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Land of the rising moms

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By Zare Ferragi

When I moved to Japan, I started hanging out with women over 50 years old, which was not something I was used to back in Brazil. One after another, I created a random web of interaction with each one of them, motivated by an inner voice I have still been unable to understand. What could be going on between all these older women and me?

I met each of them in a different set of circumstances. Inside trains running in Tokyo, at karate practice, standing in airport check-ins and even inside a post office. But what struck me was the number of them: seven. One for every day of the week. My "Shichinin no Okasan" (Seven Moms).

When I was first here, trying (and failing) to change money in a post office, a lady in her early 60s helped me out. Before I could even say thank you she had seized me by the arm and dragged me to her house. Iwai, as she was called, wanted to present me to her daughter, who had been in Brazil once. Over time, the arranged marriage never worked out and I ended up being friendlier with her than with her daughter. She even gave me a bicycle, which was just one of many presents I would receive from my maternal army.

Shinoda was 72. She started chatting to me on a train platform and before long we were conversing daily on the 9:16 from Komaba Todaimae. She gave me a copy of John Dower’s "Embracing Defeat."

Then, during karate training, I made friends with an energetic woman in her mid-50s named Nogawa. A black belt student, she would help the sensei instructing newcomers in their long journey into the karate world. She suggested I was too thin and gave me a rice cooker.

The one who might seem most like a sugar-granny is Matsumoto, 78, who received a huge inheritance, and is the only one of her family left in Tokyo. I call her “Baba,” similar to “grandma” in English. She always gives me expensive things, such as bottles of Sauterne wine, Godiva chocolates and a Mitsukoshi suit worth more than $1,000. After spending money without restraint for 20 years, she is close to bankrupt now.

Tanaka, in her late 60s, lives in rural Iwate Prefecture. She was my host mom during a home-stay program in the summer of 2006. I can understand about 10% of what she says in her thick Tohoku dialect, but we laugh together all the time. Her husband turns red after his first sip of sake, and purple after the first glass. It is impossible not to note that she has a kind of nervous tick, moving her lips all the time. Lately she has been sick, but we still exchange emails. She gave me a shaving machine.

A mother of three kids who had already left home, Wada is a hyperactive woman with a very high voice who volunteers as a host mom for Vietnamese students. I spent Christmas at her house, with four 18-year-old students from Hanoi, and ended up rolling on her living room carpet with her playing the Nintendo Wii.

Finally, there is Takeda. Married to a dentist and in her late 60s, she organizes different activities connecting Japanese friends with foreign students. I went on a trip to an Izu onsen with 11 of her elderly friends and 11 young students. Her daughter works as a medium at a Shimokitazawa temple, and told me that I have already been to Japan twice in a past life.

I met these ladies by chance and the friendships built up over time. It dispelled any preconceptions I might have had that Japanese people are cold. In Latin America, it’s often very easy to get to know someone at first, but much harder to become real friends. When you get to know people in Japan, it’s not always such an easy process. There are moments of silence, and different movements as you go through times of little meetings. In the end, the investment is worth much more than warm socks and bicycles and suits.

It might be that such ladies in Japan are more approachable than at home. Interacting with a foreign student, conveniently placed into the "ryugakusei" category, might have served as a good pretext for them to express themselves differently as well as to practice some English. Maybe there is also a certain degree of innocence in ladies used to the more herbivorous Japanese male than the carnivorous Latino.

As for me, my seven maternal friends replaced the family in Brazil that I would go to see every week. Here, they provided me with feelings of home. The conversations and time spent over dinners, coffee breaks, department store sweets, drinks and a variety of small parties, these five years in Japan, have provided me with memories of my Japanese moms to treasure for a lifetime.

The author has recently completed his doctorate on Public Security and Police in Japan and Brazil.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

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24 Comments
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Wow. He`s been lucky. Most Japanese obaasan bash me in the street, spit at me, throw me dirty looks and pick on me for such heinous crimes as not putting a towel on my head in the bath, or letting my son touch the hairdryer in the pool changing room.

