Japanese Women in the Workforce

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Due to Japan’s conservative and traditional society, most Japanese women have played the role of wife and mother instead of pursuing careers. The common ideal for young women within Japan is to marry a salary worker and to raise a family. Oftentimes, Japanese women do not plan to pursue a career because the challenge of raising children is enough for them.

Japanese women also face a large amount of pressure from society. Not only must a wife cook her husband meals and make him bento lunch boxes, but she must also care for her children, dress them, keep a tidy house, make sure the children get to school on time, make dinner, bathe the children, tuck them into bed, satisfy her husband, and then plan for the next day. The vicious yet “rewarding” cycle of motherhood doesn’t leave much room for a career let alone a part time job.

Since 1990 around 50% of all Japanese women have participated in the paid labor force, however, they leave due to factors such as marriage, child birth, or to assume the role as caretaker. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave their jobs when they have children and don’t come back. If a woman returns to the workforce after having children, it is usually 5-10 years after the birth of her first child and instead of seeking out a career the majority of women take on part time jobs for extra income.

Japanese companies notoriously under pay their female employees. Women roughly earn 60% as much as men and very few women hold positions of authority such as manager or CEO. On top of that many female employees receive fewer benefits and smaller insurance policies within companies. This makes the allure of a career less enticing and deters many women. For most, job security is crucial and very hard to find.

Recently, Japan’s birth rate is on the decline. In theory this should not make sense. Women are staying home to fulfill the role as housewife so that should result in a higher or stabilized birth rate. Along with a declining birth rate Japan is also facing problems such as longer life expectancies and an increasing elderly population resulting in an economic recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to boost Japan’s economy by encouraging more women to join the workforce. However, Japan is also facing a child care crisis. Women who want to return to the workforce are faced with the difficulty of finding care for their children. Day care centers are often looked down upon by Japanese society because a child is not “receiving enough maternal care”. The Japanese perspective or normality is to see a mother with her child instead of in temporary care. So if a woman wants to come back to work after fulfilling her role in Japanese society as a mother but faces criticism and backlash by placing her child in day care (assuming she even finds a day care) it only perpetuates Japan’s contradictory views of women.

Many people believe that Japanese society and culture must change before women can be seen as equal in the work place. Societal pressure, stigmas, and sexism are so ingrained in Japanese culture that it could take decades or generations before a significant change can be seen.

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When moms migrate overseas …

Anonymous student post

As women’s rights in developed nations are slowly inching towards equality, it is practically a necessity for women to contribute to the household income in order to sustain a desirable level of living. Many women strive to pursue high paying careers, leaving them unable to tend to the task of raising their children. Thus, an increasing number of households hire women from third world countries to take care of their children. This has resulted in the Philippines becoming the world’s number one source of outsourced caretakers.

This is a great opportunity for Filipino women to financially support their family. Taking care of
someone else’s child full time requires the women to leave their countries, thus leaving a child without a parent. This has lead the government and the media to vilify these women. They claim that the absence of a parent makes these children a burden to society.

The lack of a parent in early childhood can lead to behavioral issues and have long term effects that
carry into adulthood and can affect the individuals’ self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and ability to
express feelings; thus also affecting relationships. As a child encounters new experiences, learns, and
grows, there is no doubt that the presence of a parent and proper parenting is detrimental to the proper upbringing of a child. It increases the chances of his ability to fully integrate into society.

One has to wonder how one quantifies the appropriate amount of parenting? How does the lack of a parental figure affect the child, and is the parent actually missing from the child’s life? Does the sacrifice of not being able to touch and feel your child justify the financial gain, stabilizing the families financial situation? This varies from family to family, as it depends on the child’s perceived feeling of abandonment, which depends on the mother’s involvement in the child’s daily life even though they are separated by thousands of miles. The communication between parent and child helps strengthen the emotional bond, thus lessening the perceived loss. The quality of the relationships with the rest of the family also significantly affect the child’s ability to cope with the lack of a parent, as they could help the child understand the sacrifices that had to be made. Also, the fathers coping with the loss of a partner would affect their ability to function as a parent, leaving the child even more confused, with a lot more to process, and without the needed attention and explanations. A child could be completely unaffected if the void would be filled with the necessary support. Thus, the attitude and involvement of the family’s relatives is of great importance and greatly affect the child’s ability to cope with the family’s circumstances.

The Care Crisis and Role of Gender in the Philippines

Anonymous student post

I once saw this website that catered to parents looking for child minders. What fascinated me the most was the fact that most of them specifically asked for a Filipina. After seeing this, I did not know whether we Filipinos were seen as very good carers, or whether hiring Filipinas as opposed to non-Filipinos was cheaper.

