A cartoon series has recently been making headlines in Japan. The manga series Himozairu by Japanese cartoonist Akiko Higashimura tells the story of unemployed Japanese men who decide to become great housekeepers to attract Japanese working women.
This did not go over so well with Japanese men according to Anna Fifield, the Tokyo Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
Higashimura received an onslaught of online criticism that she was portraying Japanese men in an unbecoming and demeaning way. And in a surprising move, she has apologized and announced that she will not be continuing her series
"The men that Higashimura portrayed in her comic are called 'himo' men," says Fifield.
The word 'himo' literally means string in Japanese, but the word has taken on a pjeroative connotation to mean leash.
"These [himo] men who had few skills and job prospects of their own would train themselves to do housework and make themselves more attractive to career women and that way they would improve their prospects," Fifield explains.
Higamshimura based the cartoon on stories that she had heard from her male assistant and several male friends.
Japanese Twitter did not take too kindly to that idea.
"[Criticism] was all online, all anonymous, but certainly it made an impact on Higashimura the cartoonist," Fifield says. "She said that she had to take the public reaction on board when she was decided to suspend the cartoon now, after only two instalments."
This seemingly silly kerfuffle over a cartoon illustrates a much deeper issue in Japan, says Fifield. For women in Japan, having both a career and children is difficult, according to Fifield. Even taking maternity leave is a struggle. Women are subject to harassment, so much so that there is even a concept in Japan called "matahara."
"Both the manga and the matahara case feeds back into this very workaholic culture here in Japan, where people are expected to work incredibly long hours," Fifield explains. "What the manga was picking up on was perhaps some men dont want to get involved in that. And the situations that many women face here is that its impossible to work a 20-hour day and raise a family. So this really hit a societal nerve."