The mayor of Osaka has said that men are better suited to grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic, because women take too long and contribute to overcrowding at supermarkets.
According to CNN, Ichiro Matsui told reporters: “Women take a longer time grocery shopping because they browse through different products and weigh out which option is best but men quickly grab what they’re told to buy so they won’t linger at the supermarket – that avoids close contact with others.”
These remarks sparked plenty of debate on social media in Japan, with some people questioning whether Mr Matsui has actually done much grocery shopping himself.
I think it was probably a comment made without much thought. But it has led me to wonder how people who are in couples expect their partners to behave. Do men usually follow instructions from their wives when they go to the shops?
Puzzled, I turned to an old book of mine called The Japanese Mind, written by an American named Robert C Christopher, published in 1983. At that time, Japan’s economy was booming and there was a great deal of curiosity about how Japanese people handled financial issues, large and small.
Mr Christopher wrote: “In most Japanese households, it is basically the wife who makes all the major decisions such as where the family lives, what car to buy and what schools the children will attend.”
He claimed that “in the great majority of Japanese families, the husband turns over his entire salary to his wife who then doles out to him a daily allowance – usually a rather modest one – for cigarettes, drinks and sundries.”
Mr Christopher concluded that the typical Japanese household is “a disguised matriarchy and a rather thinly disguised one at that.”
When the book came out in 1983, the principle way of finding a potential wife or husband was through matchmaking parties and these still exist. Nowadays there are also some sophisticated dating services run by professional matchmakers online.
These appeal to women. A Tokyo-based marriage agency called Sunmarie says most of its clients are women with university degrees. According to the Nikkei, inquiries about its services and memberships were up about 20% in April 2020 compared to the same month a year ago.
“Many potential customers say the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to think about their future, or to think twice about ties with their families,” a Sunmarie representative told the Nikkei.
Attitudes are changing, apparently. “People in their 30s and 40s do not seem uncomfortable meeting online. More people have additional free time as they work remotely and I hope they use this situation as an opportunity to think about their futures,” Sunmarie’s spokesperson said.
The company offers advice on how to handle a virtual date. Men should wear a shirt and tie, it says, even if they are at home. It also says clients should keep laundry or other personal items out of the camera’s view.
The advice to women is to put on a bit more makeup than usual, paying special attention to their eyebrows. And on most occasions, a professional matchmaker is on hand during to guide the opening conversation.
I am sure there are some subjects that are best avoided on a first date: such as who will eventually control the family budget, or who writes the shopping list.
If the relationship leads eventually to marriage, there will be plenty of times to argue over those contentious issues at a later stage. By that point, the supportive matchmaker will have taken her fee and exited the conversation – leaving the couple to settle their differences between them.