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Ranma 1/2 in Japanese Society

by Caroline Seawright


Ranma and Akane

I've started reading a rather interesting book called "A Half Step Behind, Japanese Women Today", a book that comes from a series of interviews with many Japanese women, trying to find "honne" (deep truth) underneath all the "tatemae" (surface truth) about women in Japanese society.

Ranma, it seems, turns out as such a jerk because he seems to be like the typical male, but more so (especially towards Akane). And, well, it seems that it was probably a GOOD thing that he was away from Nodoka for so long ... otherwise he may just have turned out even worse than he already is.

"As the child gets older, the mother - not the father - is the disciplinarian. There is little scolding or corporal punishment. Instead, misbehaving children are excluded from family activities or, as they get older, are simply made to feel guilty because they have disappointed their mothers. Children are indulged (we might say "spoiled") until they enter school..."

From another book, A Japanese Mirror, I believe it was called, says that Japanese mothers let the sons do _anything_ they want, and the only punishment is to say that "Mother doesn't love you any more" if they get too out of hand. The Japanese mother forges a very strong bond with her son, by babying him all his life - except when she withdraws her love as punishment. So many Japanese men end up doing _anything_ their mother wants, to keep her love - even right into adulthood. Many men would even do what their mother says, even over their wives.

Which leads to another point - the women often take on the "role of mother rather than wife to their husbands". So when the man gets home after work, he expects to be babied, and for whatever he says to be done. ("This is known as 'mi no mawari', around-the-body care")

Ranma already is shown to have part of the "mother complex" - he loves his mother so much that he's willing to risk seppuku to see her (though later on he does run off... ;p ) But in this case, instead of Nodoka withdrawing her love in "punishment" for failing to be a man, Ranma has to look out for being forced to commit seppuku because he disappointed his mother!

It seems that Ranma could be such a jerk due to being raised by Genma, an even worse jerk (probably due to being spoiled by his mother!), but also because of the role of Japanese men in society - that women are there to do what they require. It's not quite a case of "all females are lower than me, so should be treated in this way"... rather, it's more like "this is the woman's role, and this is mine, so this is how we have to act". But, even though the woman gets the rough end of the stick, they do hold power above the men, in the home! (Though if a woman doesn't 'gaman' (endure, I think), she either runs away or kills herself. There is divorce, but this is seen as a very bad thing, esp. for the males - who could easily lose their job ... the company may think that if he can't handle home life, how could he handle a job?)

Which leads to another point - Akane isn't the traditional girl. She isn't one of the girls who is shy, raised meekly to obey males, to do everything they want as they want it... she is strong. (But it is normally a bad thing for a woman to be "strong" in Japan, as can have connotations of "being oppressive" and "caring for one's self" above anyone else. But she is only strong in the areas that she won't baby Ranma, and she expects him to be faithful to her. Although she is not very good in many feminine pastimes, such as cooking and sewing, etc, she does fit in very well with her friends at school, and within her own family. She is also an enormous attraction for the boys at her school - maybe they want someone different from the traditional Japanese girl. But, like many girls her age, she is shy with boys - and the way these lot were introduced to her (thanks to Kunou), she isn't very happy to even try to get to know any of them!

But whatever the attraction is - Ranma has that attraction for her, too. Maybe he's not really used to girls obeying him - after all, he was running around with his father for most of his life, and he probably didn't even know what girls were till he met the Amazons in China! ;p So, like many Japanese teenagers, he is rather shy around girls. Maybe his extra brashness is due to being so shy - so he can't relate to her properly, so treats her worse. And this is compounded by his feelings for her.

Now, on to engagements. "Marriage in Japan is the building block of society, the brass ring, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, beyond which most young women rarely think." It also seems that there is a magical age in Japan, where a girl has a used-by date for getting married. "Terireiki", the appropriate age for marriage, for a woman, is 25 or younger. ("Women are like a Christmas cake - no good after the twenty-fifth.") Akane is definitely set up to be saved from her "old maid" years, since she is engaged to Ranma. (Not that she really needed it, with all the boys chasing her, but ...)

