by Justin Hall
Caroline Pover: Being a Broad in Japan
For the foreign woman living in Japan, gender presents additional challenges and questions; health issues, personal safety, clothing that fits, proper haircuts. Caroline Pover came to Japan in 1996, herself largely unprepared for life in Japan. At that time she couldn't find an organized group of women or media outlets addressing these issues.
So between 1997 and 1998, Pover published a magazine "Being A Broad" that evolved into a support network and then a book by the same name. Being A Broad in Japan is over 500 pages of extremely practical straightforward advice for Western women living in Japan. The tone is direct and personal. Between the factual information and Caroline's own experience, quotes from women who have lived in Japan and struggled with these issues. By turns personal and informative, the book is a great tool for any English-language speaking foreigner trying to make their way in this country.
Left, Caroline Pover at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.
Seated to her right is Suvendrini Kakuchi, a journalist with Inter Press Service wire service.
In February 2002, Caroline spoke during the Book Break at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. She told her story, how she came to produce this book, and then fielded questions on gender relations, publishing and her plans for the future. Here are some highlights from her talk with the correspondents.
The Birth of Being A Broad
Caroline was working in England as a school teacher for young children, a dream job for her. Still if this was her dream job, her mid-twenties seemed a bit of an early point to have arrived at life's destination. She listened with interest as a friend described Japan as a place where you could teach and earn some good money. In 1996 she arrived at the Ebisu station in Tokyo with a backpack and a friend's phone number, but without an apartment or a job.
Her first three months in Japan she said she felt like she was "on holiday every day." But the next few months didn't go so smoothly. She said she noticed foreign women and foreign men had a different experience of Japan. "There didn't seem to be any forum for foreign women to express their feelings about being here." The few women's groups there were were very focused, dealing with specific career issues, for example. In addition, the English-language media in Japan seemed male dominated, both in terms of content and in terms of staff.
Pover says she woke up one morning in 1997 with the idea to start a magazine for foreign women living in Japan. She placed an ad in the Tokyo Classifieds, a free paper, asking for women to share their experience. In September 1997 she published a 16 page black & white photocopied magazine called "Being A Broad." "I used to carry it around in my backpack," Caroline smiles, "and hand it to foreign women on the trains: 'Here! Read this!'"
"Being A Broad" grew from a black and white photocopied 'zine into a glossy 56 page distributed magazine. Publishing costs were driving her into debt so she gave it up. In the quiet phase after publishing the magazine, Pover was a hub for Foreign Women coming to Japan, regularly fielding questions over email. She had an immense rolodex of women living in Japan and a large collection of relevant resources. She figured she would pull these together and write a book.
For the summer of 1999, she emailed her network of 250 foreign women living in Japan two questions a day. Replies of any length were welcome. "There was a surprising amount of common experiences. There were things that I read in there I'd maybe never talked about to my close girlfriends and here there were these women just telling me all these experiences they'd had."
The book Being A Broad in Japan was published by Caroline herself, with her company Alexandra Press. Besides some confidence from her experience publishing a magazine, Caroline felt a personal commitment to self-publish: "I felt an incredible loyalty to the women I'd interviewed. And I felt that they really trusted me. Some of them talked about the most intimate things that they'd never talked to anyone else about." She wasn't sure that a publishing company would abide by this loyalty she felt; the book might be published without some of the honest details she wanted to include. Pover covered some of the publishing costs by selling advertisements throughout the text.
Distribution was another problem, as most bookstores in Japan will not choose to stock a book unless some large organization stands behind it. She distributed through unusual book selling venues, including hair salons. Pover got her big break when she remembered meeting a fellow in charge of distribution for Tower Records in Japan at a party a few years back. She still had his card and she remembered that he had said, "Call me if you need anything." With his help her book was on the shelves of Tower records in Tokyo, and soon Being A Broad in Japan was outselling Harry Potter at the Tower Records in Shibuya. Once she was selling there, the other bookstores and distributors lined up to buy Being A Broad,. She's a hard-working promoter; each copy of the book contains her email address for further orders and inquiries.
Caroline reflects that the most difficult to write was the section on being single; she hadn't expected that. She mentions that she worked hard to have a positive, confidence-boosting message in each section, and the "Being Single" section was the hardest section in which to develop that: "The overwhelming majority of foreign women who were single in Japan, or who talked about their experience about being single here, they were not happy about the fact they were single, and they felt that it was very difficult to change that status."
So how does she advise women who are single? "If she's a single woman and she finds Japanese men attractive, it's usually a matter of understanding that that the vibes coming from the Japanese man are not going to be the vibes coming from the Western men that you might be used to dating. You need to understand that a Japanese man is probably very interested in you but probably is not showing it, in a way that you're used to." She continues, "You'll likely have to make the first move, and you might have to do that for quite a long time."
Some were curious why being single was worse in Japan than back in their home countries: "There's the feeling that the element of choice is removed in Japan. Whereas, back home, as misguided as that may be, there's the feeling that the choice is there to be single." The sense of reduced choice may come from feeling distant from Western men. Pover interviewed a number of Western men over email and confirmed the suspicions of some Western women that many of the foreign men in Japan prefer to date Japanese women exclusively.
But perhaps the most difficult emotional trials for a Western woman coming to Japan stem not from romance and heterosexual dating, but from having to make new friends: "I meet a lot of foreign women for whom their first two years in Japan is the most difficult two years they've ever experienced, for many different reasons, the biggest one being isolation. They find it really hard to replace girlfriends that they had back home. And that is probably more important to women than it is to men."
Being A Broad A Broad
Like her book, this was a frank discussion of emotional issues affecting foreigners in Japan. Some would be relevant during any expatriate experience, and some were unique to the difficulties in Japanese-foreign cultural mixing. Pover spoke with some informed cheek and a strong self-confidence. Based on the strong reception to this book, Caroline is developing a Being A Broad series of books to cover other countries.
We used "Western women" and "foreign women" throughout this piece. Asked about this, Pover observed that while the basic necessities may be the same, non-Western women have other issues that she doesn't presume to address.
Being A Broad Web Site - a web site about the book.
Being A Broad Yahoo Group - lively email discussions of issues affecting Western women living in Japan.
Foreign Correspondents' Club Book Break
|Justin Hall is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. He has written more about Japan on his own website.|
Posted by Justin Hall at 2002年02月08日 08:16