Being a foreign woman in Japan comes with its trials and triumphs, but one thing that really can affect how you feel as a woman is your concept of what being “feminine” means. Of course, social ideas of femininity and its qualities vary from person to person and culture to culture. So, women living in a foreign culture can feel pressure, whether that’s consciously or subconsciously, to conform to a different definition of what it means to be feminine. That can be confusing and uncomfortable for some, while others seem to embrace it.
As a follow-up to our article on dating in Japan, we sought to understand what femininity meant to foreign women, and how that shaped their experiences in Japan. We also reached out to a few Japanese women to broaden our perspective on what femininity means in Japan.
The Western perspective
“Femininity is a social construct after all. But when I think of feminine, there are definitely some words that come to mind. Words like delicate, soft, and pretty are a few of them. But I also think of words like meticulous and hardworking, as many of the crafts traditionally associated with femininity (sewing, cooking, etc) take a lot of time and effort.” (Katie, 24, African American, USA)
“I’m not exactly sure how I’d define femininity. The first thing that jumps to mind is female/woman and I probably associate it with the more ‘traditional’ ideas such makeup, dresses, delicate, well-mannered, etc. Despite believing that being ‘feminine’ does not necessarily mean you have to be a “lady” in the traditional sense, those are the first images that jump to mind when I hear it. I think it can be both a positive and a negative thing.” (Emily, 33, Caucasian, UK)
“To me, I feel femininity is not a category but a spectrum. Femininity is not something you can definitively claim you are or are not. Nor can you subscribe certain qualities as being solely feminine or masculine. Femininity is a feeling. Femininity is a feeling that differs from person to person. I guess that makes it tougher to define clearly. So many factors come into play, so much more than merely your gender.” (Laura, 34, Caucasian, Australia)
“It’s hard to put into words, but I think a lot has to do with how you’re raised, and your family background. And what kind of woman your mother is, you grandmothers are… I have a lot of female relatives, so I think I act the way they do, because that’s what I was exposed to. It’s a little traditional, but most of them are second or third generation Canadian, so there’s also some influence from Canadian culture there as well.” (Mary, 31, Indian Canadian, Canada)
The Japanese Perspective
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