Was Ouiser’s Meltdown a Symptom of Japan’s Population Crisis?

Yesterday I dug out real clothes to meet my friend Yorkie at Inner Noodle. I had big, dramatic hair and make up fully exposing my Southern roots. Tall wedges. I was towering at 6 foot 2 at least. When shopping in Japan, no jeans. Full make up. Look the part. Or get ignored. As I might have mentioned a few hundred times previously, cash, cash, cash in Japan, so I pit stopped at the ATM where I was informed by a bowing cartoon couple that my bank had issued a “hold” on the bank card. Must be a mistake. I went to another cash machine at the train station. Another cartoon couple bowed in apology, eyes closed, and informed me that I did have money but they were unable to give me any. Gomenasai.

Yorkie and I would have to stop at the bank. I was ushered, silently, to a woman’s desk. She looked up the account without a word.

“Have you moved?” Strange question.

“Yes- in September- we moved from a temporary apartment in to a permanent one.” How the HELL did they know that? All statements and communications from the bank arrived electronically. We’re very green.

“You just need to fill out a change of address form.”

That’s the problem?”


Dumbfounded that a) the bank had information regarding our whereabouts from an unknown source and b) would cut off access to our cash over a change of address unnerved me. If that doesn’t put the fear in you- I started to wonder if I’d done anything wrong accidentally that could cause serious trouble. There was that questionable signature with the grocery store card that kept coming back as not matching….

I filled out the form. She reviewed it. We talked about the form. She copied my alien registration card which some of you know is a pet peeve of mine. (Alien Registration Card identifies Spouse as the “Head of Household” which was hotly debated on that post)

“How much cash do you require?” She so politely inquired.

Still having a hard time with the number of 0’s attached to the yen, I wrote down the number. She accessed the account.

“Ouiser-san- I’m so sorry- It appears Spouse is the primary account holder. I can’t give you any money and he will have to perform the change of address. Even though you are listed on the account, and have a bank card, you can not perform any banking functions as his spouse.”

Not only does Spouse not know what bank we use, he doesn’t know our address.

Apparently the horns growing out of the top of my head alarmed her.

“Have him fill out this form, copy his alien registration card, and give it back.” She gave me the form and an envelope.

I gathered up my purse, broom and flew out.

Yorkie had to buy lunch.

The next day, Andretti-san dropped me by the bank to turn in the signed paperwork so Spouse could stop borrowing money from people at work. A clerk took the papers, escorted me to a chair where I waited for 20 minutes.

“Ouiser-san, I’m so sorry, but my boss says your Spouse must turn in the papers.”

“I was told yesterday that he could sign these and I could then drop them off.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, but as his Spouse, you are not allowed to conduct any banking activity- you must mail in the forms. Unless you have income of your own, you can’t conduct bank business.”

At this point, I felt the “ping, ping, ping” as talons popped out from the tips of my fingers. Bloody tears of anger seeped from my eyes. My head fell back and a scream of rage rocked the bank. I was having an ExPat moment. The people in the bank weren’t alarmed- they’d witnessed this before. Western wives aren’t used to the clipped wings that come with moving to Japan.

How do the Japanese women put up with this? How can this be?

There was one poor soul standing by the car, unaware as to the cause of the falling glass from the skyscraper above. My talons, horns and stupendous yet horrifying bat wings did not seem to register on his face as I approached, breathing heavily, drool pooling around the corners of my mouth.

“Andretti-san- 2 things. 1) We have to go to the other bank where you must impersonate Spouse and 2) why do women in Japan put up with this?”

I realized that Spouse told me not to coerce Andretti-san into conducting illegal activity on my behalf and once the bank personnel saw the picture on the Alien Registration Card they’d realize that Spouse wore glasses and my ruse would be exposed. I put the x-nay on the bank run.

“In the old days, men had the heart of a Samurai, now they have the heart of a child. They just want to lay on the couch and play video games. The women would rather stay independent and make money. They want a man from my father’s generation.”

