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Saturday, November 27, 2004

Comments

ann

I hope you don't mind, but I would like to put part of this entry on my blog. I will give you full credit. I would trackback, but I don't know how that works. :-/

Anyway, wonderful post. Really gave me a new perspective on my situation and that of many others.

Karla

Thanks, Ken. One more clarification: not that you were necessarily talking about me, but I, for one, don't think Japanese women are FORCED to act childish. I think the ones who do, do it consciously and voluntarily as a style choice of sorts, and the reasons this choice is appealing to them, whether conscious or subconcious, and the positive way this choice is received and encouraged (but not forced) by men, and why, is what interests me. I am genuinely fascinated by these tiny details of cultural difference and the reasons for them -- for instance how the ideal female voice can be Kathleen Turner in one culture, and, I can't think of an example for Japan's, maybe Snow White? Betty Boop? Pikachu? almost any female anime character? anyway, something completely opposite in another. It's the "why's" behind the "what's", with all their complications and inconsistencies and mysteries, that I'm fascinated by, everything else is just a subjective preference.

On a marginally related note, I found an interesting link about America's favorite and least favorite voices for male and female celebrities, showing a definite preference by Americans for deeper voices: http://www.wfubmc.edu/voice/bestandworstrelease.shtml

And again, thank you again for dropping in and making me think.

Ken

Thanks for the clarification. Yes, your points make sense now that I see you are talking more about the situation in Small Town, Japan. Fights between the wife and the mother-in-law in multi-generation homes are a perennial subject in Japanese soap operas, and that sort of living arrangement is more common outside of the big cities. And you are probably right that, in some ways, places like where you live show more of what Japan is really like than the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

On the public versus private issue, I guess my gripe was that I've often seen analyses saying things along the lines of (to exaggerate a bit): 'Japanese women speak with a high-pitched voice in public, this shows that Japanese women are forced to act childish and is evidence that Japanese women are oppressed.' I don't think it's that cut and dry. Instead, I think it makes sense to actually talk to the high-pitched-talking women themselves and see what they think: privately, do they feel they are being forced to act childish? Are they satisfied with their lives? But it looks like you DO talk to Japanese women about these things, and you received interesting insight, so no complaints there. I'm looking forward to reading more about that type of thing, if you get a chance.

Karla

Ken, I don't think we so much disagree as sometimes I just don't express myself clearly enough or completely. You pointed out some very good things, and I pretty much agree with all of them, maybe I was just a bit vague or incomplete.

You're absolutely right, things are different in Tokyo. Considering something like a quarter of Japan's population lives there, I shouldn't have disregarded them, but I did. I tend to think metropolises should be left out of cultural analyses sometimes because A) metropolises tend to resemble other metropolises more than they do their own country (New York is more like Bangkok than it is San Marcos, Texas), and B) because the characteristics and pressures shaping a city that size tend to outweigh somewhat those of its home culture: space considerations (more single apartments than multi-generational homes), demographics (more young single working folks in Tokyo than in most cities, as opposed to many families with young children, elderly couples, multigenerational homes, etc.) the values and priorities and ambitions that drove people there in the first place, the inevitable mixing of cultures and the results, and so on. I left all this out because I was discussing a cultural tradition (maybe more applicable in smaller towns like mine where traditions are stronger).

As far as that generation of men who didn't have to make decisions, I was just unclear. I meant only to elaborate on what the author Kagawa had written, as I certainly am not enough of a Japanese social historian to make such judgments myself. I also only meant to refer to their lack of decision-making and experience with disappointment as they pertain to NON-academic, NON-study-related, NON-examination matters. I meant to imply that, because of the single-minded focus they've had on academia, that these boys and men may have missed out on other more worldly and practical life experiences while their noses were in books. They may be prepared for exam disappointment, but not necessarily for the other disappointments of life. I don't know if that's true or not, it's just what I think the author said, although my experience with Japanese men in comparison to Western men has led me to believe it is at least partly true.

I realize there is a difference between private and public behavior, and actually I only mean to discuss the public here. It is the public arena in which women generally attract men and men respond to them and vice versa, and therefore it is this arena I am discussing, and public is also the only behavior I see that can be relevantly commented on. Private behavior between individuals varies I think more person to person than culture to culture, is outside the scope of this post, and is none of my damn business anyway.

Absolutely American women, and men, behave in absurd and strange ways too, and I never meant to imply that they don't. It's just easier to notice things from outside a culture. In fact, that's one of the big reasons I came to Japan, I'm anticipating the new perspective I hope to gain on my own culture by being outside it for a while. At the moment though, I'm writing only on my observations of Japanese culture, not a comparative text of ALL cultures. So maybe American female behavior is a topic for a future day. Then again, I'll never not be an American woman, so I'm not sure how outside of that experience I can get.

