They’re catching up at long last


Today I had my first lesson with a young married couple who live on the “rich” side of this island, where all the private sector housing is located. Both of them are bio-medical researchers (a little-known fact about Kobe City is that it is a renowned centre of research and development, particularly bio-medical) and need to study English for their jobs. I sat in their living room for two hours, chatting, scribbling notes, and drinking their excellent coffee, and during that time I was struck by the contrast between the young people of today, and their parents’ generation.

For starters, both of them are working professionals. Traditionally men’s and women’s roles are strictly divided in Japan. When a woman marries, she quits work and devotes herself to home, hearth, and eventual motherhood. Men work extremely long hours outside the home, and spend most of their weekends sitting around relaxing and being waited on hand-and-foot (not a bad trade-off for slaving your guts out and being used as a cash machine if you ask me, but I’m biased).

Secondly, I noticed that the young husband had no compunction about taking on so-called “women’s work.” For example, it was he who served me my coffee and chocolates, rather than his wife. In his parents’ day, this would’ve been absolutely unthinkable! Having to do such a thing would’ve caused severe embarrassment for the man of the house. (I’ll never forget my shock when I made a courtesy call on a British couple at Oxford-Kobe a few years ago. When I walked into their quarters, he was washing the dishes and she was sitting reading a book!  All I could do was stare – I’d never seen a man do that in Japan before, least of all a university professor.)

Furthermore, the two addressed each other very casually (and affectionately!) in my presence, whereas with the older generation, although wives always talk to their husbands very respectfully, husbands talk to their wives as though they are dogs, barely speaking except to issue commands and directives.  Today’s young people are far more egalitarian in their dealings with the opposite sex. 

Yes, Japan is catching up with the ways of the West, for better or for worse.  I fear the “worse” part. 

P.S.  You know the British academic I mentioned above?  He left his wife for his Japanese interpreter.  I bet he doesn’t wash any dishes now!


5 comments on “They’re catching up at long last

  1. Karen says:

    From a woman’s viewpoint, what exactly would be the “worse” part? I think it was long overdue that men began to take a role in the running of the household, and, even more importantly, the raising of children. It’s one of the things I find so endearing about the younger generation. It’s not uncommon here to see young couples out and about, and it may well be the man carrying the baby or pushing the stroller. I see men holding and kissing their children all the time. That was unheard of in my youth. I think it’s a wonderful thing, both for the fathers and for their children.

  2. Miko says:

    At this point in time, Japanese society is a lot like the western countries of the ’70s, and in the same state of flux regarding sexual equality, which makes it a fascinating place to be right now. Japanese families are still pretty close-knit, and divorces are relatively uncommon (although rising as we speak), hence there is far greater social cohesion, far less crime and juvenile delinquency, etc. Despite the fact that most western women now work outside the home, and that many men now take a greater and more active part in running homes and raising children, there’s no way I would call it a fair trade-off. Who got the crappy end of that deal? Certainly not the men. That’s what I meant by “worse.” I really don’t want to see the same shit happen to Japanese society, although I fear it’s inevitable.

  3. Petra says:

    I have to agree with you here, Miko. Women in Western society did gain a lot, but are stuck with a lot of the old stuff, too. They are expected to be everything: great at the workplace, great in the kitchen, great in bed plus taking care of the kids or organizing that they are being taken care of.

    As soon as one decides to let one of those things go, one is considered strange.

  4. Karen says:

    I’m not sure I agree. What I’m seeing is more and more men who are doing their share of cooking, cleaning, and kid care. And when they do, they’re frequently to tired to get frisky in the bedroom.

    One of our cousins took a year off when he lost his job and was the “homemaker”. He was way better at it than his wife, too.

  5. Miko says:

    I know a couple like that too, but they would be a rarity even in western countries, let alone Japan. Much, much more common is the other way around.

    I think the real problem is: trying to have it all. I just don’t see how that is possible. I don’t even kid myself that I can be both a good worker and a good mother (being a good wife/lover is out of the question, that’s for sure). I’m happy to be mediocre at both. In fact, I aspire to it.

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