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Thursday, July 21, 2005

BILINGUAL

Beauty: Japanese women's never-ending quest

Elsewhere in the world women are concerned about politics, social issues, family, warfare or simply survival. In Japan, it seems their interests are centered on just one thing: bi (beauty).

Oh, the Japanese female predicament! The pressure exerted on us to be utsukushii (beautiful) and kirei (pretty) 24-7! The drive to develop and maintain female youth and beauty in this country borders on the manic-obsessive -- as a nation, we're probably in need of collective therapy.

According to the media everything in life links directly to the bi factor, from the vocabulary a woman knows and deploys (consider the best seller called "Kirei ni Naru Nihongo -- Japanese That Makes You Beautiful") to the kind of food one consumes (please, no animal fat or heavy starch) to the way one conducts oneself during, um, sex. (Reacting is OK, but overacting distorts the facial muscles.) For the record, I just jeopardized some of my own bi points by writing out such a hashitanai (ribald and shameless) sentence in broad daylight, which shows the lengths I go to for the readers of this paper.

The path to true bi is long and arduous but thankfully it's strewn heavily with breadcrumbs from various bi experts, all full of advice and tips on how to go about attaining this fantastic, ever-elusive goal.

At this point in time, the Japanese woman truly believes physical beauty is the cure-all. Make it one's own and all of life's problems will unsanmusho (vaporize into thin air), destiny will swerve suddenly into the fast and glamorous lane and love will come down like a tsuyu (rainy season) storm in early July.

On the other hand, those without bi have no choice but to plod through life always envious of the kireina hitotachi (pretty people), which leaves permanent trackmarks of disappointment on their face, which in turn takes them further away from bi. "Iyaaaaaaa! (Oh nooooo!)"

Now I'd like to take a moment to reflect upon a painful past -- I grew up in a household with just one small mirror tacked on the bathroom wall. My grandmother held that vanity was the greatest sin that can befall anyone under 75 and time spent in front of the mirror was time shamefully wasted. Consequently, my siblings and I all suffered from Ensemble Disorder, i.e., the inability to combine the right pants or skirt with a suitable top, as there was no full-length mirror on the premises.

To check ourselves out, we would have to bicycle over to the moyori no eki (nearest station) where there was a huge mirror next to the staircase and steal furtive looks at ourselves, pretending nonchalantly that we were waiting for someone.

To people like ourselves this relentless pursuit of bi strikes us as weird, even alien -- as if we've accidentally landed on the wrong planet. Says my brother: "Meku wo shitenai onna wo mitsukerunowa kiyoi seijika wo mitsukerukotoyori muzukashii (It's more difficult to find a woman without makeup than it is to find an honest politician.)" He's probably right -- walk into any public restroom at any large station and you'll find rows of women of all ages, fixing their makeup with a studied dedication worthy of Marie Curie.

And all to what purpose? I asked one of my bi-expert friends, Saeko, what it was all about. Never one to waste precious minutes just talking, Saeko first steamed her face and then massaged it, then applied a mineral facial pack while doing stretch exercises in front of her full-length mirror. Then, after brewing some rose-hip tea that she claimed was ohada ni ii (good for the skin), she finally sat down and began to dispense her wisdom.

"Onna ga kirei ni naritainowa motetaikara. Motenaito ochikomushi, hadamo kusumunoyo. (A woman wants to be beautiful because she wants to be popular. When she's not popular, she gets depressed and her skin clouds over)."

I pointed out to Saeko that she already had a live-in boyfriend. Where was the need for popularity? She said it was all about options. By being pretty and popular all the time, she increased her options for motto okii shiawase (a bigger happiness).

Then, sipping tea and flipping through a makeup magazine while maintaining a yoga position, Saeko concluded: "Sekaijyuga motto bi ni jikan wo kaketara chikyuuwa heiwa ni naruyo (If the people of this world spend more time on beautifying themselves, there will be more peace on this Earth)." So much for indulging in vanity. And for feeling guilty about it.

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