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):

On another occasion, a woman shouted at me through tears in a coffee shop where I was interviewing her: “How can you tell me that I can just get out of my marriage? You may have worked all these years, but I haven’t worked since my first child was born. How am I supposed to make a living?"

My first book came out in 2004. In it, I concluded that the image of horny wives desperate for juicy sexual encounters is a myth created by the media. The wives we interviewed had needs far beyond the physical. They wanted their lovers to fill their loneliness, emptiness and lack of self-worth. While some of these women said that through their adultery, they realized how deeply they loved their husbands, or how much their husbands loved them, most of them admitted that these affairs didn’t make them happier. Worse, many said they found themselves even unhappier once the affair ended, due to their guilt and lack of self-worth. They want their husbands to love them and show them warmth. In many cases, having affairs may put their marital problems on hold temporarily, but it did not bring them solutions.

Although the book was generally well received, deep inside I knew something had gone wrong. I felt guilty for not being honest. During the interviews, some of these women were openly jealous of my role as a seemingly independent single mother without knowing the difficulties I faced. It hurt me when I heard them say, “What do you know about my unhappiness? You are one of the lucky ones who are blessed with professional skills, while most of us don’t have that luxury."

This may have been a legitimate claim, given Japan’s struggling economy back then. The employment situation for women is better nowadays, but women often lose a lot financially after a divorce, especially if they are not working. In 2003, single-mother households in Japan earned a little over two million yen (less than twenty thousand dollars) annually, much less than half the average income of a typical white-collar worker. The average income of salaried workers in Japan with more than one year of working experience in 2003 was 5.44 million yen, according to the National Tax Agency. I realized that a woman’s sexual and emotional life cannot be fully explained unless we analyze her social and economic environment.

Another issue I faced was my own prejudice. My professional pride prevented me from reacting aggressively toward comments about how I had it “easy." I wanted to yell at them that being financially independent is not as easy as they think, that I give it all I’ve got to work and raise my daughter, while they are sitting on their asses, moping.

Often these women wanted me to give them recognition, approval or sympathy. But I wasn’t ready to offer any of these things, not so much because I was trying to stay objective as a journalist, but perhaps because of my personal/emotional issues: I was secretly jealous of their status as wives, their ability to maintain that position without financial worries, their ability to go out and satisfy their sexual desires. After all, I was coming out of a nasty divorce and was struggling to re-establish myself as a single mother back then. Having been cheated on many times by my ex, I wasn’t in the mood to be sympathetic to these wives who enjoyed the luxury of not having to work, spending their time in nail salons, fancy shopping centers or luxurious cafés, and then going off and having sex while their husbands were at the office working hard to maintain the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to.

I covered all this up by trying to appear “objective." But I knew that my anger revealed itself here and there. The harshest criticism came from a woman I admired. “What are you trying to achieve by writing this?" she asked. “Obviously, you are not supporting these women, yet you come short of criticizing them. Where do you stand? It looks to me that you are just making fun of them, like other male writers."

It was painful for me to admit my own shortcomings. This was around the time when my publisher, editor and long-time friend, Bruce Rutledge, asked me to expand on my interviews to write a book about the sexuality of Japanese women in general. That conversation took place three years ago. He and his wife, business partner and translator of this book, Yuko Enomoto, convinced me that such a book would be an eye-opener to Western readers. Although I was moved by their enthusiasm, I wasn’t exactly sure how I could overcome the obstacles I faced in my previous project. While Bruce and Yuko said they enjoyed my interviews in my first book, our biggest challenge in Goodbye Madame Butterfly was providing some social, economic and historical background to these stories without interfering too much with my rather subjective writing style. Through trial and error, we gradually moved away from the idea of including statistics and lengthy explanations of Japanese society and the economy, and focusing more on the stories of these women. We believe that they speak for themselves. The more academic analysis must be tackled in another book.

Secondly, we agreed that rather than focusing on married women, the book would pull back and take in the lives of single and divorced women as well.

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