Tuesday, March 06, 2007
During my recent turn in the Public Affairs Section (PAS), I was able to spend extended amounts of time with their senior FSN. It's a very different dynamic compared to working with the FSNs in the NIV section; most PAS events happen outside of the consulate, often after official working hours. There's a lot of travel and downtime. It makes things more casual and relaxed.
The senior PAS FSN has been at the consulate for over 30 years, an older japanese man who loves America and is already planning his retirement in Hawaii. He's frank and amusing. Listening to his stories (ranging from working as a waiter in a Tokyo cabaret to becoming a 'houseboy' for a wealthy family in Beverly Hills), it reminded me somehow of being in my japanese parents' sushi bar, chatting over green tea and げそ塩焼き with 60 year old Japanese men who called me お嬢さん ojousan 'little miss'. "Why did you want to go to America?" I asked him. "Well, if I were to speak truthfully..." he paused for dramatic effect, a particular skill of avuncular japanese males. "I went to America because I wanted to date beautiful american women." He leveled a gaze at me that made me raise an eyebrow in bemusement. Apparently, he'd grown up next door to a movie theater -- in his mind, Rita Hayworth was the american everywoman. He expounded upon his extensive success on the California dating front; reportedly, he had a thing for blondes. Leaning back and folding his arms, he recommended I find a nice japanese boyfriend. Everything was lightly stated, humorous, but there's always a mildly insidious underlying tone to these discussions. The implication is that the speaker knows what we western girls are really like after hours...
Later, the POL officer commented on the 'strange turn' the conversation had taken. He seemed almost apologetic. I was puzzled. "But that's every conversation I've ever had with a Japanese guy that age!" I told him. It had never ever occurred to me that semi-lascivious topics wouldn't arise in my absence; I just assumed that all Japanese men over 50 were スケベ sukebe -- that is to say, slightly lecherous. Apparently, this only comes out around younger western women.
Thinking this over later, the connection between the FSN's movie watching and his perceptions of western women struck me as more than just an amusing anecdote. Of course movies would be the main forum for learning about american women for those outside of the US: there aren't extensive writings on american women leaders, especially not ones translated into Japanese; there aren't particularly famous american women athletes; maybe some Japanese would have heard of Condoleezza Rice, a few more of Hillary Clinton... but many more would know of Scarlett Johansson or Angelina Jolie. I'm not saying I look anything like a movie actress*, but it makes sense that I'd be lumped into the same group. In the absence of personal experience, that's the only paradigm japanese men have to work with when dealing with western women: sexually objectified, scopophilia-encouraging flat images on a screen. It's a bit disturbing to think about, really.
So, there you go... all that sexually-charged imagery really does have an effect. Makes me want to write another grad school thesis.
*Though this is less true here, since Japanese have some trouble making fine-grained distinctions between different western facial features and phenotypes...
Posted by Katie at 1:49 PM