Hello all. Back to work for the J-List crew, although it’s time for the nenmatsu rush of people taking days off, so not everyone is here. Japan really slows down during New Year’s, which is the big holiday in the country. Everything is closed, except for convenience stores. Just two more updates after today before 2004 is history.
Today’s J-List post is below. You can also read it on the J-List website or the JBOX.com site.
I experienced many forms of culture shock when I first came to Japan, and one area that surprised me a lot was the place of women in Japanese society. While women do enjoy equality in terms of legal rights here, it is true that Japan is definitely a very male-dominated country in which the roles of men and women are very different than they are in the West. Here, women tend to occupy a slightly lower tier than men, and this is not, as far as I can see, due entirely to any sexist maneuverings on the part of Japan’s males. When a company hires a 23-year-old girl to work at a full time job, it’s joshiki (common sense) that she’ll quit within a few years to get married, and the number of career-minded women in Japan is far fewer than in the U.S. This tendency on the part of Japan’s females to defer to men seems to be the root of much of the famed Japanese social stability. It’s certainly true that, while the man in the family is the daikoku-bashira or the big, black pillar that supports the family, the woman of the house will handle all finances, expertly putting money away for when it’s needed and ensuring the family’s future happiness. There’s a Japanese word that describes the “perfect woman,” called yamato nadeshiko, which represents the traits that are ideal for a wife and mother to have: femininity, chastity, loyalty to her husband, the skill to change her husband’s mind when he’s wrong, and inner strength. Both men and women buy into this image of the ideal Japanese woman to some degree.
In Japan, there are various first- and second-person pronouns, and which word a person uses says a lot about their social roles. For example, for the word corresponding to “you,” Japanese men will usually use a name with –san or –kun after it (polite), the word kimi (somewhat familiar, used among friends) or the masculine word omae (oh-MAI-eh), depending on who they’re talking to. This third word is quite interesting to study. It’s generally only used by men (or in anime, ultra-Tomboy type females), and generally from a superior to someone below him, i.e. senpai/upperclassmen to kouhai/underclassman, parent to child, dog owner to pet, etc. Choosing to use omae to refer to a person verbally reinforces a certain relationship, i.e. that you are above them in status, so the potential to offend someone by using it improperly is great. If a man says omae to a woman he’s romantically involved with, he’s basically implying that she belongs to him, in effect saying omae wa ore no mono da, or “You belong to me.” Some Japanese women find this term very romantic and get all fluttery inside when they hear it, while others — Japanese women who’ve lived in America or Europe, I am told — dislike having men refer to them with this word.
It’s often said that Japanese society follows behind the U.S. by 25 years or so, and this seems to be true quite a lot of the time. The divorce rate in Japan is currently around 2.2 people per thousand people, about half the rate of 4.1 in the U.S., but still higher than countries like Italy (0.6). Japan lacks a “no fault” divorce system, and courts often assign blame to one party, especially if one side can prove unfaithfulness on the part of the other. Usually when a couple lands in splitsville, the women will go back to her jikka, her “real house” where her parents live, and go back to using her maiden name. It’s common for the former couple to never see each other again for the rest of their lives, and fathers are often separated from their children forever, too, especially when the woman gets remarried. As Japan ages, an increasing number of older couples are calling off their marriages, once children grow up and move away. When a woman gets divorced, she may not get married again for the next six months, to avoid problems with determining the father of any children she may be carrying.