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COLUMN ONE : In Japan, a 'Goat Man' or No Man : Women are gaining more clout in relationships. As they become more independent, they demand a gentle yet strong, supportive and high-achieving spouse.


TOKYO — Yasuhiro Akimoto, a 27-year computer salesman in Tokyo, makes no bones about the kind of woman he wants to marry: a gentle spirit who will have a hot dinner waiting for him when he gets home, properly greet him at the door and arrange his shoes after he takes them off.

Noriko Suzuki, a 27-year-old editor at a major publishing firm, is equally clear about her ideal mate: a supportive man who will encourage her career and allow her to pursue her own interests. Would she have dinner ready for him when he came home?

"It's impossible," she says. "I work until 10 p.m."

In a country where serving men had been the long-accepted female role, there was a time when Akimoto would have had the pick of the crop for his doting dream woman. But these days, it may be Suzuki who has the upper hand. A simple statistic--single men now outnumber single women by 2 million--has launched Japan from the postwar condition of "a truckload of women for every man" into what the local press labels "the Era of Too Many Men."

Thanks to that statistic, along with women's growing economic independence and an average education level that now outstrips that of men, women are said to be gaining new clout in the realm of romance. They are marrying later, or not at all. They are making their own persnickety demands on potential mates. The best-known demands on their list are called the "three highs": high salary ($35,000 or more), high education (a four-year university degree) and a height of not less than 5 feet, 7 inches.

Women are also insisting on continuing careers and initiating more divorces. And in what one feminist author calls a "silent rebellion," women are balking at having babies. Japan is registering its lowest birthrate in history, a state of affairs bemoaned as the "1.57% shock" that has sent policy-makers scrambling for solutions.

On the job, of course, many women are still consigned to serving tea, making copies and earning half that of their male counterparts. But outside the office, the mini-revolution in personal relationships has forced young Japanese men into the unaccustomed role of learning to accommodate women.

In a whiff of pity and scorn, the popular magazines have avidly chronicled the various roles men are desperately playing to land an elusive lady: "Treat Boy," for instance, takes them to fancy restaurants. "Gift Boy" buys them presents. "Driver Boy" chauffeurs them around town. (At the bottom of the barrel is the all-purpose "Convenient Boy.")

The wooing doesn't come cheap. An October survey by the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank found that 40% of men spent between $225 and $375 for a single date, while 12% spent more than $750 and a few claimed to have shelled out more than $3,750. Despite such exertions, 40% of men said they were having a tough time finding a wife.

As if all that weren't enough to drive the single guy into fits of insecurity, new models of manhood are constantly being proffered. Nikkei Woman magazine, the bible for working women in Japan, exhorted its readers this year to seize the advantage and settle for nothing less than a "Goat Man."

Like the animal regarded in Japan as gentle but strong, the Goat Man is a mate of intelligence and wide interests who doesn't look to his wife as a substitute mother and who likes household chores and child care.

The brutal climate bewilders men like Akimoto.

"The kind of woman I want in Japan has really decreased--you can even say she's disappeared," he laments. "Basically, women are stronger than men now. They have their own hobbies and interests and jobs. Marriage is no longer their highest happiness. Now men have to spoil them."

Or, as feminist author Kiyoko Yoshihiro puts it, "Japan is at a turning point in the power balance between the sexes."

In the past, Japanese women who were not married by age 25 were scornfully known as "Christmas cake." Like holiday cake, the thinking went, women had a short shelf life.

Between 1975 and 1990, however, the proportion of unmarried women between ages 25 and 29 doubled to 40.2% from 20.9%, according to last year's national census. During that same period, unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 24 increased to 85% from 69.2%.

Overall, the average marriage age for Japanese women is one of the oldest in the world, having crept up to 26 from 24 a decade earlier (it is more than 27 in Tokyo). The U.S. average is 22.

The reasons are simple: economics and education.

"So many women were forced to marry in the past, but we need not marry for economic reasons now or stick to men, as in previous generations," said Mariko Sugahara Bando, a National Archives researcher specializing in issues involving women and the elderly.

Bando said that Japan's 1986 Equal Employment Law, although it did not go nearly far enough, did help secure better working opportunities for women. In 1991, the number of women in the work force hit an all-time high of 18.3 million, or 37.9% of the total.

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