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Confessions of a not so eco-friendly woman

by Kaori Shoji

Contrary to the national effort to increase eco-awareness, encourage environmentally friendly behavior and promote domestically grown vegetables; contrary to the general trend to alienate smokers and lovers of nitrite-drenched hot-dogs — here I stand, alone, a veritable black smudge on the environmental landscape. Well, with the exception of a few ojisan (オジさん, middle-aged men) in dark nylon pants clutching their keiba shimbun (競馬新聞, race-track tabloids). I guess this is what my ancestors meant by kogunfunt? (孤軍奮闘, fighting a lone battle), shimensoka (四面楚歌, surrounded on all sides by enemies) and other such lofty yojijyukugo (四字熟語, four-character phrases).

Now, if I can only procure a gas-guzzling Corvette in which to ride off into the sunset, wearing cheap “eco-unfriendly” mascara, with a Hi-Lite (the most damaging cigarette a person could smoke without dying instantly) stuck picturesquely between my teeth.

These days, though, I feel almost ready to wave the white flag, mend my ways and become that increasingly fashionable, desirable eco na onna (エコな女, ecology girl). Because we’ve all come to realize — haven’t we girls? — that a woman who doesn’t spend 45 minutes a day engaged in gomi no bunbetsu (ゴミの分別, sorting the trash into different categories), will wind up dateless.

In Minato Ward, where I live, the municipal law has been altered, and now the j?min (住民, residents) must put all products with the pura (プラ, plastic) logo out for recycling. Anything plastic — including candy wrappers, bagel bags, sūpā no torē (スーパーのトレー, trays that hold meat and fish) — must be cleaned, dried and put out in designated trash bins on designated days. I’ve seen cleanedup plastic thingies stacked inside pristinely white trash bags, lined up like sentries awaiting collection. At that moment I knew that preparing beautiful garbage had been added to the long list of good-behavior rules a Japanese woman must adhere to if she wants to survive on the dating market. Yuk.

Of course, I’m aware of my sins and shameless lifestyle. If my grandmother was to find I’ve been throwing half-full plastic bento boxes in the moeru gomi (燃えるゴミ, combustible trash), she’d likely rise from her grave to commit byōsatsu (秒殺, murder within seconds) on her most fudeki na mago (不出来な孫, botchedup grandchild).

The good lady, who hated waste and conspicuous consumption, lived like a samurai and told her grandchildren to do the same. She never rested, was unfailingly polite to others and incredibly self-disciplined. She held that each day should be lived as if it were the last and told us to prepare for the inevitable by making sure one’s sumai (住まい, living quarters) and shitagi (下着, underwear) were spotless. The former was for the benefit of relatives and friends who would be obliged to clean out the premises, the latter was for the benefit of whoever found your corpse or tried to resuscitate you. Her favorite saying, pulled out at every opportunity, was: shimatsu ga ii (始末がいい), a phrase that refers to anything in the physical world, from a life to a dress to a slice of bread, that has been successfully deployed or consumed with thought and appreciation, then quietly terminated with minimum damage to the environment.

Thankfully, she left this world before things got bad — the (underground) advent of the saboten onna (サボテン女, cactus woman) followed by the katazukerarenai onna (片付けられない女, the woman who can’t clean up) would surely have caused massive apoplexy. A saboten onna is so called for her ability to wither even a cactus to a brown crunch just by keeping it in her apartment. Lack of air is the major issue here; this woman is just too busy to open the curtains and can only collapse in front of the TV at 1 a.m. in the morning (the usual time she gets home) and relax by extinguishing cigarettes in half-drunk beer cans.

The katazukerarenai onna is similar, but her living habits are a bit more diverse. She’s often a lovely woman, delightful in every way, but she would check into a hotel to shower because her own bathroom was clogged and the walls covered in mildew. I once asked one of these charming ladies what she did about the trash, and she said she never threw anything out, not even empty cup-noodle dishes. Yagate subete tsuchi ni narunoyo (やがて全て土になるのよ, everything will eventually return to the earth) was her explanation, ignoring the risk that the earth might soon spring forth from her apartment floor.

At least she’s not damaging the environment, though.