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Buyer Beware

   Yukiko, a woman in her mid-fifties, tells me that she went to a tôfu shop at the shopping arcade near her home Saturday morning to pick up some tônyû (soy milk) The shop tends to sell out early, so customers know to go early.

   Yukiko left home at about eight and went straight to the tôfu shop where she bought her tônyû. After picking up some vegetables at the greengrocers, chicken at the butchers, she went to a small fish shop which had not yet opened.

   The time at which the shop opens changes from day to day, depending on the situation at the morning’s fish auction. On that particular day, Yukiko had to wait until a little after nine before the owner finally arrived, his van laden with fresh fish packed in ice.

   The fishmonger raised the shutter to let in the small crowd of customers that had been milling about outside.

   No sooner had the customers entered than a sprightly woman in her seventies snatched up a tray of suzuki (sea bass). Yukiko, who had her eyes on the karei (flounder), was second in line after a much younger man who also seemed intent on buying the karei.

   The man, inexperienced in the dog-eat-dog existence of Japanese housewives, was at a disadvantage when competing against the fifty-five-year-old housewife. Mistakenly believing that his place in line afforded him an extra second or two to reconsider his needs before voicing his order, he was rudely cut off.

   “I'll take both trays!” Yukiko called out over his shoulder.

   The poor man couldn’t do anything but mutter, “Well, I-I-I . . .”

   I suppose that in the world of the middle-aged housewife, with its inherent dearth of stimulation, mini-battles at the post office, tussles at department store bargain bins and survival-of-the-fittest shopping like this at the fishmongers must take on a level of importance the average man cannot appreciate. It also helps explain—though never ever condone—the selfishness, pettiness and shamelessness which the Obatarian is capable of.

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