Kittredge Cherry's classic Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women, was first published in 1987. It enjoyed a fair amount of readership in both the U.S. and Japan and is still constantly referred to by feminists, documentarians and others concerned with women's issues. But the status of women in Japan is changing and the Japanese language is changing right along with it. Fittingly, the 30th Anniversary Edition of Womensword has just been released. In this anniversary edition, the author notes some of the linguistic changes taking place that point to diverging stereotypes of the modern Japanese woman.
Here are 5 buzzwords from the book that are currently used to describe women in Japan:
1. New Year's Noodles
Japanese women used to be labelled Christmas cake if they weren't married by the age of 25. That age marker, nuanced by the 25th of December, is also the date after which a Christmas cake is considered old and stale, or past its use-by-date (and yes, they do eat Christmas cake in Japan!). Nowadays a woman's marriageable age is compared to Japanese New Year's noodles that are eaten on December 31. So the modern woman who is still unmarried at 31 has been given an extra six years.
2. Dried Fish
This is a term used to describe some young unmarried Japanese women, Cherry tells us. "Dried fish" women are no longer in the market for a mate and have resigned themselves to a more carefree and comfortable lifestyle where they come home from work, kick off their heels, remove their make-up and don something comfy before sitting down in front of the TV and slugging down a cold one!
3. Carnivore Women
These women aren't waiting around for men to come to them but are making the moves themselves. They're dating (or not), marrying (or not) on their own terms.
4. Science Girls
Traditionally, Japanese girls have been discouraged from becoming scientists. But the stigma that the sciences are unfeminine is gradually dissipating and a growing pool of "science girls" are proudly forging careers in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, engineering and technology. This is partly due to intensified recruitment by science departments at Japanese universities as well as government programs that fund scientific research by women.
5. Shining Women
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic strategy called "womenomics" aims to help the economy recover by getting more women in the workforce. Abe also aims to put more women in management positions and to make the Japanese workplace a place where "every woman can shine." Thus "shining women" has become a term much bandied about in the media.
Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women by Kittredge Cherry, 30th Anniversary Edition.
This is an abbreviated version of an article that first appeared in RocketNews24 under the title "Is Japanese language becoming less discriminatory towards women?" as part of the "Women in Japan Series." To read the full article, and learn more buzzwords, click here.