[From June Issue 2011]
Annually, the publisher Jiyu-Kokumin-Sha selects its popular word of the year and awards the “You-Can New Word/Popular Word Grand Prix” prize to the individual or organization that coined it. For 2010 the winner is, “joshi-kai” (girl gatherings) which refers to parties or leisure gatherings for women only.
The “Monte Roza” chain of izakaya (Japanese pubs) helped to popularize the word by creating a special, women-only party menu called “Wara Wara Joshi-kai All-You-Can-Eat-and-Drink Plan” that was launched in November, 2009 at one of their Wara Wara pubs. KAWABE Sunao, a member of the company’s administration department, says that, “On average, some 50,000 customers per month order the joshi-kai plan at about 370 Wara Wara pubs. And at some izakaya, 80% of all week-end parties are for women only.”
In Japan, there’s a misconception that izakaya are only for men. “As a matter of fact, we still get more male patrons,” says Kawabe. “But the number of females and women-only parties began to increase several years ago with more parties for female work colleagues and leisure gatherings of housewives. We noticed that there weren’t many of those happening considering the economic power of women today. So we had the idea of creating a menu specifically for them,” he adds.
The word “joshi” means young girls, but also refers to a women involved in sports, such as joshi soccer or joshi singles. “We thought ‘joshi’ was a more inspired word than ‘josei.’ That’s how we settled on the name ‘joshi-kai.’ Taking into account Japanese women’s social nature, we offer them more time to enjoy chatting. We also try to emphasize our desserts,” Kawabe explains.
With the success of “joshi-kai,” many women have started going to izakaya without worry. And, more and more of them are also taking their kids along. They’ve realized that an izakaya’s private room with its tatami or straw mats is a good place for children to play or sleep. This new fad is being called “izakaya Mom parties.”
The word “yama girl” (mountain girl) was initially used in fashion and other similar magazines circa 2009. It refers to women who mountain-climb wearing fashionable outdoor outfits as well as to those who just enjoy wearing that clothing. “Mountain climbers used to be mostly middle aged and male,” says YAMAGISHI Yuko, business manager at Sakaiya Sports. “Then, around 2006 we started getting more female customers.”
“It’s probably because some nearby mountains have become popular with beginner climbers, such as Yakushima’s world heritage site and Mt. Fuji during the summer,” analyzes Yamagishi. “Also, manufacturers started designing more stylish clothing such as mountain climbing skirts (which are worn with tights or leggings). And that’s how the mountain girl boom started.”
“Most mountain girls like to climb for fun, with ease and in style. They climb only with other women, to enjoy lunch, some chatting and to take beautiful pictures. They are mostly single and in their 20s and 30s,” says Yamagishi. “It seems that they do little day-to-day training. One day, one of them even asked me if sneakers would do, so I told her it would be risky.”
That said, these days more mountain girls do have full climbing gear and can also read maps, impressing Yamagishi with their ability to be “active and strong.” “Most of them have jobs like men. So even if they are told it’s a male pastime, they still give it a try as long as they think it could be fun. Once they take a liking to the mountains, they get better and better as they learn and vigorously train. Their outfits are quite expensive, so they also want to wear them out on the town. They have that practical side to them,” she admits.
Photography is yet another popular pastime among women these days. Called “camera girls,” finding a female who can use a complex camera isn’t that rare anymore. “It used to be that those who bought high functionality cameras were mostly men. Women only bought them if they were professional photographers,” says MATSUDA Haru of the “camera girl” department at Biccamera Inc. “The number of female customers has really shot up. There are all kinds of women, from students to company employees to housewives, with the largest age group falling in their 20s to late 30s.”
“Most women today have a compact camera,” adds Matsuda. “Having a camera hung around their neck has caught on. And since mobile phones come with cameras, taking photos has become part of their daily lives.”
“There are many reasons why women graduate from using a compact camera to an SLR. Some want to take more beautiful pictures of their children while others want to put photos on their blogs. There’s also an influence from entertainers who use SLRs. Besides, manufacturers have stylized cameras, and thanks to technological advances, they offer SLR cameras which are not too heavy for women to use. I definitely think that’s another factor,” she explains.
“Generally speaking, male customers long for big, heavy, black cameras with lots of functions while ladies prefer cute, easy-to-use, lighter ones. For “camera girls,” the camera is partly a fashion statement. More stylish camera bags and straps are more available now than ever before. “Camera girls” enjoy coordinating them beautifully with their clothes. Besides, regardless of their age, women adore cute things. And, it’s become much easier to find information about items they’re interested in via the Internet, so I think those factors are also behind women’s current, brisk spending sprees.”
In Japan, women are participating in more and more areas that were once considered male-dominated. This social movement is greatly influencing pastimes across the country. Their source of trend-setting power seems to stem from their insatiable curiosity and a genuine keenness to try anything that’s fun.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo