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Portraits of Japan

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My name is Yukiko.  I am an office lady.  I enter data into a computer all day.  At the end of the day my eyes hurt. 


I didn't get past high school in my education.  My parents were too poor to send me to university.  They were farmers.  When farming no longer brought in much money, they did other work.  Small odd jobs.

But now they are old.  The government doesn't give them much money.  So my sisters and I have always helped out.  But now my sisters are married with children.  They can no longer send them money.  So it all falls on me.

I do massages in the evening.  It's not sex, just almost.  The clients like me because I am friendly.  I wouldn't say I enjoy it.  But it's kinda fun.  You get used to it.  Anyway, most Japanese men are boring.  OK as friends, but that's all.

The clients pay over 20,000 yen.  The agency takes half, and I get the other half.  Not bad, except I do all the work.  6 days a week, it's a hard day's night.

So I send my parents a slice of the money, and put the rest in the bank.  One day I might buy an apartment.  I'll decorate it as I want.  Then I will be able to really enjoy myself.  Anyway. pretty soon I'll be too old for this massage business.  

I wonder how long my parents will live.  I heard that Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world.   


My name is Hiroko.  My father committed suicide when I was very young.  The pressure must have got to him.  I don't remember him to tell the truth.

So my mother left the island where we were all born and raised.  She went to the mainland to find a job.  My brother and I stayed with our grandparents on the island.  I only now realise how beautiful it was.  We didn't have all the appliances and gadgets that city folk had.

After a while, my brother and I went to live with Mum.  She had a simple job in a local hotel.  But it was enough to make ends meet.

We all became so close.  We knew that we had to stick together in our little band.  We were a microcosm of what was and probably still is Japan.

I was lucky.  I went to university, against the will of my grand mother who thought that a woman's place was still in the home.  She thought that us girls should stand back and let all the opportunities go to the boys.

But I was strong willed (still am, you know!).  I always felt kinda special.  I guess it's because I look like Dad (even though I am feminine, I am pretty tall for a Japanese girl).  I don't remember him.  Just saw the photos.

Then I headed for the big smoke, the capital.  I became a bureaucrat, you know.  The dream of every Japanese.  Dad would be proud.  Or would he?  He might have preferred that I become a housewife.  That's all Japanese men want, you know.

Mum had a stroke a few years ago.  She's OK.  But she's not the same.  She's no longer that widow with successive boyfriends (she never wanted to marry any of them, she had us).

I brought Mum up to Tokyo to look after her.  I never had any children, you know.  In fact, I don't think that I ever grew up. 

So looking after Mum is my mission.  In fact, with her incapacities, I feel like I'm the mother.  Did you take this medicine?  What did your doctor say?  I'll come with you next time if you don't tell me. 

She's only in her mid-60s, you know.  She'll probably go on for decades.  We'll be old together.  My husband's OK, but a bit boring quite frankly.  But I have to stick with him for Mum.

But when I think back, I've been pretty lucky, you know.  University studies, overseas travel and a good job.

And main thing, you know.  I still feel pretty special.  I'm Dad's girl.

All things considered, may be I am grown up.  May be I've always been grown up, after all.


My name is Nanako.  I'm pretty sexy.  Most Japanese girls are not.  I swing my hips and twist my butt when I walk.  I did spend 10 years in California, you know. 

I'm pretty cool too.  I love fashion.  I read all the magazines.  And the highlight of my day is deciding what clothes and accessories to wear.  My mother thinks that I have a funny look on my face.  But she doesn't understand cool.

I love children, especially my nephews.  Wish I had my own.  But I don't have a steady boyfriend.  No-one knows that I'm still a virgin.  Not too many Western virgins aged 35!

Lots of guys ask me out.  I don't why, but they are usually married guys.  I enjoy their company but they all get drunk and then they try to jump me.  I push them away.  Japanese guys are easily discouraged.  They don't have much self confidence.

I guess one day I'll find the right guy.  I don't when.  Lots of Japanese girls are single, especially those who've been overseas.  When you've seen the world, you realise that Japanese guys are pretty dull.  But my parents wouldn't like a gaijin for a son-in-law.

Anyway, life's cool.  I have my friends.  We go out and sing karaoke.  I always buy the latest fashion.  And I just bought an iPhone.   

My job is only a short-term contract.  In three years time I'll have to find a new job.  But that should be easy.  I'm good with IT. 

Anyway, I still live with my parents.  After my 10 years in California, my old bedroom was still there waiting for me.