Friday, September 11, 2009

Things I love about Japanese girls

Yes you did read that right. I know the J-ladies catch quite a lot of flack from me and other foreign women here but in the interest of mixing it up a little, I thought I'd dedicate this one to them.

I have found some admirable qualities of the ladies native to this island chain, albeit some of them used to be material for humorous scorn, but after running into an old friend I hadn't seen since being a university student here, I realized that I was both stomping around in heels and carrying my big red leather bag in the crook of my arm just so. Like they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So here it is, my under-construction list of those qualities I have come to know and love.

Bag on chair: Despite the Tokyo metropolis being cleaner than others of its size, practically clean enough to eat off (well, I would), the ladies here don't put their bags on the floor, it just isn't done. Unless the floor I'm on is truly questionable I tend to have no qualms about plonking my bag down on the floor, under my chair, you get the picture. Women here usually put them behind them on the chair, meaning the bag has to be small, they have to be small, they have to adopt a bit of a forward lean, or any combination of the three.

Things in purse: Or Mary Poppins' Syndrome. I really wouldn't blink if I saw someone here pull a big lamp out of her bag, I would just think, "I need to get me one of those bags." It's a fabulous thing, the handbag of a Japanese woman, filled with marvels and wonders like oil-blotting tissue, dainty sweat-mopping handkerchiefs, tissues for hand-wiping, wet wipes, cosmetics bags, cell phones with requisite bling, nail repair kits, large hand mirrors, PET bottles of milk tea, day planners, thin paperbacks, mints, designer cigarette cases, folding umbrellas or parasols in summer...Let me end this by saying that if there is anyone you'd want to be stranded on an island with, it's a Japanese woman.

Umbrellas: Without fail, if it starts raining and you're out with a group of Japanese ladies, the sucker getting wet is going to be you. I used to mock the frantic pumping of umbrellas into the "out" position as soon as the lightest drop of rain was felt, but I am totally down with this native custom now. It certainly cuts down on hair frizz so I don't end up with a Jewfro on wet days and I now employ my time mocking people in Vancouver who wear gortex and *gag* actual raincoats.

Nails: "Too much? Never." This is exactly what I said in answer to the manicurist's question of whether sparkly nails were too much for me to wear at the Kaisha. At the nail salon this question often comes up. I always laugh and reassure whoever is doing my nails that the crazier, the better. Hell, I am competing with some fierce secretaries. Even some of the younger Professional females wear lame (lamay, not lame that is) nails or glittery French tips and I have to wonder at what point that is beaten out of them or whether they suddenly realize that glittery princess nails are not very professional unless perhaps you work at Disney. You've got to love the attention to one's nails that is paid here. From the gyaru who have nails so long and jewel-encrusted it is a wonder they don't walk out of the house naked in the morning after failing to button or zip on clothing, to the women with talons of a less intimidating length and a subtle bling manicure going on, it's all about the nails here. For 12,000 yen you too can join the stone-encrusted masses!

Heels: I've never seen so many broken down heels and crazyleg gaits as I see here in Tokyo. It doesn't seem as apparent to me as it did when I was a university student but I remember marvelling with my girlfriends over the fierce devotion Japanese women have to heels, determined to walk in them even if they were ground down to the metal spikes and caused the wearer to list to the side a la Titanic. For a city where you walk everywhere, there is a ridiculously high number of women wearing heels. I won't deny it though, they make me feel better too.

Cigarettes in cases: Even women with that "nasty" habit turn it into something sparkly and pink. Behold the cigarette case: not the slim metal cases of bygone eras but cases made from lux material or perhaps stamped leather, these cases hold both cigarette box lighter. The ladies of Japan show that there is a stylish route on the road to cancer.

Handkerchiefs: This did come up in the purse heading above but I feel it also deserves it's own heading. Serving as lap protectors during lunch, perspiration rags in the summer heat and eco-friendly hand driers after a trip to the washroom, no woman can call herself Japanese without a handkerchief or two. It's a beautiful thing.

