Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 4, September 2000

Japanese Women's Diaspora:
An Interview

Introduced and annotated by Karen Kelsky

  1. For the past ten years I have been conducting research on the topic of Japanese women's recent internationalisation, through study abroad, work abroad, study of foreign languages, work in foreign affiliate firms and NGOs in Japan, and marriage and romance with Western men. From the 1980s onward it became increasingly common for young middle-class Japanese women to quit their 'office lady' jobs and depart for a year or more of study abroad in the United States, England, Australia, or some other Western (or very occasionally non-Western) destination. In the mid 1990s, almost 80 percent of Japanese study abroad students were women. However, women's internationalist exodus has not been limited to study abroad, but encompasses a broad zeitgeist in which young single women ironically use the considerable economic resources they command as participants (however marginal) in the Japanese national economy to dislodge themselves from that economy, and the national project it supports, and seek alternative education, work, and lifestyle opportunities abroad.
  2. This research is presented in my forthcoming book Women on the Verge: Gender, Race, and the Erotics of the International in Japan.[1] Broadly speaking, I discovered that there were two aspects to be considered when exploring Japanese women's 'defection' (either literal or symbolic) from Japan: their dissatisfaction with women's opportunities in Japan (what I thought of as the 'push' factor), and their conviction that Western countries are 'better' (the 'pull'). Because the subject of women's disadvantages in Japan's corporate and social structures has been exhaustively documented by others, I chose to turn much of my attention to the second question: what precisely was the origin, and what are the implications, of women's belief that the West is indeed 'best'?
  3. Over the course of my two years of fieldwork, I found that women expressed a consistent discourse of female akogare (longing, idealisation) for the West, a discourse that finds expression in a large genre of books written by women extolling the professional opportunities of the 'international' sphere, and urging women to avail themselves of them. However, this discourse of akogare also makes its appearance in women's literary and artistic productions, and overwhelmingly, in advertising targeted toward women. This akogare is directed not only at Western society as a whole, but at Western men in particular, who are often idealised as the very opposite of Japanese men, and the 'natural' solution to the problem of Japanese male 'sexism.' In their narratives of internationalism, women isolated the oppressions of Japan as deriving from a 'feudalistic' system dominated by 'oppressive' Japanese men; in turn they identified the liberations of the West as deriving from a 'progressive' system presided over by sensitive (yasashii) and egalitarian Western men. What I found, then, in a nutshell, was that internationally-inclined Japanese women's professional and personal desires were intertwined. The dream of a 'global career' was intimately connected to the dream of marrying a white man. Thus, women's calculation of the risks of a relocation abroad included not only a careful consideration of language ability and financial resources, but also an evaluation of Japanese women's standing in the Western romantic market.
  4. Such narratives of internationalism are not expressed only in written texts however. They are broadly enacted by a stratum of young, primarily single, primarily urban, middle class women, who are empowered by their excellent education in Japan's school and university systems, and by the financial resources they command from their own earnings and the (sometimes reluctant) support of their middle-class families, to enroll in English conversation classes, depart Japan for periods of study or travel abroad, and sustain the economic risks involved in quitting unpalatable jobs to seek alternatives in foreign affiliate firms or NGOs. For these reasons, this women's internationalism is a class-bound phenomenon, and is less available to economically marginal or vulnerable women, who may lack access to college education, and who are likely to be more deeply embedded in the immediate demands of blue-collar or manual work or the requirements of a family business. Because the overwhelming majority of Japanese people (over ninety percent in some surveys) characterise themselves as middle-class, however, a 'middle class' phenomenon in Japan, unlike some other countries, is one that is at least potentially mainstream. It is worth noting that this phenomenon has other parallels in contemporary Japan, most obviously the phenomenon, described by Mark McLelland in issue three of Intersections, of straight women seeking romance and marriage with gay Japanese men, in a rejection of heterosexual Japanese men and the patriarchal power structures they represent.
