My previous post reported on sexual apathy in Japan, not only among older people, but the youth. It threaten the country’s economic future and, some would say, the world. The assessment comes from a Japanese population center survey where a quarter of the population expressed no interest in romantic relationships and a sharp decrease of desire to bear children.
These reports triggered reflection on my amazing immersion experience in Japan (1999-2005). Japanese women–met through my children’s playmates and neighborhood English classes–told me details of their lives as wives and mothers. I heard surprising stories that few foreigners are privileged to hear.
In the prior post, I told the story of my friend Maya who confided of her husband’s disinterest in sex and believed it due to his long working hours. But more is at play I believe. Consider what happened when Maya planned a family vacation, and not just to the countryside or to relatives. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to California and Disneyland, sure to delight their young children. Air flights were purchased, but her husband pulled out. How could that be?
It was not due to illness. Not because of a relative’s death.
It was because Taro’s boss informed him he was needed at the office as a deadline approached. No discussion. No consolation given (like refunding the cost of their already purchased tickets). No suggestion of a future time period he could safely take off.
This unquestioning loyalty and sacrifice for the job is what is expected of a sarariman (i.e., salaryman—an employee of a large corporation obligated to work long hours without complaint). Not only did Taro stay home, but so did his wife and kids. After that Maya gave up planning vacations with her husband. At least not trips requiring costly reservations in advance.
Her children have watched their mother foregoe traveling pleasures and center her life around cooking and her children’s growth and education. Her husband has brought home money, but not much solace or pleasure. I wonder if my friend’s children will desire marriage. With them out of the house now, Maya feels alone, depressed.
Working long hours and putting a salary or company loyalty ahead of your wife’s interest diminishes sex within marriage—this is a problem Japanese think tanks are scrambling to address. They’d like to incentivize sex so as to right the population trends and fuel the industrial economy.
Six years ago Canon in Japan thought they had an answer. They took remarkable measures. As CNN reports, “In a country where 12-hour workdays are common, the electronics giant has taken to letting its employees leave early twice a week for a rather unusual reason: to encourage them to have more babies.”
I wonder how those Canon bosses, and also the employees getting let out early, phrased their hopes. Was it a subtle way, as is typical of Japanese culture? Canon’s gift of releasing employees “early” was not primarily about making marriage more enjoyable or loving, but making it fruitful for utilitarian, economic reasons.
I wouldn’t want to be the wife waiting at home and readying his slippers, as I saw my Tokyo friend do. That is taking her husband’s slippers off the shoe rack and placing them at the threshold with the toes pointing properly—towards him. A friend I knew in Kobe always waited up for her spouse–no matter how tired she was, no matter that her children might awaken her during the night and that she be up at 6 to prepare a hot breakfast while her husband slept until after the children left for school. She’d wait up and then, on his arrival pour his sake, warm it and bring it to him on a platter with snacks. That’s caring for your husband in a healthy, traditional marriage of that culture.
If I had married Japanese (as some American women I know have done), could I have done all this service and happily hop into bed with my husband for the expected intimate contact although we’d had little communication, little connecting of our souls all the weeks previous? Could I make “love” because his employer has granted a rare three hours together—alone!-before kids come home?
No, sexual passion requires more than that for me. Sex by company-order addresses only the surface—not underlying issues of what makes a marriage thrive.
To what priorities does a couple need to commit in order to create a home life nurturing of both the couple and, secondarily, any children?
It requires believing that a marriage is first of all about the commitment of two people to love each other. That’s a contrast with the view of marriage common in many countries, what some label the “garden” view of marriage. Here coupling is primarily about ensuring a man’s seed is propagated, that his line continued.
Contrast that to this view of marriage: a decision to leave one’s parents and their ways of thinking and living in order to create a new thing. To become psychologically close, where the other is remains more important than all else, whether job or birth family or child. It’s a sticking together—glued as tightly as two pieces of paper.
In this kind of marriage, the physical coming together in sex serves both as an outcome and means to the goal of loving union. And when a marriage embraces this kind of love as the primary concern, then a commitment to nurturing romantic passion follows–for example,”date nights” where babysitters allow the couple to enjoy tim as a two-some again. Or, continuing to nightly share a bed together as a couple, not giving that up for the sake of the baby sleeping next to mother and her husband’s undisturbed rest.
Dual working couples in America face similar issues to Japanese marriages. Caitlin Flanagan in an Atlantic article (February 2003) marshals evidence that even here in the U.S.-—where a marriage spiced with romance is the ideal—when both husband and wife work long hours outside the home during the very busy years of parenting children, passionate sex often dies. And this despite employing nannies and housekeepers.
I’ve adored my lovely Japanese women friends and, at one far away time, was infatuated with a young Japanese man (a teacher of English studying with me at San Francisco State University). I’ll also say there’s much I admire about the Japanese culture and I’ve oft regretted that American friends weren’t as sensitive and giving as the Japanese women I’ve known.
Yet I’m glad I married an American man. I’d rebel against marriage to a sarariman. Japanese women I know admire the western romantic ideal of marriage, but, for the most part they have resigned themselves to the extreme dedication of a sarariman husband.
Sources outside Japan recommend a restructuring of their economy—changing the culture of work and gender roles. Can it happen ? Will it happen soon enough? Unanswered questions.