This is the first article in our brand new “Myth-Busters” series that attempts to provide definitive answers to readers’ questions about Japanese culture, language and concepts. If you’ve ever asked yourself “Is it really true that the Japanese…..?” then just ask us! We’ll let loose the RocketNews24 hound dogs to track down the answer.

Our first myth-busters topic, prompted by a question from a Canadian reader, is hakoirimusume (箱入り娘) or “Daughter in a box,” used to describe a girl who grows up protected by her family, as if being kept in a box. The term originated in the Edo Period (1603-1867), but do such shielded daughters still exist today?

Our hound dogs are on the trail! Results after the jump.

The term hakoirimusume is familiar to all Japanese people. A quick search on the Internet reveals the term has been used as a title for movies, manga and a TV drama series. In addition, it is the name of a brand of mikan oranges, and the title of a sliding block puzzle game. It is even the name of an all-female idol group (from 2014) ハコイリ♡ムスメ (yes, spelled with a heart in between).

▼A hakoirimusume puzzle game app. Notice how the daughter, the red 娘, is kept surrounded by family members (father, mother and brother, and then grandparents).


Naoko Takemaru, a PhD and assistant professor of Japanese who specializes in Japanese Language Studies and Gender Studies at the University of Nevada defines hakoirimusume as, “A young single woman who leads a sheltered life with her protective family” in her book, Women in the Language and Society of Japan (McFarland, 2010). She goes on to write that it is “mostly a thing of the past because of a steady increase in the number of young women who live away from their family for education and career.”

▼Not the traditional image of a hakoirimusume!

7008695607_1916a36fcb_kFlickr (Jonathan Kos-Read)

Curious, I asked some Japanese people, in the format of on-the-street-interviews, what they thought of the term. Takehiko Saiki, a professor who teaches mostly women at Chugoku Junior College in Okayama Prefecture says, “The image that comes immediately to mind is a girl who lives a sheltered or protected life. To me, these girls are rare today. I would say I’ve met only one or two girls who I think might have been a hakoirimusume in the past 20 or so years.”

Junko Ogura, a middle-aged woman with an 18-year-old son, said: “I know of a hakoirimusume! When she was in high school back in the late 70s, she was not allowed (by her father) to go on a school trip, because she had to spend two nights away from home, with boys. But this case is old. The term itself is changing its definition. I think these days, every child is a hakoirimusume (daughter in a box) or hakoirimusuko (son in a box), and it means more like ‘spoiled child.’”

We asked Takemaru about this and she agrees, adding, “The term is definitely changing its definition particularly because of the ongoing declining birthrate.”

So, there you go! The original term hakoirimusume is still common in pop culture as a moniker for movies, comics and games, but is largely obsolete when it comes to practice. In addition, the term seems to be changing meaning perhaps due to children being increasingly coddled by their parents who give them the means to do what they want.

Is there something about Japanese language or culture you find hard to believe? Let us know in the comments section and we’ll put the RocketNews24 hounds on the case!

Featured Image: Flickr (Jorge Jaramillo–cropped)