In Japan, Girls Just Want to Have Fun

book cover

By Johann Fleuri

This brilliant investigation, entitled “Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan”, gives an insight into Japanese women’s life and how they manage to reach happiness in such an unequal country.​

  The book “Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan” explores, through the research of several specialists in social sciences, the following topic: why do Japanese women enjoy a high sense of well-being in such a context of inequality? The authors analyzed women’s values and the lived experiences at home, in the family, at work, in their leisure time and in politics and policy-making. The research also shows the various ways that women are exercising voice and agency, contributing to their sense of well-being. 

The statistics unveiled by the research show that 40 % of women in Japan, aged between 20 and 30, think that being in a relationship is a brake to freedom. 12% of women and 16 % of men would prefer to have a child-free life because they think that raising a kid is too expensive and is a huge brake to freedom as well. Mothers also declare the difficulties they encounter to find a good balance when they work but 60% of them wish to keep their job after the birth of their first child. (1) 

Even though the gender gap is huge in Japan (according to World economic forum, the country ranked 110th on 144 in 2018), women tend to reach a certain form of fulfillment in their everyday life. In other words, women in Japan are happier than men. Through studies, the book reveals that Japanese people are, generally, not happy but women manage better than men to find a way to reach happiness. 

Mito Akiyoshi, professor of Sociology at Senshu University, wrote one chapter that she initially wanted to entitle “Girls just want to have fun”. During a presentation at Temple University, she explained why. “In my research, I analyzed free-time and leisure-time of Japanese mothers. The result is that, compared to other industrialized countries, they don’t have any. Married women have less than two hours of leisure per day and they are severely sleep-deprived. Usually, women sleep more than men, except in Japan. The image of sleep deprivation is glamorized in the media.” Showing an article from a magazine, she highlights this idea promoted by Japanese media emphasizing the fact that sleeping less. “Working mothers should wake up at 5:00 or 6:00 am and go to sleep at 1 am in order to perform greatly. But who does that? It can only make your life and your mental health miserable.” 

Japanese mothers favorite past-time is watching television. For reading books, socializing with people other than relatives, participating in cultural events or associations, they are way under other countries. “But they perform to optimize their time.” 

Kumiko Nemoto, professor of Department of Global Affairs at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, underlines another important point: why Japanese women won’t wed? In Japan, only 2% of babies are conceived outside of wedlocks compared to 25% in France or 50% in Sweden. The reason why women wouldn’t start a family is because “highly-educated women won’t find a man that would match their expectations. In Japan, women want to marry up (hypergamy), meaning they want to marry a man who has a higher education and earn more money than them. On the other hand, men want to marry women with less education and less income (hypogamy). So they don’t meet.” 

As long as having a career won’t be compatible with starting a family, more women will feed aversion for relationships and marriage. They will only see it as a brake to freedom. If women who choose the path of motherhood look mainly happy about their role as a housewife, many would like to have the luxury to have the option to combine professional life and being a mum at the same time. 

Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan, by Gill Steel, edition University of Michigan press, 2019.(1) About struggles women encounter when they want to work and raise children at the same time.

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