Women’s Issues

Japanese

I’m studying essayist Junko Sakai’s best selling essay, Howl of the Loser Dogs. I became interested in Sakai’s work five years ago, when I read about her book in an American newspaper. In her book, Sakai uses the term “loser dog” or makeinu to describe women over 30 who are unmarried and don’t have any children. This is seen as unnatural in traditional Japanese society, which brings up women to believe that their greatest happiness lies in being married and raising children. However, nowadays in Japan more and more women are continuing to work into their 30s and delay marriage, or even refrain from getting married at all. Japan’s current “childless society,” a result of its near zero-growth birth rate, is often blamed on the country’s unmarried women. In her essay, Sakai criticizes these traditional ways of thinking about women. She believes that women can be happy even if they do not get married or raise children.

I want to see past the stereotypes commonly associated with Japanese women, and find out how they are truly living their lives. Women in today’s Japan are concerned with such issues as whether it is more important to focus on marriage or a career. As Japanese society gradually changes, so too will the standing of women in society change as well. Therefore, I believe that Sakai’s essay is a pertinent topic of interest for modern Japanese society, and for anyone interested in studying it.

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Timeline

• 1966: Junko Sakai is born in Tokyo
• 1985: Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law is passed
• 2000: Sex and the City television show begins satellite broadcast in Japan
• 2003: Sakai’s Makeinu no Toboe (Howl of the Loser Dogs) essay is published in Japan
• 2004: The word “makeinu” becomes one of the top ten winners in the annual Japanese “Prize for New and Popular Words”
• 2005: Rika Kayama’s Kekkon ga Kowai (Marriage is Frightening) book is published in Japan
• 2008: Makeinu no Toboe television drama broadcast in Japan

Linkography

from Junko Sakai’s book Howl of the Loser Dogs (pgs. 193, 197):

There is a certain stock phrase that really stabs at the heart of any unmarried woman over 30 when she hears it. No matter how beautiful, smart, stylish, rich, or successful at her career she is, if a single woman hears someone utter, “You certainly can’t be very happy as a woman,” she is unable to come up with a response to this.

Single women are considered to be unhappy as women because they are not married, myself included. They are blind to the criticism that “they are unhappy as women,” and that’s why they remain single.

As for my current lifestyle, my job is fun and I have a lot of good friends. Since I get to eat the things I like, read the books I like, and go to my favorite places, I am first of all happy as a human being. However, I sort of understand that “happiness as a human being” seems like giving up on one’s “happiness as a woman” to the rest of the world for some reasons.

“Japanese Women Live, and Like It, On Their Own” (Washington Post, 2004)

Newspaper article about Junko Sakai’s Howl of the Loser Dogs and the increase of unmarried women in Japan
酒井順子の「負け犬の遠吠え」と日本に未婚女性の増について新聞の記事

” ‘Loser Dogs’ and ‘Demon Hags’: Single Women in Japan and the Declining Birthrate ” (Oxford UP, 2006)

Review of Howl of the Loser Dogs that contrasts it with 2004’s Women who are Becoming Demon Hags
「負け犬の遠吠え」を批評して「鬼婆化する女達」(2004年)と対比したエッセイ

酒井順子著作のページ

Japanese webpage about Sakai’s various published works, including Howl of the Loser Dogs
酒井のさまざまな著作について日本のページ、「負け犬の遠吠え」を含む

Entry Contributed by Megan Locke