There are, it seems, a few different ways that people are married in Japan, today. There are: Omiai (arranged marriages), mukoyoshi (where the husband is adopted by the wife's parents, so he takes their family name - a rather unmasculine thing to do), and love marriages (in vogue with the young people in Japan). "At least one in four marriages are still arranged."

Ranma and Akane have had their omiai. Unfortunately their first meeting as male and female wasn't... hmmm... a very good meeting. It seems that their parents gave them the old fashioned omiai - "Omiai was still an arranged marriage and not just an arranged meeting. If love came later, all well and good. If it didn't, it didn't. In any case, the purpose of marriage - the continuity and strengthening of two families - had been accomplished."

Though there was no go-between - the two fathers set it up themselves - it was still an omiai. They arranged the marriage, but set it up for Ranma and one of the Tendou girls. They'd let the children decide which girl Ranma would have. Other than the option they gave, it was all set up. One day Ranma would be brought to the Tendou house, he would meet the girls, and one of them would be picked, and the two would get married. And it was Akane that was chosen. Problem was that Akane wasn't one of the obedient Japanese girls who would go quietly and happily into the marriage.

(In a traditional omiai, a go-between sets up a meeting between two families of similar background, to cement an alliance between the two families. The female and the male only meet once, then on their next meeting, it would be either their engagement party, or their wedding day.

A modern omiai is slightly different - the male and female can look at photos and applications for omiai of the perspective spouse, and they have the right to veto the omiai...though that is rarely done, because of the honour the children should show to their parents, if the parents wished for one person in particular for the omiai. Then the perspective couple can meet, they can date for a little while, and then they would have their engagement party and then their wedding day.

If an omiai was set up by the parent, and the child refuses to marry, or if they want to marry a love match, and the parents do not approve of the partner, yet they still marry, the family can disown the child and throw them out of the family!

Since the two clans - the Saotome and the Tendou clans - seem to be both old (they have ancestral homes in Toukyou!) and they are both martial artist families, it would probably be very bad for Ranma and Akane to refuse the omiai. Akane seems to break off the engagement a few times - but they always get back together again. Maybe it's not only to do with honouring their parents that they get back together... Maybe it's Akane "withdrawing her love" from Ranma, like a mother would do when her child is bad, and then giving it back once he's been punished enough?)

But because of that 'problem', Akane's strength and her personality, Ranma himself ended up falling in love with Akane ... And Akane, in her turn, ended up falling in love with Ranma.

But the tatemae of the situation is that they don't want to get married, and that they don't really like each other. The honne of the situation is that they are in love with each other ... but they both don't really want to admit that honne, even to themselves. So while they both try to figure out the honne, they keep up the outward tatemae of the situation. But still, along the way, the honne of the situation comes shining through.

Another problem could be that Ranma is an only son. Firstly this means that, as an only son (and as the first son), he will be the one to organise all the family get togethers, etc. In actuality, it would mean that it would be _Akane_, his wife, doing all the work. This may not matter so much, though, due to the destruction of the Saotome house, and Genma and Nodoka having to live with them, anyway.... along with the rest of the Tendou family. Though if Nabiki and Kasumi get married and move out, it may be different - but Souun may want to continue the family name, and have a husband (usually of the eldest girl) adopted into his family. So Kasumi could always be around for the celebrations.

But, other than that, being the only son means that he would have been the only one to get attention from the mother, and never had to share it. This puts extra pressure on the wife, as she would be hounded by the mother-in-law, to make sure that her precious son is being looked after properly. This isn't really a problem in Ranma 1/2, but it could also be a reason for Ranma's jerkiness towards Akane - he wants all the attention himself. I guess this is shown because Ranma is jealous over anyone who wants Akane, right from the start, even before he fell in love with her. There are even books in Japan for future wives of an only son, one of them being "How to Get Along With an Only Son", because it is such a big problem!

Some people talk about Ranma taking Akane's family name when they marry, because of the Tendou Doujou - that he'd be inheriting something from the Tendou family, so wouldn't he have to belong to that family to do so? Although it is done in Japan, that a man takes a girl's family name if he's inheriting from the girl's family, there are a few reasons why Ranma would _never_ do this.

