Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
When you hear the word menopause, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Depending on where you ask this question, the answers may be very different. In Japanese, menopause or ‘konenki’ has a very different meaning compared to that understood by women in North America.
So what is in a name when it comes to konenki? Based on the general attitudes towards aging in Japan, konenki lacks the ability to instill fear about menopause. Instead of being ‘the end’ of life as Western women lament, the menopause in Japan is a time of renewal while entering a new, not necessarily miserable, phase of life.
The Japanese translation for menopause is not a direct syllable for syllable linguistic trade-off. Breaking down the three parts of konenki to understand the word’s origin may seem like mere semantics. But each component packs a powerful punch on its own; put the three together and the social undertones are unmistakable.
Ko: means ‘regeneration’ or ‘renewal’
Nen: refers to year or years
Ki: describes ‘season’ or ‘energy’ in some contexts.
Menopause in Japan is a time of renewal during mid-life years bringing a sense of new purpose and growth. It is not a time to mourn what has occurred in the past but a time to embrace the future possibilities.
Konenki refers to a much longer transition phase that includes multiple facets of a woman’s life. On average, Japanese women enter menopause around age 51 similar to women in the West. Konenki refers to roughly ages 40-60 or what some might term middle age or use the more recent label of perimenopause.
Of course, Japanese women’s bodies do undergo the same physical transitions during menopause as women around the word, complete with uncomfortable symptoms and the end of menstrual periods. Still the menopause phase in Japan presents a gentler easing into advanced age versus the Western images of slamming into old age and a life devoid of joy or purpose.
To be sure, Japanese women enjoy one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world. Moreover, the traditional Japanese lifestyle habits including diet and mobility help ensure a higher quality of life in one’s twilight years.
Konenki vs. menopause What's in a word?
Having a more positive term to describe life aging permeates Japanese society with messages that life does not end once the glory of youth fades. Indeed wisdom and experience are celebrated in daily cultural life; older citizens are not shunned as they are in the West. Venerated seniors continue to contribute to family life and society-at-large.
Yes, women can no longer bear children and must face the inevitable passage of fertility that plays an important societal role. But Japanese women understand that their new life phase means new ways to educate and foster upcoming generations and to share the lifetime of experiences that break free of the ‘mother-first’ role responsibility.
When compared to the negative connotations about menopause that abound in Western society, konenki is a refreshing take on aging. Menopause for women everywhere presents challenges and as the saying goes getting older is not for wimps. Still, the power of konenki reminds us that life is not over just because menstruation ended.
Research for this article included ‘Menopause Across Cultures’ written by Dixie Mills, MD and presented on www.womentowomen.com