So this is what I heard: This past year, women were supposedly kagaiteiru (輝いている, shining) in Japan — and their sheen is part of a national policy to value and honor the Japanese female. Excuse me for saying so, but “Usssooo! (うっそおお!, That’s a lie!)” As my friend Naoko likes to say, “Keizai ga yabai kara onna mo hatarakette koto deshō? (経済がやばいから女も働けってことでしょう?, They want women to work because the economy is in shambles, right?)”
Like most other aspects of “Abenomics,” the shining thing may have worked for women who were shining in the first place, but for us in the trenches, it’s not so simple. Nothing short of several layers of lame-iri fande (ラメ入りファンデ, glitter foundation) is going to do the trick. Even former AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda — who, at the peak of her stardom, was deemed higher in ninki (人気, popularity) than Kirisuto (キリスト, Christ) — has had a tougher year, according to the tabloids. AKB48 had ensured her financial security with media roshutsu (メディア露出, media exposure) and togirenai shigoto (途切れない仕事, endless work), but once she had her sotsugyōshiki (卒業式, graduation ceremony) from the idol group, the ex-pop goddess may have found life among mortals a little harsh, despite being one of the shiniest young women around.
I am aware, of course, that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is renowned for being josei no mikata (女性 の味方, an ally of women) and aisaika (愛妻家, a dedicated husband) to boot — which rarely happens among Japanese politicians. His spouse, known to the public as “Akky,” is attractive, active and outspoken — perhaps the first of her kind. She’s certainly the unofficial symbol of kagayaiteiru josei (輝いている女性, shining women) in the Abe government.
The prime minister did bring in female ministers into his Cabinet, against heavy opposition. That backfired when Yuko Obuchi — the young Keisanshō (経産省, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) minister — was found embroiled in an election-fund scandal that led to her resignation. At about the same time, Justice Minister Midori Matsushima left her post for the same reason. It’s said that the Nagatacho oldsters (the old-guard politicians lurking around the Diet) chortled with glee, but that could just be akui ni michita uwasa (悪意に満ちた噂, a snide rumor). Looking at the results, though, Abe’s bid to put women in the limelight and bring them to the forefront of the government has failed.
Remember scientist Haruko Obokata, whose rise to the firmament was obliterated by the swift, crash-and-burn disaster of the STAP cell fiasco?
Surprisingly (and disappointingly), female academics didn’t rush to her aid; instead media commentators remarked she was a little too stylishly dressed for a woman of her position. At the explanatory kishakaiken (記者会見, press conference), she said — in her cute, little-girl voice — “STAP saibō wa arimasu! (STAP細胞はあります, STAP cells do exist),” a line which was shortlisted for the ryūkōgo taishō (流行語大賞, most fashionable phrase award) for 2014. And after the catastrophe, she’s still an employee at her former place of work.
Speaking of work, 70 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 60 were wage earners this year — more than ever before. Many, however, are locked into the hiseiki koyō (非正規雇用, irregular employment) system, which prevents women from getting insurance, sick leave, maternity leave or receiving other employment rights.
Abe exhorted women to work as he seems to be a great believer in everyone pulling his or her weight.
The reality is, though, that many women are hindered by a lack of hoikuen (保育園, day care) services — there are tens of thousands of taikijidō (待機児童, children on waiting lists) hoping for an open slot so their moms can go out to work. Not too long ago it was OK for moms to stay home with their kids, but now that option is far less feasibile.
It’s a double bind. Women who make more than ¥1.3 million a year are stripped of their fuyō kazoku (扶養家族, dependent’s) rights and this means their husbands can no longer claim a fuyō kazoku teate (扶養家族手当, dependant’s allowance). These women will also be expected to shell out for their own kenkōhoken (健康保険, health insurance), kokumin nenkin (国民年金, national pension plan) and taxes. So a lot of women try to get by with arubaito (アルバイト, part-time jobs), carefully cutting back on the number of hours they work.
Being a Japanese woman is often a lonely business — there’s so little wiggle space in terms of work, money and relationships. This was the year that the number of joshikai (女子会, women’s drinking parties) decreased — it seems the joshi of this country are too stressed and busy to invest time and money into a venture that doesn’t lead directly to onna no shiawase (女の幸せ, a woman’s happiness). Which is comprised of the traditional components of: sanjyū mae ni kekkon (30前に結婚, marriage before 30), a suteki de kōshūnyū na danna (素敵で高収入な旦那, nice husband with a high income) and 23 kunai ni mochiie (23区内に持ち家, home ownership in Tokyo’s 23 wards).
For all the sheen, it seems like Japanese women are still after the same, shop-worn dreams they were after before Abe-chan came along.
Personally speaking, I’m more for having fun and taking it easy — shining is too exhausting. Besides, after the second tax hike next year, few of us will be able to afford any glitter foundation.
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