  5. The following is an interview conducted in Tokyo in September 1993 with Nagata Mitsuko (pseudonym), a 29-year-old freelance copywriter with a B.A. in French Literature from a middle-ranking university in Tokyo. Mitsuko, an elegant, slim, and successful professional woman who lived alone, and supported herself writing ad copy and jingles for a variety of small computer and graphics-related companies in Tokyo, was planning a period of study abroad in the following year, and was also, at the time of the interview, actively looking for a white Western husband. I chose this interview out of the dozens that I conducted because Mitsuko, approaching thirty and unmarried, was at precisely the age when women's internationalist longings generally peak (in conjunction with the social pressure to marry that peaks at thirty), and was also exceptionally articulate in explaining the origins and implications of Japanese women's akogare toward the West and Western men. Of course this interview shows only one 'snapshot' of Japanese women's international exodus in the mid-1990s. As such, however, it is remarkable in revealing the ways that questions of gender, sexuality, race and money are all refigured in flows of desire that now operate transnationally, enabled by Japan's economic privilege that, ironically, has enabled some young, discontented Japanese women to turn their eroticised longings for change abroad.
  6. It must be emphasised that Mitsuko is just one woman, and her words should not be taken as representative of all Japanese women who study abroad or who date foreign men. For one thing, her background contains more instability than is common in Japan: her parents divorced when she was young (divorce is not prevalent in Japan, and was particularly uncommon during Mitsuko's childhood), and she moved frequently as a child (also unusual in Japan). It seems likely that the instability of her childhood home perhaps intensified her akogare, both then and now, for an idealised American home full of 'really big love.' In addition, as she is at the stage of only planning a stay abroad, she perhaps expresses a pure form of akogare that is undiluted by the disillusioning experiences inevitably accompanying a lengthy residence in any country.
  7. Mitsuko is anxious to distinguish herself from the so-called 'yellow cabs' (or 'Roppongi gals'): a subcultural group of young Japanese women in their late teens and early twenties who congregate in the Roppongi nightclub district of Tokyo as well as in Hawai'i, Bali, New York City, and other locations, in the hopes of finding a foreign lover for the night or the week. This phenomenon, about which I have written elsewhere,[2] was a highly commodified, overtly sexualised, and sometimes exploitative expression of a kind of female desire for the West. Mitsuko appropriates the yellow cab image in her own critique of Japanese men, but also insists on a class and status-based difference. As she explains, older, educated, professional women like Mitsuko have motivations for marrying foreign men that go beyond the gleeful sexual experimentations of the yellow cabs, and that are deeply entwined with issues of selfhood, identity, and achievement. For women of Mitsuko's age, class and professional standing, the search for the Western lifestyle (mediated by the Western man), can be read as a kind of quasi-feminist quest for independence and respect.
  8. And yet, perhaps the primary contradiction that emerges in this interview is Mitsuko's own ambivalence about the very independence and respect that she claims to be seeking. Mitsuko is adamantly not a feminist, and like the vast majority of internationalist women I encountered in person or through their written texts, she bluntly rejected feminist goals or methods - in both their Western (American) and Japanese incarnations - as a means of improving her status or changing the social conditions she finds so constraining. Mitsuko, and internationalist Japanese women in general, remained loyal to an image of womanhood characterised by dependence on, and service to, men. Rather than a feminist project, her internationalist practice is rather a search for a more 'benevolent' patriarchal system. This is expressed in her ambivalence over the professional pressures on women in the United States, where women bear (if often unfairly) a more equal burden of work outside the home.
  9. In Mitsuko's account this ambivalence over the foreign lifestyle eventually leads into a larger, emergent ambivalence about the Western man as marriage partner. Mitsuko has suffered enough disappointment in her interactions with actual Western men encountered in Japan to cast doubts on the image of pure akogare for the 'white gentleman' or the 'prince on a white horse' that she previously embraced. In this expression of ambivalence, she is not alone. My research suggested that as formerly internationally-inclined women reached their thirties and forties, they began to rethink akogare, often subjecting their images of the West and Western men to a hard and jaundiced reevaluation, and re-embracing an identity as Japanese. A number of women eventually married Japanese men, and ceased to look for a means of relocating abroad. Without embedding itself in a coherent program of social change, women's individualist internationalism remains negotiated at the individual level.
