Living in Japan
Slow food and sex

Slow food and sex

Added In: Living in Japan › Life in Japan

Jeffrey Townsend

I’ve just been on my annual visit to Tokyo. I still have some friends there and a few clients, which gives me the excuse to make the trip tax-deductible. But the real reason this time was to attend a concert by the actress Nobuko Miyamoto.

If you’ve seen any Juzo Itami movies (he made comedy classics such as Marusa no Onna and Tampopo), you’ll know who Miyamoto is. She appears in all of them and she’s gorgeous. I fell in love with her the first time I saw her on the screen back in the 1980s, and although time passes and nothing remains the same, the occasional glimpse of her on the TV has reassured me that she is aging rather nicely. At the age of 62 she’s still sexy. And her personality is equally attractive – a combination of deep emotion and warm directness, refreshingly free from showbiz sentimentality.

The show is at a theater in Tsukiji, and seeing my idol in the flesh for the first time is not a disappointment. Wearing a slinky red dress (which she changes at the interval for a strapless black one), she sings around twenty jazz numbers and chansons. Vocally less than amazing, she nevertheless moves around the stage with the energy of someone twenty years younger, smiling, always smiling

My date for the evening is Kristine, a 31-year-old Danish computer programmer resident of Tokyo who periodically visits me in Oyama to relax and detox. She may have been the youngest person in the audience. Anyway, I was grateful for her coming. Perhaps I enjoyed her being there even more than the watching show. Afterwards we search out a slow food place in Ginza where we sit and talk until after midnight, mainly about sex. Kristine has this theory that the Japanese are the most sexless nation in the world. She says that food, manga and masturbation have replaced sex, which people tend to think of as vaguely mendokusai (not worth the trouble). In support of her theory she brings up television programs and department store food halls, and later tells me, as if to make the contrast, about her own active sex life and a new boyfriend that she recently made in Mexico. Actually, she is happily married, and has a cute female lover too. But when is she going to have children? I am gently trying to tell her that you can have countless affairs and be trendily bisexual, but nothing equals the experience of raising kids. The love between husband and wife will fade, but, I think, never the love for your children.

On the same trip, I met another friend – a French woman named Danielle, this lady much nearer my own age – who said as much. She’s a mild person, but occasionally comes out with definitive statements, such as   “Marriage never works.” Ha, ha. C’est vrai.

The last person that I saw in Tokyo was a Japanese woman I have known for nearly thirty years and even now occasionally sends me work. We usually go to a Hibiya restaurant for a leisurely lunch and talk about business, our families and other mundane things – never, of course, about sex. We still call each other “san.” Townsend-san and Miura-san. I really like her. Perhaps if she suddenly divorced or was widowed, I would seriously consider proposing. And I have a feeling that, despite what Danielle says, we would be reasonably happy, and perhaps – to prove Kristine wrong too - even a little passionate. But, of course, this is pure imagination.

So the Tokyo visit produces three encounters with three different women (four if one counts my diva Miyamoto). Yes, Tokyo, which I tend to think of as a crazy place full of air-headed young people and insecure middle-aged neurotics, can also be interesting and stimulating. 

Back in Oyama, at the karaoke café, I open a bottle of wine that I purchased in the food hall of the Keio department store while waiting for my bus. And I pass around some cigarillos that I got in one of the hotel shops. Satoshi, a 37-year-old man who works on the roads, is there with a green towel twisted around his head, a cigarette in one hand and glass of beer in the other. He’s one of Oyama’s many bachelors, there being lots of men here who can’t find wives. Mitsuo, who is a couple of years older than me and mends machines at the village agricultural cooperative, is also there. He is one of the café’s early customers. His wife likes him to be back home early.  

The excitement of Tokyo is wearing off, and I’m once again feeling happy to be back in Oyama. This is my reality. In that sense I’m not so different from those village people for whom the only reason that they are here is that there is nowhere else to go. But a surrender to the inevitable has a certain poetry, which I see in the tenderness of their eyes.