Big Controversy in Japan over “House Husbands” Part Two
In Japanese society today, especially among men, there is still quite a lot of discomfort if not antagonism toward “house husbands who make their wives earn a living while they only do housework.” Also, while many of the wives of house husbands earn as much as three times what average “salary men” earn, the more “socially capable” the women, the more “socially capable” men they apparently desire. This was one reaction: “What! Does that mean they want us to support them financially? Why do I feel so angry when I hear about men who don’t work?”
For men who become house husbands, the hardest thing is getting rid of their ”male pride.” “Pride is not worth even a farthing (mon),” says a 49-year-olds man who, after having to quit his job due to serious illness, became financially dependent on his wife, a designer eight years younger than him. He takes care of all the household chores and their three-year-old son. Until he reached a certain measure of satori, however, he used to always put on his suit before he went out to shop at the local convenience store. That way, if he should suddenly run into someone he knows, “I can pretend that I just stopped in on the way to or from work (laughs).”
In the 1980s when I was working for an English-language newspaper in Singapore, I remember hearing Japanese women who worked as receptionists in four- and five-star hotels complain often about Japanese businessmen who were “the worst in the world.” The moment they found out that the women are bilingual or near-bilingual compatriots, they would start ordering them about in Japanese: “You! Do this and that!” So much so that European and American businessmen standing nearby would take notice. Regardless of class or social status, the men who have always been on the receiving end of the women’s osewa, i.e. receiving their service are not going to give it up so easily.
The qualifications for a man inclined to become a house husband according to some Japanese experts are:
- if something is about to fall off the dinner table, he will reach for it first;
- he is good at forgetting useless senses of pride;
- he likes being around his house; and
- he is capable of thinking highly of a person EVEN IF (capital letters mine) the person is a woman.
In both Canada and Japan, relations between men and women have become rather delicate in recent times over sexual harassment, growing number of unwed men and women of marriageable age and various other issues. If I were to cite a difference between the Japanese and Canadians, the former who live in a collective society have an instinctual tendency to seek one correct answer for everybody, whereas the latter who form a society of individuals don’t care that much if one’s neighbor is a house husband, self-employed or a corporate employee. And if one should run into that neighbor, there will be plenty of things to chat about beside household chores and child-rearing.
As old as I am, I’m a guy so I become happy if a young waitress or a girl teller at the bank is kind to me. But the test is when I feel they’re being surly. Do I let it slide, reasoning that one can’t expect much from girls nowadays, or do I get antsy , speculating that maybe she doesn’t like old men or annoyed that she has not been brought up properly? I am trying to attain a measure of satori too, but when the young woman is an Oriental, I sometimes cannot help wondering if the spirit of respect for the aged is still present in her.
Naturally, if we find out that we’re both Japanese and she serves me the Japanese way like bringing my tea right away, I become happy. Am I allowed my small joy in encountering a fellow countryperson (my word)? What I’ve written here may be riddled with prejudice and one-sided assumptions, so some readers, particularly those female, may feel “I don’t quite agree with this or that.” I only hope there are no hard feelings.
(Ministry of Welfare and Labor National Pension statistics and personal quotes come from the weekly Shūkan Bunshun, 17/3/2016 issue.)