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Bestseller Illuminates Diversity of Women's Lifestyles (October 29, 2004)

Makeinu no Toboe
Makeinu no Toboe
It was once rare for women to remain single and childless into their thirties, and those who did were often viewed with suspicion. But now that Japanese women are choosing from a much greater variety of lifestyles, a book of essays by popular columnist Sakai Junko that trumpets the advantages of the single life is flying off the shelves. Unusually for a nonfiction volume in the humanities field, it has sold close to 300,000 copies in the year since its publication, and it has won the Fujin Koron Literature Award and the Kodansha Essay Award.

Single, Childless, Thirty-Something Women
Sakai's book is titled Makeinu no Toboe (The Grumbling of Losers) and is published by Kodansha, costing ¥1,400 ($12.70 at ¥110 to the dollar). In Sakai's terms a makeinu (loser) is a woman who is 30 years old or over but is not married and has no children. By contrast, a woman who is married with children is defined as a kachiinu (winner). In days past, women who remained single in their thirties and beyond were stigmatized in the workplace, the community, and among relatives. But nowadays, according to recent data, 43% of men and 27% of women between 30 and 34 years old are unmarried; this is an age in which more than one in four women remain single even after turning 30.

At 37 years old, Sakai is a makeinu herself. In writing the essays, she took the approach that women in a position like hers could live more easily if they shrugged it off and said, "So what if I'm a loser?" Her book contains chapters with provocative titles like "Reasons for the Emergence of the Makeinu," "Characteristics of the Makeinu," and "How Makeinu Can Get On in the World" and offers detailed, frank advice to fellow losers, including "10 Commandments for Not Becoming a Makeinu" and "10 Commandments for After Becoming a Makeinu."

Sakai Junko
Author Sakai Junko (AFP/Jiji)

Sakai's self-deprecating use of the "loser" label has perked the public's interest and appears to have led to the book's success. But while the book has won the sympathy of many comrades-at-heart, it has also provoked a backlash from homemakers and others. The author believes the response, which she describes as oversensitive, can be attributed to her observation that both working single women and homemakers with children suffer a certain feeling that something is lacking in their lives.

Sakai was recognized for her flair for writing while she was still in high school and, recommended by essayist Izumi Asato, began writing columns for such magazines as Olive and Popeye, fashion magazines for teenagers. After graduating from Rikkyo University, where she spent much of her spare time water-skiing, she joined Hakuhodo, one of Japan's top advertising agencies. As Sakai had already published a volume of essays during college, there was much talk in the company before she joined that "a semiprofessional writer is coming." Three years later, however, she left the corporate world and set up as an independent essayist.

The Economic Benefits of "Losers"
The term makeinu in this context has become popular thanks to the book, and the essentially negative word has taken on a new meaning. Far from being true losers, the makeinu group possess strong purchasing power and have the potential to boost personal consumption. They have a general liking for name-brand products, gourmet food, and travel.

Women of this profile are also likely to purchase condominiums. The number of makeinu women who have no plans to marry and prefer to buy their own homes than pay rent is rapidly rising, and to meet their demand the Government Housing Loan Corporation has eased its lending guidelines to accommodate for the purchase of condominiums with an area of 30 square meters or larger instead of the previous 50 square meters.

The watchword that described people of this generation several years back was "parasite single," referring to individuals who grew up in relatively wealthy households and remained dependent on their parents well into adulthood. But now that the same generation is beginning to own homes, many sectors can be expected to benefit, including not just builders and realtors but also makers of home appliances, furniture, and other household products.

The makeinu phenomenon has shed light on the diversity of lifestyles that the Japanese women of today are choosing to lead.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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