The world is your oyster (if you are a man)



    Dec 18, 2015

    The world is your oyster (if you are a man)

    ONE of the first Japanese words I learnt was "sonomama".

    What it means is "just as it is".

    For instance, to ask a cab driver to go straight "as you are" for a while, you could say "sonomama matsugu kudasai".

    But I actually learnt sonomama the hard way.

    A couple months ago in my Tokyo neighbourhood, I was trying to buy some fish to fry. When the sales clerk asked me if I would take it "sonomama", I just nodded. Turns out, fish a la sonomama means taking it as it is, innards and all.

    From my point of view, the word sonomama also reflects a sort of cultural trait.

    Of course, my observations don't apply to the entire population of Japan but I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say most Japanese people prefer things "as they are".

    They are usually reticent to rock the boat any more than necessary and change comes at a slow pace. It does happen; it just takes a very long time.

    But perhaps now really is a time for change in terms of gender equality.


    Can anyone take a wild guess of the countries in the world which obligate women to legally take on their husband's surname after tying the knot?

    Assuming my research is correct, Japan is one of the few - possibly the only - countries with this requirement. On Wednesday, Japan's supreme court ruled that the 19th-century law does not violate the constitution.

    To me, it is such a strange double standard because we are talking about a country where people generally don't think it's odd for a woman to have a baby without getting married. Where women aren't afraid to whip out their cigarettes and light up in public. And where divorce does not come with a real stigma.

    Now, there is another equally interesting law. This one states that at least 200 days must pass before a Japanese woman can remarry after divorce. Men can get married whenever they want - a day after the split if they desire.

    This law was enacted in case the woman happens to be pregnant. But it seems dramatically archaic in an age where DNA tests can produce results in a matter of days.

    On Wednesday, the court said that this law violates the constitution's commitment to gender equality but a remarriage ban on women of up to 100 days was reasonable, according to Kyodo News.

    The Japanese royal family is subject to similarly old-fashioned rules.

    The daughters, should they marry a commoner, become commoners themselves. But if a male heir marries a commoner, the wife becomes a part of the royal family.

    Last week, my son asked me a question that put the issue of gender equality in a whole new perspective.

    Referring to the husband of his homeroom teacher, he asked if he was called by his wife's name. That is, if it was all right to call him Mr Jane Doe. As I opened my mouth to tell him that is not possible, I stopped for a moment.

    Why could he not be called Mr Jane Doe if his wife could be called Mrs John Doe?

    I don't know why.


    I think it's safe to assume that feminism is an idea shunned by most conservative societies. Considering the vested rights and interests of their members, it's understandable.

    Yet, when you see just how fast the rest of that society is changing, it is impossible not to wonder why some significant gender issues are still stuck precisely where they were before - in the Stone Age.

    Lady Gaga is an artist I have never related to or even liked.

    But last week, I changed my mind. This was after she declared that the music industry was still a "boy's club".

    It was mind-blowing for me because I thought someone as outlandish and successful as Lady Gaga would probably get her way in everything and not even care if it was indeed a man's world out there.

    Sonomama is a great thing. Sometimes, we just have to keep things the way they are. To some extent, we need familiarity and tranquillity. But there are also times when we need to rock that boat, even at the risk of capsizing.

    Changing one's name or having to wait a couple hundred days before remarrying may not radically change one's life.

    But if there's a whole species out there - men - who don't even have to think about such legal matters, that does put things into perspective.