For the last 7 days, very capable and confident young women have looked us after. They ran the cable car at Mount Moira. They ‘man’ most of the ticket windows at parks, monuments and the Sapporo Zoo. They are the ones we are directed to at hotels when we need an English speaking person and it is largely girls who provide the local knowledge at Japan Rail information booths.
They work in Starbucks. They serve in GAP. And they wrap your smoked salmon in the food halls.
In short, apart from students, males are rarely seen.
And there is a reason for this. They are all salarymen indentured to large corporations by the promise of a ‘job for life’. They work long, long hours and rarely have time for leisure or recreation. In fact the Japanese have a word for their fate: karoshi – death by overwork!
We see the salarymen each night in Tokyo at around 9pm staggering to Shinjuku Station pissed out of their minds on Sake. They are normally in pairs; one leans to the left and the other leans to the right. In that way they prop each other up, and list home like ancient Galleons. Talking the Japanese equivelent of ‘Geez I love you mate!’.
Sadly, they have filled the emptiness of their lives with rice wine and tomorrow they’ll return to stagnant jobs with eyes that can’t focus on the computer screen in front of them, let along their futures.
Career is a vague proposition. They used to be rewarded with ‘jobs for life’ for their dedication. It was automatic promotion by seniority. But Japan has changed. It is in a state of rebalance and security has been one casualty for the sons of the Samurai.
The daughters on the other hand are thriving. They were never loured by the siren cry of a safe and well-planned career path. They have been free to pick and choose. They are Japan’s Gen Xers. They are employed, cashed up and free to do what they like. And having taken up positions in the emerging tourism industry, they know and understand gaijin or ‘people not from their country’. They are used to and familiar with ‘life beyond the rim’.
All this has lead to the rise of ‘The Narita Divorce’.
Narita is Japan’s largest international traveller’s portal. Almost 30 million people leave Japan through its air bridges. Some of them are newlyweds.
A typical couple meet and fall for each other in this quite ritual driven, superstitious and conservative society. The court and marry. And to follow the trend, they honeymoon overseas and the trouble starts.
He’s uncomfortable with strangers. He cannot relax because he has never had the chance to practice. And he tries to treat his new wife like a traditional Japanese wife – with dominance and chauvinism.
She on the other hand embraces the new. She’s is the new revolutionary Ninja class of Japan. She’s dealt with strangers and has picked up a good smattering of a foreign language. She knows how to have a good time and relax and she is independent. And independently cashed up.
The result is the couple often return to Narita hating each other and separate then and there at the airport – the marriage certificate in Japan is not signed for months after the actual wedding. It is like a cooling off period, so there is no marriage and no messy divorce. Just another Sake filled salaryman to stagger across Time Square Plaza to Shinjuku Station, on his way to an empty flat, a confusing out-of-step life, disappointment, disillusion and possible suicide in the Sea of Trees at the foot of Mount Fuji.
It has been interesting to observe that the ‘mixed’ couples we have seen here, the male is almost always the non-Japanese of the pair. I have only seen one couple where this was the other way around.