Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Different Shades of Power


Despite its evolution to a democratic state after World War II and despite its success in modernization and industrialization, Japan’s attitude towards women continues to confuse the Western world.

It’s difficult to wrap your head around how the importance they place on the family unit is reflected in the accepted practice of husbands living and working closer to their companies in corporate dormitories, only to return home once a month.

It’s difficult to wrap your head around how Japan can be so modern with the culture where technological obsolescence is not only expected but self-induced by its own drive for more progress in innovation, and so behind with women’s rights. For example, when I was younger, my bi-racial friends whose mothers were Japanese, could not hold a Japanese passport, because only husbands’ Japanese nationality determined the nationality of their children.

It gets worse when observing cultural practices. When my female cousin was graduating from college, I asked her about her job search process. She said, “Soon, after the men,” as if that made any sense. Observing my puzzled look, she explained that while there is no law written about the order or procedures for job search, it is typical that companies recruit for job positions for men first, then women.

Yet it is too simple to summarize the situation for women as powerless. The dynamics of power in a Japanese household is much more complex than that, to the point it has affected financial transactions. In Japan, when a Japanese man makes a purchase on a credit card, they are often asked if they would prefer a bunkatsu (分割) payment method, where this installment payment plan would break up their charges to the credit card into as many as 16 portions. If you are a housewife, they don’t usually ask you the preference, unless perhaps you look young and you are using your parents’ credit card. I didn’t take note of it as significant until I was speaking with another Caucasian-male/Japanese-female couple.

You see, in Japan, women in general hold the financial power, even though it is the men who have careers and are typically (and often the sole) breadwinner of the family. Yet it is the wives who reign over the household, and household finances, including the discretionary spending of the men. Most people’s salaries are deposited directly into their bank accounts, and the wives meticulously keep household expenditure books. The wives give their husbands a weekly allowance. Their credit card statements are scrutinized by the wives like an IRS auditor.

Back to the installment payment plan: because any one time purchases of any significant value is scrutinized, even a relatively small (by U.S. standards) purchases (say, $100) can be billed to the credit card company in installments to avoid the uncomfortable conversation the men have to have with their director of budget department.

Acknowledging this reality, Japanese companies often give out bonuses in cash so they can freely spend the money without a requisition form in triplicate.

Possession may be 9/10th of the law, but Japanese women need ownership of their own lives beyond the budget books and bank accounts if Japan is serious about addressing its aging population problems and plateaued innovation curve.

Photo: one leaf left on a tree in Austin, Texas

Post script: The Caucasian-Japanese software entrepreneur couple told me that women comprise a large percentage of day traders in Japan, and if you are selling retail trading tools, it’s a good idea to market to women!



One comment on “On Different Shades of Power

  1. Daniel Leuck
    December 9, 2015

    [Context: I’m the guy in the Caucasian-male/Japanese-female couple mentioned above.]

    Great post! I was dumbfounded the first time I was offered bunkatsu for a relatively small electronics purchase. After a few years of living in Japan, it started to make sense 🙂 In a salaryman household the power dynamic is much more complicated than Westerners might imagine.

    > I was younger, my bi-racial friends whose mothers were Japanese
    > could not hold a Japanese passport, because only husbands’
    > Japanese nationality determined the nationality of their children.

    I didn’t know this. I’m very happy my kids benefit from dual citizenship. Hopefully Japan will eventually allow this to continue into adulthood. They are children of both countries and should be treated as such.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on December 8, 2015 by in Aging, Culture, Gender, Japan and tagged , , , , .
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