Adult femininity and (non)reproductivity in urban Japan

Dr Laura Dales1

1The University Of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

In contemporary Japan the delay and decline in marriage rates, the increase in ‘shotgun’ marriages, and the extremely low extramarital birth rate, suggest a resilient connection between marriage and reproduction: marriage is the only legitimate space for childbirth, and childbirth (or pregnancy) a significant motivation for the move to marriage.

In this context, the discursive centrality of reproduction – and particularly child-rearing – makes it salient to the creation and presentation of the adult feminine self. For women, reproduction shapes relationships beyond the family, and is significant factor in the creation and maintenance of friendships, even for women who do not have children. But how do women without children experience expectations of ideal mature femininity? What challenge exists to the notion that an underproductive woman is “half a person” (hannin mae).

This paper draws on interviews of urban, middle-class Japanese women to offer a preliminary exploration of experiences of non-reproductive femininity. I focus on women in same-sex relationships, or those without plans to have children, rather than those undergoing fertility treatments, to suggest that motherhood remains an inexorable and dominant feature in the representation of femininity, and one which excludes an increasing proportion of the Japanese female population.


Laura Dales is Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her research interests include agency, sexuality, friendship and dating broadly, as well as singlehood and marriage in Japan. Her recent publications include the edited collection (with Romit Dasgupta and Tomoko Aoyama) Configurations of Family in Contemporary Japan (Routledge, 2015). She is currently working on a project recently funded by the Australia Research Council DECRA award, examining intimacy beyond the family in contemporary Japan.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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