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Anne Crescini

The Crotch Master.

During my 16 years of studying Japanese, I am constantly having revelations about linguistic and cultural differences. For example, take the words ‘mushroom’ and ‘seaweed.’ Those are the only words we have for that green stuff from the ocean and fungus that grows out of the ground, respectively. It seems, however, that the Japanese value both way more than we Americans do, as they have a zillion words for both mushrooms and seaweed, and they are horrified at the lack of vocabulary in English for such crucial food products as seaweed and mushrooms. Occasionally, if we want to specify a mushroom, we will just throw the Japanese in front, as in the case of ‘shiitake mushrooms.’ Along the same lines, it is way too much trouble to learn how to talk about getting dressed in Japanese, as you need a different verb for each item you wear, depending on how high or low it is on your body. Finally, if a certain concept doesn’t even exist in the culture where you live, you can be sure there is no word, either. Let’s talk about the word karoshi, which means death from overwork. English doesn’t even have a word for this because, well, people don’t usually work so hard that they die. If we ever get to that point, we will probably just borrow karoshi from the Japanese. I have never heard of one case of death from overwork in the U.S., yet in Japan it is actually a legally-recognized problem. We have no one word for tanshin funin, (to live apart from your family due to work), honne (your true feelings about something), tatemae (what you say you feel but you are actually lying), shitsurei shimasu (sorry for being selfish and leaving work before you), or onaka wo hiyasu (to make your belly cold). My all-time favorite one is tsundoku, which means to buy many books without ever reading them. This is definitely a word that English could use, don’t you think, Riz (of course I am not implying my husband does anything remotely similar to this.) Today, though, I want to focus on a term in Japanese that does kinda have a word in English, only it doesn’t really mean the same thing and we never use it–shikaku. This word can be translated as ‘qualification’ in English, but no, it is so much more to the Japanese.

Japanese people are totally crazy about shikaku. I am just going to use the Japanese word throughout this blog because I hate the work qualification, and it is way too long of a word to type anyway. From childhood, Japanese kids strive to get shikaku in everything–calligraphy, karate, kendo, English, abacus. Yes, I said abacus. I bet you thought that an abacus was extinct from the world, relegated to the annals of history, but in fact, kids all over Japan regularly use the abacus to do lightning-fast calculations. Any Japanese kid with an abacus will kick your kid’s butt in math any day of the week. It seems that the Japanese are always excited about the prospects of getting one level or one step higher on the shikaku ladder. In university, the shikaku fun continues, as students strive to get any and every shikaku to help them to obtain a better job. Then in adulthood, it intensifies once more, especially if you are a housewife or retired person. While there are many shikaku aimed at helping one gain full-time employment, I would like to focus on those obtained either for a hobby or part-time work. They are endless–the eiken English test of childhood is replaced by the drive to get a perfect 990 on the TOEIC test. But that is only the beginning. There are so many shikaku that I cannot even begin to list them all here–breadmaking, coffee coordinator (what does that mean, I wonder?), flower arrangement, craft making, baby massage (not kidding), baby sign language, aromatherapy, nail art, yoga. There is even a shikaku for mushroom master. I guess in a country that has so many kinds of mushrooms that a mushroom master to teach others about mushrooms is a must. That sentence could almost be a tongue twister…

It is just not the same in America. I mean, of course there are different belt rankings for martial arts, but I am pretty sure there are no mushroom masters. As far as I know, there are no real shikaku for language study either. When I was a kid, I played sports every day, all the time, and I was constantly on some kind of team in some kind of league. But I never got a shikaku for anything. Of course, those trying to get hired for a job or get a promotion will work hard to get the shikaku necessary for that job, but there are definitely not as many kids and housewives in America working their butts off for various shikaku. I have a feeling that almost all Japanese people have closets full of certificates for this or that shikaku, saying they have earned this or that rank or level for this or that shikaku. I guess it is a little like American trophies, or at least, how it used to be before everybody and their brother started getting one. Americans love trophies. But if you think about it, most trophies are given for sports. Every now and then there is one for piano or some other artistic something or other, but most trophies are for sports. I remember because I was such an incredible athlete (I am working on humility…), I had more trophies than I could count. Well, there were 24 actually, not that I am proud enough to count them or anything. I was proud of those trophies, but after I went to Japan, my mom couldn’t stand the trouble anymore and trashed them all. She warned me, but I was hoping she would at least keep my favorite. She is a meanie.

