It’s Kind of Strange, Isn’t it

Written by: nonoka
Translation: erebea

My data entry job is one that just about anyone who knows how to use a computer can do. I had to learn how to use Word and Excel to start, but didn’t go as far as getting certified in them.

I’m paid 950 yen an hour and work at an office in the city. Since I live with my family, working eight hours a day, five days a week gets me more than enough to get by.

I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to keep living like this after my parents die, but then again, I’m the one most likely to inherit the house since my brother’s already moved out, so I’m not too worried about the future as far as that’s concerned. I figure if I keep saving at my own pace…well, I probably won’t run into money problems any time soon.

It’s actually when I think about marriage that I start to feel a bit depressed. I want to get myself hitched before I’m twenty five, but have yet to meet a guy who I’d want to live with for the rest of my life or have kids with.

It always surprises me seeing how quickly my high school friends—even the one who used to be in the gyaru scene—get married and have kids. And when I look at their husbands next to them, it’s always some suntanned, muscular, macho looking guy. Ah, it’s funny how I can see how that happened. My friends only wanted to start having babies after falling in love with these guys’ bodies. I don’t know if you could call it a sort of animal instinct or something else, but girls who feel it the strongest are also the quickest to tie the knot…or at least that’s how I see it.

That tough guy, blue-collar type is a bit too manly for me though…they make me feel uncomfortable. You might think I’d prefer more graceful guys instead, but I don’t really know what to feel about them either. They’re kind of girly in their own way so I guess it’s hard to recognize them as men.

So now I’m looking for a way to get married without having anyone I like.

*

My girl friends invited me to a drinking party and got me in touch with a male acquaintance once. He and I were the same age, but he was a college student where I was a high school graduate. He had also apparently gotten a job offer already and was on track to start as a company employee next year.

I was told he attended Meiji University, and for someone who only had a high school education like me, that made me feel like wow, he was going to be a real elite one day, wasn’t he? His academic record was dazzling.

The drinking party, unsurprisingly, was incredibly crowded and noisy so I wasn’t able to talk with him much that day. That’s why I was kinda happy that he invited me “to go out sometime” when I gave him my number.

—Macho guys weren’t my thing, and fellow high school graduates who only had kindness in their name weren’t for me either, but what about a guy smarter than me? Maybe I’d be able to see someone like that as a man. That was the hope I had in mind when I agreed to go on a date with him.

Having never gone out with someone I actually liked, I always let the guy choose where to go for dates. Makes things easier, right? If I told someone about my favorite café or something and things went sour, it would be impossible for me to go back. I figured it wasn’t worth opening myself up to that.

The guy this time—Kanayama, suggested we go to an art gallery for our date, so we wandered around galleries in Roppongi for a while, and then saw a movie after that. We split the cost for the date since he was still a college student.

After it got dark, we decided to go to a cramped bar that was known for its amazing yakitori. I didn’t drink, but there really was no better place to go at night than a bar.

“So you were telling me about your job offer.”

“Oh yeah. Get this, the guys I’m starting with are all from Tokyo U and Waseda!”

Kanayama liked my attempt to rouse his interest and grinned broadly as he began to explain. This seemed to be an incredibly fun topic for him for some reason.

“Oh really?”

“Academic performance doesn’t matter as much as it used to, you know. I talked to the guy who interviewed me after I got the job offer, and apparently my social media presence was what clinched it. Using my real name on Twitter made me easy to find, he said. He thought my posts were interesting.

“This is what I mean by the way. This is what got the interviewers. I posted a picture of this funny sign I found a while back. It went viral and I got 50,000 retweets on it.”

Kanayama took out his smartphone to show me the picture. It was of a cozy looking ramen place called “Uchinchi”, but one of the letters had fallen off, so now the sign just said “Unchi” (poop) instead. It was kinda funny, I guess.

“I also asked the twittersphere for suggestions when my friends and I were planning a trip. That was another one of the things the hiring manager liked. And just so you know, I also follow some guest lecturers at Waseda and sometimes retweet them when they talk about social issues.

“You know, I first realized that companies were starting to use Twitter back when I was starting college, and ever since then, I’ve been crafting my twitter persona. Self-branding is the name of the game….you know what that means?”

“Mmm…I think I’ve heard the term before.”

“Sayama, I know you already have a job, but there’s no telling how the future will go. You need to get on the self-branding train too! Social media is your business card nowadays!

“Fact is, it’s the entire reason I can stand shoulder to shoulder with those Tokyo U and Waseda grads like I do. The guys who go to Mei U with me are basically worthless though. They don’t think at all.

