text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
I was writing a few days back that there are few things worshipped in Japan like youth –as an idea and as “application” to people and things. It is often said that the Japanese is a “children’s culture” (kodomo bunka/子ども文化), that is, a society valuing very high the innocence, cheerfulness and carelessness of the children as expressed in its members’ character. And although I’m still struggling to figure out how this fits to the almost palpable reality of integration and conformity, perhaps the combination of the two might help explain the behavior of a part of the population dominating all aspects of the Japanese society: the “obachan” (おばちゃん) or “aunties”, the women aged between 45 and 60, too old to be “young” (one-san/お姉さん) but not old enough to be “grandmothers” (obaa-san/おばあさん).
Obviously this group exists in all societies but I doubt there is one where it is more exposed than in Japan; I suspect this happens because at this age they are freed enough from the traditional (with or without quotation marks) roles imposed by the particular society and the expectations it has from them and they can act the way they really want. Their children are old enough to not need them anymore, if they are working they are senior enough to enjoy respect or they are close to retirement age or they have already retired, the (various) demands of their spouses have been limited to the minimum –in other words, they have paid enough dues of “proper Japanese behavior” to be allowed to enjoy their lives.
What is really interesting is that part of this “enjoyment” seems to be the overthrowing of many of the rules to which they had been conforming for almost half a century: they are noisy (literally and metaphorically), gossipy, often annoyingly nosy, bossy and stubborn and give out an air that the world revolves around them and it must align to their wishes and commands. And even though they remain Japanese enough for all these to be less intense than they would in any other society, they don’t cease to amaze and present a stark contradiction to Japanese society’s painfully high bar for behavior. On the other hand, when you have spent half of your life aiming for this high bar and managing to jump over it in an almost permanent basis, you have probably earned the right to spend the rest of it letting the mischievous child hidden inside you express itself.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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