The assertion of an aesthetic judgment is not simply that of the autonomous agent but most commonly part of a social context in which the expression of aesthetics is intended to be part of relationships.
Of the thirty homes studied, two – those of the Nakaes and Iwaiis senior – stood out because they possessed spacious, sparsely furnished tatami rooms with a decorative alcove or tokonoma. These kinds of minimalist rooms are modelled after the sukiya style guest rooms of the Tokugawa elite, with an alcove dedicated to showing the taste and status of the inhabitants. The display inside these elite rooms consisted of one or more scrolls hanging on the wall and ‘three objects used in Buddhist ceremonies’ (mitsugusoku), namely an incense burner, a flower vase and a candleholder, set out in front. In the homes of the most affluent, a large wooden post (toko-bashira), often a tree trunk in its natural state, separated the tokonoma from another large recess called chigai-dana. This second alcove contains a top shelf closed off by sliding doors and one or more shelves for displaying a selection of art treasures or antiques (Fig. 25a and Fig. 25b).
The content of the tokonoma in the homes of the Nakaes and Iwaiis senior emulates this ideal: a scroll appropriate to the season was hung in the middle of the wall, while a subtle arrangement of fresh seasonal flowers was placed in a vase before it. For their chigai-dana, the Nakaes selected a quirky display of large antique clocks that Mr Nakae’s father used to collect, while the Iwaiis chose a more ‘traditional’ display of objets d’art, such as an antique penholder and ink container. The fact that both families displayed objects expressive of masculine taste, whether tools associated with scholarship or a male collection of antiques, is of interest here as the selection and the placement of objects in the alcove used to be an exclusively male pursuit. The stress was not on demonstrating personal taste but on possessing ‘not only a capacity to discern objects of generally regarded worth but also the means to own a stock of such objects sufficient to select and match in accordance with the aesthetic principles prescribed’ (Sand 2003: 104–5).
As we have seen in Chapter 1, since the end of the nineteenth century the Japanese state has endorsed the ideal of the nuclear family. Within this family model, the male domestic role changed from that of a host proficient in the appreciation of art and antiques to a father engaged in family activities. Female achievements, on the other hand, were measured against the ideal of ‘good wife, wise mother’ (ryôsai kenbo), which meant that ‘a woman's role was essentially home-based. Women were expected to carry the burden of domestic work and care for the wellbeing of all family members alone’ (Bishop 2005: 88). However, in reality a large female workforce employed in factories, mines and agriculture was essential to the successful industrialization of the country. It was only after the Second World War, with the introduction of a new constitution, that the extended patriarchic family unit slowly ceased to be the economic and legal foundation of the nation and the gendered division of labour became a reality.
During the 1950s the number of female workers in full-time jobs declined sharply (Broadbent 2003; Bishop 2005). An immediate reason for this decrease was that large number of returning service men needed jobs. However, socio-economic factors had a more lasting impact. Because of the steady wage rises it was economically no longer necessary for middle-class women to contrib ute financially to the household. Their early retirement helped to secure the much-discussed Japanese system of life-long employment and payment by seniority. By the mid-1960s the state-driven gendered ideology had become firmly established and spawned two powerful stereotypes; the professional housewife, or shufu, who is completely devoted to domestic life and her male antipode the sarariiman, the hardworking white-collar breadwinner.
All twenty-three married women in my sample were responsible for daily domestic routines such as cleaning, food provisioning, cooking and childcare. If unmarried adult daughters were living at home they would assist with housework. Still, the majority of the married women were in sole charge of interior decoration. When examining their attitudes towards home and work a clear distinction could be made between women over and under forty-five years of age. Of the fifteen women over forty-five years of age, twelve became full-time housewives when they married (between 1960 and 1985), while only three continued to work throughout their married lives. These were Mrs Kagemori, who was sixty-three years old and had a long and successful career as a academic, 55-year-old Mrs Nakao, who was an independent book designer, and fifty-year-old Mrs Kuwahara, who was working as a high school teacher.
Until the mid-1980s Japanese mature womanhood continued to be primarily defined by a strong commitment to the domestic domain. However, the Japanese-American anthropologist Doreen Kondo (1990) has rightly critiqued the widespread assumption, often propagated by Western literature about Japan, that all Japanese women are professional housewives. Her ethnography of working-class women employed in a small factory in Tokyo in the late 1970s and early 1980s demon strates that depending on economic and social differences women express their devotion to the domestic in different ways. The working-class women Kondo worked with showed their commitment to their families by participating in the world of wage labour (Kondo 1990: 285). The prolonged economic recession that began at the end of the 1990s has resulted in an increased participation of women, from all backgrounds, in the labour market. A survey carried out among unmarried women in 1997 showed that only 20.6 per cent wished to become full-timehousewives, 34.3 per cent would like to stop work temporarily and 27.2 per cent wanted to work throughout their married life (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 1999). The eight married women in their thirties and early forties in my sample continued to work after they had married, but they all left employment once they became pregnant. The main reason for this trend is that mothers are considered to have sole responsibility for the upbringing as well as the educational credentials of their children, regardless of whether they are active in the workforce. As Bishop puts it, they are ‘expected to attend regular parent–teacher meetings, provide highly elaborate lunchboxes according to school recommendations and arrange for children to follow specific timetables, even during vacations’ (Bishop 2005: 93). Moreover, as we have seen in the previous chapter, there is an expectation that children will care for elderly parents at home, which means that many women are also domestic caretakers of the elderly.
Still, half of the women under forty-five had returned to work or were planning to return once their children went to junior high school. They had decided to re-enter the job market in order to supplement the family income – either to save for their children's further education or to contribute to mortgage payments. It is important to stress here that Japanese women are on average paid 60 per cent less than men (Ishii-Kuntz 2003: 211). The main reason for this income gap is that most are either employed in low-skilled jobs or in positions without much prospect of advancement. Many female workers are paato, or part-time employees. However, while in Europe and North America this term is associated with fewer working hours, in Japan part-timers work as long as their full-time colleagues but without being entitled to job security, bonuses or regular pay rises (Matsunaga 2000). It is often the only kind of work available for middle-aged women who want to return to work after their children are going to school, which they do in order to contribute (even if very little) to the family income in general, but also, for many, in order to start saving money to allow their children to embark on a university education in the future. The situation has only grown worse with the continued recession in Japan and many people, often university graduates, work part-time through their twenties and into their thirties. Some younger people claim they prefer this kind of work to having to endure the stress of working in a large company.
