Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Teaching Japan's Salarymen to Be Their Own Men"

Informative article by Howard W. French, The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2002. Excerpts below:

Not so long ago it was acceptable, even cool, here to introduce oneself as an ''average salaryman.'' The expression conjured images of the total company man -- someone who leaves work each day only to stay out late drinking and talking shop with colleagues, and whose first three words to his devoted wife upon arrival home were likely to be bath, meal, bed. As in, get them ready.

But those were the days of Japan's world-beating economy, when many women dreamed of nothing more than raising a family with a man with a lifetime job. During 12 years of flat growth, women have stampeded out of the kitchen and into the workplace. Now, as women have come to enjoy greater freedoms, there are suddenly few things less hip in Japan than to be an oyaji, or typical middle-aged man.

Like many social phenomena in Japan, the collapsing status of the corporate warrior has generated its own vocabulary. For younger women, the dark-suited company men seen everywhere walking two or three abreast, chain-smoking, their heads slightly bowed, are dasai (uncool) or nasakenai (clueless). For the wives to whom many of them return home in the evening, meanwhile, they are the nure-ochiba zoku (the wet leaf tribe) -- clingy, musty and emotionally spent.

Mr. [Masayoshi] Toyoda, who has built a national network of men's liberation groups, is anything but nostalgic. What he yearns for is the reinvention of the Japanese man, not a return to the strong-and-silent types on whose backs Japan's fantastic post-World War II success supposedly was constructed. Indeed, rebellion against the old model is what turned him on to liberation in the first place...

Unlike their American counterparts, who often invoke religion or mythology, members of Japan's budding men's movement do not gather in the woods to beat drums or sit in circles to hug or cry...

What many of them do share with their Western counterparts is a feeling that men must find a way to be both vigorous and sensitive. This starts by rediscovering life outside the workplace, sharing time with their families and, above all, learning -- often for the first time -- how to communicate personal thoughts...

One of Mr. Toyoda's priorities is lobbying companies and governments and sensitizing men about paternal leave. While almost all men are eligible, less than 1 percent of male employees presently use the benefit.

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