Schoolgirl Sex and Excess: Exploring Narratives of Japanese Girlhood and Compensated Dating in Ruth Ozeki's Novel A Tale for the Time Being

By Hausler, Rebecca | Hecate, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Schoolgirl Sex and Excess: Exploring Narratives of Japanese Girlhood and Compensated Dating in Ruth Ozeki's Novel A Tale for the Time Being


Hausler, Rebecca, Hecate


Introduction

Fiction provides writers with the freedom to explore the complicated nuances of social issues by creating alternative narratives to those seen elsewhere, such as in mainstream media. Ruth Ozeki, a JapaneseAmerican author and ordained Zen Buddhist priest, has a history of incorporating such alternative narratives into her works, and her most recent novel, A Tale for the Time Being, received widespread acclaim including being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. Despite this, the novel has had limited academic attention, perhaps due to the breadth and complexity of the issues the author has incorporated into the text. To date only a handful of articles have been written on topics such as metatextual performance, narratology, depictions of the Japanese military, and feminist ideologies relating to Zen Buddhist practices in the text (Davis 88-89; McKay 6; Starr 99). None of the research thus far has focused on the importance of the representation of the schoolgirl figure in the text, particularly from a Japanese studies perspective. This paper examines how Ozeki's use of a 16year-old female protagonist disrupts the trope of the sexualised schoolgirl, that has often been associated with Japan in popular culture and the media, particularly since the 1980s. Specifically this will be examined through a practice known in Japan as enjo kosai or, as it is referred to in Ozeki's text, "compensated-dating" (293). Enjo kosai is a practice that wove its way into the Japanese vernacular through media saturation. The term translated literally means "a relationship with (mainly financial) support" (Ueno 317). In the mid 1990s it was claimed that the phenomenon saw schoolgirls providing an "amateur companion service" where they were "compensated" by way of "money, allowances, or presents for dating and possibly having sex with men" (Kinsella, "Narratives" 54).

Focusing on the suppositions and stereotypes of enjo kosai as depicted in Ozeki's novel, I seek to contrast how the novel departs from but simultaneously adheres to, depictions of the practice in international media outlets. Adhering to existing academic articles on the topic and to avoid issues around translation and cross-cultural word meanings, I will use the Japanese term of enjo kosai in this paper, except where the practice is referred to by Ozeki specifically as "compensated-dating." My intention is to investigate the way in which the fictional representation of Nao and popular media representations of the Japanese schoolgirl diverge, exploring the narrative tension that this disparity creates. Such tension is apparent not just in the subject matter, but also in the way the text is presented. A Tale for the Time Being is a work of fiction which incorporates elements of self-writing, found narrative, and epistolary forms such as letters and diary entries. Nao's diary acts as a primary text and sets the pacing of the novel, with Ruth's chapters voiced in the third person acting as a secondary text which responds to Nao's narrative. Paratexts such as footnotes, appendices, and a bibliography influencing, surrounding, and extending the text suggest a heightened authenticity for the novel. By structuring the novel in this way, Ozeki presents a narrative which offers a variety of alternating viewpoints, illustrating the way in which multiple actualities can coexist to inform what we consider to be the "reality" of Japanese girls. It should be noted that due to the intricacy of the novel, and of Nao's character specifically, this paper addresses only Nao's experiences as related to the practice of enjo kosai. Other issues addressed in the text such as bullying, mental health, and the use of the shojo or "girl" narrator, while important and worthy of further academic attention, are beyond the limited scope of this paper.

Ozeki's exploration of the duality of Nao: Schrödinger's Schoolgirl

Drawing heavily on Buddhist philosophy, A Tale for the Time Being presents the reader with a number of dualities throughout the text allowing the novel to present a myriad of possible interpretations of "truths" for the reader to consider. …

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