In Japan, mukoyoshi (where the husband is adopted by the wife's parents, so he takes their family name) is seen as rather unmasculine thing to do. So no way will Nodoka let Ranma do that - she'd rather have him commit seppuku than take his wife's name - she wants a MANLY son, remember!

Plus, families sometimes even disown the men that marry into a girl's family, or are treated badly by the family.

And another point - Ranma is an ONLY son. If Ranma _was_ to do the unmanly thing and be adopted by Souun, so becoming Ranma Tendou, what will happen to the Saotome line? Somehow, I don't think that either Nodoka OR Genma wishes to kill off the Saotome clan.

The Tendou family still has two more daughters. If someone WAS going to marry into the family, it is the eldest daughter who marries a man to take on the family name, not one of the other daughters.

There's no way that Ranma would take Akane's family name, due to honour, masculinity, carrying on the family clan, and because the youngest daughter of a family is one of the least likely to take the husband into the family - especially since she'll be one of the first of the girls to marry. The Tendou family still have two more daughters to go, remember! So there's no way that Saotome Ranma would become Tendou Ranma!

Now, why would Ranma be so disrespectful to Genma?

Okay, from what I remember in the "Japanese Mirror" book, a Japanese family is the mother and her children, and the man is there to get the money and support them. Since the father is always out - working, drinking with other guys from work, going on business trips, playing pachinko, maybe going to find bar girls, or whatever, the father is doesn't really have much to do with the children. In "A Half Step Behind", it says "Although interest is growing in 'my-homeism,' meaning men want to spend more time at home with their families, so far it's just a catchy phrase and far from a full-fledged trend." About the only time a father gets to spend time with the family (the Japanese family being the mother and children - a father is just an "attachment") is on his day off - Sunday. Then they all go out for a day, maybe to a zoo or a park.

Seeing that the children don't get to spend much time with their father, the mother is the head of the family to the children. And so in Ranma 1/2, it's probably a way of satirising this. Although Genma raised Ranma for ten years of his life, Ranma's still more interested in his mother, and he only shows love towards her, and only disrespect towards Genma. Maybe he's upset that Genma stole him away from the mother-child relationship that he should have gotten?

But it may just be making fun of the situation. In "Japanese Mirror", it talks about a manga called "No Good Daddy" where the mother and children just beat the father and do bad things to him all the time. No respect there for the father, either!

I guess it all comes from being an "attachment" to the family, rather than the head of the family... The Japanese head of the family is the mother!

Nodoka also doesn't seem to care about Genma at all. From reading, it seems that Genma, being around all the time, and not at a steady job like he should be, is probably thought of by Nodoka as "sodai gomi". ("giant garbage" (sodai gomi), is slang for a retired husband." It is also "the big, coarse, hard-to-dispose-of junk like broken refrigerators." This is because many Japanese women find that a husband who is around the house all the time is just in her way, and he's totally useless around the home - he doesn't help her with her work, and all he does is sit around moping aimlessly. A saying is "teishu wa jobu de rusu ga ii" - "husbands should be healthy and absent." So, Nodoka doesn't really WANT Genma back, being a pile of garbage by being around her, ordering her to do this and that for him. She only wants her son back ... So this is a reason on why she ignores Genma like she does ... maybe she loved him when he was young, and when he was capable of getting a job to support her ... But after so many years alone, she no longer wants that stability, nor the man who left her for a 10 year (or more) training trip. She doesn't want sodai gomi around!

Some people talk about Ukyou being Ranma's iinazuke, and therefor she should have a right to marry Ranma as much, if not more right, than Akane does. Here's why I think that this is incorrect, as I read the book.

Ranma was given a say in the matter of the modern omiai with Ukyou. That's why Genma asked him, so that Genma had a way to get out of going through with his deal to Ukyou's father, which he didn't want to do - it is shown that he had ever intention of keeping the promise he made to Souun to give Ranma and a Tendou girl an omiai. In Japan, children have the right to veto any modern omiai, which Ukyou's was. But they can't veto a traditional omiai, lest they be scorned by their families, and probably by others in society, too.

Ranma didn't want Ukyou, which was made perfectly clear, so the omiai with Ukyou was broken off with Ranma's refusal. They never did have the actual meeting, which is the omiai itself ... just the set up for one. So since they never did omiai, then they can not be called "engaged".

