To tell you the truth, my real dream was to become a housewife with five children and a big dog, and be a translator working from home. Or so I wrote in my high school yearbook. Now I look back on that dream from time to time.
In my senior year at Sophia University, I translated Narayama Bushiko, thinking “how cool it would be if I could specialize in translating traditional Japanese folklore and introduce them to the world!” I still daydream about doing that. “Some day, when I retire.”
My life, as it stands now, including my work at the office, is not my dream. Am I happy? Even at my age, I still do not have a clue. But I guess I should be grateful just for the plain fact that I am free; I am free to feel and to think about so many things in life. Experiences over time have perhaps changed me too, so at what point in my life was I was the “real me”? I don’t have a clue about that either.
My change in life came about, as it does in all too many people, with divorce.
I was 32 or thereabouts. I remember clearly how old my two daughters were though; four and two.
At that time, I had been slowly getting over all the burdens of raising two small children after life in Europe as a stay-at-home mom, and was starting to get my hands on translations of music-related work via old friends acquired from my time at a record company prior to my marriage. Hip-hop music was on the rise and people would ask me to work on artists like Snoop Dog or Dr. Dre, the so called “Gansta Rappers”, whose lyrics were hard to understand for most Japanese ears. I also started going out, being hired as an interpreter for international artists visiting Tokyo. The housewife who lived in her husband’s company-owned compounds, started to wander out into the outside world, to artists’ interviews and photo-shoots. I started remembering what life was like before marriage. I started feeling awkward having to act the part of “so and so’s wife” “so and so’s mom” all the time. What was it that I loved? What was it that I would fight for? Why was it that I had to make excuses for doing work I loved and had always aspired to do my whole life?
One day I played a song by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. “If you don’t know me by now”, while I was cooking. It just broke my heart. I mustered up enough courage to tell my then-husband that I was not happy. He and his mother told me that there was something wrong with my spirits and recommended that I go to a shrine to get a ritual done to purify myself.
The divorce ended up going through the courts. The sessions spanned over a period of six months. I can never forget the comment made by one of the two mediation jurors, the male one. When it came to discussing the child support payments for my two daughters, he pointed out, “your proposal is based on the assumption that the two children should get a university education, but is that really necessary when they are girls?” “Maybe it is difficult to imagine for you as you are a woman, but men need expense money in the workplace. A man needs a suit, and to go out drinking with his colleagues to build relationships and that requires money, you know?” The other juror, a woman, said nothing; just hung her head low, somewhat apologetically. I wish I could sit down with that man again now, and have an in-depth discussion about “necessary expenses”.
The first opportunity to share my story with another came about when I was working in an ‘artist relations’ role; my first real job after my divorce, accompanying the famous jazz pianist McCoy Tyner out in a small town facing the Japan Sea. I had the great pleasure of talking with him for some time in his dressing room back stage. After I spilled out my story, McCoy said, ”I’m a black man so I’ve been told a lot of this ‘n’ that too.” He was a very stylish man, with multiple tuxedos lined up with all the respective dress shoes, and when it came his turn to take the stage set outdoors, his piano just roared out into the night sky and put a spell on the audience. I just was overwhelmed with respect for the piano giant. At the time, my annual salary was just about 2.5million yen and I was taking refuge at my parents’ house with my children. I moved a chair one day and my father yelled at me and told me to put it back in its original place, saying “it’s an infringement on sovereignty!” I swore I would move out at the earliest opportunity.
After a while, I reached out to my previous boss at the advertising agency I had worked at right out of college, and was offered a junior position. Long after I had gotten the job, I realized that maybe the American VP who had interviewed me had misunderstood and thought that I had a background in “promotions”, when what I really meant was that I worked for a “promoter” in music. I was way too old and way too outdated for the role, and you can imagine what a nuisance I was for my colleagues. But here, again, I was so lucky to be blessed with my supervisor who taught me the ropes, the tools of the trade, all the skills forgotten during my marriage years; soon I got a raise. I was so overjoyed, I got on my old, cranky bicycle one Saturday morning and went to a nearby real estate agent. I looked at one 20 year-old apartment and decided to buy it the next day. The monthly loan repayments began and right away cash became tight. I still remember a particular weekend that I had only 700 yen in my purse. I took my 2 girls to the supermarket as I did every weekend, and bought milk first which they loved, and with the rest of the remaining coins, bought eggs and a head of cabbage. I had flour at home, so I made meat-free Okonomiyaki pancakes. (Although we’re not vegetarians!)
Overdue electricity bills and credit card bills were not uncommon, but having a place to ourselves was a happy thing. I bought a small car and went on family trips. The CEO assigned me to an Account Director’s position, although I had not even dreamt that one day I would take such a position, and that evolved to further promotions and changing agencies which enabled me to save up for my daughters’ education. My ex-husband had long ago stopped paying any support money that had been agreed in court; by Japanese law, all too late I learned that there is no enforcement for decisions made in domestic court.
Now I am in a position to talk about brand strategies, campaigns, communications, and my bio reads of experience with an array of international brands. I travel abroad from time to time and have the great pleasure of getting to meet and know people from diverse backgrounds. People at my workplace treat me well and fairly. I have a house, a dog. Wherever I go, I am fearless to be myself. Recently, thanks to various social networking sites, I have gotten to reunite with old friends from my school days as well, who I thought I had lost over the course of those tough years. People say to me “you must have tried really hard” but I try to laugh it off, because everyone at my age has probably been through one trauma or another by now – luckily I have friends that have this kind of mutual understanding so we can have fun together.
Of course there are many downsides to being a single mom. Even still. My dream from my younger years – working at home doing translation – would not have supported me and my two daughters. That is why I am working in an Account Management job, even if it meant my girls might have felt lonely at times. So I truly apologize to the readers of this piece for not telling a dreams-come-true story for you. It is not a picturesque life out of a magazine but, in some ways, I feel fortunate that it is a life that gave me the opportunity to learn that there are many different values and cultures in the world and I am getting to know them first hand. Those experiences probably touched me in many ways and worked like osmosis to have an effect on me, even change me. So who is the real me, and what is my dream? Some things may never change, but some will. In any case, one thing is clear in my mind; a life without having to put on a fake face is so stress-free! And that, dear reader, is living life as the ‘real me’!