HOW CULTURE FEELS
From lists of best-selling nonfiction books in Japan and the United States, we selected fifteen Japanese and twenty-eight American books that by title, cover, and table of contents are directly addressed to women or to social issues of direct concern to women. We chose best-sellers in hardcover or paperback, trade and mass market, for the years 1970 through 1990. For ratings of the American books, we relied on listings published by Publishers Weekly. The criteria used by Publishers Weekly to determine a best-seller changed through the years, and we followed those changes. The American system for determining a best-seller was based on the number of books publishers shipped to bookstores. The Japanese system was based on a poll of owners of major bookstores. We excluded books focused on weight loss, smoking, alcoholism, personal grooming, financial planning, sexual technique, spiritualism, or moral uplift, but included a few other books, nonbest-sellers for women and some best-sellers for men and for both sexes.
The authors of these books do not passively transmit culture, of course, but actively interpret it, mixing new with old as they try to help readers resolve issues of daily life. Their way of transmitting culture is thus itself a message. More of the Japanese books are written from a teacherly this-is – how-you-do-it stance while most of the American ones are posed in a more neighborly, "democratic" tone. Most Japanese advice books are also written by men, whereas most American advice books are written by women. Eight of the twelve Japanese authors (of the fifteen Japanese advice books, one author wrote three) are men. Of the twenty-eight American books, nineteen are by sole authors, and of those, fourteen are female and five are male.
Japanese advice books are predominantly books of morality (inner virtues) and maimers outward comportment;. The authors tend to be reserved, seldom personal, almost never confessional. In one manners book by Kenju Suzuki, How to Be Considerate of Others, he instructs women in the intricate art of bowing, including the point of origin, the pacing, the depth, and the solemnity of the bow. In another book, Tenderness Makes Women Beautiful, Suzuki tells women to speak softly, to remember to nod during conversations, and to avoid wide strides, crossed legs, and sudden loud laughs that reveal the upper gums “like a horse" (the lower gums are fine).3
In contrast, most American advice books of the 1970s and 1980s are books of popular psychotherapy. Instead of morality and manners, they focus on feelings. In these books the authors often tell about their own fears, dependency, or marital troubles before describing their triumph over such adversities. Two American male authors, Connell Cowan and Melvyn Kinder, in their 1985 Smart Women, Foolish Choices, for example, advise women on how to recognize hidden dependency’ needs and how to end an “addiction to love.” Only a few best-selling American advice books in this period are morality and manners books, though interestingly many nine – tee nth-сеntury American advice books fit this description.
Compared with their American counterparts, Japanese advice books devote more space to collective life. For example, the 1970-71 best-selling three-volume Introduction to Rites of Passage by Yaeko Shiotsuki, a female writer, appreciatively details the rites, festivals, and celebrations she sadly fears are in decline. She indicates how the families of oldest sons should greet the families of younger sons or daughters to celebrate New Year’s Day. She describes how to display dolls—the prince, the princess, three ladies-inwaiting, five male musicians—to celebrate Girl’s Day, and how to display warrior dolls with weapons to celebrate Boy’s Day. (Boy’s Day was renamed “Children’s Day” and made into a Japanese national holiday. Girl’s Day remains a more minor holiday,) Shiotsuki is not among the most traditional of advice book writers; she proposes modifications in ceremonies—such as the traditional wedding—that leave the ceremonies seeming proper while adapting to modem, urban needs. She wrote her best-selling trilogy of rit-
ual life in the early 1970s, when a full half of Japanese women, normally the main keepers of family ritual life, were in paid work* How was a woman to work eight hours outside the home and celebrate all the rites and festivals as their more leisured mothers and grandmothers had in the past? Shiotsuki offers a compromise, a deal. A woman should keep appreciating and caring about ritual celebrations, but she may cut back on the actual practice of them. Shiotsuki rejects the total abandonment of rituals or the cynical, detached, or mechanical enactment of them. To the extent that one curtails ritual life, she suggests, one will regret it. On the other hand, Shiotsuki is flexible about how much ritual preparation a busy mother can leave out. By affirming ritual life and avoiding the subject of women’s need or desire to work, Shiotsuki tacitly harks back to the model of the upper-middle-class woman of the nineteenth-century Meiji era. In this way she resists the changes in women. But her compromise offers working women a way of bowing in both directions at once—getting along with their mothers-in-law and paying the rent.