“Makes me wonder what the hell goes through their heads when they write stuff like ‘I wanna die’ on their feeds. I mean, if they wanna die, that’s on them, but they don’t even spend a second thinking about how other people will see that. Idiots, all of them.
“Mei U isn’t a bad school as far as rankings go, but who knows if it’s going to stay that way. These guys don’t think about strategy or university trends.”

As far as I was concerned, Twitter was just a place to vent and write stuff like ‘I drank waaay too much and puked. Kill me now.’

“I think people should tweet about whatever they want.”

“Listen, we live in a time were a guy like me, who had a great time planning a trip with my friends on Twitter, got a job at the same place as those uptight nerds at Tokyo U. It’s just the most efficient way to do it. I don’t see how anyone could deny the power of self-branding nowadays.”

“Ahaha, I guess you’re right. Funny thing about that actually. Me and some friends got…I think 100 retweets? Something like that once. It was for our independent research project in high school.”

I was thinking back to my second year of high school. I went to the beach with three of my friends that summer, and we happened to find an octopus swimming nearby. It’s sudden, unexpected appearance made it a big hit with us.

Seeing that octopus was a the best thing to happen to us all summer—it was all we ever talked about. As a result, we all ended up choosing takoyaki, or octopus dumplings as the theme for our individual summer research projects.

We each focused on different things specifically, but even our teacher was really impressed with the fact that four people in the class chose takoyaki as the theme for their research projects. He praised us and said he liked humorous projects like ours. The memories of that summer were still precious to me even years later.

“I tweeted about takoyaki because that’s what me and my friends were researching.”

“Oh yeah? You know, I have a friend that attends the Tokyo University of Marine Science. I don’t have an interest in ecology personally, and me and my friends call it Fish Boy’s school. He’s a smart guy, but if you look at his twitter, seriously all he tweets about is sealife stuff. He’s a fish maniac.

“Point is, he got a job at Ajinomoto, and I think it’s great a guy with strengths like that was able to follow his passion and get a job. Tokyo University of Marine Science is around rank 50 or so, but Ajinomoto’s the type of place that usually hires Tokyo U or Waseda grads. In my opinion, what he did was only possible because he self-branded as someone who loved fish.”

Kanayama completely, utterly ignored my story and moved along as if it were nothing.

“Ahaha.” I laughed for him.

—oh well.

Really, trying to keep up with a conversation like this…was painful. I recognized to some extent that this manly bravado was his way of trying to impress me—I got that. Kanayama had been all grins for a while now, probably because he thought having me listen to his bragging was fun. It was like all he wanted to say “Look! I’m such a capable guy! Fall for me!”

But talking to a guy like that made me feel invisible. It hurt.

Sure, I didn’t think having a hundred people retweet my takoyaki posts was all that amazing, but it was still an important memory for me. Seeing him completely ignore that and insist on telling his own story was incredibly painful.

There wasn’t a single person in the world who’d be happy about getting ignored, but he probably wouldn’t be able to understand something like that. Getting the chance to talk about himself was what made him happy after all. He was having lots of fun right now, so what did my feelings matter? Yeah, I got it. I got it, alright.

….But more than anything, Kanayama’s obsession with schools hurt to watch. It felt like he had mentioned Tokyo U and Waseda more than a few times now. Maybe he wanted to show me how amazing he was for standing alongside people of that caliber, but let’s be real here.

You really wanted to get into top ranking schools like Tokyo U and Waseda didn’t you? It doesn’t sound like anything else to me—why else would you be talking about them so much?

I found myself sighing.

Guess I’ll have to split the bill today. What the hell. Having to listen to this guy talk and still pay for it feels like some sort of cruel punishment game.

I suppose he’d never know how hard it is, just how much effort it takes to smile and respond inoffensively without poking at his painfully transparent inferiority complex while he brags.

—I feel so tired

No doubt he sees me as nothing more than a nodding machine.

But you know, Kanayama’s probably going to be successful one day.

He guessed that companies were going to start paying attention to Twitter and had the patience to keep everything he said under tight control. He might have been just a show off around me, but I’m sure he’d be the type to suck up to his bosses. They’d probably find him easy to use, and as long as his workplace wasn’t a black company, he’d easily make his way in the world.

I wonder how things would turn out if I married this man.

The main downside would be that I’d probably have to listen to him brag for the rest of my life. But if I did marry him, I’d probably never have any problems with money again.

