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Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004

JAPAN LITE

Do you qualify for O-baa-chan Club?


I do believe that I am the youngest member to enter the O-baa-chan Club, an inner circle of old ladies who keep Japan under their thumbs. I'm not exactly sure why or how I gained entry, but apparently the fact that I live in the countryside and have a vegetable garden was enough to convince everyone in my neighborhood that I was an o-baa-chan prodigy.

One day one of the ladies exclaimed, "Amy, you're 40 and still wearing shorts!" This is when I realized, "My God, they're grooming me to be an o-baa-chan!" I must protest.

Shortly after, my neighbor Kazu-chan asked me while I was standing in her "genkan," "Can you reach your left arm over your left shoulder and your right arm around your back, and touch both hands together?" Kazu-chan demonstrated, showing she couldn't do it herself. I tried it. I couldn't do it either. "That means you're old," Kazu-chan informed me with a smile.

There must be some mistake. Although I admit I no longer wear heels very often, I have not yet converted to mushy bowling shoes with nothing but a hole in the top to stick your foot into. I don't even have a cart to push, unless you count my wheelbarrow.

Perhaps the neighborhood, after eight years of wondering where to place the "gaijin" who won't go home, decided I had been on the outside long enough, so stuffed me inside the o-baa-chan circle. But I have not dyed my hair purple. Yet. And my smile is not cute enough to be an o-baa-chan's. Call it denial, but I really don't think I have the qualifications to be an o-baa-chan.

Or do I? I do wake up early. Even before the 6 a.m. chime sometimes. But I can still stay up until 10 p.m., or later if I take a nap during the day.

I do, every now and then, force my posture back to what it used to be, more a result of a decade of living Japanese-style on the floor, rather than age. Back support is a distant memory. I have been known to tumble down the steep staircase with no handrail in my house, but that's just par for the course living Japanese-style.

I don't wear drab colors most o-baa-chans wear that allow you to disappear on a hazy day. Nor do I wear those art exhibits on my shirts. You know the ones I'm talking about, those button-down shirts with panels of art mass-produced on the fabric like a collage. Or maybe the shirts are just so old, the original colors and designs have mutated and separated, like curdled cream. At any rate, I have no worries of being mistaken for a can of paint and ending up on some billboard. Unless they paint billboards plaid flannel, that is.

No, I think I've got a while to go yet before I become an o-baa-chan, even if they make me president of the O-baa-chan Club in my neighborhood. And I can prove it. I can be disqualified on the following technicality.

Yesterday, I was standing in Kazu-chan's genkan when she asked, "Can you still blow?"

"What?"

"Can you still blow? Like blow out a match?"

"Yes, of course I can."

"I can't," said Kazu-chan.

"That means you're old," I said, smiling. Whew!

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