Japanese married women are in charge of the domestic arena, and the aesthetic outlook of the home is one among their many responsibilities. In the two homes with large empty Japanese-style guest rooms, Mrs Iwaii senior and Mrs Nakae, full-time housewives in their early sixties, created a ‘Japanese’ aesthetic. They carefully selected decorations and produced fresh flower arrangements in accordance with the season that were displayed in designated areas in the home, such as decorative alcoves and hallways. Both told me that, through studying the Japanesetea ceremony, they have gained special knowledge of colours and shapes about decorative objects, food and plants associated with the specific seasons (Moeran and Skov 1997: 199). An important part of this formal ceremony, held in a Japanese-style tea room, revolves around the aesthetic appreciation of a few unpretentious objects such as a hanging scroll and a flower arrangement in the alcove., 
The historian Jordan Sand has elucidated how, during the 1920s and 1930s the state supported the creation of an unified national taste based on decorative practices drawn from the tea ceremony but also on aesthetic ideas imported from elsewhere, particularly the ‘West’ and China (Sand 2000). The ‘art of tea’ was appropriated in two distinctive ways. Firstly, architects integrated key elements of the sukiya style, used in the traditional tea room, to produce a new aesthetic for the home characterized by ‘closed exteriors and a mix of tatami and chairs indoors, featuring a number of native aesthetic markers such as exposed wooden posts, round windows and unglazed roof tiles’ (Sand 2003: 370). Secondly, tea schools, which were once male-centred spaces linked with connoisseurship and elite taste, began training women in etiquette that could also be put to use outside the tea room. Moreover, the incorporation of the tea ceremony into the girl's high school curriculum during the 1930s resulted in the widespread association between tea and female self-cultivation (ibid.) that continues to this day. Within this context it is interesting to refer to Ackermann's argument that throughout Japanese history the ruling elite has linked expertise in seasonal representations with correct social behaviour in order to establish their authority. He calls this phenomenon ‘authoritarianism behind the veil of aesthetics’ and singles out master's of the tea ceremony as well as presidents of large companies as those who continue to successfully exploit this ideology (Ackermann 1997: 40–2).
Seasonal expertise is linked with socio-economic status and Mrs Iwaii and Mrs Nakae, discussed above, are privileged women whose level of expertise and commitment in creating a ‘Japanese’ aesthetic in their homes was exceptional among my female participants. Indeed, the creation of elaborate displays based on prescribed sequences of motives and patterns requires an intricate knowledge of the complex ‘native’ aesthetic iconography of the seasons. Moreover, only those who possess large numbers of seasonal goods, as well as ample space in which to store them, are able to keep up with the cycle of change (Daniels 2009b). Nonetheless, most married women over 45 years of age aspired to assimilate at least some of these aesthetic elements into the decoration of their homes. A good example is Mrs Terayama, the 45-year-old part-time nurse from Itami, who, although she occupied a tiny urban flat with insufficient storage, still kept a small selection of vases and display plates to create seasonal displays on a shelf above the towels in the bathroom/utility room.
Interestingly, all the women in the over forty-five age group had at some point in their lives studiedtraditional arts and crafts, such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy or play ing the koto (Japanese zither). Many told me they took up one or more of these ‘traditional’ pursuits (okeiko) while at school or university to enhance their chances of making a good marriage. Mrs Kubota, a 50-year-old part-time secretary living in an apartment in the centre of Osaka, told me that she studied the tea ceremony and calligraphy while at university, which she jokingly referred to as ‘the place where they turn women into ‘good wives’. She regularly practiced these skills after she got married, but about ten years before we spoke she had discontinued them because she became too busy assisting her two teenage sons with their education. Other women told me that they had started classes in traditional arts during the 1980s nationwide revival of Japanese arts and crafts. However, like Mrs Kubota, many stopped practicing soon after they had children, while others developed new interests such as oil painting, karaoke singing lessons or volunteering (Nakano 2005).
Whether or not they were still active, most women in this age group displayed objects they associated with the traditional arts. For instance, Mrs Takahashi junior had a wooden box with tea ceremony utensils that she brought with her as a bride and Mrs Noguchi had a wooden circular box containing teacups. Those who possessed a tokonoma chose to display these paraphernalia in there, but Mrs Kubota, for example, proudly showed me a portable tea ceremony set she received from her teacher when she got married that she kept in a glass display case in the LDK area. Moreover, in several homes there were wooden plaques to commemorate that the woman of the house received a teaching qualification for traditional Japanese arts. Mrs Yano, for example, qualified to teach flower arrangement, while Mrs Kuwahara could teach the tea ceremony. As the examples given above suggest, utensils for preparing tea, kimonos and a range of other objects used to enter the house as part of a women's dowry, and I will discuss these domestic female objects in more detail in Chapter 5.
Aspirations to create a ‘Japanese aesthetic’ were the strongest among those women who possessed a Japanese-style room with a tokonoma. As we have seen in Chapter 1, most contemporary tatami rooms are everyday, multifunctional living spaces without decorative alcoves. Apart from the Iwaiis senior and the Nakaes, who live in houses that are more than 100 years old, only eight of the contemporary dwellings studied contained a tokonoma. In the immediate post-war period, the pop ularity of alcoves suffered from their strong association with the nationalistic agenda (Ueda 1998). However, by the mid-1970s, with more than seventy per cent of the Japanese living in cities, there was a growing nostalgia for a more ‘traditional’ Japan, and Japanese-style rooms with alcoves became desirable again. Still, it was not until the 1980s that the tokonoma became mainstream. The revival of the traditional Japanese arts might have played a role, but the general increase in affluence and the rise in home ownership enabled a large proportion of the population to built alcoves in their homes.
