“Summer, and the living is easy.” I’ve always wondered who coined that phrase!
Tokyo hasn’t really warmed up yet, but some of my friends in other locations are telling me about temperatures that are 100?/38? and above. In such conditions, “living easy” is an art form I am still a novice at.
Whether or not it gets really hot where you are, please slow down and take it easy. In Seishindo we say, “the slower you go, the sooner you’ll reach your destination.”
If I’m going out at night, I very much prefer the back alleys and small streets in Tokyo. My favorite establishments fit a maximum of ten customers, with a mama-san presiding. It’s all very personal and up close, and each place has its own cast of characters.
I love the shops run by mama-sans because I’m fascinated to watch these ladies take charge in a man’s world. It’s a man’s world at night because very few Japanese men take their wives out for entertainment, and very few women would walk into an old fashioned drinking establishment on their own.
One of my all time favorite mamas is Kaoru-san, and one night when I was the only customer, I asked her to tell me why ladies such as her are known as mama.
She smiled warmly and said “Oh Charlie-san, I love knowing what you think about, and I’m always happy to answer your questions, as long as you don’t ask me how old I am.”
We both had a chuckle, and then she began her lesson.
“Well” she said, “Most every mama, whether a mother or a shopkeeper like me, knows two important things about men.”
“The first thing to know is, most every man is still a boy at heart. Because of this they enjoy telling dirty jokes and saying things to lightly shock or embarrass a woman. For instance, it’s easy for everyone to see I’m small breasted,” she said as she cupped her hands around her modest breasts, “And yet many of my customers at some point tell me what great breasts I have. They’re thrilled to be able to say such a thing without being severely scolded, and they’re very much hoping what they say will fluster me.”
“But I don’t scold them, and I don’t get flustered, and in a way I think this might leave some of them ever so much disappointed.”
“The other thing to know is, men want to be loved even when they’ve been naughty and displayed bad manners.”
“In fact it might be more accurate to say, men especially want to be shown they’re loved, after they’ve behaved badly.”
“The few times I do get angry and let a customer know he’s gone too far, it’s likely he’ll bring me a small gift the next time he comes in, as a way of saying he’s sorry. When they do this, I might make them a special dish, to let them know they’re still part of the family.”
“They call me mama because just like their real mothers I do my best to cater to their needs. If a certain customer comes in every Wednesday night and they like mackerel, then I do my best to have mackerel on the menu every Wednesday. If fried eggplant is what someone loves and I don’t have any eggplant on hand, if it’s not busy I’ll run out and buy some. Just like their own mother might have done when they were a child. You see, in running a small shop like this, making money isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that my customers and I depend on each other, and the relationship we have can be quite special. I strive to have my customers feel at home, so they’ll want to come back again. That’s why I call out the same greeting when they enter, as their mother used to call out when they came back from school.”
“I still remember the first night you came into my small shop,” Kaoru said, “I’ll admit now that I was a bit frightened. I hadn’t ever served a foreigner before and I wasn’t sure how you’d react to my simple offerings. I’m so glad that over the years we’ve come to be good friends.”