And not just that. This guy clearly has no idea how to treat woman…he feels like a virgin. It doesn’t seem like there would be much competition, and that’s always a good thing.

If I keep smiling and nodding like this, making absolute sure not to ruin is mood, have sex with him, and go as far as getting pregnant, maybe I’d find myself the wife of an enterprising first-class husband. From a strategy standpoint, maybe that’s the best thing to do.

A woman has only a short time to sell herself, so maybe getting along with this man is my best chance.

Maybe someday I’d come to love him.

During my class reunion, my friend, the former gyaru who got married and had kids before she was twenty, told me she loved her husband and her child. She told me she was very happy. I guess it’s only natural a mother would love her kids.

Good for you, is what I thought then.

She was able to find love.

It was something I couldn’t find, but she did.

How nice.

I’m so jealous

All I’ve done tonight is sit here and eat yakitori, but for some reason I feel tired.

I feel so tired.
******
A new guy started at my data entry job about a year after I did. His name was Yamada, and when he started, my first thought was that I had finally been freed from phone and tea duty.
The department I belonged to within the company was tiny, and had about ten employees packed like sardines into a small office. There was no room for a clerk who could do things like answer the phone and serve tea, so those miscellaneous tasks always fell to the newest employee.

I had been doing it for the past year, and actually didn’t have complaints about the work itself. The problem was just that entering data took a lot of concentration, so having that interrupted to answer the phone or serve tea instead of focusing like I wanted to was a real pain.

So when the new guy started, I was overjoyed.

Being in a small office meant that everyone could clearly hear any conversation that happened inside. I was at my desk listening to a senior colleague tell Yamada everything about how to do his job on his first day.

There was one thing I thought was strange, though. My colleague was supposed to teach Yamada everything about his job, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about serving tea or answering the phone.

Thinking it might have slipped his mind, I printed out a copy of the Ten Corporate Phone Guidelines and brought it over to the two of them.

“Excuse me. I’d like to show Yamada how to cover phone duty. Is that alright?”

“Oh that! It’s better if a woman does that stuff! I’ll leave the phone to you from now on, Sayama.

“… Oh”

“Think about it, every company has a female receptionist, right? That’s just how things are. It’s always better when women serve tea and answer the phone, you know.”

“Is that how it is?”

“Well, yeah. Obviously tea served by a woman would taste better than tea served by a man, right?”

I see.

So that’s how it was, I thought to myself as I took the Ten Corporate Phone Guidelines back to my desk. The amount of data entry work assigned to me wasn’t different from anyone else’s, but I had, and would continue to answer the phone and serve tea just because.

To be honest, I felt it was unfair.
Something about this just wasn’t right. That’s what I thought.

That said, I didn’t intend to raise a fuss about sexism or anything like that. I didn’t feel like I was being victimized, or think that it was weird that I was the one who had to smile and serve tea because I was a woman. My thoughts hardly went in that direction.

… And there was a good reason why.

I heard the company president in the office the other day, screaming and threating Sasakoma from the sales department in the office.

“I told you to double revenue this year, didn’t I!? What the hell are these numbers!?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Businesses, you see, have to stay in the black. They have to keep growing. You understand that right? You might be happy getting the same numbers as last year, but this company can’t afford to keep people who can’t develop and grow on their own. There’ll be trouble if you don’t meet your goal next year. That’s double revenue, got that!?”

“Yes.”

That’s what the president was screaming to Sasakoma about. The Sasakoma in question, is of course, a man.

I’ve never gotten yelled at like that by the president, not even once. Being a woman meant that men went easy on me, so in exchange for serving tea, I got to avoid that sort of thing. That’s how I saw it, anyway.

Doubling revenue in this kind of recession? Don’t be ridiculous. We were stuck as a small-medium business because it was run by a guy like that who couldn’t even see reality.

I only thought that, of course; not that I’d dare say it out loud. We were talking about the president after all.

That’s why I didn’t really consider myself the only one being victimized, the only one being treated unfairly.

Men have their problems, and so do women.

That’s just how it is.

******

As a high school graduate, my problem was that I had to work in a cramped office where I could hear employees get yelled at.

As a soon-to-be Mei U graduate, Kanayama’s problem was that he had to bluff and constantly brag about how awesome he was in order to stand alongside Tokyo U and Waseda grads.

For all I knew, his parents could have been the type to say they wouldn’t accept anything but Tokyo U or something like that.

