A Half Step Behind: Japanese Women Today

A Half Step Behind: Japanese Women Today

A Half Step Behind: Japanese Women Today

A Half Step Behind: Japanese Women Today

Synopsis

Numerous books have been written about the country's workaholic, corporate-minded drones, Japanese men, but few writers have grasped that it is really the women who keep Japan on top. In A Half Step Behind, author and journalist Jane Condon explores this often ignored other half of the Japanese success story--Japanese women.

Excerpt

In Japanese, there are two words for "truth." Tatemae means principles or surface truth, the self-abnegating niceties that keep Japan's social machinery humming. Honne means deep truth, and that is something so precious—and so dangerous—that it is parceled out only in small quantities, and very rarely.

In the interviews with Japanese women that make up A Half Step Behind, I have tried to obtain honne . To my surprise, I found that my status as an outsider, a gaijin, actually helped me. No Japanese would have had the gall to ask the questions I asked. and if they had, their interviewees would have tactfully sidestepped the sticky issues. But since the Japanese regard foreign women as a kind of third sex, I was exempt from many of the gender-linked expectations that would have hindered me as a journalist.

It is true that, when I moved to Tokyo from New York in 1981, I had to undergo the petty humiliation of getting my husband's written permission to work in Japan. and when I walk down a Tokyo street today, even twelve‐ year-old boys expect me to move aside while they charge ahead of me. I am still female, and therefore considered inferior. Yet during my interviews with Japanese women, I was allowed to step outside the system. It has been possible for me to probe their personal lives without appearing unconscionably rude. There were obstacles, of course— the language itself, which is deliberately ambiguous and poorly suited to outspoken confession, as well as the fact that most Japanese women have grown up thinking their opinions do not count. But my own candor seemed to jolt . . .

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