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June 22, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Partners in love and work

My eldest daughter, Nanao, with husband, Erling

September 11, 1997

It’s widely reported that an increasing number of Japanese women are choosing to remain single, and in an interesting and revealing article, one young woman told her reasons why.

She began by saying that she had originally planned to work only on a temporary basis after finishing university, and took a job with a small trading company, but that “after five months of being worked like a dog, I quit.”

Later, she registered with a temporary employment agency, and whenever they didn’t have work for her, she worked part-time in a coffee shop. That job lead to her becoming fascinated with baking cakes and pastries, which lead to her becoming an assistant to a cooking instructor. Although she reported not liking “boring” chores likes sharpening knives when things are slow, she enjoys the work and has been at the same job for five years.

It is still common for young adults in Japan to live at home until they are married. Since many Japanese parents do not expect nor ask their working children to contribute to household expenses, they’re able to amass considerable amounts of money. Quite a few have ample funds for foreign travel and fashionable clothes, and can still begin married life with their own savings.

This woman said she had not saved much money because she loves overseas vacations and every year visits Europe and Asia. “My favorite destination these days is Thailand,” she said.

“As for marriage, I’m not interested at the moment. Even though I haven’t had a steady boyfriend for eight years, I’m thoroughly enjoying my life.” She said that of her friends who are married, none appear happy.

On the occasions she accepts invitations to parties, the men she meets are all alike – they are, in her words, “boring, unattractive ‘suits’.”

I’ve heard Japanese men referred to as “suits” before. To an American woman friend they appeared like “bored robots – just blue suits.” I suppose Japanese men have only themselves to blame for this unfavorable description, but when I pointed out to my friend that a lot of these men are hard workers who have sacrificed personal enrichment for the support and comfort of their families, which often includes aging parents, she said, “I never thought about it like that. I guess they’re not really so one-dimensional after all.”

Our young working woman concluded:  “Because I’ve been working as a cooking assistant for some time now, I think I’m ready for a new challenge. My dream is to start a restaurant specializing in Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.” She said that while she needs more training, what she needs more than that is financial backing. The article ended with her musing:  “I wonder if anybody is interested in helping me.”

I wonder too. Who? Santa Claus? An anonymous and very generous sponsor? A beneficent benefactor? Perhaps someone who longs to follow the example of the wealthy patrons of the Italian Renaissance?

I couldn’t help but think that a husband may be just what this woman is looking for. One of the “suits” she rejects out of hand might just have (while outfitted in a suit) made, and saved, some money.

Maybe her mother should tell her, I thought, that if the relationship is ever allowed to progress beyond the depths of the clothes the man is wearing, she could tell him she prefers him in a T-shirt and jeans, or whatever. Most guys wouldn’t be threatened by that. Some may still need to wear a suit to work – and may even prefer a suit to casual clothes. In any case, there’s a good chance that one these men she dismisses so summarily has the money she says she needs.

Perhaps if she were to meet one of these men when they’re dressed in slacks and a casual shirt, she might find it in her to strike up a conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was pleasantly surprised to find he’s had enough of the corporate world himself, and would be happy to help a woman (as partner and/or wife) realize her dream.

I bet there are a few men out there who have not had the time or inclination to develop an imaginative vision for their lives, and would like nothing better than to become entrepreneurs, helping nurture the success of a business in which they have a stake and personal interest. A lot of these men, locked body and soul into the gears of their companies, might be thrilled to have a knowledgeable woman show him Thailand, among other things.

Anyway, if she still rules out marriage, maybe she could get a loan from a bank (although she’s probably already tried that and can’t).

It’s not impossible, of course, that there might be a few people out there who would be happy to underwrite an enterprising young woman, but you just never see ads placed by people seeking to give away money.

Marriage gets a bad rap, and it’s no surprise, since there are so many bad marriages. But there are also many good ones – and the best marriages are partnerships.

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POSTSCRIPT

Well, I still hear the same thing – women don’t want to get married. But they are just not the women I know. Because those women, in their, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – would like nothing better than a serious relationship that lead directly to marriage.

The pity is that so many men are not marriageable material because they’re dinosaurs – still stuck in a previous, backward, primitive era where men are the breadwinners, and women should be at home – day and night, day in and day out – looking after home and children – as though nothing else existed in the world.

Women now want men who can be partners, 100 per cent. That does not mean splitting the household chores down some mythical middle, but rather having an awareness of and commitment to a relationship between two loving, mutually supportive adults, and acceptance of the shared responsibilities of raising a family.

But of course, the current economic climate and employment prospects are so poor, it’s difficult for young people to look forward to and plan for a married future. Recent surveys show that men need to be earning at least three million yen a year to be even considered marriage material.

One significant change since the time this essay was written is that women can now obtain loans more easily. More than one bank has realized that there are any number of professional working women who want to own property and start businesses, and they’re no more likely (in fact, statistically, less likely) to default on a loan than a man. It’s simply poor judgment and bad business strategy not to extend loans to them.

For centuries in Japan, prospective couples were formally introduced, and their marriages arranged. While I don’t think marriages should be arranged without the knowledge and agreement of the parties concerned – I think having a go-between, someone who knows the principals and has their best interest in mind, can be a good thing. Of course, some times it was not in the best interest of the individuals involved, but a matter of consolidating property, or even settling scores in families.

Now there are numerous groups, clubs and organizations that will make these arranged introductions. Maybe they’re still needed, because there are simply not enough opportunities to meet, a need online dating partially addresses. A lot of people are just bad at socializing – and social networking hasn’t helped. In Japan now, it would not be an exaggeration to say that more people interact with their cell phones and pets than they do with people.

The older I get, the more I think that it’s akin to a miracle that two people find each other, come together, and try to make a life together. 

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© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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