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Perceptions of Single Women in Japan

The increase in the numbers of single women has attracted enormous media attention in Japan. Single women in their thirties and forties have been the Subject of tv dramas that focus on the attempts of successful career women to juggle romance and work.3 Popular new vocabulary words, such as “parasite singles,” mentioned above, have emerged to describe single women and their lives. Single women have been called “loser dogs” in the media following the publication of the book The Distant Cry of Loser Dogs (Makeinu no tōboe), by sakai Junko (2003). A single woman herself, sakai used the term “loser dogs” with tongue-in-cheek irony to criticize the ways in which labels of “winners” and “losers” are used to categorize women based on marital status and whether or not they have had children. Sakai sympathetically described single women in their thirties as courageous achievers who pursue their interests rather than marry for money and security. In spite of sakai's intention to draw attention to society's stereotyping of women, the term “loser dogs” has been widely used by the media to negatively label single women. Another new term, “spouse-hunting activities,” or konkatsu (from kekkon katsudō), is a play on the Japanese term for “job-hunting activities” (shūshoku katsudō) and refers to the practice of some women to actively search for a spouse through participating in matchmaking and dating activities. The term “carnivorous women” (nikushokukei joshi) refers to women who actively pursue sex and marriage, and sōshokukei danshi (herbivorous men) refers to men who are not interested in sex and marriage. These stereotypes are highly problematic because they ignore the diversity of human personalities and the contexts that make behaviors meaningful. Instead, they reproduce stereotypes in which only two dichotomous personality types are possible—passive or aggressive—with the assumption that men should be aggressive and women should be passive.

The issue of the rising numbers of single women has attracted the attention of the government, media, and academics in Japan because singlehood is associated with the nation's declining birthrate and aging population. In 1975, the nation's total fertility rate fell below 2.0, the rate required to maintain the population, and it dropped to a low of 1.26 in 2005 before rising to 1.39 in 2011 (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2012). By 2020, Japan is expected to have one of the oldest populations in the world, with over 30 percent of its population over the age of sixty-five (Ministry of internal affairs and Communications 2012). Conservative politicians and commentators have urged single women to marry and have children as the solution to Japan's aging population problem. They target single women in part because very few births occur outside of marriage in Japan; in 2009, the figure was only 2.1 percent (Ministry of Health, Labor, and welfare 2012). This approach, however, overlooks the fact that single men outnumber single women;4 ignores The problems faced by both women and men in finding appropriate partners; and obscures other possible solutions to population decline, such as the implementation of policies that encourage foreign immigration to Japan and the provision of greater public assistance to single mothers and married women.

Academic research has tried to explain why women are marrying later (Ogura 2003; tsuya 2000; tsuya and Mason 1995; yamada 1999). Many studies propose that marriage has become less attractive to women because rising levels of education and increased opportunities at work have given women more resources and the option to remain unmarried. At the same time, women are still expected to provide care for family members, and thus women view marriage as burdensome (Ōhashi 1993; tsuya 2000; tsuya and Mason 1995). Ochiai (1997) suggests that as divorce rates have risen and as male employment has become increasingly insecure, marriage no longer offers security for women and is thus less attractive. Yamada (1999) argues that the depressed economy of the 1990s lowered men's earning capacity, and thus women remained single because they were unable to find men capable of supporting their sought-after lifestyle of full-time housewives. Rosenbluth (2007) maintains that persistent gender discrimination at the workplace encourages women to struggle harder at work, thus delaying marriage and resulting in declining birthrates. These studies are useful in depicting the historical context in which women are marrying later in life in Japan.

The research for this project took place in tokyo because this city, as mentioned, has the highest concentrations of single people in Japan. In 2010, for example, 17.37 percent of women in tokyo had never been married, compared to 10.61 percent nationally (national institute of Population and social security research 2011). A research assistant and i interviewed thirty single women in tokyo over a three-year period. We found informants through snowball sampling, and we used a variety of contacts to initiate our interview networks. About half of the informants described themselves as “regular staff ” (seishain), or permanent employees who enjoyed a full package of company benefits. Two of the informants held Ma degrees, about one-third had graduated from four-year universities, and the remainder were junior college or high school graduates. The women worked in a variety of industries such as banking, travel, pharmaceuticals, trade, and communications. Two worked in government-affiliated institutions. Others worked for Japanese, foreign, and multinational firms; they worked for large companies, medium-sized firms, and small family businesses. A few worked for themselves, including an entrepreneur and a freelance editor, and one woman was unemployed and looking For work. About half of the informants were tokyo natives, and half had come to tokyo from other parts of Japan as young adults for schooling or work. The study does not include women from the highest or the lowest strata of Japanese society; none of the women were disabled, single mothers, unable to work, or from impoverished backgrounds. Nonetheless, the women interviewed represent a large cross section of single women who work and live in tokyo. In the next section, i explain the marriage and employment markets experienced by the single women we interviewed.

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