By Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
Daisy came home after a long day at the university. She turned on the television: two men were wrestling. She changed the channel. Men were playing baseball. Another channel: two women wearing aprons, one showing the other how to prepare fish. Another channel: a smiling woman wearing lots of make up in a sexy outfit ice skating. Daisy turned the TV off. She boiled some water and then made instant ramen she had bought at the health food store near the train station. After eating the ramen, she fell asleep on the futon that hadn’t been put away for weeks.
At school the next day Daisy carefully handed her well-prepared resume to the office person, Mr. Suzuki. She was applying for a permanent position (she was currently in the 3rd year of a limited term contract English teaching position). Mr. Suzuki said, “Daisy why don’t you quit now while you can still have babies? You can always go back to teaching eikaiwa”. (She had no courses in English conversation at the university.)
Daisy went to her class. Afterwards, during the lunch hour, was a meeting about the English entrance test. There was one last week, too. When she pointed out last week that the text contained sexist language, Prof. Yamaguchi yelled at her not to be so “PC”. She was the only woman in her department and on the entrance test committee. Prof. Yamaguchi frequently gave her inaccurate information in the hallways between classes. She pretended not to know he was deliberately passing along false information to her. That way she could know the extent of his deceitfulness. She would smile and nod, until she felt the need to return to actual work and made an excuse in order to leave. He often mentioned that he was such good friends with Dale Hunter, an American English teacher at her last university. Hunter had spread rumors throughout that university and in a local academic society that Daisy was “uncooperative” after Daisy had refused to teach his half-baked unfinished textbook and use his multiple choice test that went with it in her English class.
Daisy taught a few more classes after lunch. She had not had time to eat lunch and her head was pounding and her concentration poor, but she had been teaching a long time and was good at it. She pulled off her three classes quite nicely. Everything went well, except for one male student who had acted toward her in a disrespectful way. She noticed that male students in her department with a bad attitude toward female teachers were becoming more noticeable than before.
After classes ended her colleagues often met in the teacher’s lounge and drank coffee. Daisy hated joining in, both because she was the only woman and because she had no wife at home to cook her dinner, do the laundry and clean up. She was living alone now that her husband found a new job in a different prefecture. There was always so much to do, both at the university and at home.
After a long day at school Daisy usually read university emails at home before going to bed. So many of these emails were requests: e.g. the office requesting her to complete a form, a student requesting a letter of recommendation, a colleague asking her to attend a meeting, a local teacher asking for a guest lecture. Daisy often felt exhausted reading the emails.
Daisy took a bullet train home. She was one of few women on the train. Looking around, she felt she didn’t belong on the train.
The next day in a faculty meeting a woman from another department got up to talk about the creation of a sexual harassment committee. Surrounding Daisy were all men (women comprised a tiny fraction of the faculty overall). The men sitting near Daisy were all laughing and joking about harassing women as the female faculty member spoke. One said to another: “Well, we’ll try not to harass women too much, just a little, right? Haha!” Daisy felt herself shrinking into her seat. Her stomach began to hurt and she suddenly felt very hot. She got up to get some air.
Daisy took off her jacket and let the cold air outside envelop her. She went back to her office. With the door locked and nobody else in her office but herself she felt safe for a few minutes. But soon came a knock on the door. Funny, because the faculty meeting hadn’t ended yet. Maybe it was a student.
Daisy opened the door: “Here, this is yours. I got it by mistake” said Robert Brown. It was a request for her to visit another school to supervise a student intern teaching there. “Thanks” Daisy replied and quickly shut the door. Robert Brown made her nervous. At her job interview Brown and Daisy were the only two non-Japanese present in a nine person group and Daisy was of course the only woman present at the interview. Brown said at the interview: “Daisy, I see you have a lot of gender-related stuff on your resume. Do you think your job is to change how Japanese women view themselves?” “No,” Daisy replied. “I am a teacher. My job is to help students learn.” Whenever Daisy would make a gender-related comment at work, Brown would cut her off mid-sentence.
