BACK ISSUE #408

In Person: Piece of mind
"I want to show women their dreams are possible if they just keep believing. Too many give up after they get married and have children, or they're told they are over the hill once they turn 25, and I think that is sad."

 

TV personality Caiya Kawasaki has built her image on berating Japanese men, but it's all for a reason, she tells Chris Betros.

 

When Japanese men approach Caiya Kawasaki, they often expect to be yelled at; indeed they want to be yelled at. It's an image the former American model, now a cookbook author and TV talent has carefully cultivated in Japan for the past two years. Her message is simple: It's time Japanese women stood up for themselves and gave men a piece of their mind.
Caiya practices what she preaches. After her husband, Japanese actor Mayo Kawasaki, admitted to having an affair a few years ago, Caiya publicly berated him, forcing him to apologize at a news conference. For Caiya, putting her troubles out there for everyone to see squashes gossip. "Your public persona is not only who you are. You have to share a piece of your private self with the fans, too. That's the entertainment business."

Behind the costumes, blonde wigs and wacky persona we see on TV is a sensitive and spiritual woman who found herself transplanted from an Illinois town of 200 people to the glitzy world of modeling and TV in Tokyo. She's been doing her act on TV variety shows and commercials now for three years. "People expect me to be like my TV image, always angry at somebody. I do this so people will listen to me. Women are still treated badly by men in Japanese society. When I first came on TV, I spoke out and said that's wrong, and many women backed me."
The third of four girls, Caiya was born to a father of German descent and a mother partly Native American. One day while shopping in Chicago, she was scouted by a modeling agent and before long she was off to see the world on assignments, including a trip to Japan to do TV commercials. Eleven years on, Caiya says she has fitted in and is here to stay. In between work assignments, she is busy trying to raise a young daughter and son and work things out with her husband. The relationship, she admits, is still a bit rocky. "I've been through a lot. It either breaks you or forces you to look at your problems in a different way and get stronger."

But why make it public?
"I have many fans who are very worried about me. Many other women's husbands have had affairs, too, and maybe I can help them to look at it in a positive way, by showing them how I am dealing with it. I get a lot of fan mail asking me about love, what I think about a certain problem. I want to show women their dreams are possible if they just keep believing. Too many give up after they get married and have children, or they're told they are over the hill once they turn 25, and I think that is sad."
Raised a Protestant, Caiya says when she first married Mayo, she had to chip away at a lot of his attitudes. "He believed women do not go out after dark, never work, that they have to take care of their husbands and raise the children 100 percent of the time. For me, coming from America, that was very difficult to understand. His mind is 100 years older than mine." She can seem intimidating to Japanese men at times. "I get approached in all different ways," she says. "Some want to be yelled at, like they're looking for a mother. Some think they're cool and try to hit on me. That has happened more since my husband and I had problems. They think he's philandering, so why shouldn't we all do it? I just laugh at them."

The secret to a successful marriage, she believes, is to keep love alive every day. "When Japanese people get married, they see it as a goal rather than the start. The marriage wilts away into nothing and then they have affairs as if it is a normal part of life. I wasn't raised that way. I was raised with a mother and father who are still in love today as much as when they were married."
She also makes it a point to explain her problems to her children. She gets up at 5am every morning, no matter what time she went to bed, in order to spend time with them before they go to school. "I try to guide them in a way that I think is right for them, but they have to make the decision because it is not my life, it is their life."
Ever busy, Caiya has been studying singing for a year and has made a demo tape. She is writing a diet and exercise book. Her first book, "Caiya's Cooking Collection," published two years ago, was about mixing international and Japanese food. Then there are the ads, a pickles commercial on TV, one for oil on subway posters and another for a clothing line. As for her own fashion, Caiya makes it a point to wear recycled clothes she has made herself.
And when her life is over and she gets to heaven, what will she ask God? "I'll thank him for all the experiences he has given me in this life and that I was able to survive them. Of course, it depends how I get there. If somebody kills me, I won't thank him."

Photo by Takanori Kobayashi