Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
III Exploring new roles and identities
Part iii consists of three chapters that examine formerly uncharted or underexplored roles and identities. Nakano (chapter 6) analyzes single women and their perceptions of themselves during and after their marriageable years. In postwar Japan the life course was highly standardized, but with the growing number of singles in today's Japan, how are they scripting their lives? In a society that expects women to play the role of wife-mother and care for others, how do single women see themselves, and what meanings do they find in their lives? How do their experiences of pressure to marry change over time? Nakano illustrates that as they grow older, they are no longer pressured to marry but feel an intensified need to remain competitive in the employment market, qualify for pensions, and ensure their security in old age.
Long (chapter 7) explores the world of grandparents and great-grandparents, In particular their relationships to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Like the declining marriage rates that led to mass singlehood, increasing life expectancies have led to mass longevity. Many older persons now experience grandparenthood and sometimes even great-grandparenthood, but what are their roles in postindustrial Japan, where co-residence with grandchildren is increasingly unlikely? Despite the fact that grandchildren are no longer seen mainly as inheritors of family businesses perpetuating the family line, the frail elderly interviewed in Long's study still saw a sense of continuity in their grandchildren but also a sense of difference. Grandchildren remind them that times have changed.
Nakamura (chapter 8) shifts away from age status to sexual identity. People with disabilities were formerly seen as asexual, but recently there has been a move to reevaluate their sexual needs and access to emerging sexual services. Nakamura asks whether people with disabilities have the right to fulfill their sexual needs. If so, how? Is it acceptable for their attendants to take them to brothels? Whose sexuality is excluded from the current debates? By providing a culturally specific, historically informed account of prostitution and various sexual services in Japan, nakamura examines the lively discussions surrounding what constitutes sexual needs and rights for people with disabilities. CHapter 6
Single women in Marriage and employment Markets in Japan
Lynne y. NaKano
Single women are described in remarkably negative terms in the Japanese mass media. One such term, for example, “parasite singles” (parasaito shinguru) refers to adult single women who live with their parents. The term became popular following the publication of the book The Age of Parasite Singles (Parasaito shinguru no jidai) (1999) by the well-known sociologist yamada Masahiro, who argued that single people were enjoying a comfortable life and consuming luxury products because they were living with their parents without paying rent or household bills. Although yamada explained that both single women and men were parasites, the term has been used in the media largely to describe women. This view of single women as parasites is highly problematic because the decision for a single daughter to live with her parents is negotiated between the two generations; often a single daughter may be chosen among other siblings to care for her parents in their old age (nakano 2010), and parents may prefer that their daughter live with them as a form of social security. Terms such as “parasite singles” reveal how some people in Japan view single women, but they do not tell us how single women actually live or how they see their lives. This chapter explores single women's perspectives based on research that involved extensive interviews with single women and participation in their daily lives.
163 The numbers of single women in Japan have increased significantly in recent decades. In 2010, 4.5 percent of women between the ages of thirty and thirty-four were single, compared to only 7.7 percent in 1975 (national institute of Population and social security research 2011).1 the rise in the number of single women is related to the rise in the average age of first marriage for women. Between 1970 and 2011, women's mean age of first marriage rose by four years, from 24.2 to 29.0 (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2012), a rapid rise compared to western societies, where the age of marriage has risen much more gradually. Women marry later in Japan than in most other societies, including the United states, where the age of first marriage was
26.1 in 2010 (U.s. Bureau of the Census 2011). Men's mean age of first marriage in Japan has also risen; between 1960 and 2011, the figure rose from 27.2 to
30.7 (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2012). My research focuses on women, however, because the contrast between marriage and singlehood is far more dramatic for women than for men. For men, both marriage and singlehood require continuous commitment to work. For women, in contrast, marriage generally involves a commitment to caring for children and a husband while singlehood brings continuous full-time employment.
The contrast between the lives of single women today and those of previous generations of women is also striking. In the 1970s and 1980s, marriage was seen as a natural part of a woman's life course (Creighton 1996; Hendry 1985; Lebra 1984). Women nearly universally married, and if family resources allowed, they withdrew from the workforce to care for their families while their children were young, even as many women later returned to part-time or full-time work when their children were of school age (see iwao 1993). By 2010, however, nearly 30 percent of women in their thirties were single (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2012). The trend toward longer and perhaps permanent singlehood suggests a major shift in women's values and ways of thinking.
The rates of marriage are not the same across Japanese society. Women with fewer financial resources and lower levels of education may need to marry earlier as a means to support themselves (Ogura 2003, 31). Women with higher educational levels and good jobs may be able to wait indefinitely until they find an appropriate person. Women in rural areas tend to marry earlier than women in urban areas. My informants told me that the pressure to marry from friends, family, and neighbors is greater in smaller cities and towns than in tokyo. Compared with other cities and towns in Japan, tokyo offers women better education and employment opportunities and a social environment That is relatively more accepting of single people. Tokyo attracts women from around the country who wish to escape from pressures to marry early and start a family. The mean age of marriage for women in tokyo is the highest in the nation and nearly one year later than for women in Japan as a whole.2 this study focuses on women who were more likely to be single than other women in their age group; they were high schooland university-educated women who felt that they did not need to marry for financial reasons, and they were living in tokyo at the time of the interviews.
This chapter explores how these single women view their lives. What challenges do they face, and what are their concerns and aspirations? Are they living for their work, are they hoping to marry and leave the workplace, or do they have altogether new dreams? I argue in this chapter that single women's experiences in the 2000s were shaped by two markets in which they were expected to compete and in which their value declined as they aged: the marriage and employment markets. Women could choose to avoid the marriage market if they decided not to marry, but for those who wished to marry—and the majority did—the marriage market had changed little from previous decades. It continued to emphasize youth, beauty, and women's willingness to provide services to family members. Women were staying longer in the employment market, but the changes occurring in the economy, such as the decline of the lifetime employment system and the growth of the part-time and temporary work sectors, disadvantaged older women. Employment markets in the 2000s privileged youth, higher education, and specialized skills. Single women who were already working in the 2000s saw that their opportunities for employment would decrease as they aged and they would need to acquire specialized skills to remain competitive. In other words, women could see that they would be marginalized from both the marriage and the employment markets. As a result of this realization, women began to articulate values that emphasized innovation, initiative, perseverance, hard work, and independence. These values, perhaps not surprisingly, underpin global capitalism at a moment when corporations are downsizing, shifting from manufacturing to service sectors, and demanding an ever more mobile workforce with shifting specialties that address rapidly changing markets.
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