Quake puts young men on shaky ground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2012, 12:00am


This time last year, Keiko wanted to meet a man who met the three traditional 'high' requirements of the perfect Japanese husband: He needed to be tall, have a high level of education and a high salary.

Today, none of that matters. Eleven months after the country was shocked at the devastation wrought by last year's earthquake and tsunami, single women have radically reassessed what they are looking for in a life partner. Most importantly, they are looking for an older man.

'I used to want a husband who would work hard so we could enjoy nice things together, and it would not matter to me if he came home late at night,' said Keiko, 32, who works as a hotel receptionist in Tokyo. 'Now I want to meet a man who is older than me, an average level of income is fine, and if something bad happens, I want a husband who will put our family first.'

There has been a spate of female celebrities announcing marriages to older men, with actress Yuko Ogura, 28, marrying a 40-year-old hair stylist in October, while 25-year-old television actress Suzanne, who goes by a single name, wed a baseball coach nearly a decade older in December.

Etsuko Satake, who operates the Infini school for single women looking to become brides, says she has seen a marked change in the women enrolling in her classes.

'Before March, living in Tokyo was always bright and energetic and busy, but after March 11 [last year], everyone was trying to save energy, turning off the lights, not going out and not having fun,' she said. 'People now want to be closer to a family, to feel connected and to have someone to love them.'

Among the 30 per cent increase in women signing up for the school, Satake says the majority are looking for an older husband.

'Young men now are soft, and in many ways, quite feminine,' she said. 'But there are a lot of older men, in their 40s, 50s and even older, who had to work very hard to be successful in their businesses.

'They are tough, they are experienced and they are gentlemen.'

Maturity, self-confidence, and the ability to take charge and make decisions are all attractive traits of older Japanese men, she said.

'Men of my age have such young hearts and young minds,' said Yukiko, a 30-year-old assistant to a university professor. 'I don't care so much about how my partner looks, but I want us to connect on an intellectual level.'

Statistics released by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in October show that the proportion of marriages in which the husband was more than five years older than the wife rose from 10.3 per cent in 1970 to 23.56 per cent in 2010.

A white paper on children and child-rearing released by the Cabinet Office also made a link between a stable income and marriage, pointing out that men aged between 30 and 34 who are in full-time employment are twice as likely to be married than men of the same age who are in part-time or temporary positions.

Young Japanese men also do not seem to be rising to the challenge thrown down by the older generation, with another health ministry survey conducted earlier last year revealing that a third of males aged between 16 and 19 have no interest in or are actively averse to sex.

And that poses serious implications for a nation struggling with a population that is living longer than ever but has a shrinking workforce with which to pay for its health care and pensions.

Japan's birth rate stands at 1.21 - the average number of children a women has during her lifetime - far below the replenishment rate of 2.08 babies that is required for a stable population figure.

In 2005, Japan's total population stood at 128 million, but that figure is projected to decline to 95 million by 2050.

And if drastic measures to encourage people to have children fail to have an impact, there will be a mere 47.7 million Japanese at the turn of the next century.

According to the survey of 671 men and 869 women, 35.1 per cent of men aged 16 to 19 said they are not interested in or averse to sex, more than double the 17.5 per cent of men in the previous study in 2008.

The percentage among men between the ages of 20 and 24 climbed to 21.8 per cent from 11.8 per cent two years earlier.

For Keiko, a stable and safe family is the perfect future that she craves, but none of the young men that she meets measures up. 'No-one that is around me is like that,' she said. 'But I will keep looking.'