Japan is situated on the other side of the globe. So the people there are as if standing up side down. Even their thoughts seem to be upside down. “Yes” sometimes means no, and the word “yesno” is both, just an introductory interjection in a sentence, meaning mere nothing. Changing the face according to the situation is an art in the land of the rising sun, but in our country the infamous chameleonism. Smiling often and a lot is polite there, and here rather intrusive. Adapting to majority at all costs is commendable in Japan, but we consider it at least to be submissive or even characterless.
I used to call then my Japanese husband as a spineless man. It was in a rush of spontaneous resistance and complain to Japanese virtues. It didn’t offend him. I actually flattered him. He launched an attack:
“But you are the backbone itself! How disgusting! ”
Another swear word he sometimes called me was something like:
“You logically thinking person, you individual, you eccentric character, you cosmopolitan, you orator, you purposeful woman if not a self-minded woman!”
In fact, everything my parents and teachers instilled in me at home and in school as a virtue in my childhood and adolescence suddenly deprived me of beauty. They taught me to walk upright and put my feet right, to speak loudly and to articulate intelligibly. I had to shake hands with firm greeting and look into my partner’s eyes. They wanted me to form an opinion and find the courage and strength to defend and promote it.
With this equipment I arrived to Japan. With sincere determination and overflowing energy of my twenty-one years, I broke into the Japanese community. My husband and his relatives, perhaps even future generations, will talk about the invasion. I reorganized my aunt her kitchen, my Japanese father his shed and my husband his life.
In private, he tolerated me, but in public he apologized. You know she does not know what she is doing. Perhaps only my sincerity and naivety protected me from complete damnation. Sometimes I could be for the Japanese an attraction; young emotional stranger with blond hair. It must have been so, because how else to explain the fact that my husband took me on a business trip. Wives are simply not invited to business trips in Japan.
We boarded a bus near the company headquarters in downtown Tokyo. I was not the only woman there, there were also five clerks. They played the role of hostesses. During the trip, people sang and the clerks distributed salty sticks and rice crackers to the people. It was a fun journey. We took a boat ferry across Tokyo Bay and continued to the seashore in Chiba. We stayed in a Japanese ryokan hotel with mat rooms and a large shared bath. Each of us first took bath and changed into a hotel yukata, kimono-shaped pajamas made of blueprint cotton. All the yukatas were the same size, so my one hundred and eighty-three centimeters tall husband’s bare legs protruded from his knees.
All of us, about fifty people in yukatas, met in a large tatami room downstairs, where dinner was set at low tables on mats. The positions in the company didn’t seem to matter much. At least I did not recognize. Perhaps because we were in pajama uniforms, social scruples fell away.
Everyone started pouring sake to the cups of each other. My husband sent me to pour for my neighbors and then I was supposed to serve even sake at more distant tables. I was told to take time and greet the fellow guest when they were the bosses. I didn’t recognize the positions though because in the yukatas they all looked the same, alike ordinary, homely and collegiate. It was hard for my feminine sensitivity to step between the exposed hairy limbs of the officials. They were sitting leg crossed. I felt like a maid or a girl for fun. I was glad to be able to return to my place at the table and start eating. I almost regretted going on that trip.
Then these slightly drunk people started with singing. Not like in our country, all together, a folk song all people know, here- the officials went to the stage one by one, they chose a song on a karaoke tape recorder and it was played for them as a playback. The one on the stage picked up a microphone and sang to the whole hall as if a pro singer. Alcohol did its thing. Amazing enjoyment. Some chose a classic, some a folk song, another a chanson and another pop or rock. Someone could do well and some could not. I enjoyed that.
I didn’t notice it was my turn. Am I supposed to go on stage I asked. I was wearing pajamas and besides I am very bad singer. They put a microphone into my hand, and I was standing upright on the stage, not knowing what to say. Then I sat down on the ramp and suggested that I prefer to say a poem. It occurred to me to perform Vodník from Erben’s Kytice. As a child, I learned it by heart; I was always attracted to this ballad about a waterman and his world , about his young wife and their child. The tragedy that happened was trapped in my mind. It says:
On a poplar tree above the lake
A waterman sitting
And early evening is approaching…
I spoke and forgot about the salarymen below, I forgot about space and time, I was fascinated only by words and their sound.
Then waves rolled from below
they stretched in wide
they stretched in wheels,
they stretched …
and on the poplar by the rocks
the green man applauded.
I knew homesickness. I knew the grief of mother’s pain.-
How sad how mournful
are those water regions…
I kiss you my dear, my baby,
my involuntary son!…
I knew the horror of a cruel act evoked by passion, I knew the pain in decision to stay or to return home. But all this was hidden deep in the subconscious. I didn’t want to explain anything to anybody, I didn’t want to complain, I didn’t want to ask for an arbitrator and a solution. Advise. I was just speaking, verse after verse, fascinated by the sound of words.
Terrible ending. Again and again the story makes me sad. Why did it end like this?
I finished telling the poem. All in the dining hall were silent. Then suddenly, as if the headlights were switched on, I saw fifty motionless faces. Fifty salarymen. Atmosphere to burst. Someone asked, “What was that about?” I calmed down and started to explain the story: The waterman pulled the girl into the pond and held her in an alien world. He didn’t want to let her go home. She was sad. She missed home. She gave birth to a baby. She had a home in the pond, and at the same time it drew her home to the world of people. It was impossible to have both, to connect both. Finally she was allowed to visit her mom. The mother of the child’s mother does not want to let her child go back to the pond. Who loves more? Mother, man, child? Who is first? It’s midnight and there comes the terrible end. The mother stays with her mother, but her own child lies dead in a pool of blood. Aquarius, waterman did it. He is standing behind the door. Alone.
The audience was horrified. They stared at me with condemnation of the Western world. Yet, they also had human understanding for me. Somehow they understood. “Kappa” – a waterman, someone said aloud, and they, the fifty salarymen, all as one man turned to my husband. They knew that on that trip with us was also our first born son. He was sleeping upstairs in the room, just one-year-old.
Kappa is he the father. They sympathized with their colleague, my husband, and did not condemn him in any way. But they wouldn’t want to be in his skin. They decided they will try to help him in his difficult journey of international marriage. The nickname kappa and the collegial support for my then husband remains probably to this day.
Water does not drip from the coat of the Japanese kappa, but in order not to dry out, the Japanese waterman carries water with him in a bowl on his head. There is also a fairy tale about the Japanese waterman how he brought a human virgin to his water kingdom. The Japanese girl also missed her human home and wanted to go and visit her family. Also the Japanese waterman finally allowed her. She went to the village, but it seemed to her that people were looking at her strangely. She looked at herself well and found that she had fish scales on her skin and that in part she looked like a fish or a dragon. She turned and walked back to the pond. In silence and humility. There was no tragedy, but how infinitely sad the Japanese woman must have been. She bowed her head, silent and fully submissive.
We Europeans openly long for another end of our ballad, and the Japanese perhaps do so only in secret. However, they also perceive the sadness of separation with the same emotions we Western people have.
We stand against each other with our feet on the opposite side of the globe and we both long to discover a common world. Can we ever find the third version of the end to the story of the waterman and the raped virgin?