Modern Madame Butterfly

Karen Ma, Author
Karen Ma, Author Tuttle Publishing $12.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-8048-2041-7
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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In this readable, anecdotal study, Ma, a Hong Kong native, explores marriages between Japanese and Westerners, and particularly how, despite tremendous social change, the stereotype of the Japanese woman as a ""passive and selfless creature that is easily exploited"" thrives in the minds of many Western men. After tracing the roots of the stereotype from Lafcadio Hearn's depictions of Japanese women as ""compliant, doll-like objects of fantasy,"" Ma goes on to show how the decades-long drive to Westernize led many Japanese to perpetuate the myth. The most compelling chapters describe younger, urban Japanese women who, armed with jobs and large disposable incomes, are staying single longer, often rejecting more traditional-minded (and often sexist) Japanese men in favor of the ""kindly gaijin"" (foreigner). But Western men still often cling to the Madame Butterfly ideal: as one American man living in Tokyo put it, ""Because Japan is at least thirty years behind in the feminist movement. . . . Let's face it, this is Disneyland."" Meanwhile, Japanese men are increasingly finding love with Western women, whose different cultural values seem to free the men of many sexist assumptions. Throughout dozens of ""case studies"" detailing the spectrum of Japanese-Western love relationships, Ma maintains a refreshingly candid, down-to-earth tone, as when she finally notes, ""The bottom line is: People see what they want to believe.'' (Mar.)
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