Only In Japan

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Couples

QUESTION: What do the Japanese mean when they compare women to Christmas cakes?
ANSWER: After the 25th, no-one wants to buy them anymore.
It is an old joke so the figures have changed, but the basic idea remains: women have to get married when they're still young (traditionally before they turn 25), otherwise they'll be impossible to "sell".
And why do you think Japanese men work so hard? Why, in order to be able to "buy" a good partner, of course!

OK, so things might not be that extreme anymore, but the basic idea is as strong as ever. Founding a stable family in which to bring up a few kids is the raison d'etre of most Japanese; well actually of most humans, I guess. But in Japan, the emphasis on "stable" is especially strong. Whereas in the West love is considered the only healthy basis for a couple and a family, in Japan such feeling-based relationships are traditionally viewed with a lot of suspicion. Feelings come and go, older Japanese would say, and do you really want to build a family on such a fleeting thing as love? Surely it's better to choose a partner who shares your values regarding family, whom you can rely on to make the kids interests come first, and who seems stable enough not to change their mind midway. In other words, mutual respect is safer than love in a couple.

Does that make a couple happy? Probably not, but then again happiness isn't what most people get married for. Breeding healthy and succesful children is what it's all about, and a "reasonable" marriage is the best way to create a conducive environment. Also note that most "love marriages" quickly devolve into very homely relationships: in Japan, older couples still based on love or affection are considered slightly weird, something like "childish cute". I remember a group of my friends coming back from holidays in Dubai, and talking about an older Western couple they had seen holding hands. One of the girls said "That's so great!" but all the others said things like "That's too weird!" or "How can they not feel embarrassed?" Actually, I think many Japanese (especially women) secretly envy that kind of relationship, but they don't know how to foster it or they just think it's impossible. But more on that later.

Which doesn't mean there is no romance after marriage in Japan; it's just that it rarely happens inside the couple...

For the reasonably attractive Japanese businessman especially, affairs are not too hard to organize: the abundance of unmarried junior female staff in Japanese companies and frequent absences for business reasons give them plenty of opportunities for extra-marital fun. Company drinking parties are also very common, and the free-flowing booze always helps break down the inhibitions of both men and women; it's not pretty, but it often works. Note, however, that drunk and horny Japanese businessmen who can't find a date tend to be quite repulsive. Take the train around 11 PM in Japan and you will see what I mean... But the really sad thing is, I don't think having affairs with the temp staff at the office makes men happy. It just offers them a glimpse of what they have missed, but in the end it's just rubbing salt on the wound.

Married women, on the other hand, rarely have many chances to find romance (even short ones), especially the ones with children and/or who don't work. A bit of fun with the mailman can never be written off, of course; but in general married women have lots of free time on their hands, that they spend bitterly reflecting on the affective wasteland their life is. The response to this distressful situation is usually a combination of the following: shopping addiction, domestic alcoholism, grumbling sessions with other married women, the occasional affair, and the transfer of all their frustrated affection on their sons. The latter is, I think, one of the major problems in Japan: the mother / son relationship is way too strong, which stunts the emotional development of boys, and later makes it much harder for them to relate normally to women. So when (and if) they get married, they won't know how to make their wives happy... Lather, rinse and repeat: this vicious circle has been perpetuating itself for at least 50 years, and I personally don't see what can break it.

As to life between the sheets, it is easy to guess how miserable it is.
Combine long working hours and commute, the fact that many couples are not based on mutual attraction, and a big lack of communication (talking about sex is traditionally considered vulgar in Japan), and you get The Sexless Problem. Alarming numbers of Japanese couples never or almost never have sex, and this has come to be recognized as a national issue, especially considering Japan has one of the lowest natality rates in the world. So plenty of TV programmes, magazine articles, and websites get devoted to the issue, with little to no result. The problem is much too deep...

Because, let's face it, the Japanese model doesn't work anymore. The divorce rate is in the average for developped countries (one divorce every two minutes in Japan...), so all this "stability over happiness" talk makes no sense. It might have worked in a society where personal happiness was not a factor and where women didn't expect equality in the couple, for example Japan before WW2. But those days are over. No one want to sacrifice their dreams and happiness for the group anymore, and most people realise a couple needs to be based on communication and real attraction. Unfortunately, communicating their feelings and expressing their real personality is what the Japanese are the weakest at; and making the efforts necessary to keep oneself attractive to one's spouse is also something that feels too awkward for most Japanese.

The sad thing is, eventhough everyone knows their couple life doesn't work, it only makes them more frustrated to realise the problem and be unable to solve it. The default attitude, of course, is to bite the bullet and live the same life as their parents...

What a waste.

2 Comments:

At 8:56 AM, Blogger seminalson said...

You wrote:
The latter is, I think, one of the major problems in Japan: the mother / son relationship is way too strong, which stunts the emotional development of boys, and later makes it much harder for them to relate normally to women. So when (and if) they get married, they won't know how to make their wives happy... Lather, rinse and repeat: this vicious circle has been perpetuating itself for at least 50 years, and I personally don't see what can break it"
OKAY - Well, your comments can go further. It is really sad that the world has been constructed in this manner. You speak of the problem being the mother / son relationship inference being the unhealthy relationship between a mother and her son. Well, I think more the issue is the unhealthy relationship between the men in Japan with .. well.. other men. They teach each other to hate and disrespect women; they don't value girl babies / children and only want to invest (care, love, funds) in the boy- child. And this dominating belief has no doubt effected the way mothers/ woman see themselves. It is no wonder some of the women in Japan have unhealthy relationships with their sons.

This is what has been reinforced and taught over and over and over again by the ruling class... the MEN. I think we should start there instead of pointing fingers at - as usual - mothers/ women/ girls.

As well, it speaks to the sad state of "male culture" - which is universal - they only way we actually exist as a powerful force is to dominate, humiliate and belittle women. We men need some serious help. I for one, think a men's revolution is necessary.
Thoughts?

 
At 5:51 PM, Blogger PODJAPAN said...

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I could have developed my opinion much further, but on this blog I am just trying to introduce Japan to foreigners in a light and amusing way, so I try not to push my arguments too far.

And yes, I think men really need to change. Unfortunately, evolutionary pressures have molded male / female relationships for hundreds of thousands of years, so things will not change quickly. There is a lot more to be said on the subject, but I don't think here is the place.

 

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