The old concepts of marriage and the right age for marriage might have changed or deviated in Japanese society. The concept of appropriate marriage age differs from country to country and even within the country itself. In India for example, where multiple races, multiple religions, and multiple customs are being practiced, the concept of marriage age is not uniform. While it may be difficult or practically impossible to find an average age for marriage age in any country, it is possible to find the average trend in any society.
Social customs have played an important role in deciding the Tekireiki or the right age for marriage in the past. After industrialization, the economic conditions play a major role apart from social customs. Family values is another factor that decides the right age for marriage. Many of these values are under threat as the globalization takes its ride over human relations. The values have to be revised to update with the changed living conditions and social relations.
The legal age for marriage in Japan for a man is 18 and that for a woman is 16 in comparison with 18 and 16 respectively in India. The law goes its own way and the individuals go their own way. Though the legal age is much lower in Japan, the average age of marriage is around 30 for both men and women. Wikipedia says the average marriage age is 30.4 for men and 28.6 for women in Japan. In comparison, in India, the average marriage age is around 26 for men and 20 for women. The southern state of Kerala, where the literacy rate is higher (more than 95%) than other parts of India, the average marriage age 29 for men and 23 for women roughly. Searches on the internet suggested these best averages.
Our discussion on right age for marriage toured through social stigma associated with unmarried, new concepts of living together instead of marriage and so on. Japan has a high educational level that is in par with other developed European and Americal economies. High education and the change in the traditional concepts of marriage are linked each other. There was considerable pressure on men and women to get married when they approach the marriage age set by the society. Parents and relatives start putting pressure on individuals to decide on their married life.
The social pressure to get married is more evident on women in any culture. The society puts pressure on individual to get married, but it does not solve the individual’s problem to reach to a state where he/she can get married and lead a married life. Marriage is an easy process, but to lead a married life is difficult. This realization is not only from own experience but also from the observations on the recent trends in divorce and broken families. The society has its own way to tag those who are not married while closing both the eyes on the individual reasons.
A woman, not married even after completing her education and entered into a job in India may be viewed with weird eyes. Most of the Asian societies are male dominated and the criteria they draw to define and measure unmarried individuals are biased and based on conventional and most of the times a feudal standpoint. Unfortunate though, that is the way society has been working for centuries. The mainstream society differentiates those who choose to travel alternate paths with clearly discriminating words often derived from local slang. While Tekireiki can be fairly translated to the right age for marriage, it has become a tool to put psychological pressure on single women. The negative connotation of the word Tekireiki is such a pressure tool. Another uncivilized slang ‘Urenokori’ means ‘Unsold goods’ puts more pressure on single women to get married at the right age for marriage. When I typed Urenokori in Hiragana and changed to Kanji I got this one – 売れ残り. I guess the Kanji should be fine as I remember the Kanji 売 during the preparation for N4 test. Urimasu売りますmeans to sell and urerumono売れるものmeans sellable goods or things that sells. Nokori残り means the left out things.
As English Poet and critic Samuel Johnson says ‘Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.” What is to be done if marriage has many pains and celibacy has no pleasures? The interpretation of Johnson’s quote is very clear that the marriage though with many pains is the preferred one. Finally it is an individual decision. The decision to marry or not depends on many factors including social, economical and individual experiences. Marriage is a powerful institution in our society. It has its own traditions and rituals to be performed from time to time. To determine the right age for marriage must be an individual decision. What the society has to do is to learn to respect the individual’s decision rather than measuring all individuals with the same scale.
Young men in Japan were lucky to be reminded by their parents well before they reach Tekireiki. Parents searched for the appropriate bride for him. Their criteria to find a suitable bride for their son centered around concepts like a good wife for their son, caring daughter-in-law for them and a wise mother for their grandchildren. The Social structure of Japan has undergone severe changes after the war. Parent’s role in marriage has taken a backseat or pushed aside. Often they are not consulted. From the level of an important social institution, Marriage has come to an individual’s decision level. Thus, marriage has become an individual affair, more precisely an affair where two individuals are involved.
It must be in this context that we approach ‘Urenokori – unsold goods’ in the modern Japanese society. Japan has changed from the concept of ‘powerful buyer selecting goods’ to ‘powerful goods selecting the buyer or declining the buyer’ In the worst case the goods decide themselves not to get sold on the market!