Japanese Young Women Attitudes towards Marriage

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The Japanese National Fertility Survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR, 2015) providing unique information on Japanese young women attitudes towards marriage. The proportion of women wanting to get married at some point in their life (izure kekkon suru tsumori) remained pretty high as 89.3 percent of them agreed with this statement.

However, we witnessed a significant drop from 92.9 percent in 1987 to 89.3 percent in 2015. Nevertheless, the reasons why these women wanting to get married at some point in their lives are far more than the idea of having their own family. In the 15th survey carried in 2015, the reason are “(to) be financially stable” as state in the NIPSSR 2015 highlight report of the survey “The proportion of never-married women who chose “(to) be financially stable” as a merit of marriage has increased from 15.1 percent to 20.4 percent in the last five years.” (NIPSSR, 2015) and “(to) meet expectations of their parents and others” (with 21.9 percent in the 2015 survey).

As more than 40 percent of young women having these ideas of what marriage means to them, is this somewhat implies that more and more young Japanese woman is thinking about marriage in a more conservative way than they used to be? Are there any solid reasons behind the very conservative thinking of Japanese young women about marrying for financial support, meeting social expectations or simply just prefer to be a full-time housewife rather then pursuing their own career. The purpose of this research is to explore the reasons behind a shift towards a conservative perspective about marriages of Japanese young women are having in such a modern scenario of one of the world most developed countries.


“In the 1984 national survey by the Prime Minister’s Office, 36 per cent of Japanese women agreed with the statement ‘men should work and women should stay at home’, 41 per cent disagreed and another 23 percent replied ‘don’t know’. In the 1987 survey, 37 per cent agreed with the statement, 32 per cent disagreed and the proportion of those who replied ‘don’t know’ increased by eight percentage points up to 31 percent. These results were often dramatically taken up by the mass media as evidence that Japanese women have become ‘more conservative’ in recent years.” (Lam, 1992, pp259-260)

There is a definition of “a standard family” has long been emphasized in Japanese mindset that consists of a husband as the main breadwinner of the household and a wife as a professional housewife (sengyo shufu) (Lei, 2017). More than that, the way Japanese people educating their future generation about marriage and gender roles within a household also passing down the whole concept of “men’s sphere is at work and women’s sphere is at home” (as a result of a Nationwide survey carried in 1984). A typical Japanese man is taught to have responsibility for taking care of their families financially and judged based on his ability to provide his wife lo live as a “professional housewife”. On the other hand, the idea of “Goodwife wise mother” (ryousai kenbo) has long been a focused idea on of what girl should be taught as they believe that a woman’s value is about how good a housewife she is.

This idea of a standard family and marriage has been preventing women from pursuing their careers, lifestyles and forming a typical lifestyle for a Japanese woman. As Xiao Lei stated: “From the 1950s to 1980s, it was common for Japanese women to quit their jobs after getting married to take care of the family and support the husband’s work.” (2017). It has been proved through media, literature materials, researches on Japan society that Japanese women tend to have a typical lifestyle as quitting their jobs after getting married or having the first child. They first start with getting a full-time position right after graduation from Universities, working for a few years, getting married or having the first child, quitting their jobs and being a full-time housewife and later re-joining the workforce as low-paid partimers.

However, since the 1990s, more and more women postponing marriage and valued their interests more than being a good wife. This trend has been a big public discussion ever since. “Women’s decision to delay marriage” was blamed for the decline of the family, loss of family values, and the lowering of the nation’s birthrate (Nakano, 2001). Moreover, the woman herself might be entitled to negative labels such as makeinu (loser dog), “good-for-nothing”, and “Christmas cake” and “parasite single”. (Lei, 2017). This was shown in the results of the NIPSSR 2015 that there is a noticeable uprising trend of delaying marriage into their 30s as the average desirable age of marriage has peaked at 28.6 years old for women in 2015.

Even though, the response to getting married at some point of their lives still mean positive, their reasons for marriage appealing more conservative than before as more than 40 percent of young Japanese women choosing marriage as a financial resolution or fulfilling others expectations rather than theirs. (NIPSSR, 2015). Besides, according to Mitsugu Yamamoto, a senior official of the National Federation of Small Business Associations, made the following remark: “a great number of women still choose marriage rather than a career” (1984). Are there any solid reasons behind this astonishing turn in young Japanese women attitudes towards marriage?

In this report, first I will go into details of potential reasons behind this turnover, namely, the longevity of female working life; social stereotypes and social pressures on Japanese women especially the youth. Following up with my general conclusion on the reasons and effects of this turnover of Japan modern society.

The Longevity of Women Career in Contemporary Japan

As Alice C.L Lam stated in her book ‘Women and Japanese Management’ (1992), there are sexual inequality and discriminatory treatment in the Japanese employment system that excludes the majority of women from having equal opportunities as their male counterparts. These discriminatory treatments appear as different kinds of harassment such as sexual harassment, mental and physical harassment, power harassment and recently, in 2014, a new kind of harassment: maternity harassment (matahara) became a real problem that prevents women from returning to their jobs after childbirth. These kinds of harassments have long been in existence and being portrayed through different types of media and cultural products. For example, ‘Age harassment’ (TV mini-series, 2015) and ‘Aggretsuko’ (2018, a product in cooperation of Sanrio and Netflix) provide a detailed look into what it likes for young women to work as an Office Lady in a Japanese company and different kinds of harassment and inequality treatments she might face.

