Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Take a break. Eat a cookie.

Ah, it’s been a while since I wrote a totally immature post about breasts. In the midst of all of my angst, why not write about something light for a moment, then go back to all the hating. Ideas surrounding breasts are different here, and sometimes they make me feel like a bit of a prude. It’s not unusual to see an exposed nipple in magazines or on movie covers in the video store. The context is almost always nonsexual, but I’m always a little surprised when I see it. In America, finding an illustrated home breast examination pamphlet would delight any ten-year-old. I knew this lax breast censorship was true for most of Europe, but I didn’t expect it in Japan, a country that’s animated pornography industry is booming because real human pornography legally requires a mosaic over pubic hair. But enough about pornography, let’s make an uneasy transition to my work with small children.

I used to work mostly with little kids, often in their homes. That means that I often spent time drinking tea and chatting with their mothers who usually had other young children toddling about. Not long after experiencing the grabby-hands pre-school for the first time, I was having tea with a mother of some of my students. We were sitting on the floor, and her two-year-old daughter was being particularly fussy. The little girl threw herself on her mother’s lap and began grabbing at her shirt, whimpering, “[Breast! Breast!]” At the time, I nearly choked on my tea. The mother just laughed and repeated to the girl, “[Yes, breast, breast.]” She turned her attention to me and said, “[Do you know what breast means?]” I informed her that I did. As I write this now, it seems so obvious what was happening, and anyone who has raised children will probably think I’m an idiot. Her daughter still nurses. Since then I’ve seen her nursing. She’s pretty old, so that’s probably why I didn’t immediately assume that. No evidence yet on whether kids breastfeed longer in general in Japan, but that would explain a lot.

I feel the need to confess my translation methods. They may be a little misleading. I have been, and will continue to translate the same word in different ways. The word is “oppai”. It means breast/s. Unlike English, Japanese doesn’t have a lot of different words for mammaries. There are a few, but by far the most common one is oppai. It’s used by doctors and perverted little kids alike. It’s probably even used by lovers. It dominates all the other words referring to fun bags. One thing about English is that it has endless words to describe teeters, trouser snakes, quims, and making the beast with two backs. I thought about using a different English word for tittays with each invocation in this entry, but it didn’t pan out since each word has a different connotation, many of them crass, and many referring to a specific variety of blouse bunny. People call them euphemisms, but how is calling breasts “rib balloons” covering for an unpleasant reality?

Back when I was a starry-eyed idealist who thought teacher’s lady lumps should be off-limits, I was mortified by being groped by pre-schoolers. I thought it must have been because I have freakishly huge cans by Japanese standards, and they just couldn’t help but cop a feel on the elephants in the room. In time the boob-grabbing died down a bit. One day we had a guest teacher, one of Sayaka’s friends filling in for the third teacher. She was a normal Japanese girl with a normal Japanese physique. It wasn’t long before of a flock of kids was chasing her around the room gleefully jumping up and grabbing her boobs. She crossed her arms over her chest and tried to avoid them, but she mostly just laughed, like “Oh you pesky kids”. So apparently checking out the teacher’s rack is just part of their getting to know you process. While it isn’t exactly sanctioned, it’s viewed more as mischief or a mild annoyance than with the severity of the American school system (*gasp* That is a very private place and you need to keep your hands to yourself! Do you need to sit in timeout?).

I was a longtime veteran to perverted little kids when Akari and Kristina came to class. Akari was a Japanese college student who was working for us part-time in the summer, and Kristina was her American exchange student who had only been in Saga for about a month. Before class, I deadpanned to them, “Just so you know, the kids will probably grab your boobs. That’s what they do to new people.” Akari laughed, with an “Oh, great,” kind of attitude, but Kristina was aghast and turned bright red. I had forgotten that there was a time that I too was so shocked by the notion of being violated by four-year-olds. Kristina had time to prepare mentally, so when the groping came she handled it pretty well. I remember I had initially been so embarrassed about getting groped in front of my boss, but a few months later, while we were standing outside her condo having a serious conversation, her six-year-old daughter jumped up and grabbed Yoshiko’s breasts, exclaiming, “[Boobies!]” Yoshiko gave her a stern look and continued the conversation.

So that’s kids. But more than once I’ve been asked by adults why all foreign women have large breasts. I’m more likely to entertain an answer about the variety of body types in different parts of the world if it’s a woman asking. Before coming here, I was warned that kids might ask you your size, meaning your bra size. The first person to ask me this was someone who should know better. He was an English teacher, and had spent time in Australia. He was also very drunk.

“What size? A, B, C?”

My response was something drunk and flippant. Whenever the question has come up since then, I’ve just said that I don’t know because the Japanese sizing system is different. This kind of casualness suggests that breasts are viewed as being more medical than sexual, but then how would you explain all the hentai art of women with ridiculously huge boobs straining through a shred of fabric? Of course Japanese people always apply different rules when dealing with foreigners that may tend towards the skeezy/molesty, but maybe Americans are just prudes. We don’t get naked with our co-workers either, and little boy penis is too hot for TV. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of my classes interrupted by an old lady suddenly popping her head through the sliding door and calling “[Breast!]” (She was telling the mother that her baby needed to nurse.) But I think if that happened now, I wouldn’t choke on my tea or anything.


Blogger Claytonian said...

dirty pillows is my fav euphemism, but I have to say it like Carrie's mother. You're probably too young to get that...

9:10 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Awesome post, I love your writing! This is also very entertaining! Love ya sis!

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. You could do a whole book on BOOBIES of the world. You'd get a LOT of attention. Plus you could travel over the world, researching how people react to your breasts.

I love your writing, too!
Your Mom

P.S. Are you and Colin going to Indonesia or somewhere?? When will you be here??? Want to see Texas? They have a movement to suceed from the US. Not a bad idea. Love ya! Mom

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as it may blow, Japan seems to be the best thing to happen to your writing in a long time. At least the creative nonfiction.

It's not often I laugh out loud at anything, but your post evoked two loud 'ha's from me. It was superb.

You are a writer and this just shows it.


9:05 AM  

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