Lunch bags, toilette bags: There is a bag for everything. Despite carrying the world around in their purses, Japanese women also like to have a separate, mini-tote to carry with them at lunch time. When going to the washroom, they often employ yet another small bag containing more female wonders. Trust me on this, I've been observing them in their natural habitat at the Kaisha.

Hairless arms: I believe I may have mentioned this before in one of my many discussions on body hair. Sure I would never get rid of my own arm hair, but it's quite a nice smooth look, although I do have to wonder about "arm stubble" on those pesky in-between shaving days. I suspect the women here feel about smooth and sleek forearms the way we gaijinesses do about our legs.

Uncanny ability to take off shoes gracefully: I'm getting better at it but I suppose with years of practice the women of Japan would be a tough match. You know the story, big dinner party at the local izakaya and you leave your shoes at the door to the private room. Two hours of all-you-can-drink magic later and I honestly don't know how these women can slip into their shoes so gracefully without stepping onto the (dirty) ground first or losing their footing and flailing around for a few seconds before clamping down on a salaryman's shoulder for support.

Ability to sit seiza or at least fake it: Enough said.

Listing "shopping" as a hobby: Japan, home of men who list "sleeping" as a hobby and women who list theirs as "shopping." I may have mentioned in passing my love of fashion and as a result of that a slightly unfortunate shopping habit but I would never admit to shopping being a hobby!! The inevitable "what is your hobby" question from just about everyone you ever meet here is always answered with more snooty-sounding pursuits: late 20th century Russian literature, swilling red wine from the Bourgogne region of France, dressage...not here though. Here women readily admit to consumption being a hobby of theirs. Props for honesty.

No qualms about weird grooming behaviour: "Whatever it takes" seems to be the mantra in this case. Some of the obsessive compulsive grooming habits I see at the gym are truly fascinating. The habits themselves no so much, it is more the perfect willingness of women to do said habits in public. Or on the train. I would be far too self-conscious to do my make-up in public or even do a quick oil-blot on the run. I feel these are things that should generally be done in the privacy of well, you and yourself. That is all fairly tame but what about those contraptions at the drugstore that are supposed to make your nose thinner or exercise your cheek muscles so that your face looks smaller? That is some crazy shit right there and yet women here are ready and willing to consume them. Lastly, have you seen any shows recently about "fat massage"? I can't remember what it is actually called but women go to aesthetic salons here for "slimming" massages where basically their chub is manipulated and pummelled by an aesthetician. And for only around 10,000 yen a pop! I think I might do away with my healthy eating and exercise regime and just go get touched.

Chopstick envy: Like most people not living under a rock, I can use chopsticks. Yay prize for me! I have been noticing recently though, that a few women here are very deft with their chopsticks. I don't know what it is, the angle and poise of the wrist or what, but they make using chopsticks look so damn enticing, it's no wonder western men want to fuck them.

Was that crossing the line?

Bag in arm-crook: I have never seen another population of women with so many arm-crook carriers among them. It was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Tokyo as an exchange student. Why the hell are these women carrying their purses in the crook of their arms with their hands up and held far out in front of them? I often asked myself. Combined with the crazyleg gait and you could spot a Japanese woman kilometres away by her silhouette. It looked like a ridiculous parody of a crazy doe-legged debutante to me. And I now find myself unconsciously adopting a similar carrying technique. What would my 20 year-old self think?!

Gentle readers, it's participation time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on qualities of Japanese women (or men) that you admire, in particular some that are not as painfully shallow as those above.


kathrynoh said...

I think weird grooming at the gym is a grey area. It's kinda public but not. I say this because I've taken to facial hair plucking at the brightly lit "hair dryer land" in my gym. It is amazing though to see women do a full face of makeup in a cafe etc.

I don't get the jewel encrusted nails! I can see why applicator tampons are so popular in Japan!

