I went bouldering indoors in two different cities in Japan, and realized that it’s still quite a men’s sport, even more so than in the States. Shortly after I started warming up this morning, I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “すごい〜” (Wow!). I down-climbed to applause and once I got down, I turned around to see a small girl, maybe four, grinning at me. She saw my face and looked at me with curiosity, then narrowed her eyes before carefully saying, “…お姉さんなの?” (Are you a girl?). Her mom snapped, “ゆい!” (her name, in admonishment), but I smiled at her and replied in affirmation. Her eyes widened in wonder and I could practically see the gears turning in her head, “A girl! Climbing! To the top like the boys!”

She asked loudly in succession, “お姉さん何歳?” (How old are you?) and “結婚してるのぉ?” (Are you married?) much to her mom’s chagrin and I kept blowing her mind with a view of female adulthood rarely celebrated in Japan. Here was a 31 year old female, unmarried, living with a cat and a dog, still quite capably climbing routes that might as well have been V10s to her. It turns out that my voluntary barrenness doesn’t hinder my abilities. 

She followed me around for the next fifteen minutes, shouting “もっと見せて!” (Show me more!) and clapping as I sent routes. She shyly refused to climb until I coaxed her to climb a rainbow route before she had to leave and she clambered her way up, muttering something about not being very good. Midway, she stopped and said, “できない!” (I can’t), but with a little coaching, she found another foot and grabbed another hold. Her mom watched her daughter in awe as she climbed higher than she had ever climbed before.

When she got down, I told her, “クライミングに「できない」はないからね” (There’s no “can’t” in climbing) and we chatted about what it means to be “good,” something I wish I had heard when I was younger. As long as you have the persistence to practice and the courage to try, there is always a path to the top. I hope she remembers that as she grows up in a far more constrained society than the one I was blessed to grow up in and I hope her older sister who was much more inhibited and hanging back but still watching us, overheard snippets of my conversation with her little sister. Japan isn’t an easy place to grow up as a bold woman, but I know it can be done — I know of successful women in my lineage who refuse to bow to the superficial demands of femininity as deemed by the society they live in. I’m lucky to be surrounded in my everyday life by women who dare to do what makes their heart sing and march to the beat of their own drum, the one that resonates from deep within if we find the quietness to listen. I’m grateful to those who have mentored me and those who have shown me how to find peace by example and I’m excited to stand among them as teachers to the next generation, especially with my young niece just starting her journey.

On a relevant note, A and I saw an Engrish sign in Kyoto for a women’s clinic whose slogan was “for Female Fetus Family and Future” and I couldn’t agree more.