I am from the generation who grew up with the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” (It was a little bit shocking when we all turned thirty and realized we could no longer trust ourselves! ) But I quickly learned that in Japan, oyako could be friends.
Take Rie, one of my students who was just a year younger than me. She spoke Eigo well and I’d inquire about her weekend. One day she told me she’d been to a hosuto kurabu. I was immediately intrigued. Japan was pretty well known for hostess clubs where women in beautiful or sexy gowns would coyly entertain otoko as they plied them with drinks. They weren’t prostitutes but they weren’t lily clean either in some cases. Hostess clubs could be very expensive. They were the domain of business men who tended to entertain clients there.
But what the heck was a host club? I’d never heard of them, and Rie was happy to fill me in. She said that these clubs were for women and had handsome young men who would dance with them and shower them with attention. Rie then casually dropped the bomb that she had gone to the hosuto kurabu with her mother! Her mother!
Picture me really shocked at age 22. I went nowhere with my mother if I could help it and I couldn’t imagine hanging out with her outside the home and, well, a host club? I was startled by Rie’s casual comments and dug for more. Rie said she liked her mom and they hung out regularly, like friends. Unheard of; her mother was over thirty, after all.
After some time in Japan, I began to see the relationship between parent and young adult child was totally different. Japanese parents respected their young adult children and saw them as complete adults–adults who sometimes knew more than they did. To my own parents, I was a “kid” until the day they died. In fact, they always said that I’d always be their “child.”
Post-war Japan brought so many changes and at a high speed. One of the more difficult ones for older folks was the profusion of “katakana words” or English words for things. New things often had English names and the older generation couldn’t keep up. So it would be the younger generation that would help them with the bombardment of change and new words such as: shanpū, nekutai, makudonarudo, arerugī and hundreds more.
I’m close with my own daughter now like Rie was with her mother. It’s a different relationship from the one I had with my mother. I wonder if it is because of the technology boom that has made her sedai the ones with the—for example—phone knowledge. I do turn to my kids sometimes with questions about my overly-intelligent phone. To me, they are fully adults and have knowledge that I do not have.
So here I am comparing the relationship between generations citing post-war Japan and new-tech America. If this makes any sense at all. Dō omoimasuka?
- oyako – 親子 parent and child. There is also a rice dish called oyako donburi, which is chicken and egg on rice. Get it?
- Eigo – 英語 English language
- hosuto kurabu – ホストクラブ host club
- otoko – 男 man or men
- katakana – カタカナ syllabic alphabet. Compare with hiragana. It is used primarily for borrowed words like the ones below.
- shanpū – シャンプー shampoo
- nekutai – ネクタイ necktie
- makudonarudo – マクドナルド McDonalds (hamburger chain). It’s a mouthful in Japanese! Which is why it gets shortened simply to maku マク these days.
- arerugī – アレルギー allergy. I bet it took you a minute to get that one!
- sedai – 世代 generation. Used to specify a certain age range.
- Dō omoimasuka - どう思いますか？ “What do you think?” A question hardly ever asked in Japan.