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Older Japanese men, lost in the kitchen, turn to housework school


Masahiro Yoshida, left, and Takao Watanabe take notes during a class at the Better Home cooking school in Tokyo.
Masahiro Yoshida, left, and Takao Watanabe take notes during a class at the Better Home cooking school in Tokyo. (Taro Karibe for The Washington Post)

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TOKYO – Masahiro Yoshida hangs up his vest and pulls a pink apron over his button-down shirt. After nearly 65 years of avoiding the kitchen, it’s time to cook.

As with most Japanese men, Yoshida’s mother prepared all the meals for him until he got married, when his wife assumed that role. But after he retired four years ago as a government executive, she suggested they share the meal preparation. Yoshida agreed, but was left with the hassle of preparing the basic dishes. The tutorials on YouTube are confusing.

So, like more and more older men here, he signed up for classes. His six-month course at the Better Home cooking school covers skills like how to chop garlic, chop mushrooms and buy meat – all integral to the snack he’ll try before he graduates. “I didn’t know how complicated the cooking process was,” admits Yoshida.

Strict gender roles have dominated family life in Japan for generations. Men often retire without ever picking up a paring knife or washing dishes. Those who have lost a spouse often find themselves unable to do the most rudimentary jobs. An old Japanese proverb – “Danshi-chubo-ni-hairazu” or “men should be ashamed when caught in the kitchen” – has frightened husbands with almost any housework. Even those who want to help often lack the know-how.

The proof of this is not merely anecdotal. According to a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese men take on fewer family and childcare responsibilities than their men in any of the world’s wealthiest countries. On average, they spend only 40 minutes a day on matching, five times less than their wives. Only 14 percent reported cook often for themselves.

However, as the country ages and average male life expectancy stretches into the mid-80s, some women are drawing lines and claiming they’re done picking up husbands.

Yasuyuki Tokukura, who runs the nonprofit group Fathering Japan and advises the government on gender issues in households, said: “The biggest problem is that men don’t see themselves as responsible when it comes to gender issues in households. housework. The traditional division of labor persists despite a significant number of women now working outside the home; indeed, dual-income households are more than twice as common as single-income households.

The smoldering resentment often comes to mind Once a man’s career ends and his wife begins to question that arrangement, Tokukura says. “Motivation changes. The wife asked, ‘Why do I have to do all the housework if you don’t bring any more money?’ “

Today, many women drag husbands like Yoshida, 65, into the kitchen. However, men must first learn the basics.

The government is ready to assist, with some community centers offering free classes to teach cooking, cleaning, ironing and laundry.

Motohiko Onoue is the founder of the Kaji Osu women’s homemaking school, though he tends to look more like a company than a chef in a powdered shirt, navy blue pants, and leather shoes. On a Friday morning this month, he gathered more than a dozen students around a stove at a neighborhood center in Shiki, a city outside Tokyo, to demonstrate how to make healthy chicken nuggets from head. This session is part of a six-week course covering how to cook with miso, clean around stove burners, and remove stains from clothes.

When Onoue started school five years ago, other men laughed at him. “Household school for men? That’s ridiculous,” he was told.

However, he saw a niche market with a lot of potential. Attracting students is not easy at first; Only one man came to his first group lesson. That’s when Onoue decided to bring his lessons to the men, working with community programs to advertise the courses whenever retirees popped in with questions about benefits. retirement or their national health insurance policy.

He even counsels students individually to focus on the aspects of housework that they find most difficult. To encourage critical thinking, the recipes do not come with the usual step-by-step sequence. “Men are used to thinking business needs problems to solve. I give them basic materials and instructions, and then let them figure it out on their own,” said Onoue.

These courses are also popular with men who suddenly find themselves widowed or divorced and don’t know the basics of self-care.

Takashi Kaneko, 74, decided to apply after his wife died of liver cancer four years ago. He lives mostly on microwaveable food and finds himself desperate for friends. Not only does his wife take care of all the cleaning and cooking, in addition to being an administrative assistant, but she also manages his social life. After her death, Kaneko realizes that he doesn’t have many friends of his own.

He has learned to receive his adult children the way his wife did. “When my kids come to visit, it’s usually after they’re tired from work and they want to relax. If their mother was still alive, she would definitely cook for them and make them feel at home, so I wanted to do the same,” explained Kaneko.

The classes introduced him to men in his suburban neighborhood outside Tokyo who were also trying to learn family skills.. The five of them were preparing a meal recently, Kaneko standing tall in front of the stove and manipulating the frying pan while the others took turns placing the mounds. minced chicken in oil.

“Don’t overdo it,” said Kikuo Yano, 80, with a laugh, warning the nuggets with a spoon.

Yano took this class fell to surprise his wife of 43 years.

“Last time my wife did everything,” admitted the retired architect. “I didn’t do anything around the house. If I don’t know how, I guess there’s nothing I can do. But if I’m learning how to do it, it’s time for me to help.”

Now he gets up early to iron his clothes. He had ten times practiced the curry that he intended to serve to his family on New Year’s Day. “You see this shirt?” he said, running his hand up and down his sleeve, a smile on his face. “I ironed it myself.”

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