Life in a Time of Corona: Letters from the Ledge – Day 8

Friday – 3 April – 07:32am

I feel utterly exhausted this morning. My body feels tired and my mind is struggling to wake up. I’m guessing that it’s due to a combination of not sleeping well (since my sinuses are blocked again) and my body just trying to adjust to the new lockdown routine.

Last night, I felt more awake than usual and decided to watch the last few episodes of Terrace House 2016 (I started with 2019/2020, but now it’s on pause due to the virus outbreak – thanks, Corona! – so I’ve decided to go back and watch from the earliest season available on Netflix). Terrace House is an unscripted Japanese reality show about six young adults who move into a gorgeous house together (house and location changes every season, but is usually somewhere in Japan) and continue going about their daily lives, but as housemates encouraging each other to grow and progress both personally and professionally. The entire show is in Japanese so I need to read the subtitles to understand what’s up, but I really enjoy the insight it gives into what everyday life is like as a young person in Japanese culture – especially the way they think about life and approach relationships.

One observation that I noted is that having a career plan, working hard, always giving your best effort and striving to make your dream come true seems to be quite important to most young adults in Japanese culture. Both women and men seem to find it worrisome and unattractive if you do not have ambition or a career plan, to the point where intervention discussions are had amongst housemates to help encourage someone to really consider their future and career path if they don’t seem to have a clear vision.

As South Africans, we would never dream of telling someone that we just met that they need to think about their future or work harder to achieve their goals. If we find that someone is simply content in their lack of ambition, we usually just leave them to their own devices until we get to know them better because we don’t want to start an arguement, offend or overstep. Young adults in Japan seem to be a lot more fearless in challenging each other in this regard and being open to accepting the criticism that comes with it, which they then use to push themselves to become better.

Judging from what I’ve seen on the show, romantic relationships are tricky largely because the Japanese are not amazing at showing care or affection and they’re constantly trying to find that balance between ‘old world’ and ‘new world’ values and norms. Women will often want a man to be brave and make is feelings more clearly known or make the first move, but behave quite awkwardly when he does, even if they have feelings for him in return. As a viewer, I cringe for the guys who have to deal with these mixed signals and are often left feeling confused as a result.

The men, seem to prefer women who know what they want and are unafraid to be forthcoming in decision-making. They also admire women who work hard in trying to achieve their goals and are secure within themselves, which is refreshing considering the conservative background and strict gender norms that the culture has been historically based on.

Meanwhile, over here in South Africa, we’re really affectionate and expressive as a culture overall. It’s often easy to tell how we feel about each other and I think that women are generally more comfortable with expressing themselves or showing their feelings and are more convicted in knowing what they want from relationships than ever before.

I find that a common struggle in relationship dynamics amongst young South Africans these days is that, with the rising empowerment of women, came a shake in the confidence of men, who sometimes struggle to find their footing and recognise their roles within relationships in this new equalist era. It’s no longer only up to men to be the providers, the protectors, the leaders or the decision-makers, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Roles can be shared or reversed depending on what you decide to do as a couple. Since we’re living in a society striving for equal opportunity, I think the answer is to play to each other’s strengths, whatever they may be, and try to compensate for each other’s shortcomings or times of struggle in different ways that balance out the dynamic instead of allowing ourselves to be strictly compartmentalised according to gender norms.

At the end of the day, we all just want to find our place and purpose in this world and in a relationship, but if I can take one overarching concept from the Japanese, it’s to live and treat others honourably, with respect, dignity and graciousness.

Be kind. Be safe. Stay strong. Stay home.


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