I’d have to marry an *sshole like him (feminism in Japan)

Japan’s birthrate is falling.  It stands at 1.4 child per women.

This gives Japan the second lowest birthrate in the first world.

And it makes Japan a little like China.  Both have a one-child “policy.”

But of course it isn’t in the Japanese case a policy.  Because not having babies in Japan is self imposed.

In effect, Japanese wombs are on strike.

One of the factors here is that marriage rates are falling.  Fewer people get married and, according to The Economist, “women wait ever longer and increasingly do not bother at all.”

According to the NIPSSR [Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research] six out of ten women in their mid-to late 20s…are still unwed.  In 1970 the figure was two out of ten.

The Economist contemplates the several things that might cause this fall in the marriage rate and it’s corresponding “dearth of births.”  It may be a matter of wages that they will be paid as part time workers.  It may be a matter of finding a husband who makes enough or saves enough to support a family.  It quotes Masahiro Yamada, sociologist at Chuo University, who calls young women who refuse to marry “parasite singles.”  It quotes Florian Coulmas of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo who says there are “no easy explanations” for what is happening here.

This is really very sad.  The Economist, Professor Yamada and Mr. Coulmas are just not trying hard enough.  There is a simpler answer.  It is not the whole answer, but not to include it as a contributing factor is, well, as I say it is really very sad…and proof of another kind.

Several years ago, (I will be vague on timing to protect privacy), I was doing ethnographic research in Tokyo.  (Happily, I’ve done several trips so I think anonymity is relatively protected.)

Before one interview, I found my translator in a spirited conversation with the man I was supposed to interview.  As we were leaving this man’s home, I asked my translator what the conversation had been about and she explained that she actually knew this man and he was teasing her for not being married.  She was was thirty something, attractive, professional, and in this case unamused.  She finished her account of the conversation by saying, under her breath, just loudly enough for me to hear,

And the reason I’m not married is that I would have to live with an asshole like him.

To be sure, this is one data point.  But what a data point.  There was nothing exceptional about this women.  Nothing out of the ordinary, that is to say.  That she should harbor this feminist sentiment and deliver it, first to him and then to me, so matter of factly, told me that there are lots of women in Japan who have removed themselves from the marriage market and child bearing for a simple reason: they don’t like the men they would have to marry.

That this factor didn’t make it into The Economist article or into the learned observation of Yamada and Coulmas tells us, perhaps, just how deep the problem goes.  Women get it. Men, not so much.


Anonymous.  2010.  The dearth of births.  The Economist. November 20, pp. 14-15.

14 thoughts on “I’d have to marry an *sshole like him (feminism in Japan)

  1. dave

    Spot on Grant. Maybe we discussed this some time. Ive been involved in this question the seven years I have lived in Tokyo and overseen many studies into the lives of young Japanese women. Lot’s of reasons for the declien of bisth rates do pop up. And many have real importance:
    – security … increasing numbers of young adult women in Japn over the last 15 years are single children ( a result of their parents own move into the middle class and the financial pressure even in the boom times of the expense of child raising here with such high expectations on pushing kids through to the best schools ). security having been a traditional reason everywhere for women to marry … many of these young women are now realising that they will at least have the security of inheritance
    – income … while the glass celing is still lower than it should be it has been rising slightly and stadily. for example in around 1997 we saw the number of female new grads pass males for the first time. in around 2007 we saw another step when for the first time female new grads starting an office job were more likely to have a female supervisor … the result is ever increasing confidence in ” making my own way”
    – lifestyle … the famous “OL” ( office Lady ) may be passing ( no 20something woman wants to be called an actual OL with it’s 70-80s connotation of being a glorified tea lady ) but being a modern independant woman ( albeit one who still probably lives with her parents until she does actually marry ) means being able to live a lifestyle of fairly consistent spending. The fact that Tokyo has more restaurants than any other city in the world is sometimes forgotten. And who eats there … groups of women. Just look around most restaurant and you will see clusters of office working women.. no men. But get married and have a kid and that social life becomes not very viable
    – role models … the rise about 4 years ago of the so-called ” millionaise” …a group of successful, mostly single busniess women that has been much written about acts as one of many symbolic role model factors to suggest that life without a man is ok.
    – child economics … it’s true that it’s just amazingly difficult and expensive to raise a child in Japan. Getting back to work for a women is still a major hurdle. Sure materity and even faternity leave is generous. But the problem is the rarity and cost of baby minding, preschool facilities.

    of course there are many yound women who do want to get married. In one major study we did of 20-30something single women we did we found around 20% actively described themselves as ” marriage hunters” whose lives were devoted to getting married. But that was more because they thought the competition of the workl place was too tough so they just wanted a man to take care of them.

