Japanese Women Have the Baby Blues: L’Express Report

L’Express, a popular glossy French newsweekly akin to Time, carries a report on Japanese women, fertility, culture, and economy:

Dominique LaGarde avec Philippe Mesmer, Les Japonaises ont le baby blues: Elles veulent profter de la vie, se marient le plus tard possible, souvent sous la pression sociale, et font de moins en moins d’enfents.  Dans un pays vieillissant ou la population ne cesse de diminuer, les économistes s’inquiètent.  Le nouveau pouvoir aussi,” L’Express, 10 September 2009, pp. 31-35.

English paraphrase follows; full text in French here.

Dominique LaGarde and Philippe Mesmer, Japanese women have the baby blues: Wanting to take advantage of life, they marry as late as possible, and under social pressure, birth fewer and fewer children.  In a state vigilant against its population decreasing, the economists are disturbed.  The new power [e.g., regime], too,” L’Express, 10 September 2009, pp. 31-35.

Prime Minister Hatoyama declared during the campaign, and appears poised to implement, a subsidy of 26,000 ¥ per month (about 200 €) for every child of school age.  The government wants thereby to boost [relancer/再发动] household consumption.  They also want to encourage couples to have more babies, as the low birth rate is one of Japan’s major problems.  With fewer than 1.3 births per female, the archipelago has one of the weakest fertility rates [taux de fécondité les plus faibles] in the world.

Since 1998, the population has been decreasing, losing 1.5 million workers and subsequently impacting Japan’s industrial production.  In spite of efforts by the state since 2005 to reverse the trend, the population continues to decrease.  It is estimated that by 2055, Japan will lose 30% from its current population size.

For various reasons, Japanese women are waiting to get married.  Noriko Kamata, 39 and unmarried, describes her attitude: women can take care of their own needs.  Besides, she asks, “Who wants to wait at home for a husband who is out passing the night drinking with his colleagues while his food gets cold?”

Noriko, 39, runs a small business of fashion accessories
Noriko, 39, runs a small business of fashion accessories

Recently Noriko has had a boyfriend [une liasion, lit. a connection] but doesn’t let him visit her place and has made nothing official.  And she is reluctant to give up her own space.

Akiko Kuraoka is a 30-year old “fashion addict” who frequents the hip Rhythm Café in Tokyo, enjoying music shows there after work.

Akiko, 30, in Tokyo
Akiko, 30, in Tokyo

She doesn’t think at all of marriage, but instead prepares to start her own business.  “Independent women like me inspire fear in men,” she says.  Asked about having a baby, she responds incredulously: “Here, in Japan, it takes between 150,000 and 225,000 € to properly educate a child, from the first diaper [couches-coulottes] to the last meal at the university.  One could do practically anything instead with that amount of money!  Me, to get a bar like this, I need 75,000 or 150,000 €.  Today, that’s my priority.”

Atsuko, 31, is a secretary who “wants to have a family” but “works all the time,” and who did lots of organized speed-dating, or gokon, in her 20s, but has grown tired of the game [le jeu est faussé, lit., “the game became false”].  For the women her age who do want to find a spouse, their desire seems to scare away the eligible men.  So a modernized version of the old form of arranged marriage (omiai) is returning to Japan.  Atsuko tried it but was disappointed in the results.  “It was a friend of my mother who introduced me to three guys.  The first two were fruitless [infructueuses / 无益的].  The third, in return [en revanche / 相反], was 36, and struck me as serious and polite.  He worked for a big company, which held out the hope of a comfortable life.  But finally he said he was a ‘herbivore‘ and didn’t have any desire to go to bed with a woman.”

Sidebar: “Herbivores” without libido: Journalist Maki Kukasawa invented the term three years ago.  Soushoku danshi [草食男子], literally, “men who eat herbs.”

Love Theory of S, courtesy ご案内

These are the bachelors of age 20 or 30 who are sensitive and lacking in sexual appetite.  They refuse the Japanese model of the dominant male, they dislike competition, rarely make the first move toward women, and are reluctant to engage.  Much media attention is paid to this type of man in Japanese media.  They evoke and form the antipode to the 1985 law on sexual equality and the  “carnivorous” comportment of women, and also the problems of human relations which stem from the wave of video games.

A final sidebar describes Japanese fascination with France, the country which has one of the highest birthrates in Europe at 2.02 children per woman.

Japanese Woman Samurai, courtesy Photobucket
Japanese Woman Samurai, courtesy Photobucket

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