At the age of 13, I received my first love letter (ラブレター, rabu retā). It was waiting for me in my school shoe box (下駄箱, getabako).

The Inescapable Complexity of Japanese Love

Maria Korzh26.05.20224min10641
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At the age of 13, I received my first love letter (ラブレター, rabu retā). It was waiting for me in my school shoe box (下駄箱, getabako).

If you didn’t know, getabako was, and still is, a favorite hiding place for romantic letters for generations of Japanese teenagers. How to imagine the years of youth in Japan, which would not brighten up the long-awaited envelope lying on top of a pair of worn-out slippers (上履き, uwabaki)!

I carried the letter with me all day, but somehow lost it when I got home. My father found it and called me to a serious conversation at the kitchen table (食卓, shokutaku) that evening (our cramped service apartment (社宅, shataku) did not have a private office). He told me to stop all this nonsense immediately. And in general, stay away from men, because otherwise it’s not far from pregnancy, and this will cause a lot of trouble and worries to my parents.

I tell this simple story because it seems to me that it really illustrates the Japanese way of looking at love and relationships.

Of course, times have changed and Japanese society seems to be more open than ever, but the fact of the matter (でもはっきり言うと, demo hakkiri iu to) is that deep at the heart of this patriarchal society (父権社会, fukenshakai) lies the belief in the fact that love and all its manifestations lead to problems and troubles, and therefore all these nonsense should be stopped immediately.

And now, many years after this story, I can only note with regret that Japanese men and women are still far from being able to understand each other (本の男と女は相変わらずわかりあえない).

One has only to go to the nearest Japanese pub (居酒屋, izakaya) to see this gender division. Office workers venting complaints about their companies (会社, kaisha) occupy one corner, while girls (女子会, joshikai) in the opposite corner discuss relationship problems and complain to each other about the lack of decent [hot] guys (いい男, ii otoko). One would assume that at some point the two companies would begin to mingle, but this happens extremely rarely.

Spontaneous gatherings, as opposed to carefully planned social gatherings (合コン, gōkon), are served by increasingly popular restaurants with tables for two. In such establishments, women under the age of 30 who are seeking marriage may find themselves at a table with a suitable bachelor (婚活, konkatsu).

Generally, when registering (受付, uketsuke), women are asked to indicate their age. The younger they are, the more likely they are to have dinner with a truly single (not everyone plays fair) man under 40 with a regular income. Because it is usually the man who pays the bill, some young women come to these meetings solely for the purpose of having a free meal. As my 24-year-old niece says, “By the time payday comes, I’ll starve to death if someone doesn’t treat me to dinner!” (O-kyūryōbi mae wa, dareka ni ogotte morawanai to gashi-shichau).

How to promote a man for a free dinner and age discrimination … Is that really all that the Japanese mean when they talk about love and relationships? Unfortunately, very often the essence of relationships is determined by personal finances and economic situation. The very first question on the Konkatsu Agency’s questionnaire is about the level of annual income (年収, nenshū). If a woman does not work (無職, mushoku), she will definitely be asked about the financial situation of her parents.

It looks like the price of love and marriage is going up every year. My 38-year-old friend Kumi says, “I can’t be picky about this. The main thing is that he earns at least ¥7 million a year and is not bald.” As for the character of a person, his political views, convictions – all this is of secondary importance. And if he is a racist, a misogynist, a tyrant?

“We’ll figure it out later,” Kumi says. An income of ¥7 million is the only point on which she will not make concessions. A person without money cannot be trusted

The fact that Japanese women do not trust men is not surprising. For centuries they lived in dependence on men. They were forbidden to work, to have their own means, opinions, desires. Before World War II, very few women married for love (恋愛結婚, ren’ai kekkon), and even then, love meant endless housework to keep the husband and children comfortable.

The Japanese are not experts in what we used to call Love, and no amount of candy (義理チョコ, giri choco, literally: “mandatory chocolate”) bought on Valentine’s Day (バレンタインデー, Valentine’s Day) will help here!

Maria Korzh


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