Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, October 25, 1996

Sex, shopping and
the single girl in Japan

IF living in Hawaii is a woman's dream, then residing in Japan is her nightmare. I visited my ancestral homeland about two years ago on business and, looking at it strictly from a feminist's point of view, hated the place.

Whenever I asked a question, the speaker would turn to a guy in the group and give him the answer. I ate breakfast in small downtown eateries in which all of the patrons wore power suits and ties. While waiting for appointments at office buildings, I thought somebody was going to make me serve tea at any moment.

But women's liberation is taking hold in the Land of the Rising "Son," according to a fascinating story in the November issue of Marie Claire magazine. Deceptively titled "Japan: Sex and Shopping," the eye-opening article describes the lives and travails of young, single women in that still male-dominated country.

First, the bad news:

A "good" wife is still expected to wait up for her husband's late-night homecoming, with hot meal and bath at the ready.

The traditional matchmaking process known as "omiai" continues to thrive, in which men get to judge the suitability of prospective brides.

Young ladies pay dating agencies up to $3,000 a year to pair them up with respectable professional men, who can join these same agencies free of charge.

Japanese law forbids married women from keeping their maiden names.

Women don't have access to birth-control pills since this may threaten the lucrative sale of condoms and the thriving business of abortions. More than one million abortions are performed each year, at an average cost of $1,800.

Now here's the good news. Our soul sisters in Tokyo are beginning to make some changes:

More females are postponing marriage and full-time lives as homemakers in order to stay in the workplace. The average age at which Japanese women marry has risen from 24 in the 1970s to 26 in 1995.

Rampant consumerism on the part of style-conscious, free-spending females powers the retailing industry, even overseas. The Japanese account for an amazing 60-70 percent of all worldwide designer-label sales like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

Growing intolerance of women's traditional role is reflected by Japan's divorce rate. Three out of every four break-ups are now initiated by wives.

The phenomenon of "airport divorce" is becoming commonplace - in which a bride, after her two-week honeymoon, realizes that she has made a mistake and says "aloha oe" to her husband after the plane touches down in Tokyo.

THIS doesn't sound like the Japan that I visited two years ago! In all fairness, perhaps I should go back there and give it another chance.

Then I might run into 23-year-old Mariko Kane, an office worker who has no intention of "saving" herself for just one man, as custom previously dictated. According to the magazine, Mariko has four boyfriends, each of whom plays a different role in her life.

Her "treat boy" dines with her at gourmet restaurants; "gift boy" is generous with expensive presents; "fun boy" takes her skiing and to amusement parks; and "marriage prospect" is the suitor deemed worthy by her parents.

Way to go, Mariko. Maybe she needs another guy to brew her a nice pot of tea.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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