This I could understand. As I make futile attempts to learn Japanese, I watch the period dramas on tv- Taiga. One doesn’t need to understand Japanese to follow the action. Samurai/Prince/Strong Male Figure falls in love with Geisha/Farm Girl/Orphan. The girl is somehow brought to the palace where the couple fall hopelessly in to an unacceptable love. A vicious plot by the male hero’s mother/jealous palace women condemns the young beautiful female lead to death/expulsion. The young woman usually evades death but is always evicted from the palace. Someone confesses to the plot. The Prince/Samurai/Strong Male Figure fights his way to the Geisha/Farm Girl/Orphan who is now playing guitar in a brothel and the two live happily ever after. It gets me every time.

Gamers vs Samurai? Ouch. One study found that Japanese men spend 23 minutes on housework and childcare while the women spend 4.5 hours. Most had never changed a diaper. Hey! I was a Japanese male before I got married and had kids. Apparently the women have decided it’s an all or none equation- find someone more willing to share the load or go it alone without kids. Gulp- Gasp- Life fulfilled without children? How dare they! All for the want of free access to the bank account and a fulfulling career? Apparently so. Only 1% of Japanese women have children out-of-wedlock. Women in Japan are now among the world’s oldest at marriage, 29-30. Very quietly voting with their feet and ignoring the parents who’ve hired match makers or forced them in to spinster hobbies like flower arranging, learning to drive, or performing the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Remain independent, free of the shackles marriage brings until “Absolute Mr. Right” comes along.


What does that translate to? A population crisis. More people are dying in Japan than are being born. The population is not replacing itself. Bad news for the future of Japan.

Fellows- brush up on the Samurai skills….really, it’s easier than changing a diaper.

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28 Responses to Was Ouiser’s Meltdown a Symptom of Japan’s Population Crisis?

  1. Lisa says:

    Wow! I lived in Japan in the early 90’s. I know things move slowly there, but I hoped that someday they would catch up on an inequality scale. I guess there is a long way to go.


    • amblerangel says:

      I think women are moving ahead in the career department- still with a long way to go vs their Western counterparts. From talking with the women I know- probably 10- who are 25-35 with good jobs and unmarried- they are unwilling to sacrifice 100% independence for what they perceive to be a subservient role that they would assume upon marrying. Additionally, due to the economy, many would still need to work in order to have children. Those factors have made them very picky.


      • tokyobling says:

        Exactly. Japanese women now have to take the bad parts of the old system and have to combine them with the bad parts of the new system. I.e. domesticated slavery + substandard wages. If all that was available to me was Hot Sand or Cold Grovel, I’d be pretty picky myself.


      • amblerangel says:

        Now I just need to ply my Japanese sisters with enough Sake so they’ll let the truth seep out… It’s a rock and a hard place and I for one am glad not to be in it- as your comment so graphically illustrated! As usual- I’m thankful to TB for the insight not only on the people but the institutions and the history. Byw- I had no idea there were no social security numbers here…


  2. It must be especially difficult to accept this status quo, if you’ve had your own career and money.

    Are you not allowed to have your own bank account, if you’re not working?


  3. 2summers says:


    Incidentally, South African banks also deny you access to your own money when you move and don’t notify them. Seems very big-brotherish. I’m not sure of their stance on gender though.


    • amblerangel says:

      I guess it keeps everyone honest…


      • tokyobling says:

        If I may butt in… the verified address is, believe it or not, one of the only, if not THE only, way of banks to keep people from reneging on their contracts with the banks (such as loans etc.). Since they lack any form of social security number or SIN, the mere change of address can completely throw the banks off track. Should you ever need to run away from a bad loan, that is. My friends in the world of Japanese personal banking tell great stories when plied with enough sake or beer…


  4. cyanyears says:

    Wow! That sucks. I hear Western men are popular with the women out there. Perhaps that’s why. Most of the guys I know actually pull their weight in the relationships they’re in.

    Well, here’s hoping those Japanese guys wake up and smell the gravestones before it’s too late.


    • amblerangel says:

      I see some mixed marriages. Usually they are Asian women with Western men. More rarely the reverse.


      • Lisa says:

        I have friends from my time there that married Japanese, both male and female. I was living in Okayama, which is much more “country” than Tokyo, so I’m sure that some of the attitudes were even more extreme there. The gaijin males who married Japanese women, were hoping for the traditional type of Japanese women. However, usually the one’s who married them were hoping to escape those stereotypes and role expectations and find a way toward a more Western mentality. At least one of the American male/Japanese female ended quickly in divorce, after the woman gained some independence back in the US. (I’m not disparaging anyone hear, just noting observations). the American female/Japanese male marriages are also interesting. The males in those duos were very non-traditional and rebellious against some of the expectations of Japanese society–that’s why the marriages worked. One couple still lives in Japan, one here in the states and both remain happily married.