The displays in the eight contemporary alcoves studied retained two traditional aesthetic elements: a hanging scroll and a flower arrangement. However, the rules of seasonality were not strictly adhered to in these alcoves. Only some, such as Mrs Yano and Mrs Takahashi junior, displayed fresh flowers, and silk or dried flowers or paintings of flowers were far more popular. The Sakais, for example, placed a large antique vase in the middle of their alcove, while several large bouquets of silk flowers, some wrapped in plastic to protect them against dust, were placed on the side. More over, hanging scrolls were rarely changed, and in some homes the same framed painting was on display throughout the year. Most alcoves also contained a large quantity of other decorative objects, such as gifts, souvenirs and handmade things. Overall, in contemporary displays the stress was not so much on taste and connoisseurship but more on variety and volume. One could argue that this is because most families do not possess the collection of precious objects such as scrolls and antiques necessary to create the typical aesthetic of the Japanese-style room. However, the primary use of tatami rooms as multifunctional spaces meant that the alcove's main function changed from a space to exhibit the status of the inhabitants to guests to a more dynamic area where the extended networks of relationships that are important to the creation and recreation of the family group are on display. (see Spread 6)
Importantly, from the onset the ‘native’ aesthetic, based on complicated sets of rules, was only discussed in relation to formal, performance spaces such as guest rooms and tea rooms with decorative alcoves. By contrast, ‘official’ guidelines for decorating rooms for everyday use were non-existent (Sand 2003: 100–2), and the aesthetic in these spaces generally consists of an eclectic mixture of gifts, souvenirs and homemade things. It is important to mention in this context that in all family homes, whether or not there was a tokonoma, a ‘formal’ display area was created in the hallway – often the only space in contemporary homes where outsiders are received – on top of the shoe closet (see Chapter 2). Although most hallway arrangements attempt to adhere to some degree to ‘native’ aesthetic rules, as in the case of the contemporary tokonoma, the focus is more on volume than on minimalism.
Some of the married women under forty-five distanced themselves from what they considered to be an aesthetic associated with a more ‘traditional’ way of life. The 37-year-old housewife Mrs Nishiki junior, for example, showed me a ten-mat Japanese-style room on the ground floor of their two-storey detached house in Nara prefecture. She apologized for not being able to answer my queries about a rather unusual disarray of decorative objects – fans, monkeys, decorative plates and dolls – placed in one corner of the room. In her words, ‘I don't have any knowledge about these objects on display. The room and all the things in it belongs to my husband's father who lives on [this] floor of the house. Neither me nor my husband particularly like this kind of taste.’ When the Nishikis’ three-generation house was built in 1990, Mr Nishiki junior's mother, who has since passed away, had insisted on a ten-mat Japanese-style room for organizing formal tea ceremony parties for her female friends. Arranged on several shelves hidden behind a screen in a corner of this room were cups, teapots and other utensils used in the tea ceremony. However, these once treasured objects were now gathering dust and Mrs Nishiki junior had turned the space into a storage area for unwanted gifts (see Chapter 6). Moreover, the large Japanese-style room, devoid of furniture, made for an ideal play area for their eighteen-month-old daughter. A yellow, plastic slide placed on top of a rug in the middle of the room attested to its new function.
Many of the younger women dreamt of owning a house with wooden flooring throughout, and 37-year-old Mrs Matsui possesses just such a home in Nara. When their house was built in 2001 she insisted on wooden flooring because in her view ‘tatami rooms are a waste of money’. However, because her husband refused to sleep in a bed, they decided to build an eight-mat Japanese-style bedroom on the first floor (see Chapter 1). Like Mr Matsui, other men under forty-five years old had a more positive attitude towards tatami than their female counterparts. The Sawais, a recently married couple in their late twenties, illustrate this contrast. The couple were living in a small rented apartment in Kyoto, but both saw this as temporary solution. Mrs Sawai dreamt of owning a ‘modern western-style (yôfû) home with wooden flooring throughout’. Because she grew up in the countryside in an old house that only had Japanese-style rooms she associated tatami mats with an unsophisticated, traditional way of life. By contrast, her husband, who had always lived in urban apartments wanted to live ‘in a “real” Japanese house with Japanese-style rooms (washitsu), the kind that can only be found in the countryside’.
Mr Sawai's comments disclose widely held stereotypical views about the Japanese countryside as a more ‘traditional’ place. As anyone familiar with rural Japan will concur, newly built homes, identical to their urban cousins, are on the increase, but a large percentage of the rural housing stock continues to be constructed in a more distinctive style. Because these houses are commonly erected by smaller, local contractors they might have kept certain regional characteristics such as heavy tiled roofs or large wooden entrance gates. Still, efficient transportation and communication networks have made the same services and goods available anywhere in Japan, and rural citizens are very much part of a national Japanese consumer society. Hence, however ‘traditional’ the façade, behind it generally awaits a standard LDK home with the latest domestic appliances and modern furnishings.
Apart from Mr Iwaii junior, an academic who studies the tea ceremony and admires the beauty and simplicity of the mats, the men in my sample primarily appreciated tatami for relaxing and sleeping on (see Chapter 1). Moreover, many saw no ill in placing desks and tables on top of the mats to create a workspace in their home. This said, some younger men expressed a keen interest in the aesthetics of their home. Mr Nishiki junior in Nara prefecture offers a particularly interesting example. He originally worked for a design company in Osaka, but a few years ago he returned to Nara to work in his father's construction company. Interestingly, another participant in my study, Mrs Matsui, introduced me to the Nishikis because ‘everyone thinks their home is very “unusual”’. Indeed, the aesthetics of their LDK area was unlike any of the other spaces studied as it contained a number of well-chosen modern design classics such as an Eames table and chair set, a Yanagi coffee table and a Ron Arad bookworm. Moreover, on a large, white display rack ‘design’ objects such as an old Olivetti typewriter, Nael toys and a Michelin doll were tastefully mixed with colourful ethnic goods such as African baskets and Mexican pottery. Mrs Nishiki stressed her husband’s interest, telling me that he was ‘really into these kind of things’, while pointing at several large stacks of interior design magazines arranged on the floor. A similar rack was used to display Mr Nishiki junior's large collection of CDs, while two large African drums occupy one-third of their living area.