Anyways, I have finally gotten around to what I really want to talk about today. Sorry for being such a long-winded American. Last week, I went to this class called in Japanese omata jikara. I know it sounds kinda crude, but the only way I can think to translate it into English is ‘crotch power.’ I know, I know. You are cringing, and just dying to know just exactly what a Crotch Power class entailed. I was the same way when I first heard about it. I couldn’t stop laughing. Actually, for the sake of this blog, let’s ditch crotch and just keep the Japanese and call it omata. Anyways, generally speaking, it was about just how important the health of that area of the body is for women. The instructor talked about how many of the problems that women have, from cold hands and feet to various menstrual problems, come from there. I have both cold hands and menstrual problems, and I thought it would be great blog material, so I decided to give it a try. When my friends and I arrived, we were met by a beautiful, slim woman who would be our instructor for the day. She gave us her card, and there it was above her name–she is the omata (crotch) master. I am sure that anyone reading this wants to burst out laughing at that, and I did too, but the instructor actually gave a very serious, informative 90-minute lecture, including practical exercises. Her main theme was menstruation, and there were three points that she really wanted to drive home to us. 1) a healthy period only lasts 3 days 2) a healthy period doesn’t flow at night 3) a healthy period is not painful. Although with the exception of the pain one I miserably fail the 3-point test, that is not the thing that was the most shocking to me. The teacher said that we actually have the power to control the blood flow during our periods, much like how one would toilet train a child. She said that after conscious training, most women can expel the majority of the menstrual blood into the toilet, thus eliminating the need for constant thick sanitary napkins that are so full of chemicals that they are not good women anyway. WHAAAAATTTTTTTTT!!!?????? She said that she has almost eliminated the need for napkins, and only uses tiny organic panty liners.

I learned many things. First, I learned just how small the pelvis and uterus and that whole woman’s area is. It it barely bigger than a fist (she showed us an actual model bought on Amazon), and yet, a big baby is somehow formed, nourished and birthed from that small area. Amazing. I also learned that a women gets tired during her period and needs to rest, so exercise is a bad idea. Umm, I think I will ignore that one. I learned how important that nutrition and sleep are to a women’s health. Last, I learned some exercises to help strengthen that area of my body, which is good, since, as I wrote in a previous blog that apparently my pelvis has been open since childbirth, exercises to help close it are nice. For the last exercise, the instructor had us march in place, lifting our knees to the opposite elbow all the while shouting, anus! anus! Geez, it sounds much worse in English than in Japanese, almost like I am saying a bad word. If you can think of a better one, please let me know. Anyway, here is where I will tell you the final two things I learned. First, shouting anus! anus! while marching in place for 60-seconds is quite a workout. Second, the Japanese use the word anus much more in daily conversation than Americans do.

I am glad I went to the Omata Power seminar. It was 90-minutes long and cost 3500 yen, or about $35. I thought it was a little on the pricey side, but I will spend whatever for this blog. The name of the the seminar is quite shocking, but both the instructor, and what she taught, were serious and helpful. Without a doubt, I know more now than I did before that class, and that makes it worth it. But more than anything, I had a great experience talking and laughing and learning with my best friends, and that is something you cannot put a value on. Finally, if you are interested in this course, you can contact the Japan Omata Power Association. It seems that there is only one Omata Master in the U.S. and she is Japanese. Hmm.. maybe I will jump on the shikaku bandwagon and become the first foreign Omata Master…

 

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