Setting the Table for Baba-Chan
Every few months or so, I get a message or comment about how all of the photos I style have the chopsticks facing the "wrong way" and that it's "not truly Japanese." I usually reply simply by saying that I am left-handed. But I think the time has come to elaborate on why I take pride in styling them the "wrong way."
I inherited (yes, left-handedness is genetic, aka, I was born that way!) my left-handedness from my 95 year old Japanese grandma, Mariko "Baba-chan" Kumano, in Tokyo.
Here she is, front and center, holding her walking stick with her left hand. Incidentally, my cousin's daughter, throwing up the peace sign in this photo, also got the lefty gene!
As a child, she was "corrected" and eventually became a shodo (Japanese calligraphy) teacher. She used her right hand to do her calligraphy until she stopped teaching in her mid-70s.
But she still proudly boasts that she is ambidextrous and I always see her left-handedness pop up in ways that make me proud to be a lefty. She'll eat ham, take out the trash, and turn on the remote with her left hand. She's never once tried to correct me or tell me that using my left hand was wrong. And although I've never asked her what the process was like for "fixing" her left-handedness*, it must have taken extra time and effort on her part during development.
My other grandma, who would have been 100 this year (she passed away last year), celebrated my left-handedness since I was a child. She would go to Lefty's the Left Hand Store at Fisherman's Wharf and get me notepads that were adorned in red, white, and blue proclaiming "Proud to be a Left-Handed." I still have a mug that she gave me when I was a kid that says "Left Handed Genius" - note that the pattern faces the lefty as they drink their tea or coffee.
When someone sees the table setting in my photos staged for a left-handed person, they see something off. Would we feel the same if someone in a photo had blue eyes or curly hair? Should their eyes be brown and their hair straight? It depends on where and when you are in history, and who is behind the camera. The blue-eyed model may have been told to wear brown contacts or a curly haired person may have been told to straighten their hair. Left-handedness, blue eyes, and curly hair are genetic traits that are in the minority and whenever I get a chance to fly the flag for the outnumbered, I do.
In the kitchen, it's especially difficult for the left-handed person, as knives, scissors and most gadgets like the can opener are designed for the right-handed. Gardening tools too! Which is why there should be a Leftorium in every town.
So for all the Leonardo da Vincis, Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, Babe Ruths, Kurt Cobains, Albert Einsteins, Spike Lees, Joan of Arcs, Matt Groenings, Helen Kellers, Barack Obamas, and Mariko Kumanos out there, I'm setting the Japanify table for you.
*Since writing this post, I have asked Baba-chan about her left-handedness. She said she was corrected in first grade, when they started learning kanji (Chinese characters) in school. Nearly 100 years later, she still feels "it wasn't necessary to be corrected."