Among American advice books, no equivalent to Introduction to Rites of Passage exists. Indeed, nothing comes close. The Japanese texts suggest a different organizing principle than do the American ones. Japanese authors write about the past as if it held great weight. They assume that people agree on the gravitas they feel inherent in tradition and disagree only on how much
is worth preserving. American authors write about the past as if it were light, thin, easy to remember wrongly, malleable. So, not only do Japanese and American traditions differ in content, tradition itself feels different.
The Japanese books seem to fall naturally along a continuum of total affirmation of the past, partial incorporation of it, and total rejection of it. In a sense, for the Japanese authors, unlike the American ones, the basic question is how an author faces the past. Kenji Suzuki’s A Story of Womanliness and Soshitsu Sen’s What a Beautiful Woman affirm the past while Introduction to Rites of Passage adapts tradition to modem circumstance. Such books as Woman s Capacity Depends on Language by Kumiko Hirose, a female author, strongly reject tradition, especially certain traditional linguistic practices.
A different organizing principle arises for the American books. The orienting question is not “Do you or don’t you accept the past?” but “How light or heavy does the past feel?” The nearest equivalent to Introduction to Rites of Passage would be Judith Martin’s Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children, which is light in tone, and covertly cavalier about “tradition.” Another American book on proper dress, The Women s Dress for Success Book, is by John Molloy, who describes himself as a “wardrobe engineer,” and is based not on tradition, but on a scientific study of male executives’ response to various colors, cuts, and textures of women workers’ clothes.4 Even the most traditional of American advice books of the 1970s and 1980s, Marabel
Morgan’s 1973 The Total Woman, a fundamentalist Christian guide for housewives, feels curiously modern by contrast with its Japanese counterparts, Morgan makes a case for tradition not by claiming that tradition is “true” or “right” but by saying it is useful. So when American advice book writers discuss tradition it is either with humor, irony, or pragmatism.
In addition to the different “feel” of tradition in the two cultures, the content of Japanese advice books is clearly more patriarchal. The books advance virtues of beauty, motherli ness, and deference, virtues that would make an exhausted working mother feel guilty. Of the fifteen best-selling Japanese advice books, nine are traditional, if by “traditional" we mean that the author openly opposes womens equality with men. Four are modern, in the sense of advocating women’s equality with men, and two are mixtures of both. But of the twenty-eight best-selling American advice books, fifteen are modern, nine are traditional, and lour are mixtures of both.
Taken as a whole, the largest group of Japanese advice books (8, or about half) deal with cultural practices and the moral virtues of women that shine through whatever they are doing. A smaller number cover heterosexual love (3), parent-child relations (3), and old age (1). The largest group of American advice books (15, or about half) deal with male-female love and marriage. Far fewer deal with womanly “virtues” (7), and those that do so focus on aspects of character from a psychological and not a moral point of view. As in Japan, about a fifth (6) of the books examine parent-child relations. None of the American best-selling books in this period focuses on old age.
Some traditional books, such as Soshitsu Sen’s What a Beautiful,
extol the virtue of the woman who cares about how she looks. Sen describes a novelist’s memory of his mother: “She had six children, so in the morning she was so busy. But none of these children ever saw her in a sloppy nightgown or dirty clothes. This is because she woke up earlier than the children. She opened the small window and under the window she began dissolving her face powder in water, and in one moment she applied the powder, combed her hair, and put on her kimono very neatly. So, in my mind, my mother is always beautiful.”5 In addition to beauty, traditional Japanese advice books stress modesty and deference. In to Discipline Girls Minoru
Hamao says mothers should defer to their husbands at all times in front of daughters. “My wife often tells my daughters, ‘Since father is coming back soon, let’s wait to eat,’ ” If he is late, Hamao’s wife lets the children eat early and waits to eat later with him. “Not only in matters of eating, but in any important matter, my wife gives me the final decision. If my daughter wants money, her mother tells her. .. ‘If Daddy says okay, I’ll give it to you.’”6
Most important, to both her child and her husband, the Japanese wife should be motherly. Indeed, she should do many things for her husband that she does for her child. For example, in A Story of Womanliness Kenji
Suzuki proudly describes the solicitous way in which his wife picks out his underwear, socks, shirt, jacket, and handkerchief each day. Suzuki recounts an episode from his childhood when he scraped his knee. He recalls that a small girl approached him and “took out a handkerchief from the sleeve of her kimono, while asking me, ‘Kenchan, are you all right?’ and bandaged my wound.. .. This was my first experience of the tenderness of girls. … I wish my wound still hurt so Sacchan could come to my house.” Then he adds, bitterly, “That was when girls were still tender.”7
