Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Chronicling the lives of Japan's 'losers'

Author Junko Sakai has vindicated the growing group of Japanese women who are opting out of marriage to maintain their independent lifestyles

AP , Tokyo

Single 30-something Japanese women, long dismissed as too old to be marriage material, are getting their revenge through the pen of Junko Sakai, whose book about "losers" has become Japan's answer to Britain's beloved Bridget Jones.

Since its debut in October, Howl of the Loser Dogs, a non-fiction account of the plight of single career women aged 30 or older, has sold close to 220,000 copies.

The book has attracted massive media coverage and even spawned a television show featuring well-known single celebrities.

"Until now, there had been nothing but caricatures and cliches about single women over thirty, generally considered to be old bags or outcasts," said senior editor Etsuko Moriyama of the book's publisher, Kodansha.

Sakai writes in her book that society has become divided between "winners" -- married women with children -- and "losers" or childless females who have crossed into the 30s but have been left behind in the marriage game.

"This is the first time that a 30-something woman herself, single and without children, has offered an introspective, lucid analysis on the condition of the losers," Moriyama said.

In an interview, the writer said the benefits of single life have been ignored in a country where relationships are seen as all-important.

"However entertaining and amusing her life is, a single woman free of constraints will always be perceived as a loser in a society where a woman's social status is still based on her marriage," Sakai, 37, said.

"The goal of this work was not to pit us against them, but rather to try to understand how these losers, who are more and more prevalent, have come to be," said Sakai, who admits being inspired by the big screen character of London yuppy Bridget Jones.

"Even if there are more and more unmarried women over 30, until now their social status had not been identified yet nor their life clearly portrayed," said Sakai.

Described as eternal romantics, losers are predisposed toward love and have a taste for danger, which stimulates them but also leads them to have affairs with married men, Sakai writes.

Winners, on the other hand, are rational and calculating, which explains why they finally end up finding a partner, contrary to their counterparts who are too emotional and demanding to tie the knot, she says.

"In Japan, men tend to marry those whose professional and financial situation is inferior to them, but for women, it's the reverse," Sakai explained.

"Women who are too brilliant find themselves on the bench or having no other choice than to date the leftovers and some are not willing to do that," she said.

Sakai paints a picture of women in a losing battle against their biological clocks in a country where men consider a woman over age 25 to be "faded."

But she also describes Japanese society in major flux, marked by an explosion in the number of unmarried women.

According to the latest statistics by the home affairs ministry, the number of women between 30 and 34 who were unmarried has nearly doubled over the last decade, from 13.9 percent of all women in 1990 to 26.6 percent in 2000.

Between ages 35 and 39, the percentage of unmarried women rose from 7.5 percent in 1990 to 13.8 percent 10 years later.

For Takayo Yamamoto, research director at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, the phenomenon is linked to an equal opportunity employment law that took effect in 1985.

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