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Smashing the Patriarchy

Today has been a day of challenges, one emotional and one physical. Both of them involve the Patriarchy.

Challenge One: Lunch
You wouldn't usually assume lunch to be a challenge. I definitely wasn't. I realized that a restaurant with very high reviews on TripAdvisor was just behind my office and before I left for work today (even though it was Saturday I was going to a festival in the neighboring region of Noto--more on that later!) I figured it would be a good place to eat. Nick joined me, and we went to The Cottage, which is run by an Irish man named Tony and his wife, Momo. So far so good. We each order lunch--I ask for potato gratin and Nick gets lasagna--still so far so good.

The emotional challenge begins when it comes out that I'm interning at the newspaper. That's not usually a problem because people usually ask what we're here for. I say that I write articles from a foreigner's perspective about Japanese cultural events upon which Tony asks me what my perspective is. Vague but alright: I say that I could live in Japan short-term but perhaps not long term, citing the struggles of women who want both families and careers. Last summer a female politician was shouted off the stage of the Diet when attempting to appeal for more support for pregnant mothers and that to me is still an area in which Japan desperately needs to improve given their aging problem.

Here's where the ugly challenge begins. Tony explicitly states that he agrees with the heckler and says that women belong in the kitchen because "they're made that way" and because "if women were paid for the hours they worked in the home, they would earn more then men". I was understandably horrified and couldn't really say anything.

The rest of the meal continued in that vein, with Nick and my conversation frequently interrupted with such gems as:
- foreigners without TVs are "freaks" and ignorant
- if English teachers haven't read James Joyce's Ulysses or Grimm's Fairy Tales they are therefore incapable of teaching English and should be put to collecting rubbish in the streets
-Black people only voted for Obama because he was black
- America has no culture
- he refused to participate in Japanese culture, like the public baths, because it's gay and would eventually lead to him meeting sleazy women at bars
- bashed Curio for a bit, namely regarding the phrase "do you need a coffee" because you can only need tea and drinks, not coffee

It just went on and on. Oh, and also I apparently am uninterested in the opinions of others and in fact want them to all suppress their opinions (because I objected to the heckler's method of delivery) and repress any discussion; additionally I have no knowledge of Japanese life and culture because I haven't been there as long as him (except for the fact that I've participated in cultural aspects that he certainly hasn't, public baths being one of them).

So I paid for this meal, for both of us. With money that I have earned, working, as a point of pride. Made me feel better, at least, and suffice to say I will never be returning THERE. After we left the only thing that we could do was laugh--it was so horrible it was legitimately funny. At least the food was pretty good.

Moving on.

Challenge Two: Gion Matsuri
Qualifier: this was an AMAZING event an I had so much fun, so this is patriarchal smashing in the best possible way.

Noto, which is the region of northern Ishikawa (and PII took us there last year!) has a series of festivals unique to the rest of Japan. They all involve "kiriko" (which are different than the kiriko I wrote about some posts back). These kiriko are 10+  meters tall and the largest of which weighs two tons. They're braced on the shoulders of at least 40 half-naked men and are paraded throughout the streets. When it gets dark they're lit up to light the streets for the gods to lead them to the main shrine.

This matsuri was for the city of Nanao, and each neighborhood has their own kiriko and team of men.

Eventually all 11 kiriko are on the same street, being paraded little-by-little, and trying not to crash into the walls or the electric wires. Everyone is yelling in unison, spurred on by drums and flutes and bells. It's a delightful cacophony.

Also all the men carrying these kiriko are drinking so as the evening progresses everyone gets drunker and drunker...and progressively less clothed.

Here's where the patriarchy-smashing comes in. Traditionally, only men get to carry the kiriko. (Though I suspect this rule will be a problem in 10 years or so when all the young men are either too old and there aren't enough to replace them.)

So there I am with one of the neighborhood kiriko, getting to literally shoulder it with everyone else. This was also at 1 in the morning and everyone was half delirious. Everyone's stamina has got to be ridiculous since these kiriko had been carried around since before 4 in the afternoon. This was a really special thing for me to get to take part in--you feel like a foreigner quite often in Japan, but it's hard to feel like an outsider when you're shouldering a two-ton hunk of wood and yelling out in unison with everyone else.


  1. Fascinating contrasts. I am amazed you two stayed for the whole meal. The kiriko and the men carrying them are awesome.

  2. Awesome job with both events Claire. I don't know if I would have been able to stick around long enough at the restaurant though. I applaud you for that.


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