Having a fling, cheating, an affair, stepping out, two-timing, side piece — there are plenty of different ways to talk about adultery in English. In Japan, things are simpler: there are two main terms referring to this, uwaki (浮気, cheating) and furin (不倫, extramarital affair). The first is a casual term often being used to describe a onetime drunken mistake, the fastest way of breaking off a bad relationship, or just a means of adding some spice into a sexless but otherwise functional relationship. The latter carries connotations of immorality, impropriety, and a criminal offense and has been repeatedly used in the Japanese media to bash celebrity after celebrity (remember Becky?).
But while cheating is a universal topic, one that is serious enough to change a person’s life, I can’t help but feel that it is just way too common here in Japan. There are about five taken men trolling for sex for every single man on dating apps, but you’ll also find plenty of married women there too, often with captions that mention “not after anything serious” in their profiles. Huh? Sorry but not sorry, there’s something odd here.
Adultery in Japan — a historical perspective
Historically speaking, adultery in Japan was not a topic of discussion in the past. In ancient Japan, marriage was more of an arrangement between men and women, and either party could look elsewhere without suffering the consequences. In more modern times (pre- and post-war) adultery was considered “a thing” many husbands did — the prevalent social consent was that they worked hard all day to earn money for the family and deserved an “outlet” for that stress.
The sheer amount of “pleasure quarters” to satisfy those needs — from Tokyo’s Kabukicho to Sapporo’s Susukino and everything in-between — made (and still continues to make) adultery possible at any given time. Long working hours, regular nomikai with clients and coworkers, love hotels and hostess bars being just everywhere — and the cost of getting some extra fun being never too high, all made it too easy to cross the line. Housewives, on the other hand, were never in a position to have desires like that, and if she did, she better never acted on them. To act on them would be emasculating for her husband and embarrassing her children.
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