  10. Mitsuko's interview suggests that some internationalist women are working within a racialised hierarchy that fixes white men, white women, Japanese men, Japanese women and people of other races according to a scale of attractiveness and desirability, and in which white men and Japanese women emerge as the 'winners'. And yet any simple, dualistic racial grid of attraction is not sufficient to exhaust women's desires for a good life, or to resolve the deep contradictions women feel between a gendered identity as both independent and dependent, mature and childlike. Mitsuko constantly weighs conflicting needs, wants, and options open to her in her role of a 'Japanese' woman potentially active on a global stage. With extraordinary candidness, wit, and insight, she acknowledges her ambivalence between the 'West' and 'Japan,' and the struggle of an intelligent, thoughtful Japanese woman in choosing a course between them.

    (Interview takes place in an elegant, trendy and expensive coffee shop in Shibuya, chosen by Mitsuko)
  11. Interviewer: Shall we start with a little bit about your background?
  12. Mitsuko: I was born in Tokyo in 1964, and since my parents got divorced and various other things were going on, I moved a lot when I was young. From the middle of grade school I was in Ibaraki Prefecture, in Mito city. And then I came to Tokyo for college, and I've been living on my own ever since. It's been ten years.
  13. Interviewer: What university did you go to?
  14. Mitsuko: Chuo University in Hachioji. I majored in French Literature. But I don't speak French very well! I've never even been to France. But I was in California until recently. Last year I went to California and Las Vegas just for vacation, but this year I went to help out at an autobike rally. Nevada Rally - it just started this year. And there was a team - we were funded by an Italian company, and I went along as the manager. I don't ride motorbikes, but I have friends who love them and do events and rallies in Japan, so I helped them out. I am hoping to go back to the States again next year to study there, and stay for a longer period.
  15. You know, some Japanese have the image of America as a really pushy country. I thought it would be really crude compared to Europe. But when I went I realised that the people there really have a good time, and it's a wonderful country. So now I love it. I'm seriously hoping to live there for about a year, right now. I'd like to be able work over there, but I'm not that good at English, so I have to work on it a little more.
  16. Interviewer: You mentioned on the phone that you are also hoping to find a foreign boyfriend. Have you been involved with foreign (gaijin) men before?
  17. Mitsuko: Well, I have gaijin friends, but not a steady boyfriend. It's not that I've been avoiding it, but just that I haven't had the chance so far.
  18. Interviewer: Do you think you'd like to?
  19. Mitsuko: Well, 'going out' has a lot of different meanings ... but in terms of having an akogare for foreigners, well, I guess I have had that since I started learning English in middle school. I was always thinking how much fun it would be to have foreign friends to talk to in English, and how much more interesting that would be than just studying English in the classroom. I really had akogare. And I've corresponded with foreigners. But I've never felt that I only want foreigners as lovers or anything like that. In my case it would be just a natural process, that the person I fell in love with would just happen to be a foreigner.
  20. So it would be different than those, you know, 'Roppongi Gals' who everyone is talking about recently. Those girls who are playing around on Waikiki Beach just want to have a good time, I think. Japanese society, and Japanese men, are bad at 'performing,' you know, at showing a woman a good time, escorting her, speaking sweetly to her. They're very bad at taking care of her. So the women are much more advanced in that sense. They want to have freedom to have fun, but Japanese men are no good at that, and Japanese society doesn't permit it. So, that's why they seek out a partner, an environment in which they can find what they're looking for. That's what I think. When I look at American women, I think they are so lucky that they and their husbands are like lovers, throughout their lives. I feel that they are very close, and very fresh - as a woman and as a man. But in Japan, from long ago, after marriage you just become a 'wife' (okamisan). So girls instinctively know that before marriage is their only chance to really shine. The same is true of men, of course, but once you get married, there's nothing left. You live together, but there's no romance. You can't hope for romance in marriage. So they feel cornered by this sense of impending fate, limited time - this is my last chance! So that's why I think those girls in Roppongi or Waikiki begin to behave like that.
  21. But then there's one more thing. The reason that intelligent women have akogare for white men is that they know, well, to be perfectly honest, that Euro-American society is much more mature in terms of human relations that Japan. And they want to get inside that mature society. If you can find a white husband, you can get into that society so easily. They have a desire to climb up in society, to rise up in the world (josho shiko). They have a 'Success Dream' [English]. You know, the 'American Dream!' And of course, as a country, in terms of lifestyle, America has so many things that Japan lacks. Culture ... well, Europe has culture, but America has power. And it's easy to live in. So assuming you want a green card, marriage is the easiest way, right? It's somehow attractive (miryokuteki). So I wonder if that isn't why?
  22. Interviewer: Do you have that 'dream'?
  23. Mitsuko: Yes, I do have akogare. But, I'm a little cowardly. So ... there are many wonderful American men. Say that I married an American man, and I was welcomed by his mama and papa in a big wonderful comfortable house - that's a dream that I have akogare for, but in actuality, I know that there would be many things that wouldn't work out so well; that if we were married, that there would be a lot of difficulties to overcome too. So right now I'm thinking that I would like to incorporate all the best things about America into a life with a Japanese man. So, even if I don't marry an American, I can marry a Japanese, but imitate all the good things about Americans. At least, recently I'm thinking that that might be easier. The food we eat is different, our customs are different, the way we think is different. No matter how much you love each other, there are things that its very difficult to overcome. I think that when you're only twenty-one or twenty-two, you might just rush over to America at the slightest opportunity, but when you get to be my age, you know its not so easy, and you become cautious.
  24. Interviewer: When you were twenty-two or twenty-three, did you have more akogare?
  25. Mitsuko: It was very strong for a period. Your husband [who is Japanese] can probably tell you too, but for a long time, even when I was young, U.S. T.V. shows were shown on Japanese television, like The Lucy Show, Father Knows Best, Bewitched ... and Japanese watched those and were astounded. The reason was, that at that time, a family of five or six people had to live in one or two tiny rooms, and there was no privacy at all, and no luxuries (hanayakasa) like celebrating Christmas with a big cake and gifts, or mom and dad going out for their anniversary. There was love in the Japanese sense, of course, but still those things on television came as an enormous shock to Japanese, and became the object of akogare. I think that is still with us. The idea of a family in the U.S. is to live in a big white house with a great big yard in front, with a spacious entry, and pictures of the family all over, and there's a big cake or pie that Mom just baked, and lots of ice cream, and homemade jelly. And at Christmas the family decorates the tree together...that kind of image of abundance (yutakasa). An image of big, really big love (aijo). So the feeling that you want to be inside that; that you want to be one of those people, that akogare, must be part of the feeling that you want to marry a foreigner.
  26. Interviewer: Do you feel like that means that you want to quit being Japanese?
  27. Mitsuko: Well, that's the hard part. Your own identity is Japanese, of course, and there are many lovely things about being Japanese. You might have an akogare for 'Mom's apple pie,' but you like the manju (sweet bean paste filled dumplings) that your mother makes too. (Laugh.) I mean, no matter how much you like pie, you can't eat it every day! You would want to eat miso soup, udon, sushi....
  28. Akogare doesn't equal wanting to completely become American. But, this might be a little opportunistic, but I think that Japanese have always been good at taking what they want from other countries, and making it part of Japanese culture. So it might be more like you want to save your Japanese aspects, but also add on things from America. To put it broadly, you want to increase your capacity. That kind of feeling. Your horizons would expand.
  29. Interviewer: I've read about a lot of Japanese women in America who just don't want to come back to Japan.
  30. Mitsuko: Well, it depends on the person, but in general America might be an easier place to live in than Japan. But to live in America you have to be strong, you have to put in a lot of effort. The people who can take that enjoy it, I think. But the people I know tend to hang out with other Japanese, and other Asians, despite being in America. I know someone living in LA, and she says that she spends all her time with Chinese and Koreans!
  31. But there's another thing. I don't know if American women feel this way or not, but in Japan there is the story of Tamanokoshi - the 'Cinderella story,' right? A rich, handsome, hard-working, upper class man takes you as his wife, and you become Cinderella, you rise up in the world. That's always been a woman's best way to raise her social standing. Maybe now it's a little different, but until not too long ago, that was the only way. Girls were supposed to be cute, quiet and obedient, and good at housekeeping and cooking, that's all. So almost all Japanese women have this hope that someday a prince (ojisama) will come and take you away to live in a castle. And Japan has gradually become wealthy, and so if you get tired of it here, you look for a better place - naturally, Europe or America - the upper classes. Because the upper classes are the most conspicuous.
  32. Interviewer: My informants tell me that when they imagine that 'prince' he's always white, not Japanese. They say that's from the influence of American movies and TV.
  33. Mitsuko: Right. When I was small, I don't know if this was MacArthur's [Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Occupation of Japan] fault or not, but all the fairy tales and children's books and stories that I read were European and American!
  34. Interviewer: Aren't there any Japanese ones?
  35. Mitsuko: There are - like Kaguyahime no monogatari ... but Japanese stories and tales don't feature love or romance, you know? Japanese fairy tales are not about love or romance, but more about how 'serious, hard-working people (majime na hito) become happy' - more moralistic type tales. Like moral education (dotoku kyoiku). (Laugh.) Not the kind of stories that would feed little girls' dreams. So for example, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, the first time I ever heard those stories - there are kiss scenes and love scenes in them, right? To Japanese children that kind of thing is ... how should I put it ... so seductive akogareppoi). It's very fresh and exciting. So that's the reason that we have so much akogare. Stories which depict love positively, which cheer love on, just don't exist in Japan. And also media, like picture books, and Disney stories, all of them have princes with white faces. That's why.
  36. Of course there were princes and shoguns in Japan from long ago. But no one has akogare for that! (Laugh.) Shoguns! (Makes a face.) Japanese shoguns were not gentlemen. I mean, I don't know if European princes were gentlemanly or not, but anyway, Japan has always been based on the patriarchal code, to esteem men, despise women (dansonjohi) and Japanese shoguns treated women as objects, keeping mistresses and courtesans besides his wife, and sleeping with their vassals' wives. That was everywhere - they did barbaric things. So, as a girl, how can you have akogare for that? In a word, women were supposed to endure anything man imposed on them. In contrast, those princes of Western stories never had affairs, they were kind to women, were gentlemen, they don't use women, but protect them, so naturally Japanese girls all just flew to their side.
  37. Interviewer: So maybe that's why so many women mention liking the Western chivalrous (redizu fasuto; 'ladies first') custom. Now I see that it's because it carries all these associations with it.
  38. Mitsuko: Right. But on the other hand recently I've been watching Japanese men and non-Japanese men, and American men are very kind to women, they open the door for you, and carry your bags for you, but then there are times when they can be very cold and distant, unlike Japanese men. I've come to realise that. Japanese men can be arrogant, but they also protect you and take care of you. They have good qualities of looking after you as a woman. I just recently understood that. But that's something that you only realise if you are together a long, long time. The 'ladies first' type manners, on the other hand, you see right away. They're very easy to see. So that might be one problem ....
  39. Japanese men are still tyrannical regarding women. They don't make any effort to do things for you. They can't be bothered. And they don't show physical affection with women; that's a very important thing, but Japanese men are too embarrassed and shy to do it. Like kissing, holding hands, even little things like touching your hair or putting an arm around your shoulders. They don't do that. They're too shy. So even if you've been away for a long time, and have just come home, Western men will give you a big hug and say 'I missed you!', but Japanese men will say 'Oh, welcome back.' That's it! (Laugh.)
  40. Interviewer: I remember seeing on TV when the Japanese U.N. peacekeepers came home (from Somalia) and greeted their wives after a year away, they just bowed, and then disappeared in a crowd of men, and the wives were left behind in a group to follow.
  41. Mitsuko: Right! (Laugh.) That's exactly what I'm talking about! In Japan women are still - particularly in the upper classes - considered like the 'loyal retainers' (kerai). Men are the lords (otonosama) and women are the retainers. So for example politicians go out to political parties with their wives. And at the end of a wedding you get a bag with a gift in it, right? Well, guess who carries the bag? The wife. Always. To this day. At the wedding of the Prince Akihito and Masako - I saw this on TV - there were so many guests who came as couples, but the ones carrying the big bags were all the wives. Like horses or something. Women's social status is low.
  42. Interviewer: So I guess that's why many women want to go to America, right? But I'm not sure its such a good solution for women, just to run abroad.
  43. Mitsuko: So most American women don't think very highly of Japanese women wanting to find American husbands?
  44. Interviewer: Well, that's a hard question. I would say most American women assume that American men are the 'best,' so they think it's obvious that other women would want them too.
  45. Mitsuko: That's true - they're the best, and we all want the best, right?
  46. Interviewer: But then there are the women who are competing with Japanese women - like American women in Tokyo. And in some places they're losing the competition! At least, that's what I've seen in Hawai'i and in Tokyo. All the white men are going out with Japanese women.
  47. Mitsuko: Why is that, do you think?
  48. Interviewer: Well, that's a long story. Western men have liked Japanese women for a long time because they think they're feminine and docile ... there's that stereotype, you know. Anyway, those American women are pretty angry about the situation. I think women are angry that there are fewer people willing to go out with white women.
  49. Mitsuko: Well, I can't say which is better, but of course, men will naturally gravitate to the women who are most attractive as women. So, to compete - to be 'rivals' in the good sense, I think everyone has that consciousness. That means Japanese men won't be able to think that just because they're Japanese they can have all the Japanese women to themselves, but rather that if they don't make themselves more attractive, they'll be rejected. And white women will have to make an effort if they don't want to lose all the white men to Japanese women, so everyone will work harder and become more appealing (suteki). Isn't that a good thing?
  50. Interviewer: But just for the sake of argument, suppose that 'appealing' (suteki) is the problem. I mean, you could say that the reason that Japanese women can live so freely in America is because American feminists fought for women's rights. And that made American women become more assertive, which is why they now seem less attractive to men. What do you think?
  51. Mitsuko: I see what you're saying. American women fought hard for freedom, and finally got it, and became strong and assertive, and right at that point, Japanese women turn up and enjoy the freedom that American women have created.
  52. Interviewer: Exactly. That's what some Western women I've interviewed have said. And the other thing that happens, according to them, is that when Japanese women are so happy with the way Western men act that some Western men in Japan think they can get away with very little effort. So the men stop making any effort ...
  53. Mitsuko: Right - you could say American men are getting lazy because of Japanese women's akogare! They don't have to make any effort! Their level will sink.
  54. Interviewer: So that's the reason that some white women I've talked to feel very ambivalent about all of this, I think ...
  55. Mitsuko: I can understand that. Well, I don't know which is better, but I was born and raised in Japan, and I guess I still have the belief that women should always support men. That a good woman is the kind who stands behind her man and doesn't challenge him, but rather helps him in his work. So because I have that Japanese mentality, I see Western men as being kind of tired. That doesn't mean that Western women are bad, or anything, but, there are times when I think that Western men want a chance to be selfish too, and always, always having to be women's support is too tiring for them.

    I think maybe that whether Japanese or foreign, people on the same level stick together. The Western men who are not at all tired of being nice to women, who consider it a pleasure, will not have their hearts stolen by Japanese women. They will keep making efforts to improve themselves to get a better woman. But, those who don't want to work will sink down in level. Meanwhile, there are Japanese women who want to be treated really kindly by men, and those who just want average treatment. Those average women will stick with Japanese men. But those women who feel that Japanese men are not good enough will turn to white men. It's a hierarchical relationship, sort of - based on degree of niceness [yasashisa]. (Draws diagram).

    Figure 1. Diagram drawn by Nagata Mitsuko on a napkin,
    during our interview. Translated into English by Karen Kelsky.

  56. Interviewer: Talking to you, I feel that Japanese women are in a very difficult position right now - they want something, but can't get it. They want something better than they have in Japan, but they're not always treated well by white men either.
  57. Mitsuko: Yeah, it's really sad. I've met and corresponded with a variety of white men in Japan, but I think they're really making fun of me. They don't respect me. They just want someone to sleep with. They assume that I'm going to go along with them. For example, even if its only the first time we've met, they assume that I'm going to go to bed with them.
  58. There was one interesting guy: forty-five, divorced, with an eight year old daughter. He said he was searching for a Japanese wife. I said, why Japanese? He says, 'I don't have much money, I'm divorced, and I have a kid, so a white woman wouldn't marry me. But a Japanese woman would accept it all without complaint ...'
  59. Japanese women do work hard for the man they love. But it's like that side of us is being exploited by white men. I told him he had a bad attitude. He looked a little offended at that. He likes Japanese women because they don't say things like that! But that's like they're not respecting Japanese women's personhood. So I said, 'No thank you' [English]. (Laugh.)
  60. I don't know if it would be useful for you, but there's a phenomenon recently in Japan for highly educated, successful career women to marry Japanese men much older than themselves. Fifteen or twenty years older. Like their father. Those women are increasing. It's similar to seeing a foreigner, in that you want to be with someone better than you, someone higher up, more impressive than yourself. Someone who will teach you and protect you, and take care of you. Someone who is strong. Men of the same generation can't keep up with the women who have brought themselves up to a new level. So they go for a much older Japanese or a Westerner. If they don't, the women can't respect or trust them. So definitely, men are lagging behind. Women have progressed.
  61. And Western women might not have that sense of dependency. But Japanese women want to be kind of enveloped in something big and safe. They want to be protected by a big and strong man. They don't want an equal relationship, or a partnership, but rather to be held and protected by a big man. And in the past, Japanese men were bigger than women, but now men have shrunk. They're small, maybe even smaller than women. So women are dissatisfied.
  62. Interviewer: But this is contradictory! Because women are saying that they want to be treated equally, and also that they want to be protected. How can you have both?
  63. Mitsuko: Right. That's the problem. We're greedy. We want everything! (Laugh.) Japanese women - not everyone, but most, want to be supported by their husbands after marriage. We want to take it easy inside the home ... well, maybe not take it easy, but not to work - and have our husbands earn money for us. But then we also want our husbands to do half the housework, and to take us overseas once a year, and.... So we want to keep all the good parts of tradition, and then have men cook and wash dishes, pick up the kids, on top of that. So maybe Japanese women's demands have grown too big.
  64. Interviewer: Would you call yourself greedy in that way?
  65. Mitsuko: Yes. (Laugh.) I don't want to admit it, and I know it's not good, it's not attractive, it's too selfish, but I have to admit, that's what I want. I do want my husband to work and support me, and I also want him to help out at home. I think everyone must feel like that. And then when you actually meet someone and fall in love, you realise that reality and your ideals are not going to match. But if you love him, then you decide to go for it anyway. That is how people give up on their ideals, and compromise a little bit in their marriages.
  66. Interviewer: Just a few more questions. Would you parents be opposed to you marrying a foreigner?
  67. Mitsuko: I don't think my parents would be particularly opposed. But they would think a Japanese was better, I think. They might be afraid of what they don't know. And they would be worried about divorce. I don't think they would be thrilled. But, even our parents' generation has changed their way of thinking, so they would agree that it's up to the individuals involved. But I doubt that they would be happy.
  68. Interviewer: And if he were a black man?
  69. Mitsuko: That would be a problem. (Laugh.) That generation looks down on the black people (kuroi hitotachi). And they have fear. So whites would be okay, but blacks would not. And recently there have been problems with Iranians in Japan.... They don't understand that there are different kinds of black people. My parents' generation lost the war, so their thinking is kind of conservative.
  70. Interviewer: How do you personally feel about having a black boyfriend?
  71. Mitsuko: Hmmmm ... well, if I fell in love with him, I wouldn't have a problem. But I think it would bother me. If I loved him enough to overcome the things I would worry about. The girls who are dating them now might be the same, but I'll bet a lot think that they are great as boyfriends, but they don't plan to marry them. There are a lot of problems. Like, they (black people) are good at having fun, right? But can you depend upon him? Will he protect you and support you for the rest of your life?....They have a tendency to be like kids, involved with themselves, and not able to care for anyone else. So, they might just be a 'memory of youth'.
  72. This is my advice, but if you really want to study this subject, you shouldn't just focus on the girls on the bases and in Roppongi, or the ones in Hiragana Times. Because you meet girls who already are looking for gaijins. Its better to try to meet more 'average' girls, girls who've never even once spoken to a gaijin.
  73. Interviewer: Yes, I think you're right. Well, I have only one last question. What do you think about Japanese men and Western women?
  74. Mitsuko: Well, there are many different men, so you can't generalise, but in general, I think Japanese men want to lord it over women. So, they don't want a woman who is 'above' them. They feel that they can't 'win' with Westerners, that they're going to 'lose' against Western men. So they might have akogare, but laced with bitterness - the feeling of being the loser. They do have akogare, because white women are a status symbol, to have blond-haired wife is like having an expensive car and a big house. So there is akogare for white women as a status symbol, but not at all as an actual partner, or lover. If they meet one, they have no idea what to do, and they get really nervous. They have interest, but fear. And Japanese men, in general, want to take it easy, like I was saying, so they may have interest, but they think it would be a lot of work to be with a Western woman. So they're like 'Forget it. Too much work.' In my opinion, that describes their attitude. In the past Japanese women were willing to be motherly to Japanese men, but recently, Japanese women are tired of it, and won't do it anymore. So that's why men are going to Thailand to find women there.
  75. Interviewer: Wow. It seems like you could say that Japanese women are 'starved for romance.'
  76. Mitsuko: Absolutely! Absolutely. There is romance in Japan; it's not that Japanese men can't be romantic. But it's plain (jimi). Right now Japanese men are so frightened. Women are much more progressive. Men are lagging behind. And women get frustrated with them and look for 'more romance' 'more excitement'! And that's where foreigners come in. But Japanese men are not a lost cause (suteta monjanai). It's just going to take some time.


    [1] Karen Kelsky, Women on the Verge: Gender, Race, and the Erotics of the International in Japan, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming 2001.

    [2] Karen Kelsky, 'Intimate ideologies: Transnational Theory and Japan's "Yellow Cabs",' in Public Culture 6, 3 (Spring 1994): 1-14; Kelsky, 'Flirting with the Foreign: Interracial Sex in Japan's "International" Age,' in Global/Local:Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary ed. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996; John Russell, 'Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Contemporary Japanese Mass Culture,' in Cultural Anthropology 6 (February 1991): 3-25, Nina Cornyetz, 'Fetishized Blackness: Hip Hop and Racial Desire in Contemporary Japan,' in Social Text, (October 1994): 114-139.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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