Modern Japanese advice books focus on women’s independence and on what stands so implacably in the way of it: Japanese culture. Unlike American modem books, which see few cultural obstacles in the way of “having it all,” modern advice books in Japan focus on custom. Perhaps the best example of this is the 1985 book Women’s Capacity Depends on Language, by Kumiko Hirose, a well-known radio announcer at the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation. In her book Hirose describes her struggle to be heard by her listeners when she was paired with a male announcer: “I could not ask questions and guests on the program looked only at the male co-anchor. I became like a tsuma, a decoration at the side of the sashimi on the dinner plate.”8 Her struggle led her to call for a change in the way men and women speak Japanese. (We should note that Japanese men and women are taught to speak with different intonations, pitch, and vocabulary, so that women speak a deferential dialect of Japanese. The polite gender-neutral “I” [ Watasht] usually used by women differs from the more aggressive Г [ Ore], used by men.) Hirose calls for a unisex Japanese language so that women may assume equal authority in public life—though she herself feels she can’t use male language even at work. Given what seems natural to many women in Japan, and given her desire to bond with her listeners, Hirose feels she can’t simply make the private choice to speak in the male language. She believes a change in the larger culture has to come first.
In a telling way, Hirose’s struggle against Japanese culture and her personal success seem to her perfectly compatible with close motherly and daughterly bonds with family and friends. Hirose talks to her radio listeners as to friends and family, creating in this way a mock kin system. When she falls ill, fans write in. When they fall sick, she writes or sends gifts. She struggles against being a decorative tsuma in the male world of Japanese radio, but she does not strike out “on her own” as American advice books typically recommend. On the radio, she takes the role of a young woman receiving encouragement from an older woman. For example, when she was on the verge of quitting her Saturday afternoon program, Hirose recounts: “The most important reason I didn’t quit was that I received a card from a middle-aged woman who said, ‘When I was in the hospital I was deeply comforted to listen to you on the radio.’ For me, who had almost become neu-
rode (over her struggle with male co-workers at the radio station], her words were like rays of sun.” Again, she says of her listeners, “Your warmth helped heal me from my isolation and loneliness, so I will never let you feel lonely and isolated.”*
Hi rose also describes how she tried to gain support for her struggle at work from her skeptical mother-in-law. Seeing liow hard she works, Hirose tells us, her mother encouraged Hirose to invite her mother-in-law to observe her life on the radio set and so appreciate her work. Hirose does not write about her family and friends as if they were incompatible with her fierce battle to win equality at work. She assumes they go together. But perhaps that calmly held assumption, along with the cultural space it seems to presume, is the basic advice here.
A few modem Japanese advice books focus on how to fit in work with childrearing. Kingsley Ward in Letters of a Business Man to His Daughter, the best-selling Japanese translation of a Canadian author, describes how his wife (though not he) took a leave from a high-powered executive job, when the children were small, to become a free-lance writer. He also tells about howr she later became famous as a screenwriter for children’s television programs. She adapted to her children’s needs and she was a success.
Other modern books focus on a more active role for fathers. Kingsley Ward calls on young fathers to change diapers, drive children to the doctor, wash dishes, and shop, all in good spirit.10 In Uzo Kayama’s 1981 This Love Forever: Yakadaisho’s Diary of Childrearing, the author, a famous actor who
plays a daring adventurer, describes changing diapers at 3 л. м., throwing a ball, and playing train with his four tots. Though his wife, a homemaker, does more at home than he, his model is an advance over the stereotype of the Japanese salary man who, as the saying goes, comes home, sits down, and utters three words, “Dinner, bath, sleep." Kayama’s book is similar to Bill Cosby’s 1987 American best-seller, Fatherhood. Both are biographies of male media stars married to homemakers, and both celebrate active fathering from the safe distance of a primary breadwinner role.
There may be good news and bad in all this for the working mother in Japan. On one hand, tradition runs stronger there. In the eyes of most conservative Japanese advice book writers, the mother who goes out to work,
even if she must, risks losing her womanliness, motherliness, and possibly her good manners. On the other hand, Hirose gives social support to her family and community and gratefully receives support too.