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Monday, November 02, 2009

Japanese women and the appearance of submission

"Before a war military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war it seems more like astrology." - Rebecca West

How about recessions and economics?


On "patriarchy" in Japan:

"Few Westerners are aware that Japanese women have any kind of domestic power at all. In publications produced by Japanese women’s groups. I have also read the surprising figure that 70 percent of married women with teenage children now work outside the home, but that even women who do not work for wages are usually the ones who decide how much a family saves or spends...

Many Japanese companies actually pay a man’s wages directly into his wife’s bank account. I’ve heard male professors joke about how they only give speeches around the country on the condition that they be paid discreetly and directly, a way of getting their hands on some cash their wives don’t know about and can’t control. Many Japanese wives handle all the family income and give their husbands allowances. Men frequently complain among themselves about their stingy wives. It’s a familiar topic of comedy on television, the hardworking saraiiman whose wife won’t let him have enough money to go out drinking or to play pachinko, the pinball game that’s a national obsession. In fact, the beauty of the company bar is that one’s tab is usually picked up by the company or deducted directly from one’s salary, before it lands in the wife’s account.

You would not know from observing popular culture that women are Japan’s primary consumers, however. Most Japanese ads cater to male fantasies, as if men were the potential customers who had to be persuaded.

“But isn’t that typical in Japan?” one of my friends responded when I asked her about this. “We women pretend that men have all the power—and then we go about our own lives. As long as the men feel they are in control, we can do what we like.

The difference between the appearance of submissiveness and the reality of control is something Ted noticed almost immediately, especially since he kept meeting foreign men with Japanese girlfriends or wives. Not all gajin fell into this category, certainly, but Ted joked that there were some gajin men who looked cocksure when they were dating Japanese women, happily anticipating the Western fantasy of the totally deferential Oriental wife. Yet there was a perplexed look of lost illusions that unmistakably marked those who had learned, too well, that there could be an iron will and enormous capability behind the demure smile of the “submissive” Japanese wife...

Yet the stereotype of the submissive Asian woman never goes away. Every English-language publication in Japan is filled with desperate personal ads, like this one from an English-language magazine published in Kobe:

OBEDIENCE. An American man who is sensitive but strict seeks a woman of a delicate and docile nature who is interested in exploring the full range of the meaning of this word. What do you think of the ancient Chinese statement “He who rules, truly serves and she who serves, truly rules”? All who are interested should write to...

The pathetic author of this advertisement was partly right; in Japan, the person who has the power frequently is the one who acts the most powerless. This appearance of submission may be one way that Japanese women survive in a system that, by tradition and law, grants men a superior position. Again I think of Mrs. Okano. I doubt that she would find any contradiction between selecting and arranging the financing for a house that in our suburb could easily cost a million dollars, and making sure she’s always there, rice cooker at the ready, when her husband comes home from work or from after-work barhopping. In our conversations, she always refers to her husband with the old-fashioned term teishu: "My Master."

If she’s really typical, Mrs. Okano also spends part of her day reading financial reports and phoning her broker. Women actively participate in the Nikkei, the Japanese stock market, and Japan’s astonishing 20 percent savings rate (one of its biggest weapons in the trade wars) is due almost entirely to the pecuniary habits of Japanese women."

--- 36 views of Mount Fuji: on finding myself in Japan / Cathy N. Davidson
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