Prof. Inoue advised Daisy not to be too nice, “people will just take advantage of you.”
After that, before Daisy entered a meeting, she would think to herself: “barking dogs,” and “roaring lions.” That was how her male colleagues acted toward each other at meetings. This way of interacting was quite foreign to Daisy, but she tried to do it in order to be left alone.
Daisy had to take a train to the school were the intern was working. The train was so jam-packed it was hard to stand up. Elbows, briefcases, many things pressing into her. Suddenly Daisy felt something wet on the outside of her left hand. She looked up and saw a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes smiling at her in a strange fashion. Oh god what is on my hand? Daisy thought to herself. She had heard about chikan but had never encountered one herself. The train was so packed Daisy could not move and Daisy was in such shock that she could not speak. Her only impulse was to escape. As soon as the train got to the next stop, in desperation Daisy forced herself out of the train, hurriedly pushing pass commuters. When she reached the platform she rushed to find a women’s restroom and washed the ejaculate off her hand. Quickly she returned to the platform and got another train to the school. There was still plenty of time to watch the intern teach his class.
When Daisy arrived at the school she was quickly ushered into a private office. She sank into the sofa and pretended to drink the green tea offered her. Soon an elderly man came in. He was the internship supervisor. After a few minutes of small talk he remarked that foreigners were ruining Japan. “Oh really?” Daisy replied. In what way?” The supervisor said that Brazilians were all thieves and foreigners in general did not know how to sort their trash properly. Daisy replied: “You should see the way people throw out their trash in my building! It’s quite a disaster. But the only foreigner in the building is me and I always follow the rules!” The supervisor looked away and then muttered something about it being time for Daisy to observe the student intern teach.
Daisy got home late again with a gigantic headache. She quickly made some yakisoba and ate it with hiyakko. She made a lot of yakisoba, enough to eat for the next two days, as she doubted she would have any time to cook again for a while.
She got into her futon but could not sleep. This happened a lot recently. She also could tell that she would be getting severe menstrual cramps soon, because she felt gloomier than usual and this gloom was always how it all started. She did not tell anybody at work about the cramps, because nearly all her colleagues were men and she did not feel she could. Once a colleague saw her at work bent over in pain, and asked if she was OK; she told him she had back pain because she did not feel she could answer honestly. The faking and hiding bothered her a lot however.
Daisy called her friend April but got April’s answering machine.
She missed her colleague Hiroko Kikuchi, who had only lasted two years. Kikuchi sensei got tired of being mistreated by colleagues who gave her much more work to do than they did themselves. All of the few women at the university looked like they would soon die from overwork.
She called the suicide hotline.
“Hello,” said the voice. “Hi,” said Daisy. From the voice she pictured somebody young with blonde hair and blue eyes. Like the chikan on the train. Daisy felt weak. “How can I help you?” said the voice.
“I was violently attacked in the United States by a stranger when I was abroad with students last year. I haven’t been sleeping well since” said Daisy. “And things aren’t going well at work.”
“Oh, that’s too bad” said the voice. “Do you feel like talking about it?”
Daisy hesitated. “No, maybe not. Thanks for your help. It’s really helped me to talk to you” she said, not knowing what else to say. She hung up the telephone quickly.
Daisy got back into her futon. She imagined herself sinking, sinking, sinking into the floor until she began to slowly disappear, bit by bit, into the tatami.
Chikan: male perverts who grope / sexually assault women, often on crowded trains
Eikaiwa: literally English Conversation but in this case carrying less positive connotations as native speaking foreigners without degrees outside of universities also teach such courses
Hiyakko: cold tofu served as is but with soy sauce on top
Sensei: attached to the surnames of teachers, meaning teacher
Tatami: straw mat flooring commonly used in Japanese style rooms
Yakisoba: a simple dish made by quickly frying together in a frypan vegetables and noodles