The sad fate of Japan's fire horse women.
- By Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer
Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is assistant managing editor for online at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley, and master's degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
Could being born in a year deemed unlucky wind up a self-fulfilling prophecy? That may be what befell Japanese girls born in 1966, otherwise known as a year of the fire horse, or hinoeuma in Japanese.
Women born in such a year, superstition holds, have troubled marriages, mistreat men, and cause early deaths for their husbands and fathers. It was one such woman, according to legend, who nearly burned down the capital in 1682, after setting a local temple on fire for love of a man who worked there. (She was sentenced to burn at the stake.)
In 2010, researchers Hiroyuki Yamada of Osaka University and Satoshi Shimizutani of Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau checked in on women born in 1966, the most recent year of the fire horse, to see how they’d fared. The women, the researchers found, were in fact more likely to have been divorced than those close to them in age (born just a few years before or after). They were also less likely to have completed higher education, and their average household income was nearly 500,000 yen (about $5,000) lower.
Although the researchers did not specifically explore the reasons for these women’s relatively poor life outcomes, Yamada and Shimizutani believe the likely cause is discrimination. After all, Japan takes the fire-horse curse seriously: Births fell 15 percent in 1966, compared with the average of the previous two years.
The next fire-horse year is 2026, not so far away. Before then, the authors write, Japan should work to understand how fire-horse women have suffered from "unfounded suspicions" in order to ensure that baby girls born under the sign of the hinoeuma are seen as blessings, not unhappy accidents.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |