Today at the English cafe I spoke with a new customer “Toyoko,” a radiant and beautifully attired woman in her sixties. I really enjoyed chatting with her, but I was a bit surprised that she was so forthright and talkative, because Japanese people are usually very reticent until they get to know you better. When she told me something of her life, I started to understand. She said that until last year, she had been totally under the thumb of her (now deceased) mother-in-law, and was finally starting to spread her wings and enjoy her life as a free woman. She had married into a wealthy family, and MIL , being the family matriarch and head of the family business, was extremely strict and kept an iron grip over all of her children and their respective spouses. She was the kind of woman who would drop in on her daughters-in-law unexpectedly and go through their homes with a fine-tooth comb, even checking inside their closets, and sternly criticising their housekeeping skills. Oh, nobody was good enough for her sons! She was a dragon. Toyoko hated her.
For much of her marriage Toyoko was desperately unhappy, but as she had married against her parents’ wishes (they’d had another young man lined up for her, and were terribly embarrassed when she rejected him) she had no choice but to grin and bear it. In the meanwhile, she worked alongside her husband, ran a household, and raised three children almost singlehandedly, all of whom went on to become very successful in their chosen professions. Along the way she also experienced various other hardships, such as a bout with breast cancer and the destruction of the family business in the earthquake. None of it defeated her.
Now Toyoko is footloose and fancy free, and she doesn’t care who knows it! She’s greatly looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild this Spring. She’s also taking ballroom dancing and English lessons, and is planning to go on a dance cruise with her husband later this year.
I’m fascinated with women like her. I think that they made Japan what it is today. I really liked chatting with her, and hope she visits us again next week.