        You’ve inspired me to reflect more on my experiences in Japan. As you guessed, my number two lie/truth statement was true. Tomorrow I’ll write the details of that bizarre experience.


      • amblerangel says:

        Very interesting- on both counts! Can’t wait to read of your encounter with the mafia….


  5. Michi says:

    An interesting cultural tidbit! It’s also something that unnerves me here, when people assume D-Man is doing all the working and I’m just little dependent wife cooking and cleaning at home, when we’re in fact equally working, studying, and sharing the housework.

    However, I think women here in Spain are gaining more independence, and the marriage age is around 30-35 nowadays. But it is very common for Spaniards to have their boyfriend/girlfriend from the age of 15 and onwards, which means that by the time they marry, they’ve been together for at least 15 years. Parents actually encourage their children to have a boyfriend/girlfriend from a young age, which just blows my mind. Though the reason they marry later is because they don’t actually begin working until they’re around 22 or 23, which means they don’t gain financial independence from their parents until they’re about 30 (which is around the age the kids move out). They’re definitely late bloomers in this sense.

    Anyway, thanks for the laughs! I completely felt your “expat moment” to the core. David and I recently traveled to the nearest city so that I could withdraw money from my American bank account, and a similar thing occurred. I turned into a crazy red-eyed monster and David had to do all the apologizing since my Spanish had completely flown out the window, and well, I wasn’t about to apologize anyway.


  6. This is stunning! Is this not a violation of civil rights or is Japan just that far behind the west in this regard? I would love to read more posts on this issue. Fascinating!


  7. fawnbluffstuff says:

    Wow!!!!Do you feel like you have stepped back about 50years in time? Maybe, if your a japanese woman there is “less pressure” since many of the duties we do in the western society are not “allowed” to be done by the wife in Japan. What is the divorce rate? I wonder if that is an indicator of the cultural differences you describe? I do think there is something to gender roles in Japan that seems to work, even if frustrating to ex pats. I would like to hear more on the roles of the women in Japan and their thoughts of their roles and responsibilities vs. the men. Just a request…..


  8. The nose says:

    Love the photos. You are right, you don’t need to speak Japanese to know what the plot line is. Especially with the wide-eyed naiveté already looking confused- and the movie hasn’t even started.


  9. Bob says:

    No wonder why you had horns growing from the top of your head. Cultures be dammed if anyone tries to separate me from my hard earned money. But then of course as the man I would automatically be considered head of household.

    Go figure, in my house the wife runs everything including me!


  10. Dana says:

    As the woman who does all the banking in our Western household, I can say with confidence that we would last about 14 minutes in Japan if my spouse had to be in charge of the $$. What an eye-opener!


  11. tokyobling says:

    Another great read. I have had many of these situations with my bank, and I am the head of the household in my household of one! I also LOLed at the Expat moment. Haven’t had one of those for a couple of months and I always dread them when I feel them coming… that inexplicable rage, not because the system is unnecessarily complicated but because the people delivering and enforcing these rules absolutely fail to show any sign of realizing how amazingly illogical these systems are.

    Sure, we have weird bureaucracy in the West too, but at least the people you interact with acknowledge that stupidity of the rules. Here in Japan, the burden is placed on you as a user and so you can only blame yourself, which triggers the expat rage. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

    Other great sources of “expat moments” are the post office, the tax office, the ward or city office, Internet service providers, NTT and travel agents.

    You’re lucky they didn’t demand the official hanko (seal) of your residence (the request for one which produced my latest bank-related expat moment).

    The fact they still cling on to this head of household thing is also pretty unnerving. I guess we in the West solve this with joint bank accounts. I wonder if your company should have informed you about this mess thus allowing you the time to set up separate personal accounts?

    I have made a point of never blogging about negative things, so allow me to use your blog for a little venting…. oh, the horror stories I could tell! (^-^;)


  12. Tori Nelson says:

    Oh, this would drive me NUTS!


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