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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
THE ZEIT GIST
Women, know your place
One guaranteed way out of Japan's demographic mess
By KRIS KOSAKA
Special to The Japan Times
Every time I open a newspaper or click on the Internet, yet another article appears bemoaning the same tired trend in Japanese society: the falling birthrate. Citing everything from sexless marriages to inequality in the workplace for women, these articles all skirt the real problem — Japanese women themselves.
Never have I met such a wide variety of overqualified housewives. The waste confounds my slight mathematical ability: How much money thoughtlessly wasted through the years on cram schools and education, on overseas travel, violin lessons? It's time Japanese society eliminated this harmful contradiction, since Japanese women must not be prepared for anything except spousal care and child-rearing. A new focus on marital arts should replace all other education for women in Japan, starting from mid-elementary level, lest girls become susceptible to the dangerous notion that they can someday have a life outside the home.
Take Kato-san. Her life before marriage revolved around a high-level position in corporate banking. Although useful now when dividing the bill after a mommas' karaoke all-nighter (Kato calculates each person's share down to the last decimal, in seconds, even after downing 14 plum cocktails) and perhaps giving her a slight advantage over other housewives when managing the household accounts, any outside observer would conclude she is now overqualified in her daily life.
Or there's Maki, fluent in Italian, who was once an interior designer for a prestigious firm in Tokyo. It is rather pleasing, when she orders gelato, to hear the correct pronunciation of her desired flavor, but other than producing particularly stunning home decor, can her education really enhance her children and husband's everyday existence?
My best friend, Mayuko, a former stage actress and award-winning translator of plays, summed it up best in a recent conversation. "I mean," she said, "What does my world — Elisa, stop hitting Nicky! — or any world need drama for?" Good question, as a housewife's life is much better suited to television drama, easily accessed after the children go to bed and the husband drones late-night at the office. All these women prove Japanese society raises woefully overqualified housewives, and this senseless waste must stop.
I propose all Japanese women, at the age of 10, enter matrimonial arts academies. The curriculum will center on how to make life pleasant for men and children, and such courses as "Household Funds" or "How to Raise a Chauvinistic Male" will ensure society regains a clarity and unity of purpose so lacking in today's confused world. Seminars such as "How to Pour Beer into your Husband's Glass with Minimal Foam" or "Bathing Children While Maintaining a Pristine Bath" will ensure Japanese women learn the skills and develop the talents necessary for their existence. The arts and sports will not be forgotten: In order to maintain their global reputation for beauty, Japanese women should also take classes such as "Ten-Second Makeup and Skin Care" (including the many uses of a black parasol and elbow-length gloves) and "How to Run in 7-inch Heels while Chasing a 2-year-old."
Going back to the Meiji Era, a precedent exists for such a school in Japanese culture. In 1899, each prefecture in Japan was commanded by law to open at least one high school for girls, the reasoning patently sound: In order to be good wives and wise mothers — ryosai kenbo — women must continue their own education to better educate their children. Coupled with the cultural belief in the enduring power of mother's love (bosei), a woman's future following her true vocation became culturally programmed. It is only with globalization, and the realization that some countries claim that a father's love and attention is also important, or that a woman can and should look outside the home lest her talents be underutilized, that women in Japan became confused.
Western influence must surely take the blame for such hazardous, false assumptions. Japanese society would crumble if women were allowed back into the workplace, as the traditional Japanese male loses the ability to distinguish laundry detergent from rat poison, an egg from an artichoke, homework from the gas bill as soon as he marries. Japanese males, however, are not immune to the dangers of globalization. I have heard recent rumors of Japanese husbands occasionally washing the dishes or playing catch with their children. A club of Japanese husbands grabbed the media spotlight recently for its focus on members publicly declaring devotion to their wives, not their companies. Such rare aberrations must be controlled. It would be further proposed that men enroll in reconditioning schools to curtail the damage from these misleading ideas. The typical Japanese male, however, from kindergarten onward with cram school and other activities geared toward university entrance and subsequent career goals, has no time for such review. Japanese women, therefore, must bear the burden in reeducating their children and spouses.
I also propose that all foreign nationals planning to seek employment in Japan enroll in a compulsory six-month course indoctrinating them to Japanese expectations. When I taught at an international preschool in Yokohama, foreign parents often insisted on keeping their children home on Japanese holidays. Although I patiently explained the folly and possible future damage to their university entrance prospects, particularly concerning the male children, most parents refused to listen. "My husband never gets home in time to see our kids, and your school does not observe Japanese holidays," they whined. "On Saturdays and Sundays, he is too tired to play with the children after the long salaryman hours during the week. These holidays are his only chance to see his children."
This lamentable misunderstanding arises simply due to incorrect expectations. Japanese citizens realize the importance of keeping women in their place and men nailed down to their respective group in the Company. For this reason, every employer planning to send employees to Japan has a moral responsibility to ensure their people embrace the Japanese style of business and society. The wives of these men especially must lose their useless, swollen expectations. Perhaps it is even better to leave the wife and children in the home country so they will not prove a distraction to their hardworking fathers. Japanese companies have a great tradition of this policy, tanshin funin, and foreigners coming to Japan should be made aware of this option.
Any Japanese woman who does not apply herself to her studies, or insists on an alternative career to the home, should be scheduled as soon as possible for sterilization. No need to waste taxpayers' money and their teachers' time if these misinformed women refuse to adhere to their natural vocation. Such women will probably welcome such measures, as their bodies will no longer be able to provide conflicting messages to their mind's unnatural desires.
There is an alternative, but I am reluctant to enter such uncharted, disputed waters. If Japanese corporations and the men who run them force their employees to embrace a work-life balance; if such novel concepts as work-time flexibility, leaving when your work is done instead of when your boss leaves, being rewarded for merit instead of seniority become commonplace; if Japanese families realize the benefits of having a father actually present and active in home-minding and child-raising; if Japanese women admit the only way they can have a family and a career is to have a man physically present and willing to take on some of their traditional roles . . . well, perhaps things could change.
I remain pessimistic, however. These strategies have been tried in many other countries without resounding success. Are British, French or American women any happier with the difficult choices they face in balancing work and home? Better to be clear from the beginning, for both men and women, and harmony in society.
Japan, so effective in starting global trends in electronics and anime, could take the reins of this international conundrum and introduce the world to a new, fresh way of thinking. No matter what country they call home, women, as the procreators of our species, have complicated choices to make in the modern world. Clearly it is best in Japan, and certainly in other countries as well, to give them no choice at all.
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