When refers to women positions at a typical Japanese company, we hardly have the image of a leading woman doing her specialized job that she earned a degree for but mostly as an irrelevant position. Sometimes they appear as an Office Lady, a Ocha Kumi, a people who serving tea or a shoukuba no hana, Office Flowers. An Office Lady is a neutral term describe someone who works as a white-collar worker inside an office, while the two others have more discriminatory and specific meaning behind. Serving tea lady and the flower of the office are believed that their main mission is to appeal nice and pretty for the look of a company and doing “unimportant jobs” such as serving the tea, printing the copy and lightening up the atmosphere of the workplace dominated by masculinity with their feminine and youthful spirit.

These discriminatory treatments also appears as the fact that companies rarely give women chances for job rotations or promotions as they claimed it as “unnecessary” or ”women do not want job promotions”. This is potentially due to the fact that “a great number of women still choose marriage rather than a career” (Lam, 1992). However, these factors connecting and created a dead end circular motion between 3 elements: “women choosing marriage over career”; “Companies refuse to make commitment” and “Discrimatory and inequality treatment”.

As I have mentioned above, Japanese women have a tendency to leave their jobs after marriage or childbirth and this common turnover has somewhat form a typical lifestyle for them. This common turnover is likely to be the result of the inequality treatment and lack of opportunities for job rotations at work. There are reports showing that due to the high chance of turnover of female workers, Japanese employers want to avoid the risks of making long-term commitments to their female workers and investing the same as their potential long-term male workers. The lack of investment from employers results in a huge wage gap between male and female, the lack of opportunities for job rotation and promotion for female employees.

As a result, among developed countries, in Japan the percentage of company residents who are women was just 7.8 percent (As April, 2019) despite all the policies and campaigns of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe such as Womenomics or gender diversity in the workforce setting the goal of raising women’s leadership roles to 30% by 2020.

Next reason is the relationship between marriage and career. Firstly, there is a low possibility for a woman to continue working or pursuing education after marriage or childbirth. The continuation of women career or education seems unable comes from lacking required support from society as well as sexual inequality and discriminatory treatment in the Japanese employment system. Japan current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come up with lots of campaign or supporting ideas for women like Womenomics or daycare for all children, however, they have not turned out well enough as the majority of women still lacking the support that they need. This has been shown through the hashtag “It was me whose child wasn’t accepted for nursery school.”

Secondly, as a male-dominated society like Japan, a woman may face inequality in gender roles within her household. Work-family conflicts may occur when a woman choosing to continue her career but lacking support and understanding from their husbands. Ideally, when a woman decides to continue working after marriage and childbirth, She will need her husband to play as a social support role as both emotional and instrumental support. Emotionally accepting her working outside of the house and instrumentally helping her with domestic duties and parental demands.

However, this ideal image hardly ever appeared in Japanese societies as 71% of the young generation still keep the belief ‘Men’s sphere is at work and women’s sphere is at home’ as shown in a Nationwide attitude survey carried in 1983. The precise division of gender roles within a Japanese household is believed to be a massive factor contribute to the discontinuation of women’s career after marriage or childbirth in Japan. These concrete rules have been rooted deep down in the Japanese mindset about marriage and the roles of each member within a nuclear family by fascinating phrases such as “Goodwife wise mother” (ryousai kenbo), “cockroach husband”, “Food! Bath! Bed!” (Meshi! Furo! Neru!), “Success from the inside” (Naijo no Ko) or “Mrs. Interior” (Okusan).

Goodwife wise mother (ryosai kenbo) has long been a focused idea on what girl should be taught as they believe that a woman’s value is about how good a housewife she is. Cockroach husband (Gokiburi Teishu) which refers to a useless, annoying and downright repulsive kind of husband who makes household chores even harder for women with their comments and criticizes. Food! Bath! Bed! (Meshi! Furo! Neru!) these 3 little words are believed to be the only things that a salaryman would say to his wife when getting home after spending hours at work as a crude way to ask for food, a bathtub which his wife already prepared and a futon bedding. Success from the inside (Naijo no ko) means a men’s success resulting from the aid and sacrifices of his spouse. “Mrs. Interior” or Okusan is a word to refer to a housewife with the traditional belief that the deepest recesses of a household are where women belong to. (Cherry, 2016, pp. 37-68).

The Pressure from Outside

(Family members and Society)

From the Fifteenth Japanese National Fertility Survey in 2015 carried by National Institute of population and social security research among young Japanese from the age 18 to 34, when the question about merits of marriage was given, more than 40 percent of female interviewees thought that the biggest merit of marriage is not about having their own family or pursuing their happiness. They believed the biggest merit of settling down is not for their own happiness but to meet their parent or others expectation (21.9 percent), be financially stable (20.4 percent. (NIPSSR 2015).

Cite this paper

Japanese Young Women Attitudes towards Marriage. (2021, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/japanese-young-women-attitudes-towards-marriage/

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