That's why Genma asked Ranma - because he gave Ranma the right to veto the omiai or not. Thankfully, Ranma chose to veto it, so Genma escaped and stole the yatai.

Maybe Ukyou and her father thought it was a traditional omiai, so Ukyou is under a mistaken impression that she is to be Ranma's bride, but the situation clearly shows that Ranma was given veto rights by Genma... and Ranma refused the omiai with Ukyou. No omiai occurred.

This is why I believe that Ukyou has no right to Ranma.

Now onto cuteness in Japan. (I haven't finished the book, and I just found this part now, so ...)

"Most Japanese girls want to be known as kawaii (cute). That's the highest compliment a young woman can be paid... kawaii connotes an innocence and naivete - almost a childishness - that is considered very attractive in girls." Even Japanese women, it seems, act like and want to be thought of as girls. (Well, Hinako's got that bit down, alright!)

This seems to be very serious in Japan - and Ranma's insult (kawaikunee), is a very hurtful one to Akane. It's not only saying that she doesn't look pretty, but that she's got a bad personality, that she's not attractive at all, and she's very unfeminine. We all know that this is not what Ranma really believes, since he himself has called her kawaii many times.

But there is also a phenomenon in Japan of girls who take being kawaii and try to be even more so - they are called burikko ('buru' to put on airs and graces, 'ko' child/girl). This is Azusa. "the word and concept first gained popularity ... with the original burriko, cutesy-wutesy singer Seiko Matsuda... one of a long line of innocent, virginal talent-o dressed in frilly, petticoated party dresses and adored by Japanese boys and girls alike. In a female variation of the Peter Pan complex, burikko try to act younger and purposely vacuous... They wear cute bows, cute shoes, cute ribbons, and cute, girlish party dresses... But the real tip-off is the giggling. All Japanese girls tend to giggle a bit, but the burikko have raised the art to new heights."

Why do they act like this? It seems that Japanese boys find burriko girls attractive. They act cute and act like they don't have much of a mind of their own - and I guess it all comes down to the mother complex... if a girl acts like that, then she'll be the perfect one to look after and baby him. She'll be totally devoted, and she'll look after him, and she'll do whatever he wants, and they'll all be happy. She'll stay at home - she obviously isn't 'strong', and will not want to go out and get a job, and so she'll be the perfect wife and mother. (When a Japanese girl marries, she finally becomes a woman, the book says.) So the act is a way to bring security to the girl (though in some cases it may not be so much of an act as something ingrained into them.)

This is why Azusa has the voice she does in the anime - she's the burikko of all burikko girls in the Nerima area! She has the act in the manga, she dresses the right way, and her speech patters in the Japanese are right ... so, although some may complain about her voice, it's the only proper voice for Azusa! After all, she's burikko! And that's why she's got so many fans - she's a burikko idol skater!

The next person of interest is Konatsu. Although male, he's been brought up in the traditional manner fitting a Japanese girl. "Japanese women are trained to be shy and to defer to others, particularly men. Several well-known proverbs pervade their thinking. 'Resignation is the first lesson in life.' 'A woman's thinking is shallow'." And look at Konatsu - he's been raised with these ideals in his mind, and so he's shy, he is deliriously happy when someone thanks him, or gets him to do less work than he did with his step family, and he works very hard with very little in the way of reward - yet he's still thankful and happy. Konatsu is the traditional of all traditional girls in the Nerima area!

Then his step family ... though it seems like a Cinderella story, there have been many, many old stories of step mothers abusing the daughter of the family in Japanese tales. Sort of like the Japanese mother-in-law vs daughter stories, there are the step-mother vs daughter stories. Konatsu is the victim/daughter in another one of these stories.


Buruma, Ian. A Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture. (London: J. Cape, 1984)

Cherry, Kittredge. Womansword. (Japan: Kondansha International Ltd, 1987)

Condon, Jane. A Half Step Behind, Japanese Women Today. (Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1992)


Feel free to contact me regarding this, as I'm still pretty much a junior on Japanese society... but hopefully this will help understand some of Takahashi's satire on her society.

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2000 - present

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