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Thursday, May 13, 2004


Lovable children of Edo -- where have you gone?

Being a Tokyoite doesn't have the same glamorous connotations as being a Parisian or New Yorker, but inside Japan, we've managed to rack up some notoriety. A Tokyo local, or Edokko (Child of Edo, as Tokyo was called before the 1868 Meiji Restoration) as many in the older generations still like to identify themselves, is proud of the Edokko katagi (Edo spirit), which is mostly defined by the sappari (urban cleanliness) of mind and manner. That is, Tokyoites are less prone to hold grudges, less extravagant about emotional display, and they'd rather suffer in silence than complain. The phrase "akirame ga ii (quick to resign oneself to fate)" describes a big part of the Edokko personality.

After living for centuries under the mantle of the Tokugawa bureaucracy, then enduring the devastation of World War II, Tokyoites have learned to put their heads down and get on with the work, come what may. This is not to say that we take things lying down. It's just that we've become conditioned to value certain character traits -- none of which include democratic debate to improve a situation. When something goes wrong, we survey the damage, dig in our heels and get back to work.

This is because Tokyo is built on 400 years of male-oriented history. Consider the slogans of the Edo Period: "Kenka to Kaji wa Edo no Hana (Fighting and Fires are the Soul of Edo)," "Edokko wa yoigoshi no kane wa mo tanai (A child of Edo never keeps his daily earnings beyond the night)," etc. Three centuries ago, the populace was predominantly male, consisting mostly of day laborers and construction workers. Only one out of 10 or so men were able to marry, since there were simply not enough women to go around. The streets were full of men -- men hurrying to and fro in the dust kicked up by their own hurrying feet and emanating from innumerable construction sites. They were always on the go, cutting deals, getting drunk, looking for action. It all sounds so familiar.

Hence to this day, Tokyo has very little of that soft, tantalizing elusiveness that permeates the air of Kyoto. This city is used to catering to, and cultivating male tastes and needs. Edo-mae (Tokyolike) foods such as soba, sushi and tempura evolved from the working male's need to order, eat and leave the premises in 10 minutes flat. Tokyo men have always boasted of their capacities for haya-aruki (fast walking), hayameshi (fast eating) and haya-buro (fast bathing). They hate to dawdle over anything. Consequently, their speech is often made up of brief staccato barks and their temperaments have been compared to kaminari (lightning) or watta take (split bamboo). Letting things drag, be it a love affair, an argument or a bowl of udon, is considered a contemptible sign of weakness.

Interestingly, the Tokyo woman is pretty much the same. Edo no Onna (a woman of Edo), or Azuma-onna (eastern woman), as the rest of Japan calls her, is suspicious of emotional display and prefers a cheerful reticence. Kippu ga ii (energetic and good at discarding excess baggage) is her first and foremost trait. Like her male counterparts, the Tokyo lady is uncomplaining and hard working -- as my grandmother used to chastise us: "Onna wa iye no naka de suwaruyoni nattara oshimai (When a woman starts to sit down in the house, that means her days are numbered)."

Tokyo guys, however, point out that the Edo no Onna is too independent, self-sufficient and cool. She doesn't like to waste her time on the games of love, choosing instead to cut her losses and go about her business. "Azuma onna wa iroke ga nai (Eastern women have no sex appeal)" is one of the commonest accusations made. It's also well known that the ultimate romantic dream of a Tokyo male is to date a Kyoto girl -- with their slow, soft speech and ingrained skills of seduction, the Kyo-onna (Kyoto women) are considered polar opposites of the excessively straightforward (and therefore unsexy) Tokyo femmes.

The one personality trait that Tokyo men and women admire in each other,is jyo ni atsuku, namida moroi (kind of heart and sensitive to the sadness of other people). A true Edokko will never turn down a person in need, and though s/he will not shed tears for themselves, they're always ready to open the floodgates at the plight of others. Unfortunately, the genuine Aisubeki Eddoko (Lovable Child of Edo) is getting increasingly hard to find. The myth, however, lives on.

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