Written by Marisa LaBello | Photos by Craig Schreiner
Associate professor Akiko Yoshida, right, watches as students write their findings on a white board in her Gender and Family in Japan class for a group exercise in Hyer Hall on the UW-Whitewater campus on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.
As a single woman living in Japan at age 28, Akiko Yoshida belonged to a generation where the rise of singlehood was a concern in her home country. She experienced first-hand the negative interpretation of single women and the blame cast at them for declining birth rates.
"Women were stigmatized and unfairly criticized if they were single after age 25," Yoshida said. "They were considered ‘leftovers' and categorized as selfish, materialistic or unfeminine."
Yoshida was one of the women who decided to leave Japan, determined to explore a life in the United States. She pursued her education at the University of Wyoming and University of Oklahoma. While she had no plan to marry, she ended up meeting her soulmate in America and settling in Wisconsin after being employed at UW-Whitewater. Her life experience inspired her to write.
An associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Criminology and Anthropology, Yoshida has expanded on research from her doctorate dissertation to publish "Unmarried Women in Japan: The Drift into Singlehood." Routledge, a cutting-edge publisher for humanities and social sciences, is publishing the book.
In the book, Yoshida examines the life history of 40 married and unmarried women in her native country. Prior to 1980, women in Japan were expected to marry before age 25 to fill the traditional role of a mother and wife to solidify femininity. Yoshida's research provides insight into the reconstruction of social conditions, identifies norms and analyzes the obstacles women have faced since the economic boom in Japan during the 1980s. Career opportunities changed the typical expectations of women and left them with decisions that affected their reputation in the country.
"With more job openings and advancements, women did not know what to do as they faced internal contradictions," Yoshida said. "The choices were a career or motherhood, and as some women did not have concrete plans and chose rational decisions, it created a drift."
With her years of qualitative research, Yoshida has uncovered cultural differences between the United States and Japan, with significantly less attention placed on singlehood in America.
While her book is intended for academic use, Yoshida aims to inform the general public about the cultural phenomenon in Japan and empower women who experienced unfair criticism and injustice.
"Many of my friends are single women, and I felt it was part of my job to help."
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