Japanese popular culture is often noted for its distinct lack of “Japaneseness,” or the scarcity of features that can expressly define its cultural products as unequivocally “Japanese.” A perfect example of this is Sanrio’s Hello Kitty character, which is one of the most instantly recognizable Japanese pop culture icons on the globe, yet essentially is a cat intended to be of British background. In particular, Japanese animation, or anime, is well-known for its ambiguous representation of purportedly ethnic-Japanese characters. The use of large eyes and multi-colored hair for character designs and the science fiction and fantasy settings often employed in anime allow many viewers to forget that they are watching entertainment created in Japan. Thus these features lend a certain mukokuseki or “stateless” aura to any animated work. Mukokuseki has been cited as being a factor in anime’s popularity outside of Japan, by allowing non-Japanese viewers to enjoy entertainment originally created for a Japanese audience. [Read more…]
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.
• 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
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.
Newspaper article about Junko Sakai’s Howl of the Loser Dogs and the increase of unmarried women in Japan
Review of Howl of the Loser Dogs that contrasts it with 2004’s Women who are Becoming Demon Hags
Japanese webpage about Sakai’s various published works, including Howl of the Loser Dogs
Entry Contributed by Megan Locke
A significant characteristic of post-bubble Japanese society is the struggle for a new identity. The collapse of the bubble economy dashed society’s hopes for continual progress towards a bright and rosy future for the nation. This has led many within Japan to to grapple with the issues of how their futures will change and how they fit into a society that is in a constant state of confusion.
The issue of identity is especially relevant to the women of Japan today, including both the generation in their prime during the collapse and those born in the years following. The stunning economic gains of the 1980s seemed to also promise advancements for the women of Japan. An economically thriving Japan offered the possibility that women would be able to contribute to the economy, and that growing economic equality between the sexes could perhaps change the traditional emphasis on marriage and children for Japanese women. Then the burst of the economic bubble prematurely ended plans for a rapid evolution in the position of women in Japanese society. Although the way that Japanese women perceive themselves and how they regard their role in society has continued to change, it is now a slow and uneven process in reaction to the uncertain future that Japan now faces.
The picture above features two women who are the face of the struggle for a new female identity in Japanese society: Crown Princess Masako and her daughter, Princess Aiko, of the Japanese Imperial Family. Princess Masako has faced pressure to conform to the traditional roles of wife and mother after marrying Crown Prince Naruhito, in spite of her education at Harvard and Oxford and her previous job at the Foreign Ministry. In particular, she has faced pressure to bear a son for the male-dominant Japanese imperial line. Her daughter Aiko then became the focus of a debate over whether women should be allowed to ascend the Japanese throne (this ended with the birth of Aiko’s male cousin who is now heir). Both generations of mother and daughter are caught up in the tide of the changing roles of women in Japan, although the outcome of their futures, much like the future of post-bubble Japan, is unclear.
o 1966: Junko Sakai is born in Tokyo
o 1985: Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law is passed
o 2000: Sex and the City television show begins satellite broadcast in Japan
o 2003: Sakai’s Makeinu no Toboe (Howl of the Loser Dogs) essay is published in Japan
o 2004: The word “makeinu” becomes one of the top ten winners in the annual Japanese “Prize for New and Popular Words”
o 2005: Rika Kayama’s Kekkon ga Kowai (Marriage is Frightening) book is published in Japan
o 2008: Makeinu no Toboe television drama broadcast in Japan