Leave your hat on

Let us turn our eerie multifaceted gaze to matters of the lexicon, good friends. Exhibit 0: the January 2008 issue of Very.

[Cover of Very, 2007/01]

As far as I can ascertain, Very is a magazine for ex-flight attendants now married to staggeringly wealthy salarymen who mostly just throw sacks of yen in through the front door while their wives raise the kids and work part-time from home in creative fields.

(Further, more serious discussion in ISHIZAKI Yūko (石崎裕子)'s paper, 『女性雑誌「VERY」にみる幸福な専業主婦像』 (Google cache), Images of the happy homemaker in the women's magazine "Very". Abstract: What I said in the paragraph above, plus the unsurprising data point that many people find the idea of not working full-time quite attractive.)

Very's top headline this month is:


Wife, mother, yome, woman. Maximally versatile clothing for "actor me".

The gist is clear, but what's with that one word I left untranslated? That's the interesting part.*

The most common English translations of yome are "wife" and "bride". But it doesn't seem to mean that here. "Wife" is already listed, and it seems very unlikely that even the most ingenious winter coat could double as bridal wear. Clearly, we have to think laterally.

Give up? Try "daughter-in-law". And indeed, inside the magazine we find instructions on how to dress when visiting your husband's parents for new year's. (Summary: Conservatively.)

"Daughter-in-law" isn't a great translation of yome either. When little girls brainwashed by teh patriarchy draw a picture of themselves wearing a gigantic white gown and say they want to be an o-yome-san when they grow up, they ain't longing for a mother-in-law. (They mostly just want the dress.)

It would bring us cloesr to the truth to say that both words mean "wife", but tsuma (妻, the word I translated as "wife" above) means "wife as half of a married couple" while yome means "wife as entrant to a family", thus covering both the "daughter-in-law" and "bride at the ceremony" angles.

(Two asides for specificity:

  1. At one point yome did mean, specifically and apparently exclusively, "daughter wife of one's son", but usage has broadened in the centuries since then. While we're at it, let's note that tsuma used to be non-gender-specific, i.e. it meant "spouse".
  2. These evolving usage patterns ensure that you should be able to find exceptions to the general definitions above without too much difficulty and no warranty express or implied etc.)

I was talking about this with a friend of mine, and his comment was: "I'm more curious about who gets to see the 'woman' side, if not the same man who sees the 'wife'." Yah, good point. The official Very answer is "female friends". Very only grudgingly recognizes the existence of husbands, let alone other men. This is not an oddity of Very's, I think, as much as it is a reflection of the tendency towards (self-)segregation by gender which is still an important influence on social behavior in Japan.

Note also, by the way, that "daughter" is not a role that the women of Very play. Tactful acknowledgment of the fact that when Japanese women go visit their own parents they generally change into an old tracksuit and let it all hang out, or reinforcement of the old tradition in which women are no longer considered members of their birth family if they join a different one through marriage?

And on that note, merry Christmas and happy holidays.

* Other only slightly less interesting things: the word kimawashi, a compound verb translatable in pieces as as "wear-rotate" (i.e. wear in rotation in a variety of outfits); forcible conversion of the noun yakusha (役者, actor) into an adjectival noun ("na adjective"), using quotation marks to validate the irregularity. (Back)

Popularity factor: 9

Chris Lowe:

Surely you mean in the first point "wife of one's son", rather than "daughter of one's son"?

I agree that 'woman' is likely to be for female friends - I doubt that the magazine espouses letting your husband see you in the same way that your female friends do - 'wife' is a very different role to being a 'female friend'. There are different expectations to support in the two roles.

Perhaps the woman can only stop being an actor when visiting her own parents, so daughter isn't included? I'd expect that even presenting the 'woman' side is still acting, as there will be much competition and judgement in that sphere. Only her parents don't need to be impressed.


Fixed! Thank you.

Yes, the separation between husband time (weekends and evenings) and female friend time (daylight hours on weekdays) is quite clear in the magazine. The fashion is different too. ("Men like simple, conservative clothes" but when going out with your female friends, put on big jangly bracelets to express your individuality.)

And yes, ultimately I think that it is because you don't need to act "daughter" that it isn't there. Tracksuits ahoy!


Does "female friend time" include time spent with fashion-forward, non-threatening, チャミング male friends? The Japanese woman certainly seems to appreciate his sense of color, if the description for the baby harness below is any indication. And big jangly bracelets? Lord knows he would be the first to commend a well-chosen アクセサリー.



hi really enjoyed reading your blog these last few months. wish you a very special kentucky fried christmass.


Simon: Oh dear... I assume that that's just a color name that the distributor is using innocently, but I take my hat off to you for finding that. "Available in faggot or yellow"... it's like a sixth-grade bully infiltrated the marketing department.

~: Thanks! And you too!


In modern Chinese, 嫁 (jia4) is a verb meaning when a woman marries a man. (it's 娶 qu3, for men). Interestingly it has neither the wife nor daughter-in-law meaning. According to the dictionary this verb meaning dates back to the Tang dynasty.


Interesting.. I just checked in my dictionary and for "yome" it gives me xífu (媳婦, "wife [son-woman] woman", by the characters) and xīnniáng 新娘 ("new daughter") -- any comments on usage there?


媳婦 is indeed daughter-in-law, while xīnniáng 新娘 pretty much means "bride" (hence the 新)


I forgot to mention: the 娘 character is also quite interesting to me. In Chinese it can mean "mother" (although not often used anymore), but 姑娘 means young girl. And the meaning on daughter is no where to be found?

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