-Do Not Judge a Book by its Cover-
Written by Park Cheulsoo
“First impressions are the most lasting”, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”: As such, there are a lot of sayings or proverbs highlighting the importance of the first impressions. However, first impressions could be often misleading and entirely wrong; you cannot deem a person by his or her first impressions. It also happened to me recently when I interviewed and got to know more about Kuwahara Rie.
The first time I met Rie was on September 2015 at ShinOkubo, Korean town near Shinjuku. We were introduced by a friend in a purpose of learning each other’s language; she had visited Korea more than 30 times, so she wanted to learn Korean language more and I also wanted to regain my Japanese skills, which were mostly gone during fulfilling two years of military service at Korea. To be honest, Rie was stunning beautiful and attractive; she was about 5.5 feet tall, in shape, and her laughs would make every man in kind feel drawn to her. However, the fact that she was born in Tokyo and currently lives in Daikanyama of Shibuya, a very well-known place for high land and house prices, and that she is twenty-eight years old with no prominent full-time job while she had visited Korea more than 30 times, also visited Dubai, France, Italy, Germany, Hawaii, Las Vegas, LA, China, Singapore and Hong Kong , and that a bizarre hair tufts attached to her bag, which was actually a “Fendi” fur key chain that costs over a hundred thousand yen, led me to perceive that she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was a truly happy and positive woman, but it seemed like she never had any serious troubles or worries, never been through a turbulence in her life, maybe lived inside a bubble. However, I figured it out that my prejudice from her first impressions was wrong; she has a surprisingly sad past, and that made her a happy woman now.
Rie could not see her father again since she was ten; her parents got divorced because her father’s company got bankrupted and he lost a job. It might seem very cruel and harsh that the reason for a divorce is unemployment of a husband. However, she explained, in Japanese culture and society, where it is strongly a patriarchal, it is normal that a husband must have a job and make money to sustain his family. As far as Rie remembers, her father did not work for a while, and just kept drinking at home. Rie’s mom had to work for managing family’s living expenses and received financial help from grandparents. Therefore, Rie, to some extent, understood and respected the culture and her mother’s decision to divorce, but she still wanted to see her father. Her father also desperately wanted to see his lovely eldest daughter; he used to call home and send letters to Rie. However, her mother did not want Rie to meet her father, so she used to hang off the phone calls from him and hide letters away. Young Rie purely listened to her mother and decided to wait until she turns twenty and when she would become an adult, she would directly go to see her father. However, who would have known, that decision had become the most regretful choice in Rie’s life; her father had passed away from a disease when she was eighteen, a high school student. Rie often looks back on the past when she used to play around with her father. She said, if she could meet her father again, she wants to have a simple dinner while enjoying normal father-daughter conversation as grown-ups.
Experiencing parent’s divorce and her father’s death at relatively young age, Rie could not control herself and started gradually to become a bad student. She had to move seven times because her father kept chasing family during the divorce trial. Since Rie moved region often, she could not make many friends in school and also began to lose her interests at school. She often skipped classes and even hung out with bullies outside of the school. Filled with a stress and a desire for freedom, she became obsessed with heavy-metal and punk music, and became a huge fan of Dir En Grey and System of a Down. Attending most of their live-concerts, Rie, sometimes, did not even go back to her house. She also had lots of piercings on her lips and ears to look cool like band members. Of course, her mother was worried but Rie did not listen; maybe she did not want to listen to her once again, after her father’s death.
However, Rie had not totally given up on her dream; she was very talented at art since she was young. Influenced by her grandfather who was an art teacher, Rie had many opportunities to learn and improve her basic art skills from him. Even though she put art away from herself for a while, during harsh times in the high school, she knew that she was into nothing else but an art. Instead of going to university, Rie decided to attend nail school. After graduating from there, she worked in a nail salon and later she also opened and managed her own nail salon. Since she wanted to learn more about art and drawing, she started to learn China Painting at the age of twenty one. Observed Rie’s potentials and abilities, the art teacher asked Rie to become his assistance. While supporting his work as assistance, Rie had a chance to develop her skills and could eventually become a teacher of China Painting.
Being an art teacher, Rie became more ambitious; she now hopes to become an artist who could draw a good piece of work. She wants to draw a good piece of work that could be shown to her students. Her students are mostly seniors. Before Rie works as an art teacher, she did not have many chances to speak with elder people. However, through having conversation with them while teaching, Rie could learn various things. Especially, Rie respects her elder students’ passions toward learning art. Some of them have very bad eye sight, wearing big glasses with thick lenses, so they squint and make humorous face whenever they draw for the detail part of their drawing and painting. It takes longer time for them to finish one work, but they never complain or quit. Others have weak arms, so they shiver their hand when they paint, but they never quit. Rie is profoundly impressed with their aspects and passions. She is happy when she teaches her students. Therefore, Rie wants to draw a good piece for her students and teach them how to draw and paint well. In order to do that, whenever she goes for a travel, she always visits museums. She believes that appreciating and experiencing various pieces of art works are tremendously important. By doing so, she hopes she could draw from diverse perspectives, and finally produce a fine piece of work.
At the end of the interview, Rie said that she is satisfied with herself and happy now. She has experienced a lot of things including good ones and bad ones, but through experiencing them, she could finally become a happy person. Based on the interview, Rie had gone through much more than I expected. She has a sad past behind her golden smile. She was not travelling a lot of countries just to kill her time or spend money but to visit museums around the world and get experience for her new dream. She lives her life and does what she wants to do. Indeed, “do not judge a book by its cover.” The first impressions of Rie gave me wrong prejudices about her; before I interview her, I stereotyped her as a typical type of Tokyo girls from rich family, but it was not true. Lots of people judge on others based on their sense of values, knowledge, and experiences. Just by meeting and experiencing them few times, people tend to believe that they know about others. However, do not easily say that you know, whether it is a person, a society or a culture, because most of the time you do not know.