Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Japan: "Single women in their 30s redefining societal roles", a local daily writes

Three terms have become popular this year for describing
women--makeinu (whipped dog), onibaba (ogre-like older
women) and sonatian, referring to enthusiastic fans of a
popular South Korean drama.

The phrases have often been misunderstood, sparking
criticism and feelings of solidarity. The situation
reflects the complex feelings of women who waver between
new and traditional values in life, such as finding
happiness in marriage and having children or choosing to
live one's own life in their own way.

Makeinu became a popular term after the book "Makeinu no
Toboe" (Whipped Dog's Howl), written by 38-year-old
Junko Sakai, became popular. Sakai referred to single,
childless women older than 30 as whipped dogs. The word
won a prize for being the most popular word of the year.
Many women respond to being called makeinu cynically,
saying, "I'm a whipped dog, so what?" Such an attitude
won empathy among women of the same generation.

Tsuda College Prof. Chizuru Misago, 46, an
epidemiologist who recently published a book titled
"Onibabaka Suru Onnatachi" (Women Who Turn Into Ogres)
in which she describes women as the ogres of traditional
folk tales. Misago warned, "Women store inborn energy
for sex and reproduction, eroding various parts of their

Sonatian refers to Bae Yong Joon's fanatical fans who
obsess over him in the South Korean soap opera "Fuyu no
Sonata" (Winter Sonata), which has aired on NHK since
April. The soap opera has been credited with creating a
hanryu (Korean culture) boom. Tours to its filming sites
in South Korea have become very popular among
middle-aged and older women. Some estimate the economic
effect of the show has reached about 230 billion yen.

"I couldn't decide whether to get married in my early
30s or not. I've reached 35 this year, and I don't have
a boyfriend," said a Tokyo office worker.

She holds down a good job and lives with her parents.
Her 61-year-old mother cleans the house and does the
laundry. Although her parents get along well, she said
her 64-year-old father keeps saying that he is very busy
with his work as an excuse for not spending time with
her mother.

So, occasionally the office worker travels overseas with
her mother on vacation. Last month they visited spots
featured in "Fuyu no Sonata" on a four-day tour. Her
mother was the first of the two to become infatuated
with "Fuyu no Sonata."

"I'm a typical makeinu. My mother has turned herself
completely into a sonatian," the office worker said and

The number of single women in their 30s is increasing.
According to the 2000 census, the number of women in
their early 30s who were unmarried reached 26.6 percent,
while that for women in their late 30s hit 13.8 percent,
rising twofold from the number in the census conducted
in 1990. The rate surges to more than 40 percent among
women in their early 30s who live in urban areas.

Clinical psychotherapist Sayoko Nobuta, 58, head of
Harajuku Counseling Center has been studying the
phenomenon for 10 years.

She has noticed general changes in the daughter-mother
relationships, as mothers who have lived their lives
according to traditional values do not recommend
marriage to their working daughters.

"Mothers have found hope in their daughters, who have
become financially independent, while daughters remember
very well the heavy burden and unhappiness their mothers
experienced when left with all the decision-making at
home by fathers that cared only for their companies.
This is why daughters are working so hard--they are
responding to their mothers' expectations," Nobuta said.

As many mothers reach an age where they can look back on
their lives, which they devoted to their families, they
tend to become obsessed with such dramas as "Fuyu no
Sonata," which emphasizes love rather than family life.

Tokyo University Assistant Prof. Kaori Hayashi, 41,
surveyed about 830 members of the audience at a "Fuyu no
Sonata" concert. She noticed that about half the women
in their 50s and 60s in the audience wrote that they did
not realize that a man could treat a woman so well and
protect them.

"Women of this age group supported corporate warriors.
Although they were supported financially, they were
frustrated by the lack of psychological protection.
Daughters are puzzled to see their mothers become
innocently infatuated with pure love," Nobuta said.

Women are becoming more selective and can choose to get
married or have a child. They live in the age and
society that has greater tolerance for such choices, but
experts have highlighted negative aspects of having such

One such expert is Misago who says makeinu eventually
turn into onibaba, while others criticize her for this
view. (Yomiuri 21 12 2004)

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