I say with confidence that Japanese women are the most health-conscious and socially-skilled females on Earth. Having met and exceeded so many new and traditional societal expectations, the average middle-class Japanese woman has been brought up to possess qualities that are simply not found elsewhere.

This article will describe the unique traits of Japanese women of the 21st century and give an explanation to how they came to be who they are. I assure you that you’ll also be able to draw quite a few insights for figuring out how to develop a good relationship with modern Japanese women. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. The traditional Japanese woman “Yamato Nadeshiko”

There is a term used for centuries that represents the ideal woman in Japanese culture: Yamato Nadeshiko 大和撫子. “Yamato” is another name for Japan, and “Nadeshiko” is the name of a kind of Japanese flower that carries flower languages that are often considered feminine, such as pure love and beauty.  

Yamato Nadeshiko refers to an accomplished woman with both beautiful looks and a beautiful heart. She is modest and puts her man first and lets him take credit. She does not assert herself but stands strong when she has to. 

So in more practical terms, a Yamato Nadeshiko would not apply excessive make up or reveal too much skin. She would listen to men speak attentively and smile and laugh modestly. She would always be polite and considerate, and she would never lose her temper. 

WHAT A CRAP LOAD OF MASCULINE-WORLD CONVENIENCE. Like in many other cultures, Japan carries a predominantly male-oriented history, and in our modern-day world where seeking gender equality is one of the top agenda items, these expectations toward the ideal Japanese woman is plain dumb and even embarrassing. 

1-1. The traditional role of a Japanese husband

However there is a pretty solid reason for Japan to consider such a figure to be the female ideal. For the longest time in this country, the family, its bloodline and its name were valued as the most important things to sustain (When Japanese people call each other’s name, the last name comes before the first name). Individuals lived, worked and fought in war for the purpose of keeping the family bloodline and elevating the fame of the family name.

Back in the days of samurai warfare, each family served for a superior family, and would occasionally revolt to reverse the hierarchy. The husband was the representative of each family (kind of like the president of a company or a country) and that meant he was the one who went to war and often ended up dying.

It was the husband’s job to either contribute to the victory of the superior family by defeating as many enemies gloriously as possible, or contribute to a successful retreat by sacrificing his life to save the superior family as gloriously as possible. The husband strived to bring back added fame to his family name even if that cost his life. 

1-2. The traditional role of a Japanese wife

And so the job of the wife was to respect and support her husband, and basically be like a secretary to him. She was literally protected by her husband who went to war and died for the family. Letting her husband take credit for any work she did and letting him take the spotlight equated to adding value to the family name. And she needed to stand strong in bad times, as the chances of losing a husband in war was never low. 

So there you go. The traits of a Yamato Nadeshiko were mostly necessities for the survival and prosperity of samurai families. This idea of the female ideal still dwells in Japan now. But now that men go to work instead of war and the roles of the two genders in society are becoming increasingly identical, Yamato Nadeshiko has become an outdated expectation.

2. The reality modern Japanese women face

The lives of young women in modern-day Japan are extremely complicated, as they need to navigate themselves in a jumble of traditional values, demands of modern society, and a plethora of choices.

Becoming a housewife for life was the ultimate goal of young women in the 20th century. Life was simpler. After finishing school, they typically worked for a few years doing simple tasks, found a mate at the office or through an arranged marriage, got married and had kids, and supported their husbands until their retirement, and lived quiet retirement lives. Their lives were pretty much scripted. 

But this way of life has become just one of many storylines. A significant number of girls born in the countryside still get married right after they finish school, but many choose to go to college in the city and build a professional career. They can choose to quit work and become housewives in their late 20s or early 30s, but some choose to or end up not getting married at all. Some may give birth and choose to come back to work. Some may try to strike a good work-life balance, some may devote themselves to work completely, and a few may even start up their own businesses. 

You see, playing the traditional role of Japanese women has become either irrelevant or impossible. How can women compete with men by giving men all the credit? Why should they put men first when they can be the breadwinners of the family? Why should women prioritize the family when there are so many things they can wish to do in life?

Dismissing Yamato Nadeshiko as an obsolete concept may seem to be the logical solution, but things aren’t that easy. 

The Japanese population is aging, and society expects women to help address the national labor shortage, but still expect them to produce AND bring up kids. Marriage is a sensible step to take before having kids, but many Japanese men are still attracted to submissive women who display traits similar to the Yamato Nadeshiko, in spite of women gaining social power. 

