Comparison of single, middle-aged women in three major Asian cities: Chizuko Ueno’s review of Confucianism and Makeinu* by Junko Sakai.

*Makeinu, literally ‘loser dogs,’ is a term coined by writer Junko Sakai satirically referring to single and childless middle-aged women, including the writer herself

Chizuko’s blog no. 28
June 29

I was asked to write an afterword for the new paperback edition of Junko Sakai's book Confucianism and Makeinu (Kodansha Publishing, 2012). The following excerpt is presented here with permission from the author and publisher.

The Sociological Imagination of “Dr. Sakai”

Ms. Sakai burst onto the scene with the publication of Makeinu no Toboe (literally ‘The Howl of the Loser Dog’) in 2003 (Kodansha).  Hardcover and paperback taken together, the book has sold 420,000 copies, and makeinu even became a social phenomenon.

Makinu no Toboe has been translated into both Chinese and Korean — languages that use kanji (Chinese characters), as does Japanese. The translations of the word makeinu into these languages using kanji are puzzling, to say the least: 余女 (lit. “leftover woman”) in Chinese and 老処女 (lit. “aged virgin”) in Korean.  (Well, the famous Simone de Beauvoir was said to have been addressed, with overdone politeness, as “mademoiselle” even when old, because she wasn’t officially married to Sartre.) The expression敗犬女王 (lit. “loser queen”) chosen by Taiwan made me laugh. This translation suitably conveys the nuance that the makeinu merely pretends to have lost but has actually not conceded defeat at all.

Confucianism and Makeinu compares the single, middle-aged women of three major cities in East Asia.

To begin with, I’m blown away by the idea itself.

Sakai focuses on Japan, China, and Korea — three East Asian countries in similarly advanced stages of population-aging and marriage-deferral. She conjectures that Confucianism is at the root of these phenomena and travels to Seoul and Shanghai to investigate. She not only interviews, but even conducts surveys of 200 people in each of the three cities. It is quite a laborious undertaking, and she proceeds to analyze the results.

She even presents lessons learned from her discoveries. To the makeinu of Tokyo, who scored low in their ability to demand and reject, she suggests “demanding and rejecting” more.

In short, this book is a message for the Japanese makeinu. But had she said that from the start, it would have been dismissed as “just another feminist book.” What is so great about Ms. Sakai is that she drives home her argument using rationale and comparison based on data.

To top it all off, what excellent writing! By the time you finish the book, the hazy unhappiness between men and women in Japanese society will all make sense.

Hmmm…. Sociology in fine form! I wish Ms. Sakai would write a Ph.D. thesis on this, so we can see the birth of Dr. Junko Sakai.

Translated and adapted by Naoko Hirose
 Original article  (June 29, 2012)

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