RMilner said...


I've got the 'bag on chair' and 'handkerchief' habits and I'm an English man.

IMO a lot of Japanese ladies like to wear high heels and they don't have a good gait in them.

I never noticed the arm shaving. My wife does her legs with something called the "Ow Ow" machine, but I never saw her shaving her arms.

Orchid64 said...

I'm not much of a girly girl so none of the girly stuff really impresses me. Mainly, I'm impressed by the pragmatism and seemingly boundless energy many of them have. Also, I think most Japanese women are master budgeters after marriage. The fact that men in Japan are seen as the sentimental, romantic and emotional ones is quite interesting.

The hairless arms are actually really creepy looking to me, especially with the emphasis on whiter than white skin. They look like the undersides of beached whales flashing. :-p

Jen B said...

I like the fact that just when I start to get all grumpy about my interactions here, I will suddenly meet a woman who is extremely funny and with it, thus sweeping away all of the "laughing at everything you say and sometime even CLAPPING" situations I've been in.

But ummm, I do have spangley nails now and um, a lot of high heels, and I even catch myself walking around with my wrist displayed outwards. AND I'm a button bitch, AND I say sumimasen ALL THE TIME. Help.

(BTW, I commented formerly as jenlovestokyo, this is my blogger ID! Voila!)

JPT said...

"Sleeping" as a hobby? YESSSSS! Maybe I should move to Japan.

Ryan said...

These are great observations! Love it.

tokyo moe said...

As for men, I love the fine line between vanity and delinquency. Here in Japan looking good can mean you are very bad. Scary hot!

Colleen said...

I do love that the Japanes women use hankies. I've heard that Japanese restrooms do not have paper towels and that's why they always carry them. I've never been to Japan so I would be interested to find out if that is true.
I like Happy Hanky handkerchiefs for their fun prints and designs.

Kevin said...

I've heard that the reason for not putting your bag directly on the ground is a superstition. A wallet placed on the ground won't hold money in Asia. Now that I think of it, Chanel wallets are supposed to bad too, when compared to LV (really, I've been told this stuff by the locals!).
As for the chopsticks and manly has more to do with the heels. If the gait is proper, of course.

Corinne said...

I agree with most of yours... Although not a fan of the bag in the crook of the arm carrying, I tried it once but felt compelled to walk pigeon-toed, looked like a right spastic, (politically incorrect?) and immediately stopped that nonsense.
I love the mary poppins bag syndrome, and maybe this is only Osaka where everyone are tight arses, but all my J-girl friends seem to have the ability to pull discount tickets from their poppins bags, entitling me to cheap beer.

OK, I've been sitting here thinking about J-guys and what I love and couldn't come up with anything...And I'm married to one...Uh oh. They're cleaner than Australian guys...? They change their underwear regularly...?

Ok, off to marriage counselling for us.

illahee said...

i don't have anything new to add, but i wanted to chime in about the bag holding thing--i remember mocking japanese women who did that during my second year here, and yep! i find myself doing the same thing. eating my words gracefully... LOL

My name is MISA. said...

Such a funny list! So true.
The bag in the crook of the arm and the pidgeon-toed baby-walk-on- purpose is annoying, but keeping wet wipes in your bag is so handy.

I love your blog.


Harvey said...

Great list. I too noticed the high heels and hand bag in the crook thing.

I think I asked a girl about it once, and she said it was more convenient because it left her hands free.. So you know, you could chat on the cell or something with the bag hand.

I didn't buy it.

astrorainfall said...

Love the list. Another trait I admire would be the chirpiness they display even if it kills them on the inside.

Megu said...

The reason I carry my bag there is i don't want to hold it in my hand-and it slides off my shoulder. It's the only choice.