It is this transition period from a society that revolves around traditional Japanese values to one that revolves around reality that Japanese women often find themselves trapped in. The dilemma is that although women need to fight fiercely for success in all areas of life, they are often expected to observe the traditional Yamato-Nadeshiko-nian values by older generations, men, and society in general. 

But of course women aren’t just passively accepting the situation – they have developed a unique set of tactics to get by as contained, amicable and harmless women, all the while stealthily manipulating rules, relationships, and men to their advantage.

3. The modern Japanese woman and her survival strategies

Japanese women (like men) live up to four different lives: Work life, Social life, Love life and Family life. In each, Japanese women apply special communication techniques that allow them to accomplish their needs and sometimes-masculine ambitions, yet disguise their intentions as innocent and feminine ones.

Here, let us look at several case studies to highlight the sophistication of Japanese female survival strategies. 

3-1. Work life survival strategies

The number of female managers and executives is seeing a gradual climb in Japan, but the reality is that a vast majority of Japanese women does not wish to take such higher positions in their organizations. In a study of 2,000 female professionals in Japan conducted by the Nikkei newspaper (the New York Times of Japan) in 2018, it was found that only around 20% of female employees wished to attain a managerial position.

It’s not that they are unwilling to undergo personal development through work. It’s just that in a male-dominant society that has traditionally prioritized work over everything else, it’s natural that women would think that it’s unrealistic to expect to secure enough time for romance, marriage, kids and all the other many things that are considered important once they assume managerial positions.

So for most modern-day Japanese women, success at the workplace often means maintaining a work environment that’s as stress- and problem-free as possible. This way, they can save time and energy for all the other important stuff: maintaining aesthetic beauty, maintaining health, seeking for and living an active love-life, working towards marriage, and enjoying life. 

Their method for accomplishing this goal is conflict avoidance, relieving stress, and allocating (mostly male) resources to their advantage, all through verbal communication. Let’s look at a few examples. 

3-1-1. Conflict avoidance 1

Open criticism is just not something a Japanese woman would do, especially at work. However when she cannot stay patient with a colleague disrupting her comfortable work environment any longer, she does take action. Here, the action taken does not involve words that will be interpreted as direct criticism. 

For instance, if a male colleague sits close to her and his breath smells like sewage, she would reach into her bag and, in a friendly manner, say:

“Hey, wanna Frisk?”

Although of course the real words she swallowed were:

“Did you eat turd for lunch?”

Men need to think carefully when a female coworker acts nicely out of the blue.

3-1-2. Conflict avoidance 2

If you work for a company of over a certain size, there is bound to be a female senior coworker who dresses in clothes meant to be worn by women a bit younger than her. Youth is a powerful advantage in the world of Japanese women, but seeming desperate to cling on to it is shunned.

But in Japan, showing respect toward elders is a universal value. Note that “showing” respect is a universal value

So at the workplace, no businesswoman would dare to comment negatively about a female senior coworker’s ensemble, but instead word it like:

“You always look so cute.”

While what she actually means to say is:

“Move on (to adulthood), pathetic b–ch”

“Cute” is used at face value for dogs, cats and grandmas, but we need to watch out when it’s used to describe a middle-aged woman. 

3-1-3. Relieving stress

You just cannot avoid working with unskilled workers and douchebags. Men may try to point out their colleagues’ inefficiencies objectively in moments for constructive criticism, but women may take a different approach. 

She does not expect a colleague to make any immediate improvements. Instead, she may handle the situation by relieving her own stress by deceitfully attacking the douche. 

For example if a colleague sitting at the desk next to hers keeps his desk at an obnoxiously messy state, she may say:

“Poor thing. You’re so busy you don’t even have time to tidy your desk.”

While the colleague feels better at the illusion of having his hard work recognized by a comrade, an accurate translation of the businesswoman’s kind words is:

“Clean up this filth, you man-shaped muck.”

You really need to watch out for hints for self-improvement given by female colleagues. 

3-1-4. Allocating (mostly male) resources 1

Hardware and software problems with computers, design and numbers are some of the workplace nightmares a Japanese woman may face. While some would study or acquire skills to make up for their weaknesses, some others would use internal male resources to their disposal to take care of problems. 

It’s the hinting of the non-existent affection that they do to have male colleagues do them a favor and the way they word it motivates men to provide service without feeling any resentment whatsoever. After being helped, a woman will probably say something to the effect of:

“You’re so reliable.”

Whereas what she actually has in mind is:

“You’re so useful.”