I was confused until right at the end when it said "The author has recently completed HIS doctorate...." ah! Now it all beocmes clear! A Brazilian hottie, perchance?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Some colleagues of mine and I came up with the "Cross-cultural Cross-gender Theory" to explain what you experienced miamum. Basically, we found that when a NJ male approaches a Japanese female, they get along. When a Japanese female approaches a NJ male, they get along. But when a Japanese female approached another Japanese female (especially an older one) there was almost always trouble. Similarly when a NJ male approached another NJ male, there were issues, too. So, we worked "the system" between us and got a lot more accomplished than if we had ignored the above. Being a NJ in Japan, I have always experienced what the author has. Nothing new here. ;-)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My partner and I sometimes go to small Ryokan in a town out on the coast of Chiba. The older ladies in shops there are some of the most friendly people I have ever met.

In my old neighborhood in Ichikawa-shi the older check out ladies at the grocery store became my health monitors and providers of the warm smiles I really needed after Sobu line hellish commutes.

Now in my new area on the other end of town, there is an older man who works at the Fujiya who I stop in and see now and then. He has a smile that won't quit and I love the few moments we are able to chat.

Tokyo is probably the least friendly, most socially cold place I have ever lived. No wonder so many of the Japanese here live in crowded places but feel isolated and alone. Yet if you get outside the core of the city, the older people in the smaller stations can be warm, friendly and welcoming. I find I love the older people of Japan's smaller stops far more, in general, than Tokyo denizens or the often fluffy and unfriendly youth I meet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Agree with tkoind2.

For Tokyo go outside the 23 wards and the people are way different. Changes even more if you got kids in the local school-system.

Most pensioners here I have found to be very friendly and open-minded, like the OP I also socialise a lot here(MA, Cooking club, etc) and the older ladies are great and always willing to help and or chat.

At the local super had a few of the chinese ladies starting to chat with me but I do prefer to get served by the older ladies and if the place is not crowded we will talk about meals, health of son, etc while they put the groceries into bags at the register for me..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow. This is just the most important piece of journalism in the last 10 years.

What could be going on between all these older women and me?

I think you answered your question yourself:

Interacting with a foreign student, conveniently placed into the “ryugakusei” category, might have served as a good pretext for them to express themselves differently as well as to practice some English.

and

The one who might seem most like a sugar-granny is Matsumoto, 78, who received a huge inheritance, and is the only one of her family left in Tokyo. I call her “Baba,” similar to “grandma” in English. She always gives me expensive things, such as bottles of Sauterne wine, Godiva chocolates and a Mitsukoshi suit worth more than $1,000. After spending money without restraint for 20 years, she is close to bankrupt now.

He sure knows how to milk an old lady dry! "She always gives me" "she is close to bankrupt now", so even though you know she's close to being bankrupt, you still let her buy you stuff?? What a great human being you are.

or

Lately she has been sick, but we still exchange emails. She gave me a shaving machine.

So, not just from the people you helped bankrupt, but you take stuff from sick people too? Well done!

The author has recently completed his doctorate on Public Security and Police in Japan and Brazil.

Well, he certainly knows a lot about that...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So what was the actual point of this article? I thought it would be about making valuable friendships with mother like figures while the guy was homesick for his country or something. But it kinda turned into pimping old and sick women to get stuff? Kinda creepy.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

lol Zare apparently considers himself a 'carnivorous Latino', but the photos of him that come up in Google images suggest to me rather a young lad who titillates the mothering instinct. (Good-looking lad, too).

Apart from Granny Matsumoto, who seems simply unable to handle inherited wealth, the other Mums probably see him superimposed over their own sons (real or imagined) and hope that if/when they go abroad some nice lady will look after them in the same way.

If they're giving you their old second-hand rice cookers, that's fine - but it's not cool to take expensive gifts from old ladies who seem not to know any better.

