Our web magazine includes articles that touch upon a wide range of ideas and offer a different perspective on the festival program. （This article has been shared from the print magazine of Kyoto Experiment 2021 Spring.）
There are many genres of identity.
This is going back a long time, but I once pretended with a persistent newspaper salesperson to be the kind of wife who couldn’t decide anything without first asking her husband by saying, “I have to ask the head of the household.”
People trying to sell or solicit something will fire off words like “husband” (goshujin, which in Japanese conveys more strongly the sense of “master” or “lord”) and “wife” without regard for your preference.
“Am I speaking to the wife of Mr. Uchida?”
If someone phones and asks me that, I recently reply, “No,” and then hang up.
If I don’t, then I, with my young-sounding voice, may well get asked, “Is this the young lady of the house?”
“No,” I answer, to which comes: “Are you the maid?”
“Well, if you’re not the wife and you’re not the daughter, then who are you?” asked one persistent woman, to which I gave the brutally honest response: “I’m not married.”
“Ooh,” she said with contempt, and then hung up on me.
Ever since, I have hung up on people who call me “wife.” I wish I had started doing this sooner. In any case, it’s not the kind of thing that someone calling to solicit should ask about.
Do married women even like being called a wife so much? I would hate it when someone called me “mother” while out shopping with one of my children (often overseas somewhere where Japanese is understood). I am not your mother, I would think; to you, am I not the “customer”?
Of course, just because I have children, it doesn’t mean I have dated men who called me “mom.” I see many people who have that habit, but I find it really weird.
My youngest son graduated high school this spring and so I no longer needed to go to the parents’ association. It was a wonderful feeling of release. At a meeting, one child’s mother would say, “The older brother caught a cold.” I wouldn’t know if this meant her actual older brother or whether she was using the phrase like a child might to refer to the boy with that position in their household. I no longer had to think about this kind of thing.
My apologies, the theme was gender and aging, right? I have stopped menstruating and am now in my sixties. I broke up with my final boyfriend in my mid-fifties and, just when I thought that I had had it with romance, I started treatment for cancer and so had to give up lovers and alcohol. “Leaving alcohol aside for a moment, do you really want to give up love?” some people advised or asked. Many seem to regard romance like the radiance of life, so they were worried that choosing not to have romance meant I no longer had vim and vigor.
The people who said, “You should be in love for your whole life! I’m always in love” tended to be married, but I couldn’t understand this. Does such a person say that even in front of their spouse? Many years ago, someone who was going to get married once lamented to me, “I wish I had had more fun!” I still don’t get that. What is “fun” that you can’t have after getting married? Or is this person calling romance “fun”? If I consciously try to apply this word to my life, then I have indeed had plenty of romance.
That said, I write romantic scenes in my work and sing love songs. It feels like taking out my past savings and I sometimes have to use my imagination. I don’t dislike hearing about other people’s love lives and it means I know about more stuff. It’s like how though I don’t drink, I can still have fun with friends who do by having something nonalcoholic.
On the other hand, there are surely people who like writing stories about romance even though they have no experience of it. I may have said I stopped menstruating, but it doesn’t mean I suddenly became old, nor did I become a man.
At my age, I do think about which clothes to wear so I won’t stand out like a store thumb, but I don’t know how to react when people tell me: “Have you really given up on romance? But you’re an attractive woman!” I know they’re complimenting me, so I don’t get angry, but it leaves me with a bad feeling in my mouth. I appear feminine merely because that’s the way I dress; it’s nothing to do with romance.
What does give me trouble is that lots of people in Japan talk about “romance” without mentioning sex, only including it when it’s convenient to do so. I’m the kind of person who likes to include it, but things are hopeless if it’s only me.
Well, let’s now move the discussion to what I think when I look at young people. I asked my writing composition students the other day to write about identity.
So what I got was (especially from the female students) how—and maybe this is just particular to Japan—they are bothered by the images arbitrarily imposed upon them by judgments based on appearances, just as things were for me in the past (and still are in the present).
Why do Japanese people not ask the other person who they are or how they want to interact, but instead make their own guess and go ahead even if it’s wrong. It can make things really difficult.
On the other hand, there is a culture where people put on makeup and dress according to certain trends to make them popular with random others. This is also something I don’t get. If you work as a hostess or something of that sort, you need to do this, but for anyone else, surely it would just be a massive pain to be liked by random others. How about being liked just by the person you want to be liked by?
For a time, I used to wear kimonos a lot. Even now, I sometimes wear one. If I do, it seems I give people the impression that I have dressed “properly.” I once read an interview that claimed that women who wear kimonos are not popular with men, but I don’t think it’s true. Old guys with far too high levels of male hormones will call out to me in overly familiar tones. They seem to make the mistake that I must be a really nice lady. It’s super annoying.
In addition to being a manga artist and writer, I also work as an actor, singer, and film director. The late Michio Akiyama, who gave me my pen name, was the kind of person who would do anything, so I tended to accept any job that I thought I could do, and ended up like this. As I write, I have just finished the manuscript for a manga, but before that I was acting on a film shoot.
When I’m acting, I forget that I write manga. I remember when, in the dressing room, other performers tell me, “You do so many things, don’t you!” In concerts years ago, I would give it everything I had because I was singing, but I hated doing the MC parts. And yet, people would write on the audience questionnaire only their impressions of the MC. I would then worry that I was no good at singing. Now I don’t worry about that kind of thing. And MCing is no longer so hard. In short, I’ve become good at “switching identity.” In more recent parlance, we might call this mimicry. It’s like, for example, putting on the proper appearance of a neighbor granny for when going shopping, or of a former cancer patient when going to the hospital.
I only care about my face and don’t bother with clothing. I don’t have a clue what constitutes the look of a university teacher, so I don’t do anything for that.
When one of my favorite directors, Yumi Suzuki, talks during rehearsals about things unrelated to directing (though they are actually related deep down), she says, “This is by the by, but . . .” to apologize for taking up the actors’ time. What a wonderful thing that is.
As such, I also teach my university classes (remotely) while taking care not to talk about unrelated topics as much as possible. The students are taking the class to study writing composition, so they all have their own styles. My job is to give advice about how they can express themselves better.
Writing this, I’ve remembered a former partner who really hated my university teaching job.
Over the course of falling in love and getting married, a partner will invariably tell me about my job: “I want you to do this but not do that.” Even if he wouldn’t say it so clearly, he would nonchalantly get in the way or get in a bad mood whenever I was doing work that he didn’t want me to do. It was also the same if I was living by my own earnings. I never got an explanation from him for why he disliked it, so when I realized that it was the job, I would just have to imagine all kinds of reasons.
As a result, I think it was often a case of “Well, I want to do that.” He had wanted to teach at a university. But instead of having a thing for teaching, he liked giving speeches. He thought being a university teacher meant endlessly and proudly talking in front of lots of students. (There are sometimes people, especially men, who have this same misconception.)
No longer bothering with romance, I am free to do my work unimpeded by this kind of envy or domination from a partner that made me mad more than anything, so things are now super easy. And if it’s someone with an open mind and who seems like fun, I’d be happy to fall in love again. Being able to determine the work you want to do without hindrance—this is yet another aspect of identity.
Photo by 鈴木親
Born in Nagasaki City in 1959, Shungicu Uchida made her debut as a manga artist in 1984 after working as a nightclub singer. Alongside manga, she is also a scriptwriter, actor, and singer, and published her first novel, Fatherfucker, in 1993. A three-time divorcée, she has four children and three cats. She also teaches part-time at Taisho University.
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