Since the Danjyo Koyo Kikai Kinto Ho (Equal Employment Opportunity Law) kicked in two decades ago, it’s become the norm for women to work as hard and long as men, though not necessarily under the same conditions. Accordingly, money matters between danjyo (men and women) have become a lot more complicated.

Once upon a time it was quite simple. Men paid for dinner as a matter of course, and when those dinners were repeated, it meant he was serious in a tie-the-knot kind of way. For a man to open his wallet was an indication that he wasn’t taking the relationship lightly — and his date had better realize it.

During such meals, women made rapid mental calculations: How much did he make a year? Was he suitable to introduce to the parents? Was she willing to have his children? My grandmother advised her daughters to judge a man by the way he spent his money. “Itsu, dokode, dare ni tsukattaka (when, where and on whom his money was spent)” was one of the most important facets of a man’s personality. (To this day, my mother regrets she never listened and married my dad because he was captain of his college boating team.)

Expensive French dinners

Today, things are much more kajyuaru (casual) but at the same time loaded with social subtexts. “Gochi ni naruno wa ii-kedo, atoga mendokusai nowa iya (It’s OK for the guy to pay for me, but I may not like the stuff that comes later),” says my friend Ryoko (30), who is famed for gulping down expensive French dinners then smilingly saying good night to her benefactors, usually older single men with cash to burn.

But not all women are so fortunate. A guy friend Daisuke (28) says he’ll never pay unless absolutely necessary, in other words, “doshitemo sono onna to yaritai toki (when I’m desperate to sleep with the woman).” Daisuke is rarely desperate — dinner invitations are extended to him by any number of young women who offer to pay for the privilege of enjoying his company. Daisuke makes it a point to okaeshi o suru (give something in return) at a later date, such as sending gifts of cheap chocolates or perhaps some flowers, but really he finds the whole dating game ridiculous, tiring and financially disastrous.

His latest mantra is “hayaku ke-kkon shitai (I wanna get married real quick),” if only to step outside the confines of dating and paying protocol and get on with his life. Not surprisingly, Daisuke hates gift-giving national holidays, the foremost being White Day (on March 14) when men are expected to give presents that cost two to three times the price of what had been proffered to them a month earlier on Valentine’s Day.

Daisuke avoids this fiasco by conveniently getting sick or going off on a little trip, returning to Tokyo after the dreaded day is over. Indeed, although analysts keep saying the recession is officially over, little of the economic boon seems to have rubbed off on dating/paying schematics.

Men pay less

In cafes and restaurants, ever notice how same-sex groups do this polite little dance in front of the cash register, each insisting on picking up the tab? Well, the same goes for male/female groups, and more often now women will end up paying more, especially if they’re single professionals over 30.

Men assume they have more income at their disposal (which is true), but have little idea that these women long for the coveted onnanoko atsukai (to be treated like a girl), where a night out means a romantic dinner, a drink at a nice bar afterward, and then okutte morau (be taken home) in a cab all paid for by the man.

My friend Motoko (32) says with a huff: “Dating? I don’t even know the meaning of the term.” Motoko, who, like so many other Japanese women is enmeshed in the ties of a furin (illicit) relationship with a married man, says any meals she has out now are with kaisha no hitotachi (people from the office) or, more rarely, with her otokotomodachi (guy friends). Either way, the tab is strictly warikan (split equally).

Sure, her boyfriend comes over once a week and they may order out for a pizza or sushi, but he has only a few hours before making it home on the shuden (last train). Motoko says they’ve already taken on the semblance of an old married couple: They complain about work (shigoto no guchi o iiau) while eating together in front of the TV and drink beer out of cans until it’s time for him to go home. Who pays for the beer? Etiquette prevented me from asking.

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