I’ve written a lot of love poems. This one is kind of a love poem for Japan or, more specifically, Tokyo. It is seductive and full of secrets . . . like a woman. It is probably a metaphor that would perplex most Japanese ñ a very male-dominated society. The women I spoke to in Japan seemed sadly resigned to, at some point in their lives, becoming part of a man’s life as almost chattel. Some of the young women, who worked at the hotel I stayed at, told me that their mothers and their fathers encouraged them to find a man, rather than pursue an education or a business of their own. The encouraging thing in these conversations was that the women bristled at these thoughts. One young woman, Sayaka, made it clear that her parents were going to have to realize that it was a new Japan; that the cultural revolution, acted out between young and old, had already happened, albeit quietly. The young men did not desire to be salary-men and the young women wanted lives, careers and businesses of their own. It is ironic to view this very old culture and think it has taken this long for young women to liberate themselves from old patriarchal customs and expectations. Of course, many young women in Japan looked to American women as symbolic of the empowerment one can achieve in the new Japan. The image of the passive and quiet Asian woman is a quickly disappearing stereotype.
In Japanese art there is no small amount of erotic content; the woodcuts and paintings of artists like Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi are full of geishas and courtesans. Manga is full of some of the most brutal porn you’ll ever see, replete with rape-fantasy storylines that are degrading and sadly very common. For centuries, women have very often been sex objects in Japanese art. There are young women artists in Japan who are turning these paradigms on their head. Mariko Mori, who seamlessly cobbles together Eastern myths and Western cultural motifs, often makes videos and photographs using herself, more often than not, as a goddess. Work like hers points to a newly realized “Girl Power” that emboldens other young women artists. She is a big deal–a real role model to young Japanese women . . . a woman in control of her own art and her own image . . . a woman who owns herself.
I also found out that the cherry blossom season of spring in Japan is a time when many young men propose marriage. It is a beautiful time of year when the blossoms are in full roar and the parks are full of bright, gauzy whites and pinks, plum wine and music. It is a lovely thing in a lovely city. This one is for Tokyo.