So just ten days after Single’s Day in China (and pocky day in Japan/Korea), you can imagine my surprise when I listen to my daily dose of NHK news on 11.22 to hear the announcer say:
“Today is Couple’s Day”
While 11.11 tells us just how single we are, I guess the combination of 11 plus 22 shows how 1 can become 2 and.. .well.. that equals to “be a good couple” day.
According to NHK news, Couple’s Day is a holiday much like Valentine’s Day in the sense that, well, it was created by the industry in order to reap in profits. Basically, Couple’s Day was designed by the apparel industry for promotional purposes and to give a boost to their quarterly saves revenue.
But this isn’t what surprised me about the NHK news broadcast the most.
The result of the apparel industry’s survey, conducted on couples across the country, is what piqued my interest.
I expected no less of Japan, but didn’t think the results would be so evident and clear.
A slew of couples were asked the question:
“If you were born again and could change your partner, would you still choose the same person?”
30’s : 50.2%
With men, we see that while young they are still in full blown lovey-dove mode and half of them would, even in a different life, choose their current partner. Yet once they hit 40, doubt starts to creep in and they start to second guess (probably the influence of all those host clubs and love hotels they frequent); while at 50, they just want to get the hell away. Dealing with work, the wife, the nagging… it’s just too much! Plus at this point the glue which probably held their marriage together–the kids–are gone.
Yet surprisingly at 60, the number almost jumps to half. It seems like at 60, Japanese men start to see their wives in a new light. The romance creeps back, and the appreciation for their wive’s loyalty finally starts to emerge.
Let’s look at the ladies, shall we?
30’s: 40.0 %
Compared to the men, the percentile is considerably lower. Even in their 30’s there’s a 10% difference–less than half of women in their 30’s wish they could change their partner–or would have chosen someone different. When they hit 40, the number decreases by half. And that plummet at 60? It explains all of the 60+ divorces that happen in Japan on quite a frequent basis. When the man parts from his number one love in life (aka, the company) and starts to live at home, couples soon find that for the last fourty years they barely even know each other. After serving the man on and hand and foot for almost a half century, Japanese women finally become fed up when they hit 60 and, well, would rather marry someone else. Or hell, just get a divorce.
When I told these statistics to my boss at work, she didn’t seem phased in the slightest. In fact, she even guessed the statistic before I told her the results.
“Let me guess Mary, the men say they wouldn’t change but the women want to, correct?”
“That’s because the typical Japanese woman has no freedom. She can’t express herself, she keeps everything in, and she endures. Even if she’s unhappy, she endures for the sake of her family, for the sake of status–even for the sake of her husband. She is not allowed to voice how she feels. In Japan, the woman shuts up and takes care of the family and that’s how it’s always been. That’s why when the man finally retires, the wive can’t stand to even be around him and, with the kids gone, has no reason not to divorce. This explains the phenomenon of strangely high divorce rates among elderly Japanese.”
And then she threw another question right back at me:
“How about the US? They don’t endure that long, do they? If they want a divorce, then they get one right away. There’s no patience or pressure to stay in a marriage like in Japan?”
I couldn’t help but smile and nod.
“There’s a reason our divorce rate is over 50%,” I reply. “American women don’t have rock hard patience like the Japanese.”
My boss laughed in response, “I think that might be better in a way. Why keep it all in? Why wish you could change your partner in another life? Why not do it NOW?”
In Japan, the options for a woman are slim. You can choose to get married, give up your career and take of the family. The other option is to choose your career and eternally give up the option of ever having a child. There is no middle ground. You can’t have it all.
There is no maternity leave. If you’re a working woman, but you can’t stay in the office for hours of unpaid overtime because your child is in the hospital or you’re pregnant.. well, then, you’re nothing but a burden on the company. Go back home where you belong.
I respect my boss. I think she was one of those Japanese women that chose a career over a family. I don’t ask her if she’s married, has a kid, or even divorced–it’s none of my business. All I know is she’s a former CEO, runs the company in , is wildly intelligent–and has no ring on her finger. She’s not one of the most powerful women in Japan’s advertising circles for nothing. I literally think she sacrificed her whole life to become what she is today.
She did it not just for career, but for a life outside of Japan. She has over 10 years experience in China and has traveled the world. She has experienced more, probably, than I ever will. Her mind is open, free thinking, and always full of new and innovative ideas. My boss refused to succumb to Japanese norms. She decided to rise through the ranks and succeed–but the price she paid, I can feel, was steep.
It’s a strange question to ask someone, though. If you were to be reborn, would you still choose the same person? Would you love that person in another life? Would you bestow upon them this ultimate title of romance?
I would love to do this survey in the USA or Europe. I’m sure results would be wildly different.
So to all you couples out there… happy (late) couples day. May you choose ‘yes’ for your survey answer.