The fact that Mr Nishiki junior trained as a designer offers an explanation for his unusual interest in domestic aesthetics. However, since the late 1990s the minimalist, designer look has become very popular among men and women in their twenties and early thirties. The increase in designer furniture shops in urban areas throughout Japan is a direct consequence of this phenomenon. Nasu, a 27-year-old post-doctroral researcher in Kyoto, explained the attraction of a ‘smart’ space with wooden flooring filled with designed furniture and objects as follows: ‘Well, yes, you know, it has a cool (kakkoii) image. And when going to university one would of course like to live smart (oshare). Well, tatami, how should I say it, euhhhh, well, you know they have a rather trashy image among young people.’ The fact that Nasu as well asKageyama Naoko, a single 26-year-old secretary who also expressed her admiration for these types of interiors, each rented a tiny, multifunctional tatami room reveals that this kind of home, and the lifestyle with which it is associated, is expensive and difficult to achieve.
Returning to Mr Nishiki junior, the reason why he, as a married man with a family, was able to put his mark on the domestic interior was revealed on a subsequent visit when his wife showed me the rest of their large house. When Mr Nishiki junior moved into the house with his wife and son in 1998, they planned to live on the first floor, while his now widowed father would live on his own on the ground floor. However, because Mrs Nishiki junior cooks for the whole family in the kitchen downstairs, the couple and their son ended up spending a lot of time there too. As the family only retreats upstairs in the evening to sleep, their minimalist living-dining-kitchen area primarily functions as a space in which to entertain friends and guests. Thus, this space is not that dissimilar from the minimalist Japanese-style guest rooms of old, rarely used on a day-to-day basis. By contrast, the mixture of Japanese and Western styles, functional and aesthetic, gifts and chosen things, toys and decorative trinkets in the spaces on the ground floor of the Nishiki's home is typical of the ‘eclectic aesthetic’ found in everyday use spaces in the majority of the homes studied.
A number of anthropologists have discussed how the placing of decorative objects in the home is influenced by whether or not one adheres to an overall interior aesthetic scheme. Chevalier distinguishes between two schemes of decoration prevalent in French homes: the interior is either expressive of a certain decorative style, and objects must comply with specific aesthetic criteria, or it consists of an accumulation of things, which allows for a range of different objects, liked and disliked, to be easily integrated (Chevalier 1999: 510). Clarke (2002) subsequently argues that both schemes are more intertwined and most people participating in her London ethnography mixed individually chosen items with goods they received as gifts. My study, similarly, reveals that in Japanese homes two (or even more) types of aesthetic schemes tend to coexist.
Most women over forty-five attempted to produce a ‘Japanese aesthetic’ in designated spaces, preferably decorative alcoves, but more commonly hallways. Although these formal displays may express a family's taste to outsiders, they mainly function as a focal point for the inhabitants of the home and objects displayed embody a range of social relationships that constitute the family group. Importantly, this space-specific ‘native aesthetic’ contrasts sharply with the aesthetics in everyday used domestic spaces, which tends to consist of a blend of liked and disliked objects: souvenirs, handmade items and gifts (see Chapter 6).
By contrast, the younger generation – like their counterparts all over the world (see, for example, Reimer and Leslie 2004) – aspired to create an overall aesthetic scheme expressive of a certain style. The minimalist designer look preferred by Mr Nishiki junior (discussed above) is a popular example of such an aesthetic scheme. However, even if one is able to produce such an overall scheme it is difficult to maintain. The sociologist McCracken (1990), for example, has famously discussed the ‘Diderot Effect’, a phenomenon whereby when new goods are introduced into the home other objects must be removed or updated in order to maintain an overall symbolic unity of space. Because of limited available space and the surplus of goods an average family possesses, everyday, lived-in spaces tend not to adhere to any particular, aesthetic scheme. This said, Japanese families also update their homes, but instead of regularly overhauling the decor in accordance with fashion cycles, they might install the latest system kitchen or a high-tech bath or, as we will see in the next chapter, they might carry out structural reforms to improve storage facilities.
Mrs Matsui, aged 37, who lives with her husband, a 38-year-old professional photographer, and their four-year-old daughter, Nao, in a newly built house in Nara, was the only married woman in my sample who expressed a strong interest in interior decoration and was knowledgeable about current fashions and styles. She has a university degree in German linguistics, but after graduation she worked as a salesclerk in a small company selling Japanese crafts. When her daughter was born she became a full-time housewife. She seemed to have taken to this new role with real gusto and, like the majority of my female participants, she was firmly in charge of all things related to the home. However, unlike the women in the older age bracket who tended to decorate specific areas according to ‘Japanese aesthetic’ rules, Mrs Matsui aimed to create a ‘modern’, overall aesthetic scheme.
She was an eager consumer of home interior magazines that supply her with the necessary inspiration for decorating her home. While flipping through issues of Interia, her favourite monthly magazine, she enthusiastically pointed at examples of interiors she liked. She was particularly fond of the ‘white-paint-look’, in which every piece of furniture is painted white, which she tried to emulate in her own home. Two shelves more than twenty years old, which she had used as a child in her bedroom in her parent's house, received the ‘white-paint-treatment’. An old chest of drawers that she had received from a friend who was planning to throw it away and a low table, a gift from her mother, were all painted white too. By covering a range of disparate pieces of furniture that had entered the home through various second-hand channels with white paint Mrs Matsui had also been able to successfully neutralize the Diderot-effect discussed above.
Gregson and Crew have argued that discourses about good housekeeping in the UK feed assumptions that men should not be interested in the domestic (Gregson and Crewe 2003: 120–1). Similarly, in Japan men are not supposed to show much interest in domestic work. Mr Kagemori, the high school teacher in Osaka, was the only man in my sample who actively engaged in domestic labour. He enjoyed cooking and frequently prepared meals for his family and for dinner guests. I never witnessed any of the other men cooking, doing the dishes, putting up decorations or tidying the house, although some would occasionally go grocery shopping or pour drinks at the table.