3-1-5. Allocating (mostly male) resources 2

A way to make her male boss go easy on her is to mention, at a drinking party or some other casual occasion with people from work, something to the effect of:

“I’m attracted to older guys”

Again, what she is doing is hinting at a non-existent affection in order to manipulate her boss to her favor, and hoping for an actual relationship is not too common. She may additionally mention that she has a boyfriend so that her boss does not take her comment too seriously but still hold on to a slight sense of hope, thereby becoming more inclined to go easy on her.

No man wishes to give up any seed of getting lucky with an attractive woman, no matter how small it is (or in this case, even if it’s an illusion). Therefore, this is an unescapable trap.  

3-2. Love life survival strategies 

According to a 6-year long survey of 1,600 Japanese women between ages 20 to 40 conducted by the Women’s Linguistic Society of Japan, it was strongly suggested that:

  • A woman’s social goal shifts as she ages, from acquiring a man who is boyfriend material, acquiring a man who is husband material, getting married, then to securing a romantic and/or sexual partner (if the husband does not satisfy her needs and wants).
  • Women illicit men’s decisions and actions by means of verbal and non-verbal communication, without explicitly expressing their true desires (because that would go against the Japanese ideal of being modest and poised).
  • When a guy tries to do something the woman does not favor, she does not decline, but evades, in a way that won’t hurt the guy’s feelings.

Here are some examples that will give you an idea of their mastery in manipulation through communication.

3-2-1. Evading dates

Imagine a man whom the Japanese woman is not attracted to asks if she would be interested in going to the movies or trying out a new restaurant. She would not decline the invitation – she would instead say with an enthusiastic smile:

“That’s a great idea! Who should we invite?”

As you can imagine, what the Japanese woman is really saying here is:

“Nice try. Not gonna be alone with you.”

By pretending not to notice that it was an invitation to a date, she can get by without being the cruel bringer of denial and still manage to prevent herself from going out with an unwanted escort. 

3-2-2. Testing the waters

When a man actually manages to go out on a first date with a Japanese woman, he may ask her “where do you want to go for lunch?” and get this as an answer:

“Wherever you wanna go.”

Beware. She is not letting the man take the driver’s seat because she likes or trusts him. What she is actually saying is this:

“Show me what you’ve got.”

By letting the man decide, she gets to audit what kind of places you know and what kind of places you would choose to take a girl. If the choice made here does not impress her, there won’t be a second date. 

3-2-3. Training men

Japanese women dislike hurting people’s feelings, but don’t have the patience to let a man keep doing things she dislikes. So for example when the man fails to notice he’s walking too fast, the woman may say:

“You walk fast.”

But the thought she is hiding under her words is:

“Can’t you remember for one second that you’re walking with another person!?”

Men need to watch out when a woman makes an objective statement like “you walk fast” because many women claim that they would make a direct request to slow down in a more feminine tone if they actually had feelings for the man.

3-2-4. Evading commitment

In Japan, it’s often the case that men feel obliged to pay for meals on dates. It’s been like that for generations. Women may not feel the need to be treated at all as many Japanese women work and have their own income nowadays, but it’s also true that many women wouldn’t feel bad about having men take the lead. 

But if a woman finds herself on a date with a guy in which she just doesn’t see any romance happening, she may offer to pay half at the end of the meal. This is so that she will be able to decline without feeling much guilt in case the guy tries to take the next step after dinner. 

When the time to decline comes, again, Japanese women would try not to hurt the man’s feelings. She would say, even over dinner on a Saturday:

“Something’s come up at work. I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.”

Another common way to tell a man nothing’s happening that night, or evermore for that matter, is:

“I’ve got to feed my pet (that I just made up).”

3-2-5. Doing research

Good boyfriend material does not automatically equal good marriage material. A Japanese woman must check to see if her man is worth pursuing her ambition to be wed with, and one of the criteria is the man’s ability to plan ahead. A good indicator is how much he has saved up. So to get an idea of the status of her man’s bank account, a woman may grab this topic out of thin air and throw it into the conversation: 

“Some magazine said men are supposed to have around 3 million yen saved up by the age of (put your man’s age here).”

And the real, un-asked question here is:

“How about you?”

A woman can roughly tell how much a man makes from what he does, but there is no way to check how much he saves. So by carefully observing his reaction to this innocent little conversation topic, she surveils. 

3-2-6. Moving things forward

As a Japanese woman edges closer to the age of 29, she starts to shift gears from seeking adventures to seeking marriage. When her man is reluctant to settle down, she takes passive-aggressive action to move things forward. One way is to point out her interest in her man’s roots. She may say:

“You know, I really want to see where you grew up.”

Notice how she is not saying anything weird – how would a couple not be interested in each other’s hometown? But of course a visit to the man’s hometown will naturally mean paying a visit to the future parents-in-law. So this sentence actually means:

“Check mate.”

