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Love and Relationship Series: The Most Interesting Woman I Know

December 6th, 2013     by Guest Blogger     Comments

Editor’s note: To get you excited for the upcoming winter issue of Shameless, we are posting a series of blog posts every Friday on the theme of love and relationships. What does love mean? Who are our relationships with? What kinds of love are there? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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by Kiyomi Tanino

She could very well be the most interesting woman I know.

She is issei, first generation from Japan. I am yonsei, fourth generation. She is not related to my family by blood, but she is a very close family friend who I could easily mistake for an aunt or distant cousin.

I remember my great aunt talking about her. She said it was no wonder this woman came to Canada. She is so bold, she must have not liked Japan very well.

At first, I thought she had meant how things were years ago, since the last time my great aunt had been there was years ago. My dad always said there were still problems, but I never realized the extent until I took a course called Japanese Culture, Literature, and Film at York University where we learned, read about, and even talked to female writers from Japan about the lack of feminist movements.

In a book review titled Absolutely Grotesque: Feminist Literature in Japan from a blogger named ConstantineinTokyo, the literature and media, or lack thereof, surrounding feminist issues is addressed. She mentions a TV show called Ohitorisama is mentioned where a single, working woman in her 30’s ultimately finds happiness in a man and a family. As someone who watches anime, I can honestly say this is not a new theme to me. We see it in the fourth Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Lite episode, where the main character’s five-year-old sister says to the female lead of the show, “I want to learn how to be a good wife, so teach me how to cook!” Even shows such as Sailor Moon or Toradora! have similar scenes, despite their cast of strong female characters.

I always wondered how our close family friend felt about all of it. I had always figured she would be up in arms against it.

One Christmas, she explained to my aunts, cousins, and I that in Japan, the man goes out and earns the paycheck, yes, but as soon as he comes home, he hands it over to his wife. She decides what to spend it on and controls all the banking, while giving him an allowance. She nodded proudly and said that made Japanese women very powerful. It was also how she got away with buying designer shoes and purses now and then.

My great aunt, the one mentioned before, had advised me to keep a separate smaller bank account to use to buy things I liked from time to time, so I would not have to consult a spouse on those gifts to myself. That banking plan stood at the front of my plans for the future, but this new one was certainly making a fight for the spotlight.

I wondered if she really did like these positions for married couples she spoke of, or if she learned to cope with them, or if she learned to turn them into something empowering. I wondered if she would be happier working, or if she was perfectly happy finding her own way in this way. Then I wondered about other women. They probably each fell into all the different categories. Some liked it, some learned to cope, some managed to turn it to their advantage, and some did not like it at all.

In a book called Out by Natsuo Kirino, there is a female character who does wish to keep working but cannot. She is driven out of the workplace by men who find the excuse that she cannot travel for work due to having to care for her family. In the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka’s mother is a working woman, while her husband stays at home. These both indicate that there are indeed women who wish to work while having a family as well.

I remember my dad telling me once about divorce rates going up in Japan because of women tired of having to pick their husbands and family over work. I have searched and not found anything on high divorce rates in Japan. However, I found something else.

A documentary that can be found on the Vice YouTube channel called The Japanese Love Industry explains how Japan has made an industry out of things such as cuddling and socializing with attractive men and women because young adults no longer want relationships. The beginning of the documentary covers the fact that gender roles play a part in it. Women are choosing work over marriage and having a family. All the women asked throughout the documentary say that having a boyfriend is too much hassle and that they would rather work than get married and have a family without any hesitation.

A blog entry called I’d have to marry an *sshole like him by Grant shares an experience explain this as well. He talks about a translator he knows getting in an argument with a man because she was still single, choosing to work instead of getting married. While explaining the situation to the author of the piece, she says the sentence that the writer uses as the title of the piece. This could very well be why all those women in the documentary were set in their decision to not get married.

The family friend of ours said to me once something that I had never considered before. I had considered the posts on facebook that say things such as, “I intend on only getting married once, not five times” and “I plan on actually working on my marriage instead of just getting a divorce after a year”.

She told me a story about a friend of hers. Apparently this friend had gotten married and divorced within nine months. My aunts, cousins, and I tilted our heads in confusion and leaned forward. She explained that the woman’s husband had started picking out her outfits and taking her calls, so she filed for divorce. The woman said to me, the youngest and least experienced in this area of the group, that sometimes you think your significant other is being sweet, but really they are being controlling. She said that it is okay to end it, even if you are married, and it is best to do it as soon as possible.

I turned red and nodded. I turned red because when I heard “divorced after nine months”, one thought crossed my mind: was she even trying?

My dad’s theory on divorce in Japan may not be entirely true, but the idea is there in what is happening with marriage. Instead of getting divorces, people are simply not marrying in the first place. The ideas line up, and this woman showed that she is not opposed to them. I suppose it is only that she was a bit before her time.

The professor of that Japanese Culture, Literature, and Film class, while talking about women’s issues in Japan, had asked me if I had noticed young women tend to like it here more. I replied that I had not met many young women from Japan. Perhaps if he had just said women I would have thought of this friend. Even so, I am not sure if I could answer that.

My great aunt had seemed to think that she fit in better here. I always thought that meant she was happier. However, when I think of how she proudly pronounced women in Japan to be very strong, I wonder if she did not mind it there after all. I now find myself wondering, if she were a young woman there now instead of back then, if she would have taken the same path as the young women who never intend on getting married.

I think that no matter her relationship status, no matter what time she had been a young woman in Japan, she would thrive and still be as proud and powerful as she is now.


Kiyomi Tanino is a fourth generation Japanese-Canadian woman living in Toronto, Canada. She attends York University as an English major and volunteers at Book Ends, friends of the Toronto public library. She is a Pisces who is very interested in astrology, faeries, and art.

Tags: gender, guest blogs, love and relationships

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