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Sex and the City: The Search for Kitto, Motto, Zutto Happiness in Manhattan and Tokyo

14.05.2009 | 18:30

Janet Shibamoto-Smith, Professor, University of California

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In both the U.S. and Japan, young women often yearn to go to the big city to find glamour, true love, and the lifelong "happy ending." Such women are the centerpieces of such popular dramas as Sex and the City in the U.S. and the torendī dorama 'trendy dramas' of Japanese television. And Japanese televisions audiences – female audiences in large measure – consume both U.S. and Japanese dramas in quantity. But what, precisely, are viewers shown in these dramas about the kinds of lives that will allow them to find kitto 'certain,' motto 'more,' and zutto 'lifelong' (Asahi Shimbun, January 7, 2009) happiness as they leave youth behind and, on the verge of 40, embark on "the rest of their lives"? This paper presents the results of an analysis of two groups of no-longer-so young urban women as they seek to find, or accept that they already have achieved, personal happiness – as they are represented in two very popular televisual texts: the American Sex and the City (the movie) and the 2008 Japanese television drama, Around 40 ~ Chūmon no Ōi Onnatachi. Both very popular in Japan, these texts provide glimpses into the similarities and differences in American and Japanese narratives of how women do – or should – search for happiness and how they can attract Mr. Right and find true love. These texts also provide a rich source of information concerning what constitutes an attractive (and loveable) woman in terms of dress, demeanor, and language. An analysis of the different narratives in the two texts can not only illuminate the very different gender politics surrounding the two sets of women in their respective contexts of Manhattan and Tokyo, but also offer a contemporary answer to the old question: What do women want?


Janet Shibamoto-Smith is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. She is a specialist in Japanese language, society and culture, with an emphasis on the interaction between ideology and practice. Publications include Japanese Women's Language (1985) and the edited volume Japanese Language, Gender, and Ideology (with Shigeko Okamoto, 2004). Her latest project addresses contemporary cultural models of femininity/masculinity and romantic love through textual analyses of popular print and televisual materials.

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