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Japan: About40, and what next?

Changing times in Japan are opening the door for a new style of television. About40 (Japanese site), aired on Tokyo network TBS for the first time on April 11th, has done something novel for a Japanese TV drama: aim at the age bracket of 35 to 45 year old women, and hit it big [ja]. The new drama, which registered an average viewer rating of 15.7% with its first episode, targets the late-thirties demographic of single childless Japanese women who entered the work force during the 80s bubble, captured in the newly-coined term “arafo” (アラフォー). While this first wave of 30-something “makeinu” have featured as the regular butt of jokes in the media, their rising numbers are turning the tables, with one of four women above 30 now single remaining single after turning 30.


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About40 features actress Amami Yūki/橋部敦子 in the role of 39-year-old psychiatrist Ogata Satoko/緒方聡子 [ja], highly successful, single, and touchy about her age [ja]. Her friends include 35-year-old magazine editor Morimura Nao/森村奈央 [ja] (played by Otsuka Nene/大塚寧々 [ja]), who claims she will not marry, Okumura Natsumi/岡村恵太朗 [ja] (played by Fujiki Naohito/藤木直人), a 33-year-old male psychiatrist who has just joined the hospital where Satoko works, and housewife Takuchi Mizue/竹内 瑞恵 (played by Matsushita Yuki/松下 由樹). The show is produced by screenwriter Hashibe Atsuko/橋部敦子.

Around40 starring Amami Yūki
Around40 starring Amami Yūki

Blogger sugarvine82, who is herself single, reflects on the first couple episodes of the new show:

2週分見終わって、思った。「確かに身につまされる」
もちろん身近にあんなに綺麗な女医さんもいないし、セレブな(私この”セレブ”)って言葉大キライですが)
友人もいないけど、でもうちのダンナさまがその時言った台詞
「40って折り返し地点やもんなあ。」
そう!そうなんだよな。なんとなく折り返し地点に近付いてるのかな、でも
まだまだ自分は若いと思っていたのにな、という複雑な気持ち。
今までは突っ走ってきたけど、ちょっと一息つけて「これでよかったのかな?」なんて
ふと思ってしまう気持ち。誰にでもあるんだろうな。
今子育てしている友人はまだ子供も小さいからそんな風に思うこともないのかも
しれないけれど。

After seeing two weeks [of the show], I thought: “This really hit close to home.”
Of course I don't have such beautiful women doctors like that in my immediate circle,
and I don't have any celebrity friends either (I really hate that word “celebrity” [see translator's note below]), but
the remark that my husband made when he saw it, that:
“40 years, I guess that's the halfway mark, right?”
Right! Exactly. I guess I am approaching the halfway mark,
although I felt that I'm still young — it was that kind of complex sensation.
I've been racing along up to now, but then just to suddenly take a pause and think:
“Have I been doing the right thing?” — that was the feeling. I guess everybody gets [that feeling].
Although I guess my friends who have kids right now don't think about this yet, because the kids are still young.

Note: “celebrity” in Japanese has a slightly different meaning from the English word, signifying someone who lives a rich and extravagant lifestyle.

Blogger poncoco on the other hand, a housewife, related more to the character of Matsuhita Yuki:

天海祐希は独身の医者の役なので私の今の人生には当てはまる事がないのですが
松下由樹の役どころは専業主婦。子育てにも一段落し、周りを見ると同じ世代の人達が
何かを始めている。
自分は?...と焦り出すわけですよ。
私もこの数年、同じような事を考えていました。
「このまま主婦で終わるのか?」「なにか出来る事は?」「社会から取り残されていないか?」
そして2年半前からパートを始めました。それでも何か足りなくて半年前からは雑貨屋も・・・
20代から30代になる時には感じる事のなかったこの焦りや不安な気持ち、
アラフォーになると強く感じるのは何故なんでしょうねぇ~。

Amami Yuki plays a single doctor, so there is nothing that applies to my life currently,
Matsushita Yuki on the other hand plays the part of a housewife. She has settled down and is raising children,
and when she looks around herself at the friends of her generation, they are starting something new.
And what about me?… [she thinks this and] gets impatient.
I've also been thinking the same thing these past several years.
“Will it end here just like this, as a housewife?” “Is there something I can do?” “Have I been left behind by society?”
Then as of two years ago I started working part-time. That wasn't enough, so from a half-year ago I started also [working in a] general store…
This feeling of impatience and of anxiety that I never had when I went from my twenties into my thirties,
I wonder why I sense this so strongly as I become an “arafo”.

Not all bloggers were quite so moved by the show. Blogger Katsuragi Aoi (桂木碧) questioned points about the show's plot:

でも なぜ年上の男性ばっかり紹介するんでしょう
なんだか 見ていて納得できません
しかも 相談員のひとも コレ以上条件にあった方はあなたにはいません
とか はっきり言っているし・・・・・

But I wonder, why do they only introduce guys who are older than her?
Somehow I see that and I'm not satisfied.
And on top of that, the counseling staff tell her that she won't get anybody with better conditions than this
They say it straight out like that…

Blogger yomuchan2006, meanwhile, couldn't relate to the idea of “arafo” at all:

「Around40」はちょっと見たけど、つまらなかったのでパスしました。
今後は見ないだろうと思います。やはり先週の1話目で、どうにも興味を
持てなかったということかも・・・。
40前後の女性に感情移入できないし、「アラフォー」なんて新語を
流行らそうとしているあたりにも、なんか共感できないので・・・。

I saw a bit of “About 40″, but it was boring so I passed on it.
I probably won't watch it again in the future. Last week was of course the first episode,
and maybe it was just that I couldn't get interested in it…
I can't empathize with 40-year-old women, and also just the fact that they seem to be trying to make this word “arafo” a new fad, I can't really relate…

3 comments

  • Eric Hu

    “one of four women above 30 now single”
    It is so incredible…

  • Hi Eric,

    Sorry that was a bit too incredible, it should read “remaining single after turning 30”.

  • Eric Hu

    Hi Chris,

    I got your point and don’t doubt on that, but it seems such a big amount to me. Is that mean that hundreds of thousands of people they arenot going to be marryied at all in japan?

    and I think as far as these TV drama are prepared for those kind ladyies, most of guys will not like it anyway.

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