On closer inspection I discovered that some husbands had not completely conformed with their anticipated domestic roles. Mr Matsui offers a good example. As the fieldwork progressed he became bolder and disclosed, for example, that his wife's ‘taste (shumi) is quite different’ and even dared to question her cherished white-paint-look, asking, ‘Don't you think it really looks like a hospital?’ This rebellious attitude prompted Mrs Matsui to say, ‘When we just got married he would often complain about things I put on display that he didn't like, but these days he does not bother anymore. At the end of the day, I spend most of my time inside, so I can decorate any way I like. Yes, I decide! High-handedly!’ Mrs Matsui repeatedly joked about her dictatorial style of managing the house, thereby typecasting herself as the full-time housewife and her husband as the passive breadwinner. The fact that she has firmly taken control of the look of the domestic interior is epitomized by a small shelf hanging on the wall in their dining-kitchen area. Mr Matsui made this piece of furniture when he was in high school, but it was painted white and integrated in Mrs Matsui's domestic scheme. Unlike most other women, Mrs Matsui seems to have succeeded in keeping the eclectic aesthetic at bay. We will see in the next two chapters that her success is based not only on decisive aesthetic choices she made, but also on her ability to store or dispose of unwanted goods.
Like Mrs Matsui, many of the other women, but especially those in their fifties and sixties, used humour to remark on the reluctance of their husbands (and children) to share any housework. Mrs Takahashi junior from Nara, for example, called her husband ‘a son in a box’. This is a parody on the term ‘a daughter in a box’ (hako-iri musume) used to refer to daughters of the elite who were brought up sheltered from the outside world (and resembled dolls in their glass boxes). Many men happily joined in the banter. When Mrs Sakai proudly showed me the large collection of souvenirs displayed in their living room, Mr Sakai, a retired manager of a prefab housing company, sighed, ‘In this house there is not one thing that belongs to me. These are all mother's things.’
My wife trained as a schoolteacher but after we married she followed me around. I don’t know whether it is good or bad but in Japan this is common; I didn't want her to work after we got married and well we also had a child right away. Therefore, from the age of twenty-six, she only took care of the children and managed the house.
This said, 56-year-old Mrs Sakai has skilfully turned the gendered division of labour to her advantage by creating strong local support networks of female friends. During the mid-1970s, the family bought a house in a suburban housing settlement south of Osaka. Because many people bought their homes during the early 1970s, they have been neighbours for a long time. Most women in the neighbourhood had children around the same time and they socialized together while their husbands commuted to their offices in Osaka. Mrs Sakai is a particularly well-known person locally because after her own children grew up she opened a prep school for local children in a room on the first floor of their house. She loves cooking and regularly invites her female friends and neighbours for meals. Moreover, the women have embarked on various hobbies together and the result of her own and her friends’ handicrafts are on display throughout the house.
Mrs Sakai's informal female network, which was initially arranged around children but over time came to focus more on hobbies and leisure activities, is yet another example of a ‘local community of limited liability’, discussed in Chapter 2. Mrs Sakai's busy social life, contrasted sharply with that of her husband who had recently retired. Mr Sakai pointed out that he ‘only worked and [had] no friends locally’. However, in contrast to the widespread negative stereotype of retired men as unable to cope, Mr Sakai seems not too bothered about his lack of friends, and he is eager to enjoy his retirement to the full. He told me he would really like to start a hobby, ‘perhaps something creative such as photography’. When I visited their home in 2006 he had happily joined his wife as a volunteer teaching Japanese to migrant workers from South East Asia in their local community centre.
The typical marital mockery described above was generally good-natured, but, as the following example illustrates, humour may also conceal darker feelings of gloom and loneliness. The part-time nurse Mrs Terayama has lived in the same small apartment in Itami city that she and her husband share with their sixteen-year-old daughter; their son moved out when he started university in 2001. They first moved into their current home in 1985 because it was close to the workplace of her husband, now in his fifties, who at the start of his career was expected to work particularly long hours. Although he was able to limit his commuting time, Mr Terayama still ended up spending a lot of time away from home. First he was separated from his family for several years because he was transferred to a branch office in Hokkaido, the most northern prefecture. Moreover, when he finally returned to work in the Kansai region, he was expected to go regularly on business trips, which often took him abroad. Like many other women, Mrs Terayama made relentless jokes about her husband's passive behaviour in the home. When we discussed the aesthetics of their home she told me, for example, that she would really like to purchase a particular type of Swedish chair to read books in, laughing, ‘but if I buy any new furniture that I need to throw something else out, perhaps my husband’. However, as the following exchange illustrates, Mrs Terayama's humour also conceals her distress about her lonely existence.
Q who is in charge of the interior decoration?A I don't have a good sense (sensu) at all but … yes, it is all me. My husband only lies down and sleeps there (pointing at Japanese-style room adjacent to dining-kitchen), he does nothing. My daughter is only interested in volleyball. No one is interested in anything.
Like Mrs Terayama, other women in this age bracket also expressed resentment towards their children. Unmarried daughters in their twenties and thirties who continued to live at home were a common target. Mrs Ebara in Kyoto prefecture, who is forty-nine, complained, for example, that herunmarried, 24-year-old daughter Yu did not appreciate the sacrifices they had made for her. For example, she and her husband paid for a two-year graduate course at an American university for their daughter, and the fact that she was ‘still unable to find a proper job’ seemed to be a matter of particularly contention. Marriage is another common source of inter-generational conflict. A frequently recurring topic was the strain placed on parents because adult daughters who struggle to find husbands continue to live at home well into their twenties and thirties, while some have even giving up hope of marrying all together (see Chapters 3 and 5). As in the case of gender conflicts, these tensions were often alleviated through humour.
Since the mid-1990s the gendered division of labour has come under fire from various sides. I have already pointed to the steady increase in the participation of middle-class women in the labour force in order to retain their lifestyle. This development, which poses a real threat to the seniority system, is amplified by the growing numbers of younger men who are discontent with their job prospects (Ishii-Kuntz 2003: 200). Moreover, the state has finally begun to change its long-held conservative view of the family by introducing policies that facilitate men's participation in the home. However, no legislation has been implemented yet and the continuing hostility in the workplace towards the small minority of fathers who are trying to increase their involvement in childcare and housework illustrates that much still needs to be done to make this possible.
