“When I was in middle-school,” Ikuko told me, “I hated my name.” We were lying in her bed, drinking champagne, fooling around. I traced her name in the glossy film of perspiration on her stomach. (On our second date, I’d asked her to write the characters for me. Since then I’d written them dozens of times in my notebook and on scraps of paper.) I could already guess what she wanted to say.
Whereas in the West we “come” during sex (or “cum” as they say in pornland), the Japanese “go,” saying iku (I’m going) as they approach a climax and itta (I went) immediately after.
But Ikuko never said “iku.” Sometimes she would bite her wrist or the pillow instead. Nor did she ever say “itta” though she came easily and often. The only time I asked, saying “Itta?” (Did you come?), she simply replied “Mmm, yokatta wa” (It was great).
Iku has multiple meanings since it can be written with a variety of kanji, all with the same pronunciation. I tried to reassure her. “But it’s a lovely name. I looked up your iku in my dictionary. It means ‘aromatic, fragrant, sweet-smelling’.”
“I was teased about it constantly,” she replied, “all through middle school. The boys were always saying to me ‘Iku! Iku!’ Even some of the girls joined in.”
“So what did you do? Did you tell your parents? Or the teachers?”
“How could I do that? I would have been too ashamed.”
I knew it was pointless to ask why she hadn’t changed her name, if she hated it so much. Not only might she have offended her parents; worse still would have been asking the local bureaucracy to record the new name in her family register.
“Naze o-namae o kaeta’n desu ka?” (Why did you change your name?) When, not long after we’d started seeing each other, I told Ikuko that I’d changed my name—from John Anthony to Jonathon—she’d changed the subject. Now, six months later, she was suddenly curious.
“Yume o mita’n desu yo.” (I had a dream.) In my dream I was standing in line, listening as a female voice called a roll. When she said “Jonathon Delacour”, I thought: “That’s me.” I looked down and saw that I was holding a three-by-five index card in both hands, white, with JONATHON DELACOUR written on it in a neat script. I woke up, knowing that I’d discovered my real name.
Ikuko sipped her champagne. Drops of condensation splashed gently on her stomach, nearly obliterating the character ko.
“I knew they were having sex and that they knew I wasn’t. Not that I was saving myself for someone special, it’s just that none of the boys in my school appealed. But I knew, even before having sex, that I’d enjoy it, because I’d already discovered how to give myself pleasure.”
“Now, occasionally after I come, I think of my stupid classmates. None of those boys will ever have me and the girls are stuck with children and salaryman husbands. They probably can’t remember when they last had sex.”
She took a mouthful of champagne, rolled nimbly onto my chest, and kissed me, filling my mouth with warm bubbles.