I was never one of those little kids obsessed with Disney princesses and happily-ever-afters. In fact, when I was eight, I accidentally-on-purpose ripped a very expensive Laura Ashley dress my mother insisted I wear, by sitting on a skateboard, trapping the hem in the wheels, and rolling it down a hill—very fast. It’s safe to say I was never a girly-girl.
By the time I was 18, I was determined to become a strong, successful, independent woman—something I remained positive about despite moving to a country where 70 percent of women give up work after marriage. That would never be me, I scoffed: I’d be forever cool and aloof, with no reliance on a man, and have the freedom and money to do whatever I desired.
Now, as I look back at those years, I can’t help but wonder what my reaction would’ve been if I had known I would turn out like the current me. Probably disbelief met with mild gagging. You see, that opinionated, independence-loving girl only went and became … a housewife. Yeah. So much for living a free, self-indulgent life with no strings.
The younger me would probably have called it a waste. I studied my butt off through university, got a good degree, and had a very reputable job in advertising with opportunities. I was prepared to chase to the top. I was living in my favorite city in the world, Tokyo, and feeling motivated every day.
But when I met my now-husband, my mindset changed. I relaxed; my friends began to comment on how I looked so much happier and how the hungry spark in my eye had been replaced by a more loving, wholesome glow. In Japanese, I’m often told, “marukunatta” (literally “you’ve become circular,” but meaning something more like “your kinks have evened out; your hard angles have disappeared”) or “yoyū ga dekita” (“you seem more calm and composed”).
My body, too, changed. My doctor told me my estrogen production was through the roof, and the female curves I had lacked for years suddenly made an appearance when I was at the grand age of 23. It’s about time! I had become the woman I never imagined I’d be. Full-on Disney-princess, happily-ever-after woman.
Maybe living in a culture where housewives are everywhere has influenced me—but then again, maybe not. Seeing my husband slave away at work all day and come home absolutely exhausted, yet still finding the energy to give me a big smile and ask me about my day … well, it changed something in me. I wanted to supply for him in a way that no other person outside the home could—to create the best possible living environment for him. And for the first time in my life, it didn’t seem like a loss of independence, or like I would somehow become less of a modern woman by choosing to be in the home. It was just natural instinct fueled by love, and I was lucky enough to be living in a place where I wouldn’t be scorned for making that decision.
I finally got it. I realize now that the problem was not the “housewife” label. It was just that I had never had the experience of being so deeply and truly in love before, so I couldn’t visualize choosing your partner over a life where your achievements are recognized by Western society—whether that be a paycheck, a promotion, or a new apartment. I thought that competing in that game constituted freedom.
But true freedom as a woman isn’t something that any society should decide—you decide yourself.
I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and have learned that you can’t put a label on that. I’ve learned everyone is different. I’ve learned there are many different paths and roles in life that don’t have to all follow the same pattern to be deemed successful.
I’d like to think that within that 70 percent of Japanese women, there are others who feel the same way. I’m sure there are also a number who would prefer to continue working but can’t due to peer pressure—which is a problem in itself on the other end of the scale. There’s some working out that needs to be done from both the Western and Japanese perspectives with regard to women’s roles in society.
But as long as you’re happy and fulfilled, I think that’s the most important thing.