Anonymous said...

omg. have you stopped blogging?! it's a bit lonely without your posts. and this last one was so much fun. please share other surprising topics!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

You are all fabulous with the suggestions and additions!

kathrynoh: Good point on the gym. I guess for myself I would leave some grooming for home because I simply don't want others around when I engage in it!! I have seen women putting pads in their underwear in changing rooms here, which I was shocked to see.

RMilner: I think men and handkerchiefs are charming! I've never heard of the Ow Ow machine but it sounds painful! Maybe a product review is in order...

Orchid64: I too am impressed by the energy. I despise tatemae at times but you've got to give them props for always putting on a genki face no matter the situation. Are men in Japan seen as the sentimental ones? That's interesting, I don't know that I've ever heard that.

JenB: We both need help, I check all of those boxes too! Loving the "laughing at everything you say and sometime even CLAPPING" - it rings so true.

JPT: Yes, apparently it's quite high on the list of "hobbies" here.

tokyo moe: Your comments never cease to impress me. I am going to start using "scary hot". It's so applicable to the boys here with elevated hair!!!

Colleen: It's true, many public washrooms here don't have paper towels - either a dryer or nothing. It is a much nicer option that wiping your hands on your clothes.

Kevin: Thank you for some male perspective! I have never heard that superstition before. I can't believe they distinguish between brand name wallets too! Judging by the number I've seen, LV must have the best wallet karma.

Corinne: This ticket-pulling ability you speak of is awesome! I need to find some friends with said ability. It's a slippery slope from innocently carrying your bag in the crook of your arm to walking pigeon-toed...I am going to be more careful!

illahee: Funny how that works isn't it? I was once such a mocker and now look at me...carrying three bags at once, one in the crook of my arm and never flats on a weekday!

My name is MISA: Thanks for stopping by. Wet wipes are surprisingly handy and to think I once considered them to be for mothers with small children!

Harvey: Ha on the not buying it. What do you think it is then?

jaredinnakano: Thanks :) I've been inexcusable lately! I have so many half-finished posts but this past month has been a little crazy..

Kaeru said...

I personally love how they put on full on makeup and dress up to the nines even if they are just heading to the neighborhood konbini to buy some supplies. As a guy, I sometimes feel they go out of their way to look nice for me! haha. Of course that is not true, but still a pleasure to see!

Martial, literary and fine said...

I must admit, I pull my hat down over my eyes, or tilt my umbrella just so, and walk uchimata. It means I disappear in a crowd. Anonymity is hard to come by, being a green-eyed girljin myself.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

kaeru: I don't appreciate it the same way you do, but I do applaud them for putting in the effort. I have become allergic to casual west coast style and admit I cringe when I'm back home and everyone is running around in sweatpants. At the same time however, I do wonder at the thoughts of someone who can't go outside the house with her "natural" face on.

Martial, literary and fine: Anonymity is hard to come by, which is why I am planning to dye my hair brown this coming weekend.

F-A de Montille said...

It's a bit of a stupid comment, but I'm impressed by the way salarymen can get totally wasted on a nomikai one week day, and still be fresh & working like nothing happen the following day. Maybe hangovers don't hit them as hard as they hit me? It got me thinking: a lot of people, Japanese included, say people here can't handle a lot of alcohol. And it's true a lot turn red after only one glass. So the theory is: they just assimilate alcohol faster, while I, stupid white male as I am, just intoxicated myself to the point of no return without even noticing it, fighting to keep my "big drinker" status. And feel like shit the day after when the locals don't.
Just my two cents...

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

F-A de Montille: Not a stupid comment at all - I've observed the same thing but I wonder if it's just that they are actuallt hungover but have some superhuman ability to carry on the next day as if they don't. Not just with hangovers but other unpleasant situations - I find people here are more likely to simply push through it rather than complain, quit or whatever. Have you tried "ukon no chikara"? Most salarymen swear by it!

F-A de Montille said...

Yeah, I heard about the "power of turmeric", but I don't touch any of those genki drink things as a principle.
我慢の力 could be another explanation to this, for sure...