A Half Step Behind: Japanese Women Today

By Jane Condon | Go to book overview
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Introduction

For centuries Japanese women, wrapped in silk kimonos, their black hair swept up with lacquered combs, minced along three steps behind their husbands. Heads bowed, they had a reputation for being devoted, demure, gracious, thoughtful, and self-sacrificing. They still do.

But now most Japanese women prefer to wear Calvin Klein jeans or an Yves St. Laurent suit, saving the delicate but restrictive kimonos for special occasions. Today, stylish young women, dressed in the most up-to-date Japanese fashions, walk beside their boyfriends as they promenade along upbeat Omotesando or through fashionable Roppongi. Yet the same modern girls, once inside a chic little French restaurant, will still pour their boyfriends' tea and debone their fish, much as their mothers did for their fathers. In their minds, the majority of Japanese women still follow their men—not three steps any longer but a half step behind.

Like the kuroko (black-clad figures) in kabuki, Japanese women do all the backstage work. Many women use the words "support" or "behind-the-scenes" to describe themselves and women's contribution to Japan's spectacular growth. They are the other half—the quiet, invisible half— of the economic miracle.

They run the home and house so that their husbands can apply themselves wholeheartedly to their work. Indeed, the Japanese word for wife means "inside person." She takes care of the children and their education. She is never included in the outside world of business entertaining, nor does she know much about her husband's work.

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