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Thursday, May 25, 2000

More and more men are getting left on the shelf


Staff writer

"When I come home from work in the evening, my room is dark, and in winter it's cold. At these times I always wish I had a wife waiting for me, with a hot meal," says Yoshiharu Mitamura (not his real name), a 36-year-old photographer.

He has been living alone for nearly 10 years in a family-oriented apartment building in Funabashi City, Chiba, where most of his neighbors are married, many with small children. He says he envies these married couples whenever he sees them going out shopping together or taking their children to a nearby park.

Mitamura confesses he has wanted to get married since his mid-20s, but his dream has yet to be realized. "I'm thinking of joining an omiai (matchmaking) service," he says.

Recently, the number of men who are over 30 and still unmarried has increased significantly in Japan. A survey by the Management and Coordination Agency shows that the percentage of unmarried men aged 30-34 was 37.3 percent in 1995, 5 percent higher than in 1990 and higher than such other industrial nations as the United States, Britain, France, Holland and Canada.

"This increase in the number of unmarried men didn't appear out of nowhere; the percentage has been rising gradually since the '70s," says Masahiro Yamada, author of "Parasite Single no Jidai (The Era of Parasite Singles)" and an associate professor at Tokyo Gakugei University.

According to Yamada, many people -- both men and women -- still prefer a conventional family structure in which the husband works outside and the wife cares for the home. However, these days, due to the poor economy, single-income families are not faring so well, and this is influencing women looking for prospective husbands.

"Frankly speaking, it's difficult for poor men to get married," he says.

He also points to the increasing number of "parasite singles" as another factor which has contributed to the declining marriage rate.

"Parasite single" is a name Yamada coined to describe unmarried people who continue living with their parents even after they become economically independent.

He writes in his book that such single people living with their wealthy parents enjoy a "satisfying" life with plenty of time and money for themselves. They do not have to do household chores, because their mothers are willing to do them for them.

"Those people are wary of marriages that could lower their standard of living. As long as wives depend on their husbands economically, this situation will not change drastically, even if the Japanese economy recovers," he says.

However, economic difficulties do not seem to be the only factor discouraging men from getting married. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, single men aged 25-34 say the main reason they are not yet married is that they have not met the right person; the second reason is that they do not feel there is any necessity to get married immediately.

The fact is, it's easier to be single these days than it used to be. In the past, men who had reached a certain age but were still single were often labeled immature or socially impaired. Today such social prejudice has diminished as marriage has come to be considered a private matter.

There are not a few men who have a decent wage but remain single. Takao Okamura (not his real name), a 34-year-old bank employee, is one example. He has been going steady with his girlfriend for two years and wants to marry her in the future, but says he is in no hurry.

Okamura's casual attitude toward marriage possibly stems from his confidence that he can get married any time he wants. He confesses that he has almost always had a girlfriend ever since he was a student at the University of Tokyo, and he does not think his value as a desirable husband will lessen as he ages.

"I'll lose physical youthfulness and stamina, but in the future I'll have a higher salary and social position instead. I don't think all women will find me attractive, but I'm pretty confident I'll still be marriageable," Okamura says.

He emphasizes that he is not special, and that most unmarried men around him feel the same way. "It may sound arrogant, but men who have a high level of education and an above-average salary would probably think they can find a spouse anytime."

While the majority of men want to get married sooner or later, some have their doubts about the institution of marriage itself. Journalist Yasuhiko Sawada (not his real name), 33, for instance, says he would prefer to remain unmarried for life.

An eligible bachelor, Sawada can find dates without much difficulty. He hasn't suffered traumatic experiences such as his parents divorcing, or had terrible troubles with his ex-girlfriends, either. Yet, he insists that he has no intention of getting married to anyone, at least for now.

"It would be nice to be able to love your spouse for your whole life," Sawada says, "but when I look at the married people around me, it seems that's difficult to do."

Sawada has refused to blindly obey social regulations and conventions since the age of 18 or 19. He believes that love should be a private matter between two individuals, and that the law and conventional social rules should have nothing to do with it.

"I don't want children, either. Some say I will be lonely when I die, but you cannot guarantee that you will never be lonely if you have a family either," Sawada says.

The fact that he enjoys living alone is another reason he is still unmarried, Sawada says. He has been living on his own for 18 years, and finds it comfortable. He does not mind doing household chores by himself and he does not expect someone else to do it for him, he says.

Sawada feels uncomfortable about his single status only when people he meets try to introduce him to "a nice woman" they know. To avoid troublesome situations, he always politely turns down their "kind offer" on the pretext of being busy. "If I accept their offers even once, they'll think I'm ready for marriage," he says.

However, Sawada is a rare case. A number of men are looking for opportunities to meet partners-to-be.

Nippon Seinenkan's marriage consultation office, commonly known as PISA (Partner Introducing Service Agency), has roughly 1,000 members, about 60 percent men, aged mainly 35-45, and 40 percent women, aged mainly 30-37.

Most of the male members are college graduates and have a regular job. PISA staff match up suitable members on the basis of age and personal background, and offer them the chance to meet, but only 10 percent eventually marry.

"The success rate is about the same for all matchmaking offices, but I personally think it could be higher -- nearly 30 percent," says Yoko Itamoto, the general director of PISA.

"The trouble is that many people can't develop their relationships, even if they meet someone nice," she explains. "They are very cautious, and don't open their hearts. They are not good at communicating, either. More and more people prefer being alone, undisturbed by others. Some even say that they are reluctant to marry because it might lead to a divorce in the future."

Itamoto concludes that men today lack "love power," or the ability to fall in love and make an emotional connection. "Sometimes I wonder if our company-centered society has turned men into labor robots," she says.

"To get married, passion or physical desire is sometimes necessary."



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