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Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Donald Ritchie, legendary Nipponophile and serial contributor to The Japan Times has reviewed a new book (well, it was published in 2005, but it's one of those books that can be considered 'new' for a long time due to its esoteric cachet) about female societal roles, titled Bad Girls of Japan.

The review echoes one posted to The Guardian's Web site on 30 May 2005 and written by Angela Neustatter. In it, Neustatter uses the book to shine some light on the success of such writers as Hitomi Kanehara, whose debut novel, Snakes and Earrings, I read and enjoyed immensely. Writes Ritchie:

Women who defy patriarchies, such as Japan, always provoke an intense concern, a serious censure, and a very public debate. A subversive potential is posited when out-of-line women become such a public focus. Censure becomes necessary because negative labeling then fortifies the patriarchal system.

Because my daughter lives in Japan, I'm quite intrigued by the potential for anti-establishment acts by young people. As you can see, however, it's doubtful that my daughter would get involved in anything as subversive as that it could become fodder for the endeavours of Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley. She's a typical Tokyo girl. Don't be mislead by the elfin squint in the second photo in the series shown: she recently sent me cute snaps of the three cats that my family keeps in their Yokohama house. "Cats are very cute!" she writes. "[T]his cats are have my house!"

Her future may appear constricted by tradition and rigid social expectations. But I'm not that worried. As long as she's happy, I'm content. Having grown up there — although she was born in Australia we left here when she was three months old — she knows nothing else. Not everyone is complacent, however:

"I left Japan because I saw that a creative freedom of choice was not possible in my country, because my parents had very traditional expectations for me. But I think what is happening now is more extreme. It's a profound questioning of the way Japanese society sees and treats women. They are absolutely expected to be answerable to what men want, to marry, have children, and accept the fact that a lot of men will have an intimate life outside the home."

So says "Forty-year-old Mayka, a Tokyo-born woman who left Japan when she was 19 to come and live in England". And for writers, such as Haruki Murakami, the choices offered by life in Japan can be equally unpalatable.

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