school basketball, football, ping-pong and even volleyball (though I was also in the chess club back in grade 9). I learned in school how to play lacrosse, already knew how and sorta enjoyed tennis and squash (this one I played very well)… and so… having said stuff like that, the Japanese immediately branded me a 'sportsman'. The Japanese tend to pick one sport and focus on playing it. Play multiple sports - unheard of in Japan. Truth is, I'm not going to embarrass myself doing a sport. Heck, I even did kyudo (Japanese archery), judo (knew it from back in Canada) and kendo (hit me with your rhythm stick), so sportsman I was aptly described as.
  10. I guess I misunderstood… I could have just said soccer… or even baseball.
  11. I've never played badminton before.
  12. I don't want Noboko to be angry if I beat her (I am a sportsman, after all). I'm trying to convince her to screw her father's wishes and to marry me so we can live happily ever after in Toronto (preferred) or here in Japan (still preferred, just not as much - such is my love for the woman!).
  13. I don't want her to laugh at me in case she is waaaay better than me at badminton - proving I'm not man enough to be her husband.
So… what the hell do I do?

To be honest, I'm going to see how good I am and how good she is, and we'll go from there.

If it's obvious that I suck, I'll blame it on the tatami mat burns I have on my knees and elbows from our most recent snog-a-thon. I really do have burns on my legs where the hair has gone 'poof!' in a blaze of flame.

So... to paraphrase the classic Clash song Rock The Casbah: Should I play or should I blow? Or will natural talent win out over ego?

We drive about 20 minutes farther up a mountain, where there is a plateau and grass and a badminton net all set up. It's a public park. These places really do exist in Japan!

We're up pretty high on the mountain, so fresh air might be plenty... plenty thin... I wonder if this is part of her plan? Ace.

She has all the badminton equipment in the back of her car, two rackets and three birdies...so her asking me if I wanted to play badminton was part of her plan all along. Ace.

Plus she's all dressed in white. Ace.

I'm wearing some horrible shorts that might have been in style once in Toronto, but sure look out of place with this beautiful women in her battle gear. Unforced error by me.

So we play... no one has the sun in their face - except me, of course, but I have been wearing sunglasses since I first got contact lenses almost 11 years earlier when I was 17... and had photo-grey lenses that changed with the light before that - so I like the shades... still do in 2015.

We play... and I'm good at badminton... which I think surprises Noboko a bit, because she remarked as much.

"Hmph... you surprise me - you're pretty good. Did you play before?"

"Yes... a little," I lie.

We're pretty even. She moves around the grassy court like a gazelle, and I use quick wrists and a long reach to confound my laziness at having to move my legs.

Unsurprisingly, although I am sweating under the morning sun, she is soon gasping for breath and needs a break. Just like earlier this morning.

She waters up - I have a Coke... and we begin again. Also just like... never mind, I'm sure you get it. She got it.

I can see she is struggling with my lack of athleticism in badminton and continued to confound her with me pretty much standing ion place - only having to take a step here or there.

I let her take the first game.

I whoop her in the second. Man, I'm good.

The third... she's sweating and cursing up a storm in muttered Japanese... so although I keep it close, to go to a tie-breaker, I figure it's time to stop screwing around and to take her down. Just like...

Only I can't. I start moving around, and I start screwing up... and she takes the game... and promptly decides we have had enough and should go and get some lunch at a restaurant a 10-minute drive away. 

I guess I may have been all knackered out from the mornings extra-curricular activities. Definitely no sex before sports! Or maybe have the sex, and forget about the sports! 

I pay because I lost and because I'm the man - and despite me acknowledging the whole equality thing and respecting it, I'm a bit old-fashioned and enjoy paying our way.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do... sure, but I'm not in Rome. I don't know what Japanese guys do, but I'm not Japanese. I just do as Andrew does... what I was raised to do.

Besides... Noboko isn't working and while I'm not either, it is a way to show her that I will look after her.

I have no idea if such subtleties are taken in by her, but she's often not as Japanese as she might think...

At the restaurant, it is obvious I am over-dressed... for something... definitely not dressed well enough to be seen in public... okay, that's my 2015 opinion. 

We have an enjoyable lunch - I love that unagi-don (barbecued eel on rice), to which she makes the typical Japanese comment about how it's supposed to be good for male 'strength' while making the bent elbow flex with fist implying power in virility… you know… a hard-on.

"I've heard that," I retort.

"I don't think you need it," she notes.

"It can't hurt."

"Not you, anyways."

Laugh-laugh... people around us glance at us in wonderment. Women and men alike are trying to figure out why this beautiful woman is with a hairy gaijin like me. Because the stereotypes are sometimes true? Yes, but it's because I know how to treat her... you'll see.

