Thursday, August 28, 2008

No More Christmas Cake: Why 30 is the New 20 in Japan

An increasing trend of singleness in a land facing a population implosion:
While American audiences needed a bit of persuasion to admit that 30 was perhaps the new 20, Japanese women were quick to embrace the notion of aging gracefully outside the restrictive confines of marriage.

Indeed, there's even a new word to describe a fashionable and sophisticated single woman in her thirties, namely arasa (アラサ), which is short for aranundo sati, the Japanese pronunciation for 'around thirty.'

While Japanese government bureaucrats - the vast majority of whom are male - are scrambling to solve the problem of Japan's declining birth rate and aging population, Japanese women are increasingly embracing the freedom of unmarried life.

It wasn't too long ago in Japan that turning 25 was something of a death-sentence for unmarried women.

Believe it or not, unmarried women in their late 20s and early 30s were once commonly referred to as Christmas cakes (クリスマスケーキ, kurisumasukekki). Since you tend to throw away uneaten Christmas cakes after December 25th, the sick punch line is that unmarried women beyond the age of 25 have little value to society.

Wow. That's harsh...
That is harsh. I certainly thought so when I heard people talking about this during my travels in Japan. Now there is some blowback:
Of course, all of this is changing, especially since sexy older women are now gracing the covers of Japanese fashion magazines that were once reserved exclusively for teenage models. Stores and boutiques in fashionable neighborhoods such as Ginza and Ometesandou in Tokyo are increasingly shunning younger shoppers, preferring to market exclusively to the padded wallets of older, single women.

While Japanese men will certainly have to face the reality of declining marriage prospects, Japanese women seem to be embracing the personal and financial power and freedom that comes with being financially stable and single.
Just as the dating scene on American college campuses is becoming increasingly male-centric due to a shortage of men, I would expect Japan's dating scene will become increasingly female-centric if this trend continues. (As more women choose the single life, there will be a shortage of married-minded women.)

Read my previous post on Japan's declining population: The Land of Disappearing Children

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