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!