And when you use a lady's surname, better to give her some kind of honorific prefix or suffix, even in English - Ma Shinoda, Nogawa-sensei, Granny Matsumoto. 'Baba' isn't very polite - you only get away with it because you're a cute Brazilian boy.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In Britain we call people like him a ponce.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I've been having relations with mature Japanese women, too.

They've mostly been in their late 40s.

Similarly to Mr Ferragi, they have provided me with memories to treasure for a lifetime...

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

I've been having relations with mature Japanese women, too. They've mostly been in their late 40s. Similarly to Mr Ferragi, they have provided me with memories to treasure for a lifetime...

Wake up Charisma Man! You're talking in your sleep!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I guess it also helped that this guy appeared as a regular on NHK's Cool Japan show!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wake up Charisma Man! You're talking in your sleep!

You have much to learn, grasshopper.

Seriously, you might want to get to know some attractive, mature Japanese ladies. You'd be amazed...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Old Japanese ladies ROCK! Anyone who questions the wisdom of a woman who has survived 70 or more years of Japanese history really needs to redo elementary school. Ever wonder why women in all cultures across the globe live longer than men? - it is because they were the vessels of knowledge, those with understanding of plants and their medicinal uses and childbirth and child raising and of climatic cycles longer than most lifespans; men who could no longer hunt were but a burden on early societies, but older women were a treasure.

Of course, some can be a pain - and you know who I'm talking about, you daikon-gripping mavens - but the vast majority of older women, not only in Japan but in the world, are some of the most valuable people you will ever meet.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I didn't find anything about this story surprising either. Whenever I visited the in-laws in Tateyama, I was the toast of the town with the my mother-in-laws friends. Carry a bag for them or open a door for them and you are royalty for life.

Taka

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well said, Laguna! :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

but older women were a treasure

Is this true? How about ubasteyama ?!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My Doctorate got me no where. I will talk to the old lady surfers tomorrow down at Kugenuma. There are lots of them and old surfing guys. I love those people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You have much to learn, grasshopper. Seriously, you might want to get to know some attractive, mature Japanese ladies. You'd be amazed...

I already have an attractive, mature Japanese lady. And I am amazed.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yes, I agree, Japanese women getting into their fifties and above are awesome, my (Japanese) wife just turned fifty this year and yet can pass in most cultures/countries for 35. Her intellect continually proves the adage about fine wines and she constantly amazes me with her depth of thought and knowledge. However, if I find out she's handing out toasters or razors to cute young Bazillion guys, we will have words.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Oops GW joke in there somewhere, of course I meant Brazilian, dumb auto spell checker.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's funny, but i could have been exactly like him. I had some mature Japanese ladies friends (and also guys too) before i met my girlfriend. Of course, i never got 1000$ suit from them.

Now, there is a basic difference. It is ok to be friends with them, chat, go for tea, and play Wii, but IT IS NOT OK to accept expensive gifts from them if you know they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Moreover, this guy talks about the gifts he got and not the gifts he gave to them. Being a friend of mature ladies is not bad, providing that you don't become a "danshou". And this guy seems very close of becoming one.

Btw, how ridiculous is it to talk about the gifts you got and the Japanese mature ladies friends that you have over a public article in web? I wonder if these kind (and probably naive) ladies know that they are members of the "Shichinin no okasan" team of this guy...

I guess it also helped that this guy appeared as a regular on NHK's Cool Japan show!

If it's true, it certainly explains a lot...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this guy is certainly a bit of a schmuck aint he!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Is this really a newsworthy item? Picking up women over 50.........?!?!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This story is so dodgy. A young guy, older ladies: of course they are friendly & helpful. And you certainly milked them of their money - took whatever you were given even when they were losing financial stability.

Seriously, if you did not sleep with any of these women I would be very shocked, unless you are gay which would then make more sense why you have so many female friends.

Whatever, this is one weird story.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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