Guest Contributor, Donna George Storey, Ph.D, is the author of Amorous Woman, a modern reinterpretation of Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Woman. She is also the author of Child of Darkness: Yoko and other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies) and holds a Ph.D. in Japanese Literature from Stanford University. She is currently hard at work on her new novel.
When I set out to write a modern remake of Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Woman--with an American English conversation teacher recast in the starring role--I hoped to create a story with at least some of the cultural insight and social satire of the seventeenth-century original. I had no idea that many of my readers would instead view my work as a primer on Japanese culture. Indeed the most common reaction by far from readers was, “I learned so much about Japan from your book!”
Since I had used quite a bit of autobiographical material from the years I’d lived in Japan in the 1980s, I was gratified that my portrait of the country was convincing. However, I had never intended my “tale of the floating world” to take on such power to educate. In an attempt to figure out why my novel might feel so culturally enlightening, I began to take a closer look at the ways Japan is still presented in the American media in the twenty-first century.
Perhaps because of my book, friends are constantly sending me links to articles about Japan. A surprising majority are about what I call “Japan the Bizarre”: hostess clubs or host clubs, used panty machines, strange disguises women use to avoid the apparently rampant sexual predator, or a recent favorite about a man who prefers a day on the town with a stuffed anime pillow case over a real girlfriend. Books about retro love hotels, pink boxes and erotic manga still sell well on Amazon.com.
Of course, now that Japan is no longer the economic rival it once was, I can understand that the sales of Japan as #1 might have fallen off.
Yet I still find it curious--and disappointing--that popular images Americans have of Japan still center around the perennial photos of Japanese brides in uchikake or weird, fantastic figures well-seasoned with kink.
No doubt Americans continue to be romanticized and sexualized in Japanese culture as they were in whiskey commercials back in my English conversation teacher days. Perhaps it’s a cross-cultural truth that the Other operates as a convenient mirror of our own culture’s repressed sexuality.
This may seem an odd statement for an erotica writer to make, but with the dawn of the second decade of this new century, perhaps it’s time to look beyond the weird side of Japanese culture as a way of proving our own “normality” and focus instead on the countless experiences and values we share as human beings. In fact, I tried to hint at this in my novel by contrasting my heroine’s often misguided fantasies about Japan with Japan’s historical akogare (“yearning”) for the West. It is only by moving beyond fantasy that my character finds a happy ending.
Perhaps the same can be said for the future of Japanese-American relations?
Read the following excerpt from Amorous Woman:
“And so I told him how living in Japan would give him a leisure no mere tourist has, to know the rhythms of the place, a land of tiny poems. In autumn, he’d see the persimmons glowing like huge, orange jewels on their bare branches, then winter’s dusting of snow on blue tile roofs. He’d learn why the old erotic pictures are called “spring prints” — because in that season the air is as soft as a lover’s whisper––and he’d sigh at the perfect coolness of iced barley tea slipping down his throat on a wilting summer afternoon.
As the year passed, he would become part of it. The neighbors would stop staring and start to nod a greeting, and one day the tiny old lady in the gray kimono at the snack stand would wrap up his regular order of red-bean-and-rice balls before a word was spoken, and she’d flash him that first gold-toothed smile, and he’d be happy all day. ‘It’s like someone’s given you a whole other life, I told him, an extra life, to live for a while.’”
For more, pick up your copy of Amorous Woman today.