Side by Side
Recently I've been starting too many of my little
stories with phrases like "At one of my exhibitions recently ..."
This might lead you to believe that having exhibitions is all I do!
That's not the case though, as I actually only show my prints once
each year, for 6 days in Tokyo, followed immediately by 6 days in
Osaka. The rest of the year, I 'hide' in my workshop and work on the
carving and printing (and typing!)
But of course, as the carving and printing work is
very solitary, and the exhibitions are full of communication and
activity, exhibitions are the place where many of the ideas for
writing come from. And so it was that ...
At one of my exhibitions recently I met a couple
who came to see my woodblock prints. I say I 'met', but actually we
didn't talk much; they strolled around the room pretty much in
silence, and a short time later they moved out the door and walked
away. But even though they didn't speak to me, they did leave quite
He had come in first ... and she had followed a
moment later. He moved this way ... she followed a few paces behind.
He decided where they would walk, what they would look at, how long
they would stop in front of any particular picture. He spoke to her,
giving his opinions about what they were seeing ... She said nothing.
When they left, of course it was he who led the way.
I couldn't help myself ... as they left, I too
stepped to the doorway, and watched them proceed down the row of
shops. He never turned his head once, to see if she was alright, as
they made their way down the busy street ... not once ...
I am sure you can guess my feelings at this
behaviour. Yes, you're right, I do feel quite a sense of distaste for
this sort of thing. But even stronger than my disgust at his actions,
is my sense of wonder at his feeling ... Does he like having that
sort of relationship? Isn't he lonely? Wouldn't his life be much more
pleasant if he had a partner, not an 'attendant'?
I've talked about this type of behaviour before
with Japanese friends, and they tell me that in the man's mind, it is
simply more important that he is seen to be the important person. At
home, they say, he is probably quite kind to her ... It is only in
public that he behaves in such a cool and callous way. The tradition
that dictates such behaviour is still very strongly ingrained.
Well, that may be true ... maybe. But I fail to be
swayed by the argument that because something is traditional, it must
be accepted. I have no wish to argue the point with the man I met at
the gallery, but in my own life, could not dream of behaving that
way. Perhaps the argument can be made that I am just as much a
prisoner of tradition as the couple in the gallery. My culture
demands that men treat women with overt respect in a public
environment (the cynic would wonder how much of such behaviour is
carried over into private life ...). For me though, to walk down the
street side by side with Sadako, is nothing to do with cultural
training, status, or 'importance'. It's just simply pleasure to be
together with an interesting, intelligent and attractive woman. Is it
'demeaning' for me to be seen asking her opinion on something, to be
seen treating her as an equal? I cannot and will not believe that.
Whether the two of us are in a gallery ... in a crowded supermarket
... a quiet park ... or completely alone in my home ... makes no
difference to the way in which I behave towards her.
Perhaps that man in the gallery is kind of a
'hero', selflessly giving up such pleasure in the name of tradition
and custom ... I am more selfish though. I will not forego the
pleasures of partnership with Sadako. What did I just say? "...
interesting, intelligent and attractive ..." I think I'd better be
careful. If she reads this, then next time we're out walking
together, she'll be suggesting to me, "David, I think you should move
back a couple of paces ..."