The Condom Lady

We lived just outside of the gate.

How’s that for a title? But I’m not making it up. In the early 1980’s I was living two stops outside of Fuchu City, outside the mon of an NEC kōjō. My husband was working there and we’d found a yasui and spacious apartment so close that he could walk to work.

The apartment building was small—just six apartments. There were two more small buildings like it right next to it. And soon after moving there I fell pregnant. Then my neighbor did. And one more. And a few months later the condom lady came calling to sell her wares.

Imagine her disappointment as she range door bell after door bell only to find a slew of ninpu answering the door. It just wasn’t her day. And the building next to ours had a similar situation. We had our own little baby būmu going on.

Miyako Harumi, a singer who just wanted to be a regular person after all.

I don’t suppose there is any condom lady anymore. We all had a big laugh imagining her surprise when she rang our bells. We had shinbun salesmen come around as well and you could negotiate with them for gifts. At the very least you’d get a towel. At the most, you might get tickets to a baseball game.

If you’re imaging the condom lady and what she may have been like I will tell you that to the best of my memory she was just a futsū no obasan—any woman in her forties that you’d see shopping at the supermarket or riding a mamacharin home. I wonder how she chose her profession and how she felt about being a condom lady. If I had a choice, I think I would have wanted to be a Yakult salesperson. But that’s a whole other story.

  • mon – 門 gate
  • kōjō – 工場 factory
  • yasui – 安い cheap (adjective)
  • ninpu – 妊婦 pregnant woman
  • būmu – ブーム boom
  • shinbun – 新聞 newspaper
  • futsū no obasan – 普通のおばさん “an average woman” This phrase was made popular by Miyako Harumi, a singer who retired because she just wanted a normal or average life.
  • mamachari – ママチャリ the kind of bicycle used by mothers for grocery shopping and transporting kids on either the front, back, or both.

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