Signs You are Your Nikkei Parents: Part One

by Terry Watada

When parents are lost, they tend to fall into myth; that is, you as their child idealize them. So it was I wanted to believe that I inherited my mother’s laugh, her welcoming nature, her popularity. From my father, I hoped I received his strength, his wisdom and his sense of integrity. Unfortunately, there is little proof of that in my daily life. I am bereft of their presence.

On the other hand, I have of late noted certain characteristics that may have come from my parents. Attitudes, habits, observations that I unconsciously took in throughout my childhood and never paid much attention to them. Yet these days, I find them a great comfort – reminders that my parents are still very much a part of my life.

I’ve spoken to others and they confirm that they tend to do the same. Perhaps these “habits” are cultural, maybe genetic, maybe both. But they not only serve to link us into a community with similar values but they act as a sense of continuance throughout the generations.

What follows is by no means a complete list of the signs you are your Nikkei parents but I offer it as food for thought.

You always take your shoes off when entering a home. You hate it when hakujin ignore that social imperative. You absolutely hate it when Nikkei don’t observe the custom. Yet you say nothing in either case.

You keep a kitchen drawer full of plastic bags. Once full, those pesky bags go into a “bag of bags”. Just can’t throw them out; that would be wasteful or polluting. Surely there will come a time when you will need a plastic bag.

The dishwasher becomes a handy extra dish rack. I like to use the dishwasher for its intended purpose, but there are those who don’t. Call me crazy.

You fill empty detergent and shampoo bottles with water and shake them about in order to use the remaining cleanser. Otherwise you waste a lot of good cleaning material.

You nearly gag when you see a hakujin simply walk out of a public restroom without washing his/her hands. Worse still if you observe an in-law commit hygienic heresy in your house. Yet you say nothing. Heaven forbid they prepare the meal.

Also in the bathroom, you save the soap bits that remain at the end of a bar of soap’s life. You try to press them into a new bar but that never works. So you have soap bits sliding around on the counter top making a slimy mess, yet you can’t bring yourself to throwing them away even if it’s the easiest and most efficient thing to do.

An elderly female relative makes you a crochet toilet roll cover. It sits loaded with a roll on the tank of your toilet bowl. I know of an elderly widow who just uses a clear plastic bag to cover it. You see, there is a use for plastic bags.

You cover everything with a towel or cloth: computer keyboards, computer screens, television sets, DVD/Blu ray players, coffeemakers, toasters, i-pod docks, etc. You even make a custom cover for various things in the house.

In this vein, you place doilies everywhere in the house. There’s no real function for these laced decorations but there they are.

You are concerned when your child makes a habit of sleeping till noon or beyond, even if you yourself did it as a young adult and teenager. My father-in-law asked his daughter the first time I visited after a nine-hour flight, “He’s not the kind that sleeps till noon, is he?” I wasn’t since he had decided to vacuum when he asked. After that he did it early in the morning, every morning, chuckling as he worked, I suspect. Of his grandson, he asks rather grumpily, “How long are you going let your son sleep?” I have no answer.

You ask your kid for help with your computer/smart phone/ i-whatever.

You always return a favour. I saw my brother’s list. It was like he was keeping score; he was morally offended when a favour was never returned. Typically, he said nothing. I’ve seen other people’s lists. They never confront the offender when the favour is not returned.

You, I suspect, say nothing. Instead, you gossip. In fact, you love to gossip, expressing your outrage and/or delight over some scandal. It’s in our blood.

I’ll leave it at that until next month when I look at the customs and traditions observed while at dinner parties, family gatherings and travel.

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