I just love the sexual banter we can toss at each other in a busy restaurant knowing that no one knows enough English to understand we're talking about sex.

She knows it, too, and doesn't even bother to blush as she speaks. Or maybe she's just comfortable around me and that topic.

So… I guess I have to do it…

"Noboko… you do understand why I came back to Japan, right?"

She goes quiet and looks down at her food. "I know."

"You understand that there are many options in my head… including I stay here in Japan and marry you or we get married and one day move to Toronto or wherever…" I begin.

"The key thing for you to understand is, that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I deftly tear a strip of eel with my chopsticks and pop it into my mouth while looking at the top of Noboko's head, still bent in examination of whatever it is she's not really looking at.

Up comes the head - and she's smiling - and crying!

"I know you love me as much as I love you," tears plop down upon her pork kontatsu cutlet… crap I hate it when women cry, whether it's happiness or sadness.   

"I want to spend my life with you, too," she sighs.

"So… what's the real problem?" I ask, not expecting an answer.

"You're not Japanese… you wouldn't understand," she snaps.

Oh, that old frickin' chestnut?

The old, 'you wouldn't understand' bullcrap line. Regardless of the language, language barrier or whatever, people trot that line out as a way to avoid answering questions.

It pisses me off, to be honest. I have an IQ larger than some small countries. I also do my best to play Devil's advocate, and see both sides of a situation.

I know what the problem is… I just want to know if the woman who loves me and the woman I love is capable of breaking away from centuries of ingrown Japanese self-sacrificing idiocy to make us both happy.

I want Noboko to be with me.

Noboko wants to be with me.

Her mother wants Noboko to be with me.

There's just her father… the be-all and end-all of the typical Japanese family, whose only real function is to procreate where necessary, deliver a sizable paycheck on-time and untouched, and scare the crap out anyone who doesn't think he's the man.

If there's one thing that anyone should know about Japan, is that it's completely fugged up with archaic rules and nonsense.A system of heirachy... a system where age commands respect regardless of whether it is earned or not.

I'll tell an old person to f-off if they're being an ass, the same way I will follow someone younger than me who has a better concept of how do so something in particular.  

It's these same Japanese rules and lack of progress into the present that have effectively stymied it as a country on the rise.

Hell, even the Japanese don't want to procreate because - well, what's the point, really?  

Look… I understand… Japan's rules means Japan's rules… but my friend Matthew could marry his true-love. Jeff could as well!

Why can't I?

Why… why… why?!?!?!

Sometimes I wonder if I love Japan… or if I just love Noboko!

No… it's not just Noboko… I loved Japan first… it's why I stuck around long enough to meet Noboko…

"I wouldn't understand?" I sigh. "Really? I wouldn't understand?

"Then make me understand," I say with my voice rising louder and dropping deeper.

"Make me understand," I growl. "And then make yourself understand that by doing what some old man wants—an old man who doesn't understand YOU—you give up everything for yourself.

"You lose. I lose. We lose. Everybody loses," I say with lots of sitting-down gesticulating.

I'm not angry… I'm upset… frustrated… a little ticked off… but I'm not angry. I don't want to storm off and leave her… I don't want her to do the same.

We're in love… that's not at issue.

It's just: what the hell do we do about it?

How can love be so screwed up? Two people are in love… everyone wants them to be in love… except one person… and that is driving a wedge between us. It's not a rival boyfriend. It's her father who's my rival for daddy's little girl.

"I know, I know, I know!" she yells and storms off…

This is Japan… I bow and apologize to the people around me… and then try and figure out which way she went. There was something confused in my facial appearance that had one woman point in the direction of the back of the restaurant… okay… the washroom… good… besides not knowing where I am, I'm pretty sure I'm a long way from home…

This is Japan… so… do I get up and go after her… or do I sit here and eat my eel. I get the feeling I'm not going to need any of its effects later this afternoon.

I'm not Japanese, so I get up and walk towards where that woman had pointed… but am stopped as Noboko comes marching out.

"I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at me. Let's talk about this some more… just not here," she says, and reaches up to kiss me on the lips. She's short, so I bend my head forward to help us out.

She is Japanese. Just not now.

Kissing in public? With a gaijin?

So… which Noboko is this? The one I'm going to marry? Or, the daughter of a man I'm going to murder?

Oh yeah… I thought about hiring someone to do it… not really, though… just idle fantasy… but man… obstacle removed.

I can finally move forward again.

Somewhere eating my unagi... it can't hurt... me, anyways,
Andrew Joseph

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