I don’t think it’s the best idea to listen to what other people say about a country without a pinch of salt. Well, that could be said about anything – and I don’t just think so because I love salt and think therefore EVERYTHING should be taken with a pinch of it from media to medicine. There is a long list of “Things I heard about Japan before I came that I haven’t found to be true at all” and an even longer list of “Things I heard about Japan that I’ve found to only be slightly true in certain limited circumstances.” (And then I’ve had to counter many a “things we’ve heard about America, is it true?” with a baffled, “Well, maybe in some part of the country but not one that I’ve ever met.)
Take the left-over Christmas cake metaphor. This was told me as an example of Japan’s extreme sexism. A woman was supposedly called this after her 26th birthday – as in the day after Christmas, she was no longer “edible.” She became “stale” – and it was such a horrific image that it stayed strongly in my mind. It could easily be possible – Japan does have a strong tradition of eating cake on Christmas, which is a romantic holiday more than the family or religious event we have in America. And there is a cultural tendency to disdain unmarried women of a certain age, at least until they get old enough to be revered as “aunts.”
But as to whether that particular phrase was in common usage… I’ve brought it up in casual conversation with a few female Japanese friends, and they’d never heard of it. Perhaps it is used “in some part of the country” but not, evidently, theirs. I imagine a touchy expat like myself heard it, and was so struck that they spread it around as a regularly spoken metaphor, even they only heard it from the lips of some particularly sexist Japanese person.
So let’s set it aside, out of the ranking of “things not good about Japan.” It’s not that I don’t know Japan has issues, but I don’t believe in making it seem worse than it actually is.
And on that note, have some Lily Allen: