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.