I know my mother was one before and like the people interviewed by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, my mother left me while I was still young to work abroad. Reading the extract from Parreñas’s book, I can relate to everyone’s experiences; however, I mostly identified myself with Ellen who despite the lack of a motherly figure in her life turned out to be fine. It wasn’t easy for our family, but I never felt any sense of abandonment from my mother. Of course, as Parreñas mentions, not everyone is an Ellen and I do agree with that. I’ve met countless of people like me who were also left to the care of others by their parents at a young age to work abroad, and like Jeek in Parreñas’s book, they experienced emotional insecurity.

The lack of a mother figure in the family is seen as the cause of emotional insecurity because mothers are seen as the one who is in charge of child rearing. What I found intriguing the most in Parreñas’ work was how the Philippine government blames these migrant mothers for this “crisis of care” and even called for their return home.

I recently read an article by WEF about how the Philippines are 9th in the world in gender equality. Growing up in the Philippines, I can say that compared to other countries like Japan we definitely are more gender-equal. Women fare better in education and literacy, it’s also quite common to for women to hold top positions in the workplace and they also hold political positions.

On the other hand, we’re not fully gender-equal.Women are still being blamed for rape and infidelity.There still exist this idea of women having the traditional domestic role. Child rearing is still seen as a mother’s responsibility and not both parents’. Even if both parents are working, the mother is expected to take care of the children.

Relating this to what Parreñas wrote, the Philippine government pointing fingers at migrant mothers reflects how the Philippines still has this gender ideology that a “woman’s rightful place is in the home”. Instead of casting the blame to these women who are not only helping their families but also the economy, shouldn’t the government do their part first?

In the first place, these mothers only left either because there were no jobs available for them or their wages weren’t enough to sustain the family. These are issues that should be answered by the government and not caused by being a “bad mother”. Instead of asking migrant mothers to return, the government should give support to the children who were left behind.They could give support in their education or even providing some means of communication for transnational families. Maybe in that way we can eradicate the idea of stay-at-home mothers is the model of a good mother.

As I mentioned before, there is gender equality in the Philippines but there still a lot of work that needs to be done to be a fully gender equal country.

Immigration, gender structures and their present roles

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by Ludvig Bergman

Men have since way back dominated over women with authoritative power, remnants of that might still have some effects on the relationship between the contemporary “equal” men and women in our global contemporary society. Global Woman by Ehrenreich and Hochschild describes how women from third world countries move to developed contries to do “women’s work” with hopes of a higher salary to provide for her family in her home country. Even though this method in many cases secure the financial problems, it also contributes to splitting up families, mothers leaving their underage children without the nurture and care they need.

This shows how third world citizens now take on the role of the traditional suppressed woman in developed countries where the women, due to becoming more “equal” to the breadwinning men, no longer have time to attend such matters as upbringing and childcare. The gender norms expect women to take care of the home and the children while the man should support the family and work long hours.

In the Swedish modern society where I grew up, this might no longer be the case. Men and women more and more split the parental leave between them to give each other the oppurtunity to spend time with the child as well as not loose to much days off from work because of the new addition to the family. The issue comes first when the parental leave is over and the child old is enough to no longer need constant attention from it’s parents. When both of the parents return to work, who is now supposed to take on the traditional role of the mother? This is where the immigrant nannies come into the picture. Nannies whose care for their own children gets neglected to help maintain the gender roles of the developed west.

The salary gap between men and women are in contemporary times static. Unlike past times where men were considered to be the sole breadwinners of the family, in contemporary times that no longer applies. With men no longer being the only breadwinners of the family, services such as daycare and kindergarden allows women to have a family alongside with having a career.

Maatz describes in her Forbes article “The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Pay Gap” how full-time working women in the U.S for the last decade have had median earnings equivalent to 77% of men’s earnings. That such a big difference actually exists in our modern society shows, in my opinion, how either unmotivated any change must be or how uneducated people must be of the current situation. This doesn’t only affect women’s financial status over time but have immediate consequenses regarding issues such as repayment of student loans. Women pay the same tuitions and have the same student loans as their comparative male students. The result of this financial unequality is, according to the article, women already from the beginning being financially behind men in a race where they most commonly cannot ever catch up.

References

The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Payment Gap by Lisa M. Maatz http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeswomanfiles/2014/04/07/the-awful-truth-of-the-gender-pay-gap-it-gets-worse-as-women-age/

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild. eds. 2004. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Holt and Company.