3-3. Social life survival strategies

Looks are crucial in order to hit love-life milestones and so women invest a lot in maintaining and improving their appearances. Looks are so important that they go as far as ranking their peers and themselves in their minds, primarily in terms of superiority in appearance. 

Also, they watch out if their peers have not surpassed them in the love race in any way. Because that’ll suck.

Friends become foes in their minds when that happens, but because maintaining peace in any relationship is a high priority for Japanese women, they don’t show their grudge and envy openly. They get back at their foes surreptitiously instead, again by means of verbal communication.

As mentioned numerous times earlier, causing open conflict is never a goal for a Japanese woman. She skillfully hides her real feelings under the cover of pleasantries. Here are some examples.

3-3-1. Avoiding open conflict 1

Whenever female friends start going into self-deprecating jokes such as “I always fall for the wrong men” and “My butt’s too big,” the immediate and automatic Japanese female response will be: 

“That’s not true!”

Although what she truly thinks under her skin is:

“That’s so true!”

In order to dodge the risk of creating enemies in her social circle, a  Japanese woman would never make fun of a friend in her face, or in front of many others openly. She would go ahead and do so with a closer friend in a private place, such as the lady’s room or online chat

3-3-2. Avoiding open conflict 2

When it’s time for a Japanese woman to meet the boyfriend of a close friend, a lot of critical comments come to mind but are expressed in the form of kind words. For example, if the boyfriend appears fully clothed in high-fashion brands, she may say:

“Looks like he’s into fashion.”

While the words she swallows are:

“And nothing else.”

Men who bathe in high-brand apparel are considered dumb-witted as it seems like they can’t tell or think what’s fashionable for themselves and so instead cover themselves in expensive clothings that cannot possibly be unfashionable. Therefore some women think that these kind of men may indeed be able to make money, but not adept at using it.

But of course in almost any culture, it’s not nice to announce that you think your friend’s boyfriend is deficient of braincells. And so the average Japanese woman chooses to accentuate the positive.

3-3-3. Competing under cover 1

Mixer parties called Goukon 合コン are a common ritual among socially active university students and young professionals seeking new ventures in the dating market. A group of men and a group of women (usually 3 or 4 each) who don’t know each other get together and mingle to see if anyone of the counterparts are worth seeing for a second time. Each gender group consists of an organizer and his/her friends and friends of friends. 

In these parties, fellow female participants are nothing but antagonists. Friendship seizes to exist temporarily and the women turn into hunters who compete in seducing attractive men.

In such a contest, the first impression counts a lot, like it does in a job interview. There are no rules to what you ought to wear to a casual party like this of course, but Japanese women expect each other to dress nicely but modestly so as to keep it a fair game.

That means dressing in outfits that show cleavage or too much thighs is like bringing a baseball bat into a wrestling match. So when another participant comes dressed in a way that will highly work to her advantage, the feedback a Japanese woman will give may be:

“You look so different!”

Which of course means:

“You look like you’re trying to outdo us!”

When the Goukon begins, the modestly dressed women may try to disarm the lawbreaking contestant by saying something like:

“Be careful. They could see your bra.”

By pretending to look after her friend like so, the Japanese woman succeeds in prompting the friend to cover up her weapon because not many women possess enough cheekiness to say “No, these are deliberately exposed.”

3-3-4. Competing under cover 2

When women start discussing their body sizes and shapes, it’s a sign that they’ve started skirmishing. When a woman claims she has put on weight, her peers will automatically respond with the diplomatic remark of:

“What? You look fine.”

This may seem to be a harmless pleasantry coming out of kindness, but some women admit their dark thoughts behind it:

It would suck if my friend went on a diet, became pretty and made a boyfriend while I’m out of luck.

Apparel store staffer (28), comment from a survey conducted by the the Women’s Linguistic Society of Japan, Fusosha, 2014.

I kind of do want her to feel OK about eating more and then stay or grow even fatter. So I don’t hesitate to respond supportively even towards visibly obese females.

Secretary (25), comment from a survey conducted by the the Women’s Linguistic Society of Japan, Fusosha, 2014.

The best way to avoid competition is to prevent the entrance of competitors. Although diversity of body figures have started to be accepted in Japan, being obese is still considered equivalent to surrender in the game of male-hunting (Only 4.8% of women are obese in Japan according to WHO data as of 2016).

3-3-5. Competing under cover 3

Skirmishing around their physical appearance may even happen during a Goukon, right in front of men. 

