Home Geography Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Conclusion: Being a Man in the New Japan
Twenty years ago, i found that most of the men i interviewed were forced to live for work, given the massive amount of time it took up in their lives and the limited role they were expected to play in their families. Today, however, the gendered division of labor of earlier years has partially given way: many Women seek more from their marriages than a husband's salary; they desire affection and communication as well.
If a man has a family, i found from my reinterviews, then he typically cannot live for work alone, nor for his dreams alone; if he does, he may be ignored in the family or be divorced. Twenty years ago, i found that the men i interviewed couldn't easily live for their families. Today, i found that a man must live for his family if he wants to preserve that family in its harmony. Partly this shift is due to life course—the men i interviewed are twenty years older and either retired or over halfway to retirement, which is in effect expulsion from the world of work. But more, it is due to history: Japan has changed, with women's increasing role in the workplace and wives' increasing desire for their husband's emotional commitment and communication as well as paycheck. For the men i interviewed, this seems to have made marriage more difficult than in an earlier era, and it has made being a man more problematic.
One may rightfully ask whether the small sample of men i have discussed here is skewed. I have reported on every man i interviewed twenty-odd years ago and subsequently was able to reinterview. But is this small number of men representative of older Japanese men as a whole? I am acutely aware of the unhappiness of many of the people with whom i spoke, and i can only hope that they are not fully representative. But aside from issues of happiness, the difficulties these men (as well as women) face in their marriages are not unique to them, judging from the literature, but are more or less apparent in Japan at large. The dominant ideal of being a man in Japan today is for a man to be devot-
Ed to his family, but as we have seen, such devotion may be difficult. It is not simply that men won't do their share of child care and housework—many men i interviewed indeed did, they said, although how much they actually did remains an open question. Rather, it appears to be more about their inability to fully communicate with their wives; if they tried to communicate, they often found that their values significantly differed from those of their wives. In some cases, if they didn't make enough money, their wives found these value differences intolerable and divorced them; in an era in which wives can go back to work, they might not tolerate differences in values that they might have in an earlier era. In other cases, if the men did support their families, these value differences led only to unhappy marriages. These differences in values were reflected in conflicts between spouses over how to raise children in a Japan where the standard life path of earlier eras was no longer assured as a route to success; they were also reflected, for some men, in conflicts with their spouses over religious paths. In some cases these conflicts led to situations where the Male center of the household was not a man in full but disabled and in need of constant care and the focus of feminine love in the family, perhaps in part because such men couldn't play the often overbearing roles that older men still conventionally play in Japan. Finally, transcending family, there is the crucial matter of what a man is to do once his work role is done: how can he find the inner resources to lead a fulfilling life, whether within or beyond his family?
So is it any easier being a man today in Japan than it was twenty years ago? In one sense yes—it probably is easier for a man to live for his family because work is not quite so expected to be the center of a man's life. But in another sense it has gotten far harder because of the necessity for communication. As long as a man could contribute his paycheck alone to his family, then it was relatively easy to live for family, in at least a superficial sense. But that era seems over in a Japan with rising divorce rates and greater female expectations of what a marriage and family should be. Being a man in a changing Japan is harder than ever, it seems. Nonetheless, with greater diversity and acceptance of different life paths, the possibility of finding one's own happiness as a man has probably grown—if only a man can be smart enough and lucky enough to find his life path within or perhaps apart from family, as a few of the different examples i have discussed in this chapter have shown.
1. An initial reader of this chapter asked whether sapporo, the site of my research, might be considered an “outlier” since it is a relatively newly settled city on the northern island of Hokkaido, rather than one of the more traditionally studied cities in research on Japan such as tokyo or Osaka. It probably is the case, as several of my informants have told me, that the stress of work is somewhat lower in sapporo than in tokyo, not least because of shorter commutes. However, as the fifth largest city in Japan, it probably should not be considered an outlier, any more than, for example, Houston or Phoenix should be considered american outliers because they are relatively recently populated.
2. Hidaka (2011) compares concepts of masculinity among Japanese salarymen, with findings broadly similar to my own. She looks at three generations of men at one point in time, rather than looking at how men change in their senses of being men over time, as i do.
3. Japanese husbands and wives tend to be modest, even harshly critical, in describing one another to outsiders, particularly in front of one another; criticisms are more culturally acceptable than praise in this context. But in this case, the wife earnestly told me this when her husband had left the room; her words were not simply a product of modesty.
4. Yamada dates this change from 1980 onward, long before i saw it in my interviews.
5. Hikikomori refers to young people who withdraw from social life—school or Work—and sometimes remain in their rooms for years on end. This is a major Japanese social issue today (see Horiguchi 2011).
6. Japanese Buddhist priests, unlike Catholic priests, are not required to be celibate; most are married.
7. The problem of elderly husbands newly living alone has become the subject of a number of recent books—see, for example, nakazawa (2010)—advising these men on such basics as what they should eat, how they should make friends, and what they should do with their time.
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