ASCJ 2009
SUNDAY JUNE 21, 1:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M
Session 45

Wishes and Choices in Life and Living:

Family, Home and Work in Changing Japan

Organizer and Chair:

Dr. Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (German Institute for Japanese Studies, DIJ)


Prof. Dr. Glenda Roberts (Waseda University)

Panel Abstract

Japan is currently undergoing fundamental change. The rapidly aging population, the declining birthrate, and the structural changes on the labor market are major factors in this transformation that is likely to alter not only individual lives, but society as a whole. How are people coping with these changes – and how are they being dealt with by the media, fictional and factual? Various surveys show that many Japanese feel insecure about their future. While increasing individualization allows for unconventional choices it also harbors new constraints. Our panel thus focuses on tensions between wishes and individual choices in four central areas: marriage, family, work, and housing. How do people of various ages, genders and class backgrounds reconcile their desires, and what kind of choices do they make in designing their own lives? How much subjective freedom do they enjoy in their decision making? What kind of social consequences arise from their practices and from the processes in which these practices are involved? Do these factors influence people’s subjective wellbeing, their levels of happiness? This interdisciplinary panel attempts to provide some answers to these questions, using diverse methods, such as qualitative interviews, content analysis, and media analysis.  

First Speaker: Dr. Barbara Holthus
German Institute for Japanese Studies, DIJ

Marital Happiness: A wish for all? Discourses on Marriage in Japanese Women’s Magazines

The majority of research working to uncover the causes of Japan’s declining birthrate contributes them to Japanese couples marrying less and later in life, as extramarital births are still extremely low. It is also assumed that young women’s desire to stay in the labor market and the continued structural difficulties for women to combine work, marriage and having a family are largely contributing to women’s delay or foregoing of marriage and motherhood. Standard constructions of academic discourse on marriage in Japan often assume that changes are usually initiated by women. A common method to understand women’s thoughts on marriage and motherhood are interviews, ethnographic research or surveys. Yet what has been missing so far is the analysis of female-oriented media, e.g. women’s magazines, which serve as agents of socialization for the readership.

Therefore I am presenting here a longitudinal analysis of the marriage discourse in women’s magazines. Through a qualitative and quantitative content-analysis of four women’s magazines over the course of 30 years, I compare the marriage-related messages of the magazines for several demographic (age) cohorts. How have ideas on marriage and partnerships, divorce, and subsequently the reasons why Japanese women increasingly forego marriage and motherhood changed over time in each magazine? And are there significant gaps between the discourses when comparing the different magazine discourses diagonally, over time and per cohort? 

Second Speaker:
Hiromi Tanaka-Naji
German Institute for Japanese Studies, DIJ

Single Working Women in Tokyo: Their Negotiations of Marriage and Work

The last few decades witnessed major demographic changes in industrialized territories in Asia. Tendencies such as an increase in non-marriage rates and the falling birth rate are particularly true for urban spaces such as Tokyo and Hong Kong. These cities are emerging as economic and political centers in the process of globalization and where new forms of life and living are being shaped in changing social settings. This presentation focuses on Japanese single working women in Tokyo over the current local average marriage age, once a rather invisible group that recently has grown in number, resulting in their increased significance as a potential labor force amidst the shrinking population. Why do they not marry? Do they trade marriage for work? How important is work to them? This presentation examines how these women negotiate their wishes and dreams on marriage, family formation, and work and how they make decisions on these aspects of their lives. The presentation is based on a preliminary analysis of data generated through in-depth interviews.

Third Speaker: Dr. Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt
German Institute for Japanese Studies, DIJ

Can’t Have it All? Conflicting Ideals of Work, Marriage, and Childbearing in the Popular TV-Drama “Around 40”

The average viewing rate of the 2008 TBS-drama “Around 40 – chūmon no ooi onna-tachi” was about 15%. While the series can thus be rated as a commercial success, this percentage does not give an adequate idea of the drama’s enormous social impact: Arafō, as the drama’s title was abbreviated, catapulted a whole generation of women into the limelight of the media. The term soon became so ubiquitous that it was chosen as “Word of the Year 2008”.

The women in question, who have come of age shortly after the equal opportunity law was implemented, are regarded as having been the first to be able to make individual choices concerning work, marriage and childbearing. As it is also the case with two of the three main characters in “Around 40”, this often seems to have lead to a postponement of the latter two. While this trend at first glance seems to imply a departure from traditional ideals of womanhood, the two characters’ sudden concern with childbearing – and for this reason, marriage – reveals that it is not. As the much-cited keywords kitto (certain), motto (more), zutto (lifelong) show, arafō women are in fact characterized as “wanting it all”. In the drama, this necessarily results in conflicts between past choices and long-term dreams. Through a close reading of the visual text, my presentation will analyze these patterns of conflict from a gender perspective.

Fourth Speaker: Dr. Maren Godzik
German Institute for Japanese Studies, DIJ

Living Arrangements of Elderly People: New Choices in a Changing Society

The demographic development in Japan has led to a growing proportion of elderly persons. Many of them live in elderly couple households or alone. Three-generation households in contrast are decreasing. The change of family structures and functions, which are often seen negatively, also open up chances for new forms of living. The diversification of lifestyles expresses itself in more diverse housing and living arrangements. Alternative forms of living, e.g., self-organized or organized by NPOs, similar to co-housing in Europe and the US is certainly not a mainstream phenomenon, but their number is growing. Because of the fact that the projects are strongly influenced by their initiators and do not follow any regulations concerning size or the organization of living, they are extremely diverse, meeting ideals, preferences and needs of different groups of people.

With the help of in-depth interviews with elderly residents of alternative housing projects I try to answer the question what people expect from this kind of living and whether elements of their previous housing careers may have led to their decisions. I try to understand why the residents have chosen this form of living that differs so much from the norms of living arrangements common in Japan.