I do in fact have Japanese female friends, and my comment about emotional fulfillment is actually partly based on them. I didn't just totally make that up, I've actually seen it and talked to people about it. Of course this doesn't just pertain to Japanese women either, I think women of any culture are vulnerable to it (yeah, men too, but that's a whole other topic). But this doesn't pertain to Tokyo University graduates either. Tokyo U graduates probably have more choices, have seen a bigger world, and have learned greater self-reliance and independence than the traditional Japanese woman. I am talking about only those women I've met who are trapped in roles out of tradition rather than choice, and some of these women have actually expressed their frustration and feelings of lack of self-fulfillment to me in so many words. I am referring to those women following lives of traditional Japanese values -- the ones who live with their parents until they marry, for whom marrying is not a choice and whose partner may not have been either, who spend their lives as wives and mothers and servants to their in-laws and nothing else, largely isolated in their husbands' familes homes, and who suspect there is more out there, but don't get a chance to see exactly what it is, let alone participate in it. I've met these women, and while they are of course not ALL women in Japan, their lives are still the traditionally prescribed ones, and as things are slowly changing in Japan, these women are beginning to want more.

The women at Tokyo U who live alone, they may have already defied their families somewhat to do so, and if not, then they certainly defied tradition, or at least the tradition of small towns like mine, and I think they are still the exception rather than the rule, although things are changing.

Don't be sorry at all about the long comment, I like them, especially when they are observant and eloquent and make me think about what I've said, as yours. Thanks for writing.

Ken

This post and the post below are interesting. One thing I think you should keep in mind, though, is that things aren't the same everywhere in 'Japan'. In Tokyo, where I live, for example, no one would be surprised if a woman said she was living alone, foreigner or Japanese. Same thing for cooking, traveling and shopping.

In your post on Japanese women below, I found a lot of observations and analyses I disagreed with, based on my own experiences in Japan (spanning a big part of my life). For instance, you said that one generation of Japanese men didn't have to experience "decision-making, or disappointment, or self-reliance, or the responsibility of chores". I don't have any statistics on this, but it rings untrue. On decision-making and disappointment, for example, I think the exam hell period is an intense time of making decisions (about whether to continue with school, and which school to shoot for considering one's grades) and feeling disappointment, even if, oftentimes, the process is closely guided by parents and relatives. But is that that much different from the experience of, say, an American teenager? What kind of decision-making experiences do you think American teenagers have that their Japanese counterparts don't?

Japanese boys also do chores. They MIGHT do less than kids in other countries, but that's a hard thing to measure. As for self-reliance, a lot of kids do part-time jobs just like their peers in the U.S. do (though mostly in college).

Similarly, I just can't agree with the following analysis that Japanese men missed out on painful adolescent experiences. I don't think anyone can be sheltered from those experiences for long, something that I think most Japanese parents understand.

Which makes me skeptical about your analysis that because Japanese men are emotionally immature, they seek women that are also immature, forcing women to be immature too. I don't think that's right, and think things are more complicated.

One complicating factor is that a Japanese couple's style of relationship you see in public often bears little resemblance to what the two are like in private. Even if the woman in a married couple seems passive and deferential in public, she often has a major say in all big decisions (buying a house, having kids, what kind of education to give kids, etc etc), and it's usually the wife who controls the household budget (and the poor husbands have to get by all 'allowances' from the wife).

Your descriptions of the way in which Japanese women act differently from men are very perceptive and interesting (especially the part about how kindergarteners are taught to sit differently -- fascinating!), but again, I don't think that the fact that Japanese women act in ways that are unusual to Western eyes can lead one to say that, therefore, Japanese women are less emotionally mature than their Western counterparts, or that they aren't living up to their potential, or are missing out in life and aren't as happy as they could be.

Rather, I think those things are simply cultural differences that don't have much implications on how mature or not Japanese women are, etc. American women do a lot of strange things to, when you look at it from the perspective of a different culture. When I go to the U.S., having lived in Asia for many years, I sometimes experience a reverse culture shock in which the way that Americans act seem very unrefined, and even vulgar.

Finally, a word about whether the number of 'emotionally-fulfilled' women in Japan is low or not. Again, this is something that probably can't be measured with any accuracy, but I question whether the number is really that much lower than, say, the U.S. The Japanese women that I interact with seem, mostly, happy with their lives. I read an article saying that something like 80% of female Tokyo University graduates are satisfied with their lives (though, admittedly, that's a pretty limited base from which to sample). If you have Japanese female friends, why don't you ask them, in a serious moment, whether they are happy?

Sorry for the long comment!

merih

Karla, you are becoming wiser with every action taken and every situation you come across. You are probably caring a great inner peace with the world....know it or not.

kimbofo

This is a brilliant post; I've done the same as you, although I've moved from Australia to England so I haven't had to grapple with the language barrier. But it does give you a new perspective, and appreciation, of other immigrants, doesn't it?

I did laugh at your "You cook for yourself/shop by yourself/travel by yourself?" interrogations. That used to happen to me on a regular basis back home in Australia when I moved to a small country town and people realised I was a single female living alone. The looks of sheer horror I used to receive when people found out my living arrangements were priceless. It had never entered their heads that it was possible to be in your late 20s, not married and childless, working a good job and living by yourself. I think they all thought it was quite scandalous!

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