The domestic behaviour of those married men in my sample who were in demanding white-collar jobs matched the widespread male stereotype of the sarariiman (Allison 1994). They showed no interest in domestic things and saw their homes primarily as a place to sleep and recover from a gruelling work schedule. However, this male role model is not – and has probably never been – as ubiquitous as was once thought. Ten married men in my sample questioned the proscribed domestic gender roles because they were in jobs that allowed them to work from home. They were owners of small local businesses (Mr Nakae, Mr Iwaii senior, Mr Nishiki senior and Mr Nishiki junior), independent professionals (Mr Matsui, Mr Nakao and Mr Kuwahara), or acad emics (Mr Takahashi junior, Mr Sawai and Mr Iwaii junior). Moreover, three men (Mr Wada, Mr Noguchi and Mr Sakai) were retired. Although I have no evidence that these men were more prone than others to engage in any domestic labour, they were able to spend more quality time with their families.
In the homes of sarariimen no space was specifically devoted to them. If any private rooms were available they were commonly given to teenage children. By contrast, most of the men in other professions had laid claim to a private room in their home. This space was mainly used to work in, but some had private hobby rooms (Mr Nakao) or bedrooms (Mr Kuwahara). Mr Takahashi junior, the university lecturer, had turned the only private room in their three-generation house in Nara prefecture into his study, while his two adult daughters, Yasuko and Yuko, did not possess their own space and had to sleep together in a Japanese-style guest room. This room, which, according to Mr Takahashi junior, was just filled with piles of books and papers, was clearly an eyesore for his wife who declared that this space in the house was off-limits for my research.
The presence of a male room in the home enabled some couples to successfully mediate tensions about taste. The newly-wed academic researcher Mr Sawai had his own study room in the couple’s rented 2DK flat in Kyoto. In this space he displayed ‘the things I really like’. Mr Sawai is a scientist, and the walls were covered with sketches of wildlife and nature scenes along with some photographs of his parents’ dogs pinned on a cork board. He is fond of small ornaments and soft toys, and he has chosen to surround himself with a number of collections. His stuffed bear collection is prominently displayed on computer equipment on his desk. Nearby, in front of some books on a shelf, he has placed his collection of miniature animals and favourite manga characters (see Chapter 6). As we have seen earlier, Mr Matsui's taste also differs from his wife's and the fact that he possesses a home office/darkroom offers him an aesthetic outlet. In his room, for example, he displays an impressive collection of protective charms from local shrines, objects his wife dislikes. Similarly, adult children with private rooms can customize these spaces with objects of their choice. In my study, examples of such objects ranged from posters of television celebrities to collec tions of hello-kitty charms and photographs of school friends.
In all the homes studied, even those from which men were largely absent, the women of the house displayed objects associated with their husbands. Among the male objects on display business gifts such as ashtrays and clocks were common. Those with an alcove exhibited such items in there, but others placed them in areas of the home in everyday use. On a windowsill in the Wadas’ kitchen, for example, stood a clock Mr Wada received when he retired as a chemist. A second group of ‘male things’, ubiquitous in the homes of sarariimen, are objects associated with sports. Trophies won at golf, the ‘manager sport’ par excellence, were everywhere. Moreover, bulky golf bags or tennis rackets would frequently occupy precious space in entrance halls. Some husbands, all non-sarariimen, were represented in the domestic interior through the fruits of their creative endeavours. Here, examples are pictures painted by Mr Takahashi junior, wooden models of famous religious buildings produced by Mr Kuwahara and photographs taken by Mr Matsui. However creatively inclined these men might be, only two husbands engaged in DIY.
The Noguchis live together with their 39-year-old unmarried daughter Tomoko in a large twelve-year-old house in Itami city. Mr Noguchi, a seventy-year-old retired manager of a carpet producing company, is a real DIY devotee. His main accomplishments are the garage and large annex that he built at the rear of their house. This latter space is primarily used by Mrs Noguchi to wash and dry clothes, but it also houses a number of aquariums with Mr Noguchi's collection of exotic fish. Smaller DIY jobs include erecting walk-in closets in all bedrooms and replastering cracks that appeared in the walls after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Finally, Mr Noguchi also liked to design gadgets to make housework not only more convenient but also more environmentally friendly; he had, for instance, recently made a device to recycle their bath water for use in the washing mach ine. Mr Nakao, the only other DIY enthusiast in my sample, is a 56-year-old graphic designer. He has his office in the fifth-floor apartment in central Osaka that he shares with his book-designer wife and their 27-year-old daughter who is studying to become a professional singer. Over the years Mr Nakao has carried out numerous small DIY jobs. He removed the wall that had once stood between two individual children's rooms to create the six-mat Western-style room that the couple use as their bedroom, while another six-mat Japanese-style room he painted white ‘because the walls were so dark and dirty’. Mr Nakao also produced some furniture, such as a large black chest of drawers standing in the reception area and a bedroom dresser made from old wine crates. Finally, like Mr Noguchi, he invented a number of contractions to make home life more efficient: rails to dry towels and laundry in the bathroom, for example, and shelves for large pots and pans hidden above doors.
The increase in DIY-type stores or home centres across Japan (see Chapter 2) – particularly in the suburbs – since the beginning of the millenium initially led me to conclude that Japan must be encountering a DIY boom similar to the one that occurred in the UK during the 1990s (Shove, Watson, Ingram and Hand 2008). However, the fact that only two of the men who particip ated in my study showed any interest in DIY made me reconsider this assumption. Furthermore, staff at two DIY stores in Kyoto made it clear that their main customers are professional builders, carpenters or plasterers. The general public primarily purchased everyday commodities sold at very competitive prices, such as bicycles, fans and heaters or cleaning products, although a small minority might buy materials to embark on ‘very small domestic projects such as gardening or replacing paper on sliding doors.’ Indeed, gardening is a very popular hobby (see Chapter 2) and replacing the paper on sliding doors is about the only aspect of general maintenance that the majority of those participating in my study actively engaged in.
