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The Selfish American Cafe

Next time you're in eastern Setagaya, why not drop in for a bite at the Selfish American Country & Cafe:

The owner of this place doesn't think Americans are jerks. He's simply chosen a name for his shop that reads spectacularly poorly in English.

"Selfish", or its Japanese equivalent wagamama, as used by young Japanese people, can actually have an ironically positive connotation of independently following one's own whims, in the face of social pressure to conform to the group.

As the New York Times Magazine explained several years ago in an article about "parasite singles", or Japanese women who live with their parents rather than marry and take on the traditional role of wife and mother:
"No one is actually rejecting marriage," Izumi says quickly. "Not even Sumiko. They all think they'll probably get married some day. It's just..." She breaks off and laughs. "Women today are wagamama."

Her word choice is significant. Wagamama means selfish, willful; in a culture where personal sacrifice is the highest virtue, the connotation is far harsher, especially for women. Yet, as the parasite trend has emerged, women like Arai have taken on the word wagamama, albeit slightly tongue in cheek, as a term of defiance...transforming its meaning in the process to something closer to "choosy" or even "self-determining."
In that context, America is the ultimate wagamama nation: a land where everyone can pursue his own destiny.

I've never been so proud to be a selfish American.


Anonymous said...

If you created a creature that was 1/2 Martha Stewart & 1/2 Ayn Rand, she would say "Selfishness is a Good Thing!"

Speaking of "wagamama" , that's one of my favorite restaurants. Problem is, I can only go if I happen to be in London, which doesn't happen  very often ... boo hoo! 

Posted by langtry



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