The struggles of unstable life

by Marie Fudaba

I’m living a happy and stable life in Japan. My stable life is all thanks to my parents. I was born in a two-parent family and both of my parents work. My father has his own business and my mother teaches many children piano. They work hard for my family. Therefore, I have enough to live on and receive enough food every day. I can also attend Ritsumeikan University because my father has saved money for my college education since I was born. Owing to their stable wages, I can be free to study what I want. However, Japanese society has serious problems in that irregular employees struggle. Particularly, many single mothers are suffering from an unstable life now in Japan. In my future, if I am a single mother and work as an irregular worker and earn minimum wage, I will struggle with two things.

First, I will have trouble making a living. An irregular worker’s income is less than a regular worker’s. The minimum wage is a monthly income of approximately mere 100,000 yen in Japan even if you work hard full time. However, 80 percent of single mothers in their twenties earn less than 1,140,000 yen a year. The wage is far from sufficient to live with stability because single mothers have to cope alone with a child in a low-paid environment. They have the potential but they cannot afford the money living costs, such as rent and the cost of food. There were incidents in which children died because their single mother did not give the child enough food, because of her serious financial trouble. Moreover, the Japanese government raised the sales tax recently. This must makes worse the difficulties of making a living.

Second, I will struggle with the expenses of bringing up children. Even if my child wants to go high school or university, I will not able to pay school expenses because the entrance fee and tuition are too expensive. Therefore, my child needs to sacrifice the desire to go to university for economic reasons. Although there is a scholarship system, a single mother may feel stressed out and strapped because under the scholarship system, families have to pay back the money with interest. If I am a single mother, I must felt guilty about it because my economic reasons could wreck child’s dreams and future.

Actually, there are many people who are suffering at the minimum wage in Japan. However, the Japanese social security system is too weak. Japanese government should beef up social security and provide a basic level of subsistence through it.

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Family would be my ibasho

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

I hope to get a job as a regular worker and get married and have children for my future. Actually I have only indefinite work plans for my future, however I really hope to get a job in which I can communicate with many people because it will bring me up to talk with all sorts of people. It would make me feel narrow and uncomfortable if there is only one or two ba for me even now. My life is full and enjoyable because I have several my ba, family, friends, relative, university, workplace as a part time. All of them help me differently to have great every day and any one can’t lack in my life. Therefore I hope to get married and have my family and keep working while I can work.

Family would be my ibasho. I consider ibasho as where I can show my everything and don’t need to pretend to be tough. Family is the most suitable place to be ibasho. That’s why I hope to get married and have a family. My mother works part-time and she welcomes me whenever I come back home from school, therefore it is difficult to imagine both mother and father working full-time. However I hope to raise children and keep working. I’m not sure it would go well because I’ve never experienced the family I hope to have in my future. My father and mother are almost typical a husband and wife, my father is a sarari-man and works to support my family, and my mother is a part-time worker and does all household work.

The media often says it is getting difficult to raise children in Japanese modern society because of the insufficiency to guarantee child rearing. It is one of the serious problems that the number of children who need to go to the nursery school exceeds the actual number of the children that nursery schools can accept. It can be said that one of the causes of the declining birthrate in Japanese society is related to lack of satisfaction with such guarantees. I hope there will be a better society in which to raise children, and that the birthrate would recover.

I’ve thought family would help me anytime, even though some people consider that having family might bring more risks than staying alone. I would like to get married and raise children while continuing to work because my family would be my ibasho and working would give me the strength to get through my life.

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What are “Ikumen”?

by Kaho Nagao

Recently Japanese media such as TV and newspapers often mention the word “ikumen.” Ikumen means men who are taking care their children so much and spend more time than traditional Japanese father. Actually my father was non-Ikumen and we, my father and I, spent only 5 years together because of father’s job and my school life. He lived in the mountains and he came back home only once a month or once a week. I never felt sadness because it was natural for my family, and I could spend good time with my mother and friends. In addition I never envied friends who spent much time with their father. However, after he came back home, we did not know how to communicate with each other. Still it makes our relation little bit complicated. Therefore, when I heard the word Ikumen, I felt very uncomfortable. Are these good fathers real or are they just on the screen? This question is coming up my mind.

On the other hand, one of my professors in Ritsumeikan really helps his wife and is caring for his children. He often mentions about that in small talk before class starts. In addition, Takeshi Tsuruno, who is a TV star, is quite famous as Ikumen. He has four kids and he appears on some child caring programs. Moreover, he took child caring break for three month in 2010. When this news appeared, most people think that Japanese society is changing.

Of course, there are still many traditional Japanese fathers. According to News Post Seven, even though bosses think it is nonsense for men take child care breaks, and for them it seems selfish and spoils their wives. Moreover, they tend to question what man can do to babies.