    But your right .. the biggest issue is that many Japanese women just decide today’s Japanese man is just not attractive. He is either a clone of their fathers generation. A man they may love and respect but one that they recognised was a terrible husband. Men who by all global surveys are still among the worst at helping around the house etc.

    And at the same time we have seen in the last five years the rise of the “carniverous woman / herbiverous male” phenom. Women are just that much more aggressive in relationaships, expectations etc and as a result many men are confused, lost or not willing to react. So they often prefer the virtual world to the real.

    It’s a long saga and one worthy of a long discussion but truth is that with all of the above happening and more yoyur friend was right. For many Japanese women the men on offer just don’t seem like someone they want to “stuck with for life”.

  2. Cynthia

    This is an interesting and sad trend. And those women who do decide to marry, choose men outside of their racial/cultural background (I’ve seen this with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean women). I’ll have to second what Dave says about Asian men reminding young, Asian women of their fathers. The traditional behavior and expectations for men in both Chinese and Japanese society is leaving a lot of Asian men out in the cold. How to solve this sticky issue?

  3. Indy

    First up – isn’t this a great reminder that all over the world, cultural shifts are fragmented not just by geography or class, but gender too?

    Lots of great stuff from Dave, I’d like to amplify the lifestyle factor, not because I think it’s as important as other factors in Japan, but because I think there’s seeds of this around the world. Stereotyping wildly, women are in part reacting to the decline of traditional communities, especially in the suburbs. They look at their commuting/work/city lifestyle and see a lot of social contact with good friends (not to mention lots of fun.)

    Then they look at the suburbs that will likely make up a family home – and once you get away from the dormitory towns of the rich towards the middle class suburbs, we start to see some issues.

    Industrial decline has altered the fabric of many suburban landscapes – amenities have closed down, but also identities have been fragmented. The schools and social clubs were held together with a glue that said “lots of people in this town work for corporation X – this gives extra bonds that hold the families together and gives extra opportunities for socialising” – but now in any one suburb, everyone gets up and commutes in different directions. This is fine if you’re living with your parents and meeting your friends in the city later, but as a place to live married life, to start a social life anew, from scratch? Starts to look like a big ask.

  4. Tom Guarriello

    Something very similar is at work in Italy where the “mamoni” (men who continue to be “mama’s boys” their whole lives) are increasingly unattractive as spouses to Italian women. The result? Similarly dismal demographics.

    1. dave

      Ha !! well again spot on .. in fact I am married to an Italian … watching some of her cousins children back in Rome both male and female cope with the Mamoni phenom is trully similar to Japan in some ways. Except of course that the mamoni while “mama’s boys” are also peacocks and full of bravado if lacking the willingness to commit or even meet women half way. The difference is that the herbiverous man in Japan tends to, well, live without women.

      and yes to the other comments … as always Japan is just a leading indicator of trends that are widespread in many markets. That’s why I loving living here.

  5. Dave

    Within the past 3 months I’ve become an avid fan of anime . Through this I’ve studied why young males in anime often seem imasculated, romantically inept, and devoid in too many case of romanticism . In these anime males are surrounded by aggressive [carnivourous] females of any age, while the male is weak and subserviant is a less authoritative [herbivor] role. In Japan today otaku aged males that two years ago would be more aggressive are now more passive and ”momma’s boy like”. These guy aren’t attractive dating material to women let alone marriage material. This could be attributable to a worsening Japanese economy with is the backbone to a Japanese males ability to provide. My recommendation is that these guys should man up and grow a pair and discover other ways to provide and stop wimping out with dating simulation games, life size plastic female robots and girl pillows.

  6. Kyo

    Funny, as a native who has lived for 22 years in Japan, as a male, I’m finding the information here against Japanese men to be partially inaccurate. Some cases, they are true, but really now, not all men are soshokukei because they are timid, shy, and weak.

    You also have to account for the fact that since World War 2, there’s been a a lot of ban and demotion of the concept of manliness in Japan. Momotarou, a story about becoming a strong boy, has been downplayed for the fact that it tries to promote masculinity. I’m one of the few in Japan who maintains a sense of warrior spirit and masculinity because of my family’s lineage and tradition to pass down teachings of our sword arts and bushido.

    I find it highly ironic that women complain men aren’t “manly” enough despite that us Japanese men were repressed from masculinity for decades. How stupid is that? Warrior spirit that once existed in Japan, now gone because everyone feared that masculinity was too dangerous to exist in Japan. Now we get criticized for lacking in it. I never understand the logic of people.

    When I was in high school, I grew up learning to fear women because of the Japanese government’s handle on our law. It’s not hard for a woman to take advantage of the law against men. You know what the conviction rate is? 99.9%. Once a woman shouts rape, you have only 0.01% chance of proving your innocence. Unless you’re lucky enough to have women testimony and a woman defense lawyer, good luck with that. Otherwise, no one will care what you have to say against a “victim”.

