“Mr Fukuyama” is 43, reasonably well-off and single. It’s not that he doesn’t want to marry — he can’t, or at least hasn’t been able to so far. Why not, since he’s employed full-time and earning ¥5 million a year? Because he’s in a situation common to more and more middle-aged single men — he has a parent dependent on him for care. Prospective marriage partners see that and run.
Fukuyama’s parents divorced late in life and Fukuyama, then in his 30s, set up housekeeping with his father. Girlfriends came and went. By the time he felt ready to marry, his father had begun to decline. Marriage, whether you’re young or not-so-young, means embarking on a new life. An aged and infirm parent casts a long shadow.
Marriage is not what it used to be. What it used to be is nearly universal. There always were, and always will be, individuals determined to go their own way, or temperamentally unmatchable — but marriage until very recently was almost as inevitable as growing up. How far Japan has traveled from that presumption is indicated by a 2010 health and labor ministry survey classifying 20.1 percent of men, and 10.6 percent of women, as “lifetime singles.” By 2020, the figure for men is expected to be 29 percent — nearly one in three.
Spa! (June 21), pursuing the subject, does some polling of its own. Surveying 200 men aged 35-44, it finds 122 of the 200 — 61 percent — want to marry at some point, though not necessarily soon. Only 15 — 7.5 percent — express no desire at all to marry, ever.
The most common bar to marriage is poverty, real or imagined, but Fukuyama’s case shows that poverty is not always measurable in terms of income, or the lack of it. Five million yen a year is not princely but it’s not poverty either, as the word is generally understood. Perhaps that general understanding needs to be broadened. Fukuyama, though living with his father and paying no rent, leads a life of extreme constraint. Repaying what’s left of the home loan his father took out decades ago is now on his shoulders. Even that’s relatively minor compared to his main concern. What if his father needs to be institutionalized? It’s an eventuality that must be planned for, and extinguishes in his own mind — if not necessarily in fact – any hope of marrying and raising kids.
Care issues aside, today’s young adults who grew up during the decades of economic shrinkage see their own prospects as shrunken in proportion. They say to themselves, reports Spa!, “If I have kids, I’ll never be able to give them the advantages my parents gave me.” And so they don’t have kids.
Then there are people like “Mr Tanaka,” a 40-year-old management consultant who spent all his free time up to now building up his professional portfolio. He had no time for courtship. Now, however, he does, and he’s looking forward to it. He’s established, and can offer his future family the security and ease he feels is their due.
“Mr Egawa,” 42, is handsome, friendly and successful. He earns ¥6 million a year. If popularity comes easily to anyone, it should to him, says Spa! — and in fact, it does. He’s got lots of friends, and enjoys convivial get-togethers. But romance? It leaves him cold. “I can’t bear constraint,” he says. “With my friends I have a good time. But love brings nothing but trouble.”
He doesn’t drink, doesn’t gamble, has never bought sex. He enjoys cooking and doesn’t mind if it’s for himself only. He works for the same publishing company he entered out of college 20 years ago, and is happy there. He saves 50,000 a month and is far from poor. With his modest wants, he can look forward to a prosperous old age.
Why ask for more? What can marriage give him that life hasn’t already given him? Love, maybe — but he doesn’t feel he needs it. He is quite possibly the most contented man Spa! has portrayed in years of specializing in portraits of varying degrees of unhappiness. He’s found his own way to it. It wouldn’t suit everyone, but from his point of view, that’s no drawback at all.© Japan Today