More Young Females Leaving Japan For Konkatsu (Marriage Partner Seeking Activities) Abroad
Back in the May issue, I noted that the percentage of mixed marriages among Japanese Canadian (Nikkei) couples—at 74.7% according to the 2006 National Census—was much higher than among other minorities such as Latin Americans (47%) and South Asians (Indians and others) (12.7%), and mentioned the “important and serious trend” in the Nikkei community of more women choosing partners of a different race than men doing likewise. This time, Id like to take up the equally significant trend of considerably more Japanese women than men choosing a foreign partner and settling overseas.
I’m focusing on the latter trend here partly because there are significant differences between mixed marriages involving Nikkei women and those involving Japanese women in terms of linguistic background, values and so on. But obviously mixed marriages involving Japanese women has been having some impact on our Nikkei/ijusha community, most likely for many decades by now. For one thing, these mixed marriages, including those involving Nikkei women, have been contributing to the increase of families with hapa (mixed race) children. I’ve always used the term “Nikkei/ijusha community” in this column because of our readership, but I have also come to believe that the two groups share a commonality that cannot be clearly distinguished.
The statistics compiled and recently released by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) created a considerable stir. The population as of October 1, 2008 was estimated to be 127,692,000, a decline of 79,000 compared to the previous year, representing the first population drop in three years. The biggest concern was that the population of women had declined by 27,000—the first ever drop in female population since the compilation of census statistics began in 1950. As the MIC blithely put it, “one of the reasons is believed to be the growing number of Japanese women who stay overseas for extended periods.” Media commentators and such expressed concern that the outflow overseas of Japanese women might be accelerating.
According to Nihon no joshi wa kaigai wo mezasu Orenji! (Japanese Women and Girls are Heading Overseas Orange!), a website whose title says it all, a statistical survey of Japanese living overseas (2007) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs found that while the number of Japanese men settled abroad totalled 130,000, the total number of Japanese women settled abroad was 200,000, i.e. some 70,000 more than the men. Ms Orange chirps: “That must mean they married men from overseas and settled there, right?”
Having more or less grasped the “big picture,” I tried to find out more about the situation on the ground at the microscopic level by talking to some young Japanese such as adult students and home-stay university students here to study English. They include former company employees, office workers, computer programmers and other service sector workers, who quit their jobs to come here to improve their English and “check out Canada,” so to speak. In today’s Japan, they would be considered the pro-active ones who take the initiative. As a trend that I’ve discussed in an earlier column, they are overwhelmingly women.
Perhaps it’s been already five years or so since the expression konkatsu, short for kekkon katsudo (marriage partner seeking activities) entered the Japanese mainstream vernacular via the media. And the well-known “herbivorous (i.e. passive) men vs. carnivorous (i.e. aggressive) women” model of male-female relationship seems to have become set in stone by now. To put it simply, we’re now in an era when in Japan, women choose their male partners, rather than the other way round. I was told that among working women in Japan today, kaigai konkatsu (going abroad for konkatsu) was a common, well-known practice.
“Many people set age 30 as a kind of time limit by when they want to acquire a skill and find a job,” said a can-do type from Osaka who worked as an office data processor to save money and came to Canada. Finding a “partner for life” by age 30 if possible, would be a reasonably natural objective for a woman—or a man. But such a crucial encounter, alas, cannot be planned the way acquiring English and other skills and finding a job can be. But at the very least, the pro-active drive with which these members of the once-upon-a- time “weaker sex” pursue their various possibilities deserves respect.
The above person, incidentally, managed to secure a part-time job in Canada because of her data-processing skill, as well as study English and enjoy leisure activities in her spare time. In contrast to her life back then in Japan “when I hardly had any time of my own as I had to work overtime day after day,” she apparently spent a very fruitful period here. Because Canadian people, presumably including men, are generally broad-minded and honest, there was no need to posture, sometimes unnaturally as she had to in Japan, out of concern for the ever-present “critical eye” of those around her. She was going back to Japan but thought she might come back to Vancouver again.