Everyone had their own problems.
Would the person who joined the company next be a woman? Or would it be a man? Just how long I would I have to keep serving tea? A lot of my friends were already married, and I wanted to as well before I turned twenty five, but how many times would I have to listen to men brag before I got to that point? I was starting to think that maybe it didn’t matter, but if I didn’t get married and have kids, what was I supposed to do with the rest of my life?

Of the friends I did takoyaki research with in high school, two of them already had kids, and one was seeing someone with marriage in mind.

There wasn’t much fun in talking to them nowadays.

“Aren’t kids just the cutest?”, I’d hear, but it wasn’t like I could relate. Crying babies while we were trying to eat at family restaurants made it hard to have a conversation. It was depressing.

And then there were the times I’d be forced to listen to whining like “I wish he’d make up his mind about getting married”, which only sounded like showing off to me. This girl had someone she liked, someone she was thinking of marrying, after all, and that alone made me jealous.

But when I’d say “Why not just stay with him then, since you like him and all? You can leave it at that, right?”

“No way, we’ve been together for so long that I’m not sure if I love him or not anymore. I do feel comfortable around him though…” is the reply I’d get.

Then split up and end it there. Truth is, you’re just pretending to be worried and want to brag about your boyfriend when I’ve never had one, don’t you? You think you’re better than me and tell me all these things because I’m still single, don’t you?

Things were so much better in high school, before we actually became women and everyone was equal. We laughed together, did club activities together, grumbled to each other about studying, but still went to the library and studied together anyway.

“Becoming a woman” is presented as pretty and beautiful in movies and girls manga, but all of that’s made up. Nothing more than a fantasy pushed by society.

The reality of it was, becoming a woman meant facing cruelty.

Whether we have kids, or whether we have a boyfriend…the invisible rankings between women start with that sort of thing. That’s just how women are, and “becoming” one is nothing more than a sign that those battles are about to begin.
I feel worn out somehow.

I wonder why I feel so tired.

I don’t know anymore.

How long will I have to keep smiling?

I just feel tired.

So, so tired.

******

I picked up the oolong tea had I ordered because I didn’t drink alcohol, and whacked Kanayama’s face with it as hard as I could. The sound of breaking glass, and ice and water spilling onto the floor sounded throughout the restaurant. A moment later,

“Kyaaaaaaa!”

The woman at the table next to us let out a shrill scream.

The glass must have cut a vessel in Kanayama’s head, because blood was spurting out of it like a fountain. He soon fell from his chair and collapsed onto the floor.

His eyes were widened in a perfect circle, showing me just how utterly shocked he was.

I noticed a tingling sensation on my hand and saw, perhaps due to how hard I had hit him, that it had been pierced by a glass shard. My right hand was now covered in blood.

Kyaa! Kyaa! Oh my God! Oh my God! Somebody do something!

The women in the bar were screaming and running away. The men grabbed me and pinned my arms behind my back. Kanayama seemed to have recovered from his shock, because after after a short while,

“Y-y-you crazy bitch!! I’ll sue you!!”, he screamed at me.

So I guess a blow to the head wasn’t enough to kill someone after all. ‘Oh, well’, is what I wanted to tell myself, but to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. The mental anguish I felt from having spent so much time listening to him brag felt like it hurt way more than Kanayama’s injury.

… Guess this’ll go to court.

Kanayama seemed like he had money, so he’d probably be able to hire a good lawyer, not that I had any chance of winning in the first place.

“W-what happened? Was a lover’s quarrel?” The middle aged man in the suit pinning my arms asked from behind.

Ah. I realized that when people saw a fight between a man and a women, they saw it as a lover’s quarrel. That bothered me.

I had never held hands with Kanayama, nor had I ever kissed him. A fight between two people with that kind of relationship wasn’t a lover’s quarrel, it was just a fight between people. But from the perspective of a middle aged man like this guy, who had a wedding ring on his finger, we were just kids blinded by passion. He probably wouldn’t agree even if I told him Kanayama sickened me as a human being.

I wonder what people would say, if when asked why things turned violent, I responded with “I just felt tired for some reason.” I didn’t really have a history of abuse, nor was I living in dire straits now. Would the news just cover it as “the insanity of modern youth?”

Ah, there’s probably no way that would happen.

There’s no way I’d show up on the news without at least killing two or three people. Hitting another person with a glass wasn’t enough; anyone could do that. That’s why people who wanted to stand out and send a message to society did things like stab people at random, right? If I could, I should have done at least that much.

I feel tired for some reason.

Just plain exhausted.

I’m tired, not crazy.

That’s all.

That’s all there is to it.

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