Big Controversy in Japan over “House Husbands” Part One
Attitudes toward male and female roles between married couples, as well as between those betrothed, have undergone changes with every new generation within the Japanese Canadian community, just as in society at large. Starting with the era of the Issei around the beginning of the 20th century, we’re probably looking at Rokusei, the sixth generation in the 21st century today, since when I relocated here 19 years ago, I heard that “we have Gosei (fifth generation) by now.”
Also, over the past century or so, from when the Issei only read local Japanese-language newspapers carrying the same stories as those appearing in newspapers “back home,” to the present when consumers around the industrialized world enjoy Japanese culture from sushi to anime characters, it seems the impact of Japanese culture on Japanese Canadians and Americans has become more diversified and more diluted.
The biggest issue over the respective roles of men and women must still be “who brings home the family income and who takes care of household matters including looking after the kids, if any.” In most Issei households back then, the husband brought home the income and the wife looked after the household and the kids, as was the custom back in Japan. It was normal for the wife to have the dinner and hot bath, and even a cup of hot tea, prepared before the husband asked for them.
Canadian-born Nisei were educated in English and spoke English among themselves, so a daughter, who was able to take care of her father like her mother, would start feeling “there’s something funny here,” even if she didn’t say so out loud, according to what I’ve read on one of those “you-are-Japanese-Canadian-if-you…” websites.
By the time after WWII when the Sansei were teenagers, the idea of equal rights between the sexes had become so widespread that the girls would no longer even think of “looking after (osewa suru)” men in the traditional Japanese way. Through subsequent generations after the Sansei, namely the Yonsei and Gosei, Japanese Canadians would naturally accept as normal the “ladies first” etiquette of the society at large.
Also, in this day and age when unemployment has become a chronic problem, it is reported that the number of “house husbands” is on the rise both in Canada and the US. One would surmise that their number could be on the rise among Japanese Canadians too (I doubt if such statistics exist).
What has happened within Japan? In the early 1950s when Japan was still under post-WWII occupation by the US and its allies, I remember my parents and radio commentators talking about how, “What has gotten stronger after the war are ladies’ stocking and the women themselves.” What they meant was that expensive silk stockings that used to “run easily” (an expression most likely unintelligible to today’s young ladies) had been replaced by inexpensive and tougher nylon stockings invented in the US. In other words, the people of Japan, a nation defeated, were forced to swallow the concept of equal rights for men and women along with democracy.
During the high economic growth era following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when most global trends were still coming into Japan via the US, some women writers and social activists came under the influence of the Women’s Lib movement that was still in its infancy. Thereafter, such a way of thinking has gained some general acceptance, but excluded from that are, among others, the show business (both contemporary and traditional), food and beverage businesses like restaurants and bars and the service industry in general.
For women and men too in such lines of work, the message is still: “If you can’t stand sexual and other harassment, you can quit any time, because there’s no shortage of people who want to take your place right away.” This is really an issue of humanitarian concern that goes on all over the world whether you’re in Japan, North America or anywhere else.
It is impossible to find out just how many “house husbands” there are in Japan today. According to information about National Pensions released by the Ministry of Welfare and Labor, there were 110,000 men with annual incomes of under 1,300,000 yen (roughly $13,000) who were under their wives’ financial support in 2013. This is a small number out of the total population of men, but it was 100,000 men back in 2008, so the number is rising. Notably, it is also unclear as to how much housework and child care they actually do.
(Ministry of Welfare and Labor National Pension statistics and personal quotes come from the weekly Shūkan Bunshun, 17/3/2016 issue.)
continued next month . . .