Posted by Carmel Mercado (Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation–Kobe, Japan)
This one is for the ladies.
Lab Mate #1: Carmel-san, you are now “ikemen judge.”
Me: 何それ？！違う！違う！ (What’s that?! No, no!)
Lab Mate #2: Carmel-san’s friends all ikemen. So ikemen judge. Let’s go to ramen shop in Sannomiya and go ikemen watching! You tell us if there are ikemen there.
Me: へ〜？？！たぶんいないでしょう。(Whaaat?! There PROBABLY aren’t any…)
Lab Mate #1: 行きましょう！(Let’s go!)
In the end, it didn’t matter what I said the other evening. The girls working in my lab convinced me to go out with them to eat ramen in Sannomiya; they promised to take me to a macaron shop afterwards and of course, I succumbed. Macarons.. I haven’t tasted good macarons since Paris so it’s been heaven since moving to Kobe, where foreign desserts are a specialty of the city.
Now you may be wondering, okay… so what is an ikemen? I didn’t know either until I started working in this lab. One of the great advantages about being the only foreigner in the lab, and the youngest one at that, is that you have the chance to learn some interesting vocabulary from your co-workers that you probably wouldn’t ever learn in a Japanese class. My co-workers thought it was ESSENTIAL that I knew what an “ikemen” was because I was still “young” and should be looking for one….
Before I answer the question of “what is an ikemen?” let me rewind. Starting last Wednesday I have been working in a somatic stem cell therapy lab. As part of my internship, I have been “rotating” through different stem cell labs and learning different methodologies for maintaining, differentiating, and using stem cells for various medical treatments. For my last two weeks, I am working in this lab where, to put it briefly, we take fat (adipocytes), extract the stem cells, and harvest them for therapies that involve liver regeneration and the creation of pancreatic islets. Yes, what an odd concept, but we are indeed making fat useful! The interesting thing about this lab, aside from the work, is that everyone but the P.I. is female. Let me tell you that I’m not used to this scenario because in all my time at MIT, I was often in the minority when working in the lab. So here we are, boyish me, the youngest in the group, working in a lab full of Japanese women, and they call me the ikemen judge. How ironic.
SO.. what is an ikemen? I will get to that! When I first arrived in the lab, the ladies all wanted to get to know me and know what I’ve been up to since arriving in Japan, and instead of telling them stories in my Japanglish (my fusion of Japanese with broken English), I decided instead to show them pictures of all the places I’ve been to. That’s when all this ikemen business started. I got to a picture I took with Omar (another MIT-Japan Intern living nearby in Osaka) and two Japanese friends we made over the course of the summer, and as if by magic, my lab mates all began chiming in unison “IKEMEN! IKEMEN!”
This wasn’t the picture that my lab mates were looking at, but just so you get a sense of what an “ikemen” is. Here, Omar and I are posing on Mt. Shosha (Himeji, Japan). We were inspired to do a jump shot after just visiting the temple where “The Last Samurai” was filmed. Yes, my lab mates all thought Omar-san was “ikemen.”
Lab Mate: Your friends, all ikemen!
I stared at the picture.
Me: You mean my friends are… boys? どういう意味？(What do you mean?)
Lab Mate: うん！うん！イケメンはかっこい男のかたです〜！ (Yes! Yes! An ikemen is a “hot”/super-awesome/ worth getting his attention-sort of guy!) *My apologies, I still don’t quite have the best understanding of the word.
Me: Oh! だから、イケメン？ (so they’re ikemen?) *pointing at the picture of my friends*
Lab Mate: うん！うん！たといば… (Yes! Yes! For example…) and they started naming guys from the office.
I didn’t realize how much my face gives away my thoughts because with each person they named, I scrunched my face up in disapproval, thus, why I’ve become the “ikemen judge.” Apparently the others think I have high standards, but really, it’s because they were naming people who were my bosses… what was I expected to say.
The ladies all tell me to go find them ikemen. My P.I., too, now asks me whether I think a guy is an ikemen whenever we have a visitor to the lab.
I love Japan.
*posted by request of the MIT-Japan Coordinator, Michelle, who can understand what it’s like to be considered an “ikemen” judge in Japan :]
This year’s MIT-Japan Kansai Interns enjoying parfaits in Namba, Osaka with two MIT interns visiting from Yokohama. Kansai rules.