No Woman is Christmas Cake: On Mariji-harasumento (“marriage harassment”)

Japanese culture and I formed a deeply loving if complicated relationship over this past year and a half. I have the greatest opportunity to learn about it on Japanese soil, which is awesome. I’m one of the lucky ones. However, at times, Japanese culture and I discover irreconcilable differences. Christmas cake is one such issue.


Christmas cake refers to a woman who is over 25 and not married. The idea behind this term is that Christmas cake is only good and only wanted until December 25th. Past that day, it’s no good and nobody wants it. In Japan, this term applies to women as well. If a woman isn’t married past the age of 25, then she’s no good and no one wants her.

I’m 23 years old and single. To well meaning Japanese men and women, they hear “nearing the expiration date” and forewarn me with a smile about Christmas Cake. At first, I just changed the subject and moved onto another topic. Now, I make a point to say, “女性はクリスマスケーキではない (Women are not Christmas Cake).”

Women are quite capable of being good wives and mothers past the age of 25, Japanese or otherwise. I don’t know why Japan has this idea that woman over 25 are somehow “used goods” or “too old.” Women are not like cake at all. When we age, we age like people should. We get (hopefully) smarter, wiser, and stronger. Beauty comes from experience, and to deny women experiences makes me a little angry with Japanese society.

Marriage is an experience, true, but in Japan marriage for most women means the life of a housewife. I can’t see myself getting married until far, far into the future. I want to travel, write novels, build up my career (whatever that is), and a thousand other things before I “settle down.” Quite frankly, I don’t see myself as ever really “settling” anywhere. It breaks my heart to think that any woman feels trapped due to this cultural concept to marry before they’re ready. No woman should feel worthless because she’s over the age of 25 and still free to do as she pleases.

A woman’s worth, in my opinion, shouldn’t come from her age or her relationship status. I am absolutely Western like that, and I refuse to change my views on the subject. If a woman decides of her own volition she wants nothing to do with marriage and children, then by all means revel in the freedom! In America, such a choice is becoming more and more common, for both men and women. In Japan, such a decision is rare and nearly impossible to consider.

Colin P.A. Jones’ article “Blame it on the hara: harassment vocabulary makes us all victims,” defined Mariji-harasumento (“marriage harassment”) as “any sort of commentary that makes a woman feel bad about still not being married.” I think the term Christmas cake definitely falls under that category of harassment. Japanese women, and foreign women such as myself, get constant reminders from well meaning people about our age. The idea persists in Japan that women must want to get married, want to become mothers as soon as possible, and must find a man to fulfill that ambition before it’s too late. They think of mariji-harasumento not as harassment but as encouragement.

For many women, I’m sure it is a dream to become a wife and mother, and that’s an honorable ambition. Finding someone to love and making a family shouldn’t be looked down upon as a life choice, by any means. Moms are awesome. They put up with all the crap from their kids and still love them. They take care of all the stuff we don’t think about as kids, not just cleaning and cooking but also scheduling doctors appointments for the whole family, getting everything ready for birthday parties, and, if you’re a Japanese woman, the household money.

Japanese Marriage photo

There’s a lot that goes into motherhood and the responsibilities of being a wife, which is even one more reason I think 25 is actually too young for marriage. When you’re a mother, you’re responsible for a whole other life besides your own, maybe even more. To me, that’s a little terrifying if I think about it too hard. Babies are especially prone to rolling around unexpectedly and toddlers like to walk into things. I baby sat enough to know children are not low maintenance even at the best of times. They need food, from you. They need love, from you. They need everything, from YOU. See? Terrifying.

Getting mariji-harasumento from a Japanese man is the worst. It sometimes takes every last drop of patience I have in my body not to lash out with some barbs about misogynistic cultural acceptance of outdated norms. It helps that I don’t know enough Japanese to yell all that out. Even if I did know the language for it, I’m sure I would confuse a Japanese man who holds firm to these ideas that I don’t want to get married at 25. Instead of understanding it as a decision, he would probably assume something is wrong with me, because that’s what all women want. I would never be able to convince him otherwise, but I can battle this cultural difference the only way I know how: Stubborn determination. And so, I just smile and say for the thousandth time, “女性はクリスマスケーキではない (Women are not Christmas Cake).”

Married or single, 25 or 105, Japanese or American, women are always good.