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Mama's Hospitality

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Whenever I visit Kyoto, I usually stay near the T. family, because Mr. T.--a police detective, private-school owner, interpreter, boarding-house keeper, fortune teller, masseur, musician, etc.--is the best guide to Japanese culture I know and because his wife, "Mama," is a gracious hostess.

Whenever I drop by--no matter what the hour--Mama serves me something to eat or drink and tries to make me comfortable until the sensei (the term for a revered teacher) is free from his various business chores.

Mama does not like to leave the house and the school and boarding house compound. She leaves only for a short time every day to do the shopping at the supermarket a few blocks away.

To my way of thinking, she is a glorified servant to her husband, but she gets great pleasure from being invaluable to him and their children. She does everything--calling the sensei's students to cancel or reschedule classes; collecting student fees and rent for the boarding house; correcting homework and tests; cooking and cleaning the house, the school, and the boarding house; and serving as the sensei's telephone answering service.

When something goes wrong in the house--as when I accidently broke one of Mr. T.'s heirlooms--a valuable lacquered bowl that Mama left out of the cupboard--she is scolded severely by the sensei.

Several years ago, the sensei told me a story about how he met his wife:

He ran an interpreting agency in Tokyo and traveled back and forth from Tokyo to Kyoto. One day, he was drinking with a friend, an older man, who got the sensei drunk and asked him if he would agree to marry his daughter. The sensei agreed and, true to his word, married the girl the next day in spite of a bad hangover.

But there was business to attend to and the sensei left for Tokyo immediately, not returning to his home in Kyoto for several months. When he came back, his wife greeted him at the door but did not recognize her husband.

"I'm sorry but I can't talk to you because my husband is away on business," she said when he came to the door. "You'll have to come back when he returns home..."

The statistical handbooks say that more than 30,000 new books are published each year in Japan. That compares with 42,000 in the United States, which has twice the population.

Browsing in book stores, I get the impression that the majority of those new books are pornographic.

It is no surprise to me that the world's most prolific novelist, Sokun Kawakami, is Japanese. Mr. Kawakami has written more than 300 books. His favorite (and eternally bestselling) subject--the intimate relations between men and women.

A serious question: If pornography is so prevalent in Japan, why did Japanese officials ask me whether I had any pornography in my suitcase before they let me into the country?

A friend provides the answer: It's not the numbers, but the quality control that they're concerned about. American books and magazines "show everything," but in Japan, to conform to pornography statutes, people are hired to sit in warehouses all day covering explicit photos in publications with a special ink before they hit the news stands. Later, the buyer can remove the ink with nail-polish remover.

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