When the conversation has found itself discussing a rather wide female participant’s assets in the chest-area, a cunning Japanese woman may make a comment to the effect of:

“I’m jealous. I don’t have ANY boobs.”

What this seemingly self-degrading comment is actually doing is prompting the male counterparts to look at her to realize how fit she is compared to her plump peer. 

If there is a pair of hills amidst a plain, a man would find value in it as it creates a pleasing contrast with its surroundings, and thus may give it a special name. For example “boobs.” But a pair of hills amongst other hills would not be considered as valuable because it is a mere part of the scenery. So a man would instead put a name to the scenery as a whole. For example “fat.”

My point is, it’s not just absolute size that matters for men. It’s also about the pair’s size relative to its surroundings. Alluring attention to her own fit body is strategically wise.

3-3-6. Espionage

For a single Japanese woman who is not dating anyone at the moment, hearing good news in the love-life area from a friend is virtually terrible news. She doesn’t want to be left behind and become the one girl among her group of peers who’s still looking.

Leveling with peers in most aspects of life (like fashion, fitness and work) and gaining a slight advantage in one (like love-life) is a Japanese woman’s ideal. Not the other way around.

So when she asks a fellow single-but-not-dating-anyone friend the following question:

“So how are things going?”

Her sole interest is in whether or not her friend has betrayed her and moved forward with life. 

3-3-7. Sedition

After the unfortunate event of being outstripped by a female friend in the love race, a Japanese woman may try to see if she could bring her friend back to where they were together before.

Upon getting together with the friend in question and discussing life with her boyfriend,  she may ask:

“Your boyfriend’s cute/hot. Don’t you get worried sometimes?”

This may either be an honest and innocent question mark, or an attempt to prompt anxiety. If anxiety leads to distrust towards the boyfriend and ultimately the relationship is jeopardized, yay! She will swoop in to be the supportive listener and hear her friend out… and perhaps encourage a breakup. 

3-4. Family life survival strategies

The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law have been eternal foes throughout Japanese history. In most cases, the bride becomes a member of the groom’s family and there is practically no way she could get along perfectly with another female who is a whole generation elder and had grown up in a completely different environment and house rules – the mother in law. 

The conflict of the female in-laws is so common that it has been a popular theme for Japanese soap opera for ages. Typically, things get pretty messy from early on in the marriage, as the mother-in-law strives to domesticate the newcomer into her family with her own set of rules and policies, while the daughter-in-law tries hard to adjust herself to the new family culture but eventually explodes due to excessive stress caused by merciless pressure and harassment from the mother-in-law. 

In many cases the husband falls short of becoming the fix of this struggle, because from his eyes, it’s a battle between

  • his beloved wife whom he has decided to live life together, and
  • his mother who has brought him up till now

It’s virtually impossible to choose a side for many men, it seems. But when a resolution is not found, the conflict can become the definitive reason for a divorce. 

Back to the wife’s point of view: for her, the mother-in-law is a despicable beast, but on paper, she will be a family member for a sizable portion of her life, and she will not be able to avoid seeing her for New Years and other important family events.

So the solution many married women end up reaching is the “in from one ear and out the other” strategy. They let the mother-in-law say whatever pleases her, all the while pretending to agree, with a smile, to every horrid, self-centered and subjective utterance she makes: “My grandson needs to see me twice a month,” “You’d better teach your daughter some manners,” “It’s a woman’s job to keep the house immaculately clean no matter how busy you are.”

Once the daughter-in-law realizes that doing as the mother-in-law wishes is not an obligation but just a stupid option, she attains peace in her mind, and does not have to stress herself out by trying to adjust every part of her life. 

Again, disagreeing with others outright is not a wise approach in the world of Japanese women. It’s their amicable smile and nodding that disguise their real anger and frustration, thereby allowing them to maintain peace and order in their lives. 

4. Getting along with Japanese women

Japanese women are living under very complicated circumstances, being restricted by traditional local culture and also liberated by modern global trends.

The first step to take in order to get along with them is to try to put yourself in their shoes. Bear these in mind:

  1. Japanese women always try to maintain peace in any relationship
  2. However, they are constantly in fierce competition with other females
  3. But they try to avoid hurting others’ feelings
  4. Japanese women therefore communicate indirectly
  5. Japanese society has traditionally expected and rewarded women to play a supportive role for men
  6. However modern Japanese society expects women to gain social and economic power
  7. Therefore Japanese women acquired complex social skills to navigate themselves in this paradoxical world   

With these in mind, you will have a better chance in seeking friendship or romance with a modern Japanese woman. Good luck!