Nako wanted to work for no other reason that to manifest the personality that she has at home into the public sphere. She’s been swimming since three years old and has found much solace in water and thus makes a metaphor of it: her home is the ocean and everywhere outside is the surface. The Kissui Inn acts as some kind of shore region where she can still swim and be on the surface as well. It is her training ground to become the mermaid princess who learns to walk among the surface.
Sure enough, Hanasaku Iroha runs with the allusion to Hans Christian Andersen’s story by making Nako speak very quietly and meekly – much like the Little Mermaid who cannot speak at all on land as part of the condition for her to be there. But this is where the allusion breaks down. Hans’ mermaid went to shore to pursue a prince. Nako let that prince drown to death. She was on the shore because her voice was the manifestation of her true self, and that it felt so weak and suppressed while on the surface. Thus she must work, because this is a kind of change she wants: an ability to access her authentic self.
Nako’s parents (of 4 children) argue parenting theory at home, within earshot of the kids. Mom believes in withholding praise because praise will make kids lazy. Dad believes that praise will motivate children to work harder to earn it. Nako finds both these approaches manipulative. In Po Bronson’s Nurtureshock, he brings forth research that show how destructive superfluous praise is to developing children. It would seem that his findings support Mom’s reticence. However, there is a place for praise. It is the object of praise that makes all the difference:
If the child is praised for innate things: intelligence, ability, talent, looks… then the child runs the risk of expecting results for just ‘being.’ There becomes an entitlement that results are due the child for being so special. This I think is a dangerous way of thinking to carry into adulthood. What’s recommended is to praise effort. This develops an appreciation for work, and when adversity comes which innate talent or ability cannot easily overcome, the child is not averse to putting in the effort to solve problems. There is less propensity to complain, or suffer a crisis of self-image.
I don’t really know why Nako is unable to speak freely outside her home, but the resolution – or just the very dynamic that Madame Manager and the Kissui Inn brings is very interesting. Nako thinks of it as a development resource, and interprets the acts of Madame Manager as developmental tactics. Nako equated compensation as developmental messages – the kind her parents argued about. She cast herself as being praised in order to live up to a goal, and that the praise is a pay raise. She considers Ohana’s pay being docked not in the context of her breaking valuable assets, but because she interprets it as Ohana being the kind of child who will be spoiled if praised.
Since Nako could not evoke her ‘authentic self’ and be an effective waitress at the same time, she tells Madame Manager that she shouldn’t get the raise. The Manager admonishes her that the Kissui Inn is not a school. Wages aren’t praise, wages are compensation for work rendered, and the value of the work is reflected in the amount. She also says that Nako’s self-conscious, nervous way is not a liability, or rather it is not as important as the thoughtfulness that she manifests in the service of the customer.
Interesting, in that I can read this as a callous tolerance for whatever authenticity issues of personality the employee faces as long as the work gets done. But the Madame Manager doesn’t value Nako as a machine or pack animal, in that she goes out of her way to increase her wages despite financial difficulty.
I read it this way: work does teach us something. It teaches us who we are in the face of it. Our ‘authentic’ selves, especially at a young age, may perhaps be true, but it is an incomplete self in that it hasn’t known how it’ll be in the face of work and agreements between strangers. I mention the latter because it is the transaction that takes place: I give my time and my effort in return for money. This is an exchange founded on trust between strangers (relative to the intimacy of family inside the home). Who we are in the face of this may not necessarily be in conflict with our personality at home, but it can be an extension of our selves, the selves we don’t know yet.
Yuina, who hasn’t worked, doesn’t know the self she will become as an employee, as a tradesperson, as a creator who gets compensated for designing and/or making things. Nako knows a little more of herself now. Minko is learning. Ohana is discovering.
Hanasaku Iroha presents a way out of the authentic/inauthentic binary. It’s not that we’re asked to be not true, to change who we are; rather, that we consider that we can grow, that change and transformation isn’t replacing the self, but adding to it. And yes, it doesn’t forget to present Nako in the least clothing possible since we’ve seen her in this show. The show knows we’ve been waiting, that we were teased by the beach outing episode. Instead of a swimsuit we get full the full shellfish swimwear mermaid treatment. This show… it gives everything.