Dr. Laura Dales’ Virtual Lecture on Romance, Marriage, and Gender Gap in Japan

By Saddam Cikal Hermawan

Dr. Laura Dales of the University of Western Australia, a lecturer focusing on gender and contemporary Japan has visited Prof. Aquarini Priyatna’s Gender and Representation class on Wednesday, 27 October 2021. Her lecture, titled “Romance, Marriage, and the Gender Gap in Japan”, started at 09:00 AM and was attended by over 300 participants. This is the first lecture of the two planned lectures by Dr. Dales.

The lecture consisted of several parts, starting with Japan’s demographic context. Even though in 2010 a majority (>90%) of Japanese people stated that they do want to marry, the average age of marriage, low fertility rates, and the amount of “life-long unmarried” in Japan has increased with time.

Next, the part about media and public discourse around singlehood explored the problematization of “singlehood” as a concept. Discursively and numerically, the single life has grown to be more visible, and with the coming of the COVID-19 pandemic, even normalized. 

Parasite Singles, a term popularized by Yamada Masahiro in 1999, refers to young single people (20-30 years) who live with their parents even though they are economically stable and independent. 

A related concept, Ohitorisama, coined by Kumiko Iwashita in 2001, originally referred to adult women who live independently (single and unmarried). Since then, from 2007 onwards, the term has been expanded to also mean single people in general through the influence of a series of best-selling books by Ueno Chizuko.  

Dr. Dales also showed two representations of singles on TV: 2009’s Ohitorisama, which showed that one can be an ohitorisama and still be successful, and 2008’s Around Forty: Demanding Women which challenged the idea of the typical feminine life course, representing demographic changes in Japan.

After that, the part about shifts in marriage and fertility expanded on the declining frequency of marriage (therefore fertility rates), even though many socioeconomic structures like spousal tax deduction and koseki (family registry) exist to support marriage.

Following that, the Japanese concept of konkatsu (marriage-partner hunting) is detailed in its own part: how marriage is seen as an arduous task that can be planned strategically just like job-hunting and pregnancy. The literature and discourse around konkatsu discuss several models of spouses, ranging from very desirable to “parasitic”, and differentiate the expectations of wives and husbands, suggesting the resilience of marriage ideals.

Lastly, Dr. Dales concluded her lecture with a view of romance as risk and marriage as safety net, and provided some implications of the increase in non-marriage – how “family” and “household” should be defined now, extended adolescence, and care of the elderly in a declining national population.