Here’s one entrepreneurial magazine editor’s philosophy: “I want to change the notion that marriage equals happiness, that love equals happiness.” The editor is Yuki Yamamoto and his new magazine, Dress, is due out next April. Its target readership is limited but growing – exponentially.
Two Japanese neologisms are key to understanding what’s happening here: “arafo” and “bimajo.” The first is deliberately garbled English: “around forty.” The second means literally “beautiful witch.” The point, explains Aera (Dec 3), is a quest for eternal youth and beauty by mature single women determined to stay that way.
Single life is spreading, elbowing married life aside. As of 2010, government statistics show, more than 10% of Japanese women in their 50s were single, having never married. The technical term is “lifetime singles.” As for women in their 30s, 34% are unmarried. Yamamoto’s philosophy is for them. What constitutes fulfillment for these women? A career, for one thing. And if not that? Beauty. Unfading beauty.
Take note, entrepreneurs: here’s a new and expanding market, and the time to penetrate it with suitable products is now, says Aera, before competition crowds the field.
What kind of suitable products? Anti-aging ones, primarily. Traditional women’s magazines have always filled their pages with beauty tips, but it was beauty of a certain kind – beauty “befitting one’s age,” namely middle age. Out with that. Single “arafo” women don’t want to look “arafo.” They want to look like “bimajo.” Dress magazine will be aimed at them.
Career women have other priorities, and Aera shows us something of them too, in a separate piece titled “Unmarried elder sister versus married younger sister.” That’s the typical pattern nowadays: elder sister ditching marriage to pursue a career and living at home with her parents, while younger sister moves out, marries and has kids. “Versus” suggests rivalry, and there’s plenty. One younger sister Aera speaks to, a single mother of two, resents her elder sister’s monopoly of their parents’ attention. The younger, juggling a job and child-rearing, is run off her feet; her parents would be handy babysitters from time to time but are too busy dancing around the elder sister to have time or energy to spare. The last straw, as far as the younger sister is concerned, was overhearing the elder one say to the children one day, “I’m counting on you to look after me when I’m old.”
Another family in a similar situation – except that the younger sister’s marriage is intact – lives with different submerged resentments. The sisters’ mother, in her 70s, does all the housework and grumbles, “I have two husbands,” the second one being her demanding elder daughter. The mother is healthy now but may not be forever, and the younger sister wonders, “Who will look after her if she gets sick?” She doubts her sister will. She wonders, too, what the elder sister has to look forward to, and fears, despite her remarkably successful career, it may be no more than a lonely old age.