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April 28, 2014


A Brief Aside on the Rules of Courtship in a Japanese University




As Donald Rumsfeld was wont to say, it's a long, hard slog to get a Japanese chick into a love hotel.



As I noted last time, I'm abdicating my blog-composing duties for an indefinite period while continuing to slug it out at the Day Job and simultaneously wrapping up my latest memoir about my years on the faculty of NU in Yokohama, where every day was like judging a new episode of Japan's Next Top Model.

I wrote a draft of some 120,000 words for a book that should only be half that length at most. Thus, following the example of Oglala Sioux nation, who never wasted any part of the buffalo carcass, I'm fobbing off snippets and anecdotes that didn't make the final cut of the upcoming book on you here, as blog posts.

To set the stage for today's episode: In my early forties, I painstakingly deluded myself into thinking that I was an accomplished musician, much as I currently consider myself a successful memoirist and blogger despite copious testimonials to the contrary. Throughout those years, I released albums of my original music, which my students were compelled to buy, and occasionally even attempted live concerts, for which the best modifier was always "ill-fated."




I invited Nobuhiko, a marvelous vocalist and all-round musical genius, to my apartment early in 1997 along with his sidekick Michitaka to confirm that he would back me in a live concert I had agreed to do as part of a welcome party for freshmen that April. I had thought he would leap at the chance, but not so.

“It depends,” he said.

“Depends on what?”

“On what happens on Chichijima.”

It developed that he had volunteered to help a botany professor conduct a survey of plant life on a small, quasi-tropical Japanese island. This would take place just after final exams finished in January. Not coincidentally, one Reiko was also scheduled to take part in the survey. Nobuhiko laid out for us his elaborate scheme to lie low for her in the jungle of this remote paradise and then interrupt her fern collecting by springing into her path and spewing his Formal Declaration of Love all over her.

“So I’m sure you understand that I can’t make any decision about the concert until coming back from Chichijima.”

“No,” I confessed. “I can’t.”

Nobuhiko designated Michitaka to explain on his behalf. The topic was simply too delicate for him to address directly.

“If she accepts his Formal Declaration of Love, he is going to be very busy,” the sidekick began.

“And if she rejects it?”

“Perhaps he will be too emotionally damaged to take part in your concert.”

“Okay, wait a minute. Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re in love with Reiko now?”

“Yes.” (This from the man himself.)

It wasn’t a rhetorical question on my part. Despite my catholic tastes in NU women, I had never felt the slightest twitching in my loins when Reiko slouched into a room—though, to be fair, her reaction to my entrances were probably of equal tepidity. While she was everything a language teacher could want in a student, her defining characteristic was studiousness itself. She looked as if she thought about sex about as often as she thought about the middle relief prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system.

“All right,” I went on, “so your plan is to do nothing for weeks on end and then spring this Formal Declaration of Love on her in the jungle.”

“Exactly.”

“You know, when I was your age, my needs dictated a little bit more immediate action.” When I am this age, too, I thought but did not say. The lads had no reaction.

“Just what is this Formal Declaration of Love, anyway? I’ve been hearing about it for years but I’ve never grasped the concept.”

“It’s our custom that a boy must make a very direct statement of love to the girl he likes.”

“Okay. So is it a set formula? Something you have to memorize?” I envisioned something along the lines of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Rudyard Kipling poem “If.”

“Well, no,” said Nobuhiko. “It’s not all that formal.”

“You seem to have thought this out,” I said. “So, what exactly are you planning to go with?”

“I will say, Ja, Reiko: suki yo.”

“That’s it? ‘I like you’? You need several weeks to buck yourself up for that?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I say more than that to three or four NU girls every day.”

“Yes, we know.”

“It’s the possibility of being rejected,” Michitaka explained. “Afterward, everyone would know.”

“Okay, I get that. But let’s just say that Boy A puts in months of planning and finally gives the Formal Declaration of Love to Girl B, and Girl B says, ‘Okay, me too.’”

“Yes? Yes?”

“So, then they immediately run off to a hotel and just start rutting away, right?”

This was greeted by twin expressions of horror.

“Oh, no. No, no, no!”

“No, that’s not how it works.”

“If she says okay, that means they can start doing things together.”

“Like going to movies, having dinner, that sort of thing.”

“The hotel stuff, that comes much later.”

“What?” I shrieked, attaining a note I had not hit since puberty. “You have to go through all this rigmarole just to start dating?

“That’s right.”

“Holy crap! No wonder the birth rate in this country is zeroing out.”

I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that last part out loud.