This said, over time many had made some changes to their homes whether small-scale projects such as building closets and replastering walls (Terayama), or more substantial work such as turning Japanese-style rooms in Western-style ones (Matsunaga), changing the interior layout (Sakai and Kagemori) or adding an additional floor (Takahashis). Apart from Mr Noguchi, all had hired professionals to carry out this kind of work. I was given a variety of explanations for this strong reliance on specialists. Mr Sakai in Osaka, for example, thought that the majority of men were just too busy with work to do things around the house, saying, ‘Japanese fathers have no holidays’. The time squeeze might indeed be a factor to take into consideration as the stereotypical Japanese male breadwinner tends to spend his time at home either relaxing or sleeping. However, as we have seen above, only one-third of my male participants fitted the sarariiman stereotype. The others were either professionals working from home, academics with flexible working hours or retired men with time on their hands.
Others such as Mr Takahashi junior, in Nara, claimed that it was ‘just impossible for amateurs to make these kind of changes’. This statement points at the widespread appreciation of the expertise of specialists. However, Mr Noguchi, the only one among those participating in this study who actually owns a toolbox and enjoys repairing and building things in his home, drew attention to another reason for depending on specialist labour. He argued that most Japanese do not do things around the house themselves because they want to show that they can afford the very expensive services of professionals. Mr Togo, the Kyoto-based architect, also raised the issue of cost when he discussed the popularity of television programmes about reforming the home: ‘In reality it is all very expensive, even something small … will cost about ¥20, 000 or ¥30, 000 [about £100–150]. The majority of people will not be able to afford this.’
Contemporary anthropological literature about gender highlights the fact that notions of male ness and femaleness are fluid and that both categories are continuously reiterated in relation to each other (Strathern 1990; MacKenzie 1992; Moore 1994). Drawing on these ideas, several ethnographies focusing on material culture inside the home have further demonstrated that domestic gender relationships are produced within the exchange of labour between husbands and wives. Miller, for example, has famously discussed the exchange of male DIY labour and female aesthetic advice in working-class UK homes (Miller 1988), while, more recently, Marcoux has discussed the exchange of male physical labour and female cleaning skills when moving house in Canada (Marcoux 2004). By contrast, my data suggests that this kind of gendered exchange of domestic labour is virtually non-existent in contemporary Japanese homes. Still, one could argue that the Japanese roles of husband and wife are also complementary as men are expected to earn money while women are responsible for managing the domestic finances (and the rest of the home). In Smith's words, ‘marriage is seen as a mutual commitment made by two people of complementary competence. The man commits himself to providing for his family, the women to maintaining a comfortable home for all’ (Smith 1987: 19).
This widespread view regarding Japanese gender relations does not necessarily mean that Japanese men and women are trapped in their anticipated gender roles. As Marcoux has rightly demonstrated, relations of domination are not naturalized in the female body, and women frequently accept their role without necessarily feeling dominated (Marcoux 2004: 57). In his words, ‘people invest themselves in stereotypical relationships … they “make” stereotypes … [and] they are “made by” stereotypes’ (ibid.: 55). Both men and women in my sample were aware of, and many happily complied with, the domestic performances associated with their gender. This said, women generally have fewer choices outside their expected gender roles. A number of female participants in my study challenged the domestic status quo by drawing on the power of irony, which allowed them ‘to entertain the idea that even though apparently nothing changes, there is room for free action, joy, resistance, or at least fugitive behaviour’ (Torres 1997: 20).
In a seminal sociological study about couples and their laundry practices in France, Kaufmann demonstrates that ‘many descriptions of conflict were peppered with laughter, [and] many criticisms made of the partner were highly ironic’ (Kaufmann 1998: 177). In his view, humour used by both male and female participants performs a dual function: it is a means to channel emotions and annoyance while allowing the couple to distance themselves from conflict and protect their relation ship. The anthropologist Tanuma rightly argues that one cannot ignore the context in which jokes are uttered, and in her study of the usage of irony in Cuba, she distinguishes between the perspectives of insiders and outsiders. The latter consists of ‘sarcastic or skeptical accusations of incongruities between what is expected and what actually occurs … scrutinizing others from an alleged distance’ (Tanuma 2007: 48). Insiders’ irony, on the other hand, is sympathetic ‘because the two sides are thought to have shared beliefs and practices of which the insider became sceptical’ (ibid.: 48).
The banter between married couples as discussed is an example of insider's irony that combines criticism and sympathy. This kind of humour should, therefore, not be seen as an act of resistance against gender stereotypes and the larger power structures in which they are embedded. As Mary Douglas points out, joking is not an act against the value system but ‘a temporary suspension of the social structure’ (Douglas 1975: 106). One might add that it is during this suspension of the dominant value system that the need of the individual is momentarily foregrounded. The use of humour in the home, thus, plays a vital role in balancing the needs of the individual and the expectations of the collective, in this case the family unit.
The presence of a tokonoma, especially in a room located close to the entrance hall, might imply a certain eagerness to demonstrate to outsiders that one has the means and expertise – however patchy – to (re)produce a ‘Japanese’ aesthetics. However, my data questions any simple association between decorative alcoves and guests as very few participants actually entertained formal visitors inside their homes. Most contemporary alcoves are a focal point for the inhabitants of the home, and unlike their minimal predecessors, these contain a relatively large quantity of goods that celebrate the accomplishments and skills of family members. All eight examples in my sample fit into a continuum ranging from being relatively empty (Takahashis) to rather full (Kuwaharas).
The Takahashi junior's tokonoma is located in a six-mat Japanese-style room on the first floor that is used as a living-room-cum-informal-guest room as well as a bedroom for their two adult daughters. The display consists of three seasonal items: a vase with flowers, a calligraphy and a statue in the shape of a zodiac animal, while a wooden box containing a sake set that Mr Takahashi junior received from a famous writer is placed in one corner. Two large glass cases with Ichimatsu dolls clad in kimonos (gifts received from Mrs Takahashi junior's parents at the birth of each of their daughters) are prominently displayed. On the shelves above stood, firstly, a clock, a return-gift from a wedding they attended, secondly, a beckoning cat, a lucky charm presented to them by their go-between for their own wedding, and finally, a small silver display plate Mr Takahashi brought home from a trip to China.
