2004: Fuji TV in Japan is scoring high ratings with a new drama series called "Mother and Lover". Shingo is an actor and his mother is the woman he loves most in the world. One day he meets an office lady called Hitomi. She's late for work, so Shingo takes her to her office in a rickshaw. They make a date, and things go well. The conflict driving the drama is the inevitable moment when Shingo will have to choose between his lover and his mother. But will Shingo have to make a choice? Perhaps Hitomi will simply become his new mother.
A singer I worked with was explaining why she split up with her boyfriend. "He is mazakon," she said. "He wants me to be his mother. But he will never give up his real mother."
After children are born to Japanese couples, their rate of sexual intercourse falls off dramatically. Sometimes they stop making love altogether. It's quite common for the husband to start referring to his wife as okaasan: mother.
Here's "Mother and Lover" scriptwriter Yoshikazu Okada talking about his work in a Mainichi News article headlined "Submissive men need coddling from erotic mother lovers":
"There's too big of a gap between the reality that men are actually the weaker-minded of the sexes and the demand that they be manly," Okada says. "Men should act more naturally in showing their love for mothers and women."
The article has some stats which show that mazakon is getting more popular in Japan. Men are seeking older women, says the paper: "Back in 1987, only 17.8 percent of Japanese married men had an older wife, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, but by 2002, that figure had grown to 32.4 percent." And women are trying to emphasize not just large maternal breasts, but also large maternal instincts: "An An, one of Japan's top women's magazines, devoted a large chunk of its October issue to telling readers the techniques they'd need to show off the maternal instincts that would make them attractive to men. Among the headlines were "Three-Step Training Techniques for Waking Your Latent Instincts," "Where Guys Detect Maternal Instincts" and "Killer Maternal Instincts to Knock Out Guys in a Second."
I wonder what Betty Friedan, American author of the 3 million-selling 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique" (she died this week), would make of this definition of power? Friedan wrote:
"Forbidden to join man in the world, can women be people? Forbidden independence, they finally are swallowed in an image of such passive dependence that they want men to make the decisions, even in the home. The frantic illusion that togetherness can impart a spiritual content to the dullness of domestic routine, the need for a religious movement to make up for the lack of identity, betrays the measure of women's loss and the emptiness of the image. Could making men share the housework compensate women for their loss of the world? Could vacuuming the living-room floor together give the housewife some mysterious new purpose in life?"
For Friedan, women were not fully human unless they were in the workforce, dependent on the market rather than on their husbands. A job conferred power, motherhood did not. In fact, being a mother, you weren't even in what Friedan called "the world". Women needed to be compensated for "their loss of the world" -- in other words, for letting men go out and bring home the bacon. I wonder what Friedan would have made of the Japanese tradition in which the husband hands over his entire salary to his wife, who makes all the decisions about how to spend it?
It seems that Americans are not impressed by the Japanese mother complex. It's just not, well, manly. Here's what some American bloggers are saying about it:
"I found these actual mother-son relationships to be pretty sad (ie, 18-year old boy is too lazy to cut food for himself so he calls his mother who runs directly home to help him, or a different mother writes out mapped instructions to nearest train-station and calls her son "macchan")." (Source.)
"One guy left his girlfriend during her romantic birthday dinner so that he could pick up his mother at the local onsen and drive her home... it was a FIVE minute walk. Another young boy (13 years old) still bathes with his mother nightly. And in one of the most shocking parts, a mother confidently said that she wished her son would grow up gay." (Source.) Heavens, grow up gay! Can't have that! Girly men!
By the way, the pictures on this page show one of those only-in-Japan products: the Lap Pillow or hisa makura. It's a detachable rubberized woman's lap you can buy. Lie back on it and think of mother!