    A friend of mine was jailed for many years for molestation charges from a girl who got angry that he wouldn’t get into a relationship with her. The trial was a joke… despite all the evidence and testimony, their only argument was, “But the victim said you did it, are you saying she’s lying?”

    You want to talk about what’s messed up in Japan? Gender issue is one of them, but the judicial nonsense is even bigger. No right to an attorney, you’re NOT allowed to have a lawyer with you during a police interrogation, no right to speedy trial, and the police deal with false confessions all the time but no one cares. I support gender equality, but the law is heavily biased towards supporting women. What Japanese man in his right mind would want to date a Japanese woman who carries significant power of the law behind her?

    I’ve been taken advantage of, used, and betrayed by Japanese women many times since high school. The fact that they can play the victim card against us so easily is frightening and irritating. They call us an @sshole? f*ck them. They don’t want to live with an @sshole? I don’t want to live with an annoying woman feeling oppressed for the rest of my life, who constantly wants to tell me how I will live my life.

    I don’t trust Japanese women nor do I care for them or what happens to Japan. Honestly, I hope North Korea blows them away with nukes. I live in US now, with a nice American girl. Having a relationship with a Japanese girl is too much headache. I can definitely tell you that I have many Japanese male friends who share my sentiment. None of them wants to date a Japanese girl, ever. We, too, date outside our cultural background, especially with European women who come to Japan. I’ve dated a few Japanese girls and my expenses on painkillers went up. Never again.

    And sorry, as much as I appreciate cultural exchange, I find it highly offensive when westerners act like they know everything that goes on in another country. A few years is nothing compared to the lifetime experience I’ve had there growing up.

    Cause really, women get it and men don’t? No, it’s you westerners who don’t “get it”. There’s a lot more behind the scene in all of this than just disgruntled women against idiotic men. There are plenty of Japanese men who share discontent and feelings of hatred against Japanese women for their terrible personalities too. There are many things listed here that honestly rolls both ways.

    1. Claire

      Kyo, are you an MRA?
      Because a lot of western men bang on about how submissive japanese women are, and how “superior” they are to teh bossy american wimminz.
      But you have a different imperession.
      BTW, I’m a western woman and a feminist and what you said in reply to this article sounds exactly the the MRA stuff I read on manboobz.com.

      *Is curious*

  7. MichelleR

    As a western woman who has lived in Japan and dated Japanese men, I think a lot of them really are clueless. They are too used to being coddled and spoiled by their mothers, too used to being the dominant gender in Japan, and too used to women who act cartoonishly feminine. They do things that I would consider disrespectful to women without even thinking about it, and I suspect that Japanese women are getting fed up.

    As for the soshokukei thing, I don’t see a problem with it. Guys don’t have to be aggressively looking for sex all the time. That doesn’t make the less “manly” or whatever.

    So to Kyo: a lot of Japanese males do suck, and they don’t know it.

    1. Claire

      THIS ABSOLUTELY. I also see what is basically the same thing in white dudes in western countries.
      Things like:
      *Expectation of women throwing themselves the chance to marry a guy and do what he wants.
      *Act, dress and have a personality within the socially mandated perimeters given to them by men like this (e.g. lady in the street but a freak in the bed).
      *Be sexually submissive and deferring to said man.
      *Fetishising young women and school girls as a way of avoiding the increasing autonomy of adult women.

      It’s really sad that dudes like this can’t get that women are people in the sense that women can not be like this and still be acceptable human beings.

      It’s not just japanese dudes who suck, attitudes like this are still very prevalent in the western world.

  8. John McCreery

    Amazing to note that this kind of discussion is at least two decades old in Japan. From a 1993 Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living study called “High Singles” that I translated for my book on Japanese consumer behavior published in 2000.


    Our questionnaire examined views of marriage, family, work, clothing, living and eating habits, leisure and transportation, and, of course, shopping. Looking at our results, we find items that distinguish the unmarried from the married and items that differentiate strong singles attitudes from weak. The latter contrast seems more important to us. With it, we sketch an image of what a society dominated by ‘high-singles’ attitudes might look like from inside.

    The self is a fenced-in paradise. There is pleasure in turning inward.
    Everyone has his own world; don’t interfere with others.
    In relationships, keep a certain amount of distance, not too close, not too far.
    Keep a distance, too, from family and company, the groups to which you’re attached. No stains, no smells; be self-deodorizing.
    Don’t be caught up in old systems and customs. Break out of the standard models. Go your own way.
    Just drift along like tumbleweed. Don’t get tied down.

    These are the characteristics of the high-singles segment, a new paradigm for behavior in a society where singles characteristics are becoming more widespread.

  9. Luc Depiere

    How many men dont want to marry a feminist *itch? That doesnt help the birthrate either. If you want higher birthrates maybe you schould look at Muslims and see what they are doing right. I dont think feminism is part of it.

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