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Older Japanese men lost in the kitchen turn to housework school

Masahiro Yoshida, left, and Takao Watanabe take notes during a class at the Better Home cooking school in Tokyo.
Masahiro Yoshida, left, and Takao Watanabe take notes during a class at the Better Home cooking school in Tokyo. (Taro Karibe for the Washington Post)


TOKYO — Masahiro Yoshida hung up his suit jacket and pulled on a pink apron over his button-up shirt. After avoiding the kitchen for most of her 65s, it was time to cook.

As with most Japanese men, Yoshida’s mother cooked all of his meals until his marriage, when his wife took on this role. But after retiring four years ago from her job as a government administrator, she proposed that they share meal preparation. Yoshida agreed but got lost making basic dishes. YouTube tutorials were confusing.

So, like a growing number of older men here, he signed up for classes. His six-month course at Better Home Cooking School covered skills such as how to mince garlic, chop mushrooms and shop for meat – all essential for the stroganoff he would attempt before setting off. ‘graduate. “I had no idea how complex the cooking process was,” Yoshida admitted.

Strict gender roles have governed domestic life in Japan for generations. Men often retire without ever having held a paring knife or washed a dish. Those who lose a spouse often find themselves unable to perform the most rudimentary tasks. An old Japanese saying—”Danshi-chubo-ni-hairazu,” or “men should be ashamed to be found in the kitchen”—has scared husbands of most household chores. Even those who wanted to help generally lacked the know-how.

The evidence for this is not merely anecdotal. According to a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Japanese men take on fewer household and childcare responsibilities than their counterparts in the world’s wealthiest countries. On average, they only spend 40 minutes a day on the wetsuit, five times less than their wives. Only 14% said they regularly cook for themselves.

However, as the country ages and the average male lifespan extends into the mid-80s, some women are drawing a line and declaring that they are done with their husbands.

“The biggest problem is that men don’t see themselves as the responsible party when it comes to household chores,” said Yasuyuki Tokukura, who heads the nonprofit group Fathering Japan and advises the government on gender issues in the household. Household. The traditional division of labor persists despite the large number of women who now work outside the home; indeed, dual-income households are more than twice as numerous as single-income households.

Quivering resentments often come to a head once a man’s career ends and his wife begins to question the arrangement, Tokukura said. “The power dynamic is changing. The woman asks, ‘Why do I have to do all the cleaning if you don’t bring in any more money?’ ”

These days, many women lure husbands like 65-year-old Yoshida into the kitchen. However, men must first learn the basics.

The government is ready to help, with some community centers offering free classes to teach cooking, cleaning, ironing and laundry.

Motohiko Onoue is the founder of the Kaji Osu School of Home Economics, though he tends to look more corporate than culinary in his starched shirt, navy blue pants, and leather dress shoes. On a Friday morning this month, he gathered a dozen students around a stove at a neighborhood center in Shiki, a town outside Tokyo, to demonstrate how to make healthy chicken nuggets from zero. The session was part of a six-week course that covered how to cook with miso, clean around stovetop burners and remove stains from clothes.

When Onoue opened his school five years ago, the other men laughed at him. “A housekeeping school for men?” It’s ridiculous,” he was told.

Still, he saw a niche market with a lot of potential. Attracting students was not easy at first; only one man came to his first group lesson. It was then that Onoue decided to take his lessons to the men, working with community programs to advertise the classes whenever retirees showed up with questions about pension benefits or their national health insurance policies.

He even offers students private consultations to focus on the aspects of housework they find most daunting. To encourage critical thinking, the recipes don’t come with the usual step-by-step sequence. “Men who are used to thinking business need a problem to solve. I give them basic materials and instructions, and let them figure it out,” Onoue said.

These classes are also popular with men who suddenly find themselves widowed or divorced and unfamiliar with the basics of self-care.

Takashi Kaneko, 74, decided to get involved after his wife died of liver cancer four years ago. He lived mostly on microwaveable food and found himself desperate for companionship. Not only did his wife take care of all the cleaning and cooking, in addition to working as an administrative assistant, but she also took care of his social life. After his death, Kaneko realized that he didn’t have many friends of his own.

He learned to house his adult children like his wife once did. “When my children come to visit me, it’s usually after they’re tired from work and want to relax. If their mother was alive, surely she would have cooked for them and made them feel at home, so I want to do the same,” Kaneko explained.

Classes introduced him to men in his suburban neighborhood outside Tokyo, who were also trying to learn household skills. Five of them were cooking a meal recently, with Kaneko standing straight in front of the stove and directing the frying pan while the others took turns placing mounds chopped chicken in oil.

“Don’t overdo it,” he warned 80-year-old Kikuo Yano, laughing as he rounded the nuggets with a spoon.

Yano took lessons this fall to surprise his wife of 43 years.

“During all this time, my wife did everything,” admitted the retired architect. “I didn’t do anything in the house. If I don’t know how, I guess there’s nothing I can do. But if I learn to do it, then it’s time for me to help.

He now gets up early to iron his clothes. Ten times he has practiced a curry dish which he plans to serve to his family on New Year’s Day. “See this shirt?” he said, running his hands up and down his sleeve, a smile spreading across his face. “I ironed it myself.


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