Women’s Equality in Japan

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Happy Women’s Equality Day!

Women’s equality in Japan has come a way–not so long, not so short–but Japanese women are still seen as servants in and outside of Japan.

You can see the inequality by how many women are in various areas of Japanese life. In politics, less than 30 percent of the Diet has female politicians, and only 2 out of 18 people on Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet are women. In business, only 1 percent of senior executives are women and the gender wage gap is around 28 percent. Even in daily life, women’s inequality is visible.

Living in Japan, I’ve seen many Japanese women who work full-time and still make 3 meals a day for their children and husbands as well as care for the elderly. Some people could say that lunch, cleaning, and familial duties are signs of love for women.  “OK, carry this human for 9 months, give birth, clean up, wake up, and raise that child into adulthood, make meals for the child and husband for 30 years, and work the same hours for only 72 percent of the pay.” Does that sound like love? It sounds like servitude. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t cook, clean, or take care of their families. I’m saying that there are other able-bodied persons in a family who can share the duties. Besides, learning how to cook, clean, and take care of others are skills every person should have to live–everybody eats.

Outside of Japan, the stereotype is Japanese women are subservient. When it comes down to Japanese women marrying non-Japanese men, that stereotype is untrue. Why do you think most single, average-looking foreign men who come to Japan marry beautiful Japanese wives? Many Japanese girls and women think foreign men will cook, clean, and take care of the family. Where this idea came from I’m not sure (my money’s on Hollywood). Even my students say to me, “I want to marry a foreigner.” The funny things is the illusion of subservient Japanese women helps Japanese women marry foreigners. Once the curtain falls away, most foreign men realize that Japanese women aren’t as mousy as they thought.

I may be against the way Japanese women are seen, but I greatly respect Japanese women. They raise their families, take care of their bodies, and help each other when help is needed. Even though I don’t have kids, as a married woman, I’m suddenly part of a community of women who trade recipes, talk about their problems, and go walking together. These women are responsible for fostering children’s imaginations while filling their tummies with nutritious foods. It’s better than some women who substitute healthy cooking with cheap blood-clotting burgers, have 3 to 5 children from different fathers, and can’t take care of their physical, mental, emotional, or financial well being. In this way, irresponsible women have a long way to go.

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3 Things to Notice While living in Japan

Another list about living in Japan, narrowed down to three things.
1. You’ll see foreign men with Japanese women, but not so much Japanese men with foreign women. I don’t know the exact reason, but there are many half-Japanese kids I’ve met with foreign dads. Maybe it has something to do with the ratio of men to woman, or if Americanized imports, like Hollywood movies and Disney fairy tales, play any role in these couples, but there’s a stereotype that foreign men will do chores. Every foreign bachelor who comes to Japan will have a Japanese girlfriend within a few months. (Just look at the 2010 movie make of the popular My Darling is a Foreigner manga!) But for foreign bachelorettes, it’s not the same. The way that Japanese culture is set up doesn’t support Japanese men–who are used to being served first–to be with a foreign woman–who is more likely to see everyone as equals, especially if they are from the Western world. There isn’t much space for outright opinions, which is a stereotype towards foreign women.

My Darling is a Foreigner

My Darling is a Foreigner from icollectmovieshq.blogspot.com

2. You get more for your buck…er, I mean, yen. The quality is better, but so is what you can get. At the convenience store, I can buy breakfast for my husband and I for under five hundred yen. There are already prepared dinners–not the frozen kind– for sale at the supermarket that can feed a small family of four for around a thousand yen (less than $10). And if you like to drink, there’s all-you-can-drink specials for around eight hundred yen. Even car insurance is reasonable and you can easily customize your coverage. It may seem expensive to live in Japan, but the actual value and quality gives a lot of worth.

3. Characters and mascots are everywhere. All products have cute or appealing characters to entice buyers or explain instructions. My students even like putting popular characters to represent their class banners.

Mascots on my students' class banners (Chopper from ONE PIECE, SpongeBob, and Tigers)

6 More Things to Learn When Living in Japan

Here are a few more things to learn when you’re a foreigner living in Japan:

1. Everyone loves to say “kawaii” (cute), “kakkoi” (cool), or “ikemen”  (slang – cool or hot) whenever you wear, say, or do something interesting. It seems that Japanese people are always watching you, especially when you’re a newcomer. If you’re new to an office or school, people will notice even the smallest things about you, like your hair, earrings, bracelets, watches, or clothing. It’s a little more daunting if you’re not used to being watched, but for teachers like me, it’s a good conversation starter in English.

2.  You’ll get invited to everything. Whether the invitation is from other foreigners or from Japanese people, there is a need for everyone to invite you to every event taking place in the city. For foreigners, it’s just another chance to hang out with part of the 4%-foreigner statistic in Japan. For Japanese people, it’s a way of showing off their culture that most foreigners would be unaware of.

3. If you know how to use chopsticks, you’ll get comments wherever you go. Because there’s this misconception that foreigners don’t know how to use chopsticks, if Japanese people see a foreigner eating with them, they’ll point out in Japanese, “You use chopsticks very well.” If you come to Japan to work or teach, you’ll hear that incessantly. It’s just a way for Japanese people to get to know you. (For me, I tell them that I’ve used chopsticks since I was in high school because I knew I would come to Japan one day.)

4. It’s hard to get anywhere with “maybe”. It’s more of a cultural thing than foreigners realize. In the United States, “maybe” means that you’re considering something, but there is no clear-cut “yes” or “no”. If you say “maybe” when talking to a colleague in Japan, unless they’ve lived in a Western country before, most Japanese people will take it as a “yes”. Also, most students don’t learn the word “maybe” until they’re in senior high school, so using it freely in a conversation with junior high schoolers and elementary school students will get you confused stares. Be careful about saying “maybe” when someone invites you to an event you don’t want to go to. They’ll be expecting you to show up!

5. Customer service runs really high in Japan. Even if you’re a customer in a McDonald’s, you won’t find customer service like that in Japan. Being a foreigner who hasn’t studied Japanese, going to a fast-food place can be a little scary because everything is written in Japanese. However, most places in Okinawa has an English, Korean, Chinese, and/or Spanish menu ready for foreigners. There are some restaurants on mainland Japan where the menus have Japanese with English translations. Aside from language, places like airports are really impressive with customer service, though they must be strict with the rules. Recently when my husband and I were at Haneda Airport looking for their popular roll cake, a worker told me that they didn’t have it at their shop, but she called around to find which shop had the roll cake. She directed us and when we arrived, the other worker was ready with roll cake in spite having to close in that last few minutes.

6. Advertised food actually looks like the pictures. More than likely, when you order something, the food actually looks like the pictures. It’s not just slapped together like someone didn’t care. There isn’t too much of anything on it (unless you’re a picky type). Just right.

Mega Burgers from McDonald's

Mega Burgers (2007) from McDonald's (source: supersizedmeals.com)