Goodbye Madame Butterfly, book

Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman. By Sumie Kawakami.

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The Preface is also available for download in PDF format along with a sample chapter (The Mannequin):

Japan also ranked second to last, just ahead of China, in terms of sexual contentment. Globally, forty-four percent of all adults claimed to be happy with their sex lives, but only twenty-four percent of the Japanese and twenty-two percent of the Chinese said they were.

A survey conducted jointly by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Japan Family Planning Association also found that the number of "sexless couples" has increased over the years, with more than one-third of all married people in Japan classed as being "sexless." The survey, conducted in November 2006, was distributed to three thousand men and women between the ages of sixteen and forty-nine. It had a 51.9 percent response rate.

The survey uses the definition of "sexless couples" by the Japan Society of Sexual Sciences as couples who go without sexual contact for a month or longer for no specific reason. The survey found that 39.7 percent of respondents had not had sex for a month or longer. It also found that 34.6 percent of married Japanese people are sexless, about three percentage points higher than the previous survey conducted in 2004.

When asked why they are not having sex, nineteen percent said it was "tiresome." Another fourteen percent said sex had become one-sided after they had children. Thirteen percent said they had other things to do that were more fun than sex.

I knew about the trend toward sexless marriages before I started this book. Many of my female friends are in sexless relationships. When I asked them why they stopped having sex, they would tell me it was just a bother to do so — they then have to take a shower, wash the sheets, et cetera, and it is so much easier to just pretend to be asleep when their husband comes into the room. It reminds me a bit of people who don’t like to cook because they hate cleaning up afterwards. Other women say they don’t have time for sex because their husbands work late and often don’t return until after midnight. Some of my friends even share rooms with their daughters and leave the main bedroom for the husband. The women say they sleep better this way.

So here is this country with a huge, thriving sex industry and an inordinate amount of sexless marriages. It would be easy to conclude that the men are leaving all their sexual energy behind in the soaplands and fashion health establishments. But that is just part of the story. What are the Japanese women doing in the meantime? Are they just waiting at home for their husbands? Are they secretly planning divorces?

It’s clear that modern Japanese women are not just sitting around moping. In fact, furin, or adultery, has been a buzzword of sorts since the late 1980s, after a popular TV drama focused on the healthier aspects of women having affairs. Adultery still is considered immoral in Japan. The very construction of the word — fu is a negative prefix, and rin means moral — makes that clear. But a double standard is at work. A common saying, said to have originated in the Edo Period, is that "affairs show a man’s ability to generate money." Even in postwar Japan, adultery between married men and single women has always been part of the picture. On the other hand, it was illegal until 1947 for a married woman to have an affair. Violators — both the women and their lovers — could face up to two years in prison if the betrayed husband requested it.

When it emerged that more married women were having affairs, Japan’s sex industry, including the enormous pornography sector, got to work. It created the myth of the horny housewife. Countless Internet sites feature lists of supposed housewives waiting for sex. While many of these sites are doubtless scams, is there some truth to the stereotype of married women looking for sex? Do they enjoy cheating on their husbands? Does it give them a sexual thrill?

These are the questions I originally wanted to find answers to when I began interviewing women in 2003 for another book, in Japanese, that I co-authored with Taro Ohata. The theme of the book, entitled Tsumanokoi: Tatoe Furin To Yobaretemo (Wives in Love: Even If It’s Called Adultery), was to reveal the sexuality of married women who had cheated or were cheating on their husbands.

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