One of my high-school classmates I met at a reunion last year is a half-German and half-Japanese hapa who married a German musician back around 1970 and settled in a town near Munich to raise their kids. As her Japanese was still very fluent, and very up-to-date in terms of latest slang in the vernacular, I was quite impressed. So I asked her how she managed to keep up her Nihongo. Nowadays there is a sizable group of Japanese women married to German men even in her small city, so she joins their activities, picking up in the process not only the latest Japanese slang but even insider gossip from her old hometown of Tokyo. One of my students also told me it was not uncommon nowadays to hear, even in her regional city, stories like “Ms so-and-so who used to live nearby married an Australian guy and now lives in Sydney.”
For our community, it is no doubt wonderful to welcome more women from Japan who are today recognized internationally to be par excellence (It is no mere flattery, declare I to our astute female readers—I am oft told so by men of foreign shores) in the sense, as well, of infusion of fresh blood in a genetic sense. At the same time, we naturally want to see more Yamato Danji (Sons of Nippon)—an expression which is surely not yet moribund, or is it?—arrive among us. But there’s little room for optimism. Rather typical of today’s Japanese youth, I’m inclined to believe, is a young man who recently sent me an E-mail out of the blue asking for advice, having somehow found out online about my background of re-locating from Singapore to Vancouver.
A while back, he stayed in Vancouver to study English and liked it, even managing to find someone willing to employ him within a few years, but he had to go back to Japan. Now, suddenly, an opportunity to work in Singapore has come up. Unable to decide what to do, he contacted me, a total stranger. He said he had three things to worry about, namely: (a) If he went to Singapore, he felt his plan to go to Canada would become more difficult to realize; (b) his chances of finding his partner for life would be diminished in Singapore ; and (c) if he left Japan for an extended period, he might not be able to receive his old age pension.
I thought if I was going to take the trouble of replying, I might as well not mince my words for his own sake. So on point (c), I said that it was better for him not to leave Japan at all if he’s so worried; and on (a) that while it made no sense logically, it was still indicative of his passivity. On (b) I almost blurted out if you’re that passive, you’re not going to find a partner in Japan either! but feeling a little sorry for him, ended up asking in return what is your basis for thinking your chances would be diminished in Singapore?
Just one more sad episode, which I found in a speech by the dean of a private women’s college: a professor at a famous business school in Tokyo received an offer from a bright Hong Kong entrepreneur, who once studied in his seminar, to take in some of the professor’s current seminar students as trainees in a new company the Hong Kong man had set up. When the professor asked his students, “Who would like to go?” the ones to raise their hands were all girls. So he turned to one of the boys and asked, “How about you?” I have to go home and discuss it with my mother first,” was his reply.
What about the reaction of young Japanese men to the “outward bound trend” on the part of the women? All that the “herbivores” can do, apparently, is to stand by and watch helplessly. Other than that, what still stands out in blogs, on-line write-ins and so on, is a widespread prejudice on the men’s part dating back at least to the post-WWII years that Japanese women who consort with foreigners (GIs back then) are, using a less offensive euphemism, somehow lacking in moral rectitude.
I’m sure there is still an abundance of Japanese women who prefer same-race partners including those who are holding on to the above prejudice. But if the pro-active women are leaving Japan with no regrets, effectively ignoring such men, to be pitied surely are those men themselves, who are reduced to a show of bravado akin to losers crying foul.
I started out talking about the women, and ended up discussing the men, again. But capable Japanese men are, to be sure, still producing results in international arenas, as demonstrated by the high-profile role models of baseball players like Ichiro, Matsui and Matsuzaka among others. It is still too early to despair.
Closing on a more personal note, I recently had an opportunity to spend a family vacation on Salt Spring Island, a place I’d always wanted to check out since moving to Vancouver 13 years ago but never got around to until now. We stayed in one of the farmhouse-cum-guesthouses operated by Japanese transplants who are trendsetters of sorts. It was only for a short two-night stay but I felt thoroughly refreshed thanks to our host family’s warm, if unconventional, hospitality. The guy who runs it is a resourceful, pleasant character who has lived close to the earth (organic farming, etc.) in places like southern France and now Salt Spring Island. I was also quite impressed by his wife and daughter, and by other ladies of Japanese and other nationalities who came from Japan, the Lower Mainland and within the island to the farm to help out , or enjoy sumptuous organic dinner parties. They were pretty impressive, and that’s no flattery either.