For old generations, it has been difficult to change our minds toward child caring, but for young generations, it is not too late to change our minds. The reason why younger generations want to take care of their children is they may not get enough money as pension from government and seniority by length of service in company.

Before researching about this topic, I thought Ikumen was just Japanese men starting to have interests to take care of children and changing their minds, however, it is one of the reasons and they also have worry about their future. Needless to say, Japanese society is starting to change and Ikumen is a word, which shows the reality in Japan. Still this word and situation seems to be uncomfortable for some people. However, someday this word is going to be usual and it is really great to everyone who has children can enjoy child-caring.

Reference

News Post http://news.mynavi.jp/news/2013/11/17/037/

Care Crisis at the Core of Gender Non-Equality

by Anna Dreveau

As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas notices in her chapter, “The Care Crisis in the Philippines,” a “crisis of care” is striking developed and developing countries.

As women in developed countries tend to a more masculine position, i.e. a career-oriented job instead of her traditional mother role. Those both income household generally let their children without any family care anymore. Indeed, the traditional gender roles are as such: the father is away from home, working as the family breadwinner and the mother stay at home, taking care of domestic labor and childcare. Those views are still contemporary, even in some developed countries, such as Japan.

However, in most Western societies, roles tend to become more gender-neutral. Does that mean that former female and male-specific role’s work share is equally divided ? That both parents manage to contribute to childcare and work ?

Alas, it was not the path paved by those claiming for a more gender egalitarian society. Wanted to be able to have a professional career, women did achieve to get it, but the load of work of their “mother role” did not decrease. Therefore, two options are offered: either being a “supermom”, being able to achieve both career and family life or simply abandon the task of taking care of the children to someone else, because of obvious lack of time.

As Parreñas observed, to respond to this demand of caretakers, women from developing countries, such as the Philippines, came to those families to be hired to take care of their children, leaving their own children back in their mother countries, generally in the custody of relatives.
The initially from-developed-country care deficit is thus moving into developing countries, through the process of global care chain. And quite similarly to developed countries, women gain the status of the main income earner of the family, getting the respect from this position within the family. Still, the buck is passed to those transnational mothers by mass media or local government as they are seen to have abandon their most important and initial role: being here and taking care of the children. Even though Parreñas’ examples can overcome the “not taking care of the children” part (as they do so as a “long-distance supermom”), their absence is undeniable.

Nevertheless, the real absent one in family life that can be observed in both developed and developing countries seems to be the father. Even though the father’s role is considered important even in gender non-egalitarian society, they are not relied on when the mother is away as other relatives or even elder siblings are preferred, as Parreñas’ interviewees testified. It would be unjust to claim that in Western countries, families do not rely on fatherhood as those societies became increasingly aware of both parenting’s benefits. Still, even those rely more on motherhood to raise children: as an example, when a couple get a divorce, this is easier for the mother to get custody for the child(ren) than it is for the father.

Getting more gender equality do not mean getting women at the same standards than men, but creating middle standards in which both gender can fit equally. Dividing work and family life more equally is one of the solution, but the most important thing to get rid of is those sexist expectations that just build the gender non-egalitarian societies around the world.

“Ikumen”: challenges and support of new generation of Japanese fathers

by Dina Akylbekova

For many years Japan was famous for the social phenomenon of workaholics but last few years the new concept of “ikumen” has gotten attention from both domestic and foreign press.

What does this “mysterious” concept of ikumen mean? The word “ikumen” is a word combination of the Japanese “ikuji” (child care) and the English “men” (Koh, 2010). Ikumen is officially defined as a “men who enjoy parenting and grow through parenting or those who wish to do so in the future” or just basically a stay-at-home dad (MHLW, 2012).

It is interesting that there is media interest in such a thing as a stay-at-home dad. The stay-at-home dad is nonsense for Japanese society with the strong traditional family model, in which men are workaholic “breadwinners” and women are caring mothers and good wives. The average Japanese man, who follows canons of traditional family model spends only 30 minutes per day for care work, including child care (MHLW, 2011). The rate of fathers’ care leave of 2.63% (among all working men with children) also shows the low level of fathers’ engagement into child bearing process (MHLW, 2011).

However, a recent survey revealed that more than a half of Japanese men want to spend more time with their children (Benesse, 2011). There are many factors hindering male family engagement, the most concerning ones are overwork and social pressure. Japanese workers, who prioritize the family over work and neglect overwork “tradition”, can be considered as irresponsible, incompetent and selfish workers. Moreover, many employers consider fathers’ parental leave as the end of the professional career’s end. Japