January 2, 2010

JAPAN: Singles wish for marriage in New Year, government wishes for more babies

. TOKYO, Japan / The People's Daily - Beijing / January 2, 2010 Millions of Japanese visited shrines all over Japan on Thursday night and Friday to bid farewell to 2009 and usher in the New Year. Among the throngs of people saying their prayers and making their wishes will be sizable numbers of people with just one wish on their mind for 2010 -- to get married. Some 3 million people were estimated to have descended on MeijiJingu Shrine, a particularly popular countdown spot in central Tokyo, to say their prayers and make wishes for 2010 and according to anthropologists, many of these wishes were to find a spouse. The government projected Thursday that Japan's population has declined further in 2009, with the number of Japanese babies born in the country in the year estimated to have decreased from 22,000of 2008 to 1,069,000, and the number of Japanese people who died in the country in the year is estimated to have increased for the ninth consecutive year to 1,144,000. The government said the population decline may last for the future years, as the Japanese population is getting more reluctant to marriage and giving birth, while on the other hand growing rapidly silver-haired. THE MARRIAGE HUNTERS The term "konkatsu" in Japanese, meaning "marriage-hunter," has been widely reported in global media and describes men and women who are tired of the peaks and troughs of the dating game and want to cut straight to the (matrimonial) chase. Konkatsu folk have given up on traditional, time-consuming, courting rituals like wining and dining and are solely interested in meeting eligible spouses. "I'm 32 years old now and I just want to get married, be settled and have kids," Yukari Uehara, an office worker in Tokyo, told Xinhua. "I hoped to meet someone at work and had a few dates, but they didn't work out. Some of my friends and family tried to fix me up with guys they thought I might like, but it was the same story. It all became a big hassle and a little depressing, so I decide to take a different approach, to specifically look for a husband, not a boyfriend or a friend. I'm not embarrassed by the title "konkatsu," it just means I know what I want and I'm being honest about it," Uehara said. Similarly Kentaro Noda, 34, a systems engineer for a multinational company in Tokyo, told Xinhua that all he wants in 2010 is a wife. "I'll be at Meiji Jingu Shrine at midnight of New Year's Eve and of course I'll be praying for the health and happiness of my family and friends and for the prosperity of Japan, but I'll also be praying particularly hard for slightly selfish reasons," Noda explained. "Next year I'm determined to find a great lady, get married and start a family. It's my greatest wish." Konkatsu culture over the past two years has become increasingly popular in Japan, helped in no small part by the media and best selling books like "Konkatsu Jidai," or "The Era of Marriage Hunting," co-written by Chuo University Professor Masahiro Yamada and journalist Momoko Shiraga. The authors of the book cite changes in Japanese society, where traditional matchmaking -- often by so-called "neighborhood aunties" -- is fading away. Bosses in Japanese companies also used to match up women and men working under them -- then force the women to quit once they were married. This trend was altered following the equal-employment opportunity law enacted in the late 1980s and since the law was passed, sociologists have observed an increase in women seeking careers rather than marriage. Men, experts observe, have become less aggressive about finding partners because of money troubles and working in an unpredictable economic climate. THE NEW SINGLES Bucking the konkatsu trend are two new, but increasingly prevalent, groups of people who don't hold marriage in the esteem it was once held in Japan -- for these people it's just not a priority. Known, quite literally, as "grass eating men," soshoku danshi, is an emerging species of Japanese men in their mid to late thirties, who take the now defunct term "meterosexual" to a whole new level, social commentators have noted. The "male herbivore" is more likely to become a female's best friend than anything more romantic and his relationships with females are predominantly platonic, according to sociologists. Typically speaking he has female friends, but has no interest in marriage, preferring to spend his time and money on the pursuits he enjoys, rather than expensive dates or gifts for ladies. Paradoxically, another social phenomena being widely reported in Japan lately is the emergence of a new female group who have been dubbed "nikushoku joshi," or "meat-eating girls." These females, often in their thirties and forties, take complete charge of their own fate. They're go-getters in the literal sense -- they know what they want and are not afraid to get it and for them, marriage is fairly low on their list of priorities. These ladies, mockingly compared in the media to apex predators, have taken a number of cues from their male counterparts and are not afraid to make the first move if they see someone they like. According to anthropologists, the rising numbers of nikushoku joshi can be attributed to increased financial independence and a certain resilience or immunity to existing social stigmas, sometimes attached to single women of a certain age. THE SOCIAL REALITY Japanese society is currently in a state of flux as its age-old homogenous culture and traditions, which historically embraced the ideologies of interdependence, oneness, family and heritage, are wrangling with modernity; westernization, economic turbulence and a shift in family, social and cultural norms and values, sociologists have noted. Shifts in social and cultural ideology are evident in population phenomena that have, in the past 30 to 40 years, seen some monumental changes that will continue to have a profound and myriad effect on Japanese society. In the early 1970s the annual number of marriages in Japan, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, exceeded 1million and the birthrate at this time was at a level of 19 (per 1,000 population). Fast-forward to the current day, however, and the statistics paint a very different picture indeed. The marriage rate currently stands at 5.8 (per 1,000 population), with one in four of these unions likely to end in divorce. Coupled with this, fewer couples are procreating with the birthrate dropping from a level of 19 (per 1,000 population) in the early 1970s, to a current rate of 8.7, according to the ministry. The declining rate of marriage, in part, accounts for the slump in birthrate, but other factors must be considered, according to anthropologists. The general decline in birth rate is also linked to the rising maternal age at childbirth, which has risen from 25.6 years old in 1970 to a current median age of 29.5 years old. Further adding to what's being called Japan's "population crises" is the mean age of first marriages in Japan consistently rising over the past twenty years to a current average of 30.2 years old for men and 28.5 years old for women. So it's perhaps of no wonder then that with the declining marriage rate, rising marrying age and rising maternal age at childbirth, coupled with Japan's crippling economic circumstances, that Japan's birth rate has plummeted of late, causing widely reported consternation to Japan's administration. At the other end of the scale Japanese people have one of the longest life spans in the world, meaning as less babies are being born, the population of elderly people is spiraling to disproportionate rates. According to Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's figures for 2008, the average life expectancy of Japanese women was 86.05 years, an increase of 0.06 years from 2007. This puts Japanese women on top of the list of the world's longest living females for the 24th year in a row, with Hong Kong at number two and France at number three. The Ministry report says that the average life expectancy for Japanese men in 2008 was 79.29 years, an increase of 0.10 year compared with 2007. The Japanese media proclaim this as being ranked fourth among men in the world, after Iceland, Hong Kong and Switzerland. It comes as no wonder then that Japan's current administration is so concerned about Japan's aging society and plunging birthrate, as an aging society means increased expenditure in health care and the drop in births has severe implications for the future of an extremely delicate Japanese economy. Subsidies to encourage families to have and to help raise children is one initiative the government has considered to address the problem, however, if all the konkatsu wishes come true this New Year, the government will have nothing to worry about. [rc] Copyright by People's Daily Online