The Takahashi juniors, like the majority of other people in my sample, displayed three types of gifts in their alcove. These are: (1) gifts received for life-cycle events, (2) gifts received from people of high status and, finally, (3) souvenirs (see Chapter 6). The presence of large numbers of gifts demonstrates that this family has been flourishing in creating and consolidating a variety of formal and informal social relationships over time. Contemporary alcoves, thus, bears witness to the successful (re)production of the family unit, which is further stressed by putting things made by family members on display. An extreme example of this practice are the Kuwaharas who, apart from gifts such as dolls in glass cases and lucky arrows, also display several pieces of calligraphy by their eldest daughter Keiko, glass boxes with architectural models of temples made by Mr Kuwahara, a small swan statue made by Yoshiko, the youngest daughter, and an ikebana flower arrangement made by Mrs Kuwahara's unmarried sister, who is considered to be part of the family. Finally, in many homes official certificates were given a prime spot in the displays. Some women, for example, displayed plaques that certified their accomplishments as teachers of traditional arts, while men tended to display official documents they received for services to the country. Mr Yano, for example, received a certificate from Kyoto Town Hall for assisting with the local youth baseball team, while Mr Noguchi obtained an official document from the emperor for assisting in rebuilding a local shrine after the 1995 Kobe Earthquake.
Another display feature similar in aesthetics and function of the contemporary tokonoma is the ‘memory wall’. These displays, created by hanging two-dimensional objects on the walls in the main living area, were common among the students in my sample. For example, Nasu-san, a 27-year-old post-graduate student, displayed a number of posters depicting his favourite films, a chart with different types of moss in Sweden (where he had lived for a while) and an illustrated list of Japanese regional plants and liquors. Some of the other young men in my sample appropriated their working spaces in a similar way. However, memory walls were popular among all those who were well-travelled. One example is Ms Kadonaga, who covered one wall on the landing of the first floor of her house with an eclectic mix of two-dimensional objects such as photographs and letters that embody her international travel experiences. In McCracken's view the abundance of pictures and other two-dimensional items commonly grouped together on walls in American homes embodies the family's past and present, internal and external relations as well as accomplishments (1989: 172). In contrast, Japanese memory walls tend to be created by individuals to reference personal experi ences that underscore self-cultivation and taste associated with specific people, places and events.
 In 1955, fifty-seven per cent of women were in full-time employment, but this number had decreased to forty-six per cent by 1975 (Bishop 2005)
 This policy resulted in institutionalized discrimination against women in the workplace for many years to come. Until the end of the 1960s it was, for example, legal to require women to terminate their job upon marriage
 Three women aged forty-five and older over had never married. These were Ms Nishimura, Ms Kadonaga and Ms Kema
 Recent research shows that all Japanese women have to juggle the demands of both housework and activities outside the home (Matsunaga 2000)
 Statistics show that since the 1980s dual income households have steadily increased. In 1980, there were 614, 000 dual income households as opposed to 1, 114, 000 households with a male salaried worker and unemployed wife. By 1991, the former overtook the latter for the first time, and in 2002, 939, 000 households consisted of dual earners while in 893, 000 cases the man remained the sole breadwinner (AS 2003: 10)
 Women are often excluded from after work male-bonding rituals characteristic of Japanese corporate culture (see Allison 1994)
 The Iwaiis in Nara were the only family in my sample who actually possessed a special room in which to perform the formalized tea ceremony
 The tea ceremony embodies an ideal of beauty called wabi that is influenced by Zen and Confucianism, and which ‘sets simple and unpretentious expression above the complex and striking. It abhors excess; it admires restraint. It sees a higher dimension of beauty in the imperfect than in the flawless’ (Haga 1989: 201)
 Jordan Sand offers an in-depth study of the ideal domestic aesthetic during the 1920s and 1930s based on guidebooks for decorating the home that targeted bourgeoise women (Sand 2003)
 In a 2002 survey about women's art and cultural activities music came top (sixty-four per cent), followed by painting (sixty-one per cent) while the traditional arts occupied the bottom of the list: flower arrangement (twenty-one per cent), calligraphy (nineteen per cent) and the Japanese tea ceremony (fifteen per cent) (AS 2004: 13)
 I actually came across nine alcoves, but the one I have left out of my discussion was situated in the Japanese-style bedroom in a rented apartment and the inhabitants had placed a mirror and a fax machine inside
 The presence of a small television in the Yanos’ alcove in Kyoto seems to confirm this. However, this example could also suggest that in contemporary Japan new technologies such as televisions are treasured more than antiques or heirlooms. Kelly (1992) has demonstrated how, during the 1970s, people in the countryside placed televisions in their alcoves, while Udea reveals how electric fans graced the alcoves in farmhouses (Ueda 1998: 91)
 Ethnographic data I collected in the UK in 2004–5 similarly suggests that some men in creative professions, in particular architects, desire to exercise control over the aesthetics of their homes
 Statistics show that only fifty-five per cent of women and twenty-two per cent of men thought that men should do any housework (Kawasaki 1996b: 34)
 Nakano lists a number of popular terms used to mock the alienation of retired men, among them the widely cited sodai gomi, literally ‘a large-size piece of trash’ (Nakano 2005: 52)
 The term tanshin fujin refers to the often forceful work transfers to distant branches of a company that may separate men from their families for long periods of time
 Mrs Terayama proudly mentioned that her husband is fluent in English because of his frequent foreign trips, but added that he never takes her anywhere
 In many jokes a daughter's inability to marry is linked with the maltreatment of her dolls, given in the hope that she would find a good husband. Misfortune in marriage was often blamed on the fact that they either did not display their hina-dolls at all – or displayed them for too long
 In comics, films and other forms of popular culture the sarariiman is either depicted as a victim or a figure of fun (Matsunaga 1990: 152)
 Moreover, as a recent collection of essays edited by Roberson and Suzuki (2003) demonstrates, many Japanese men are also exploring alternative masculine identities. Examples range from queer men and single male construction workers to fathers sharing childcare
 Most men do not engage in housework. However, Nakano has argued that some retired men have appropriate the feminine role of carers through engaging in community volunteer projects. These men will clean tables, do dishes and vacuum floors in public, but they would not engage in this kind of activity in private (Nakano 2005)
 For larger, structural work, such as resurfacing their balcony, the Nakaos hired professionals
 Most married women continue to be economically dependent on their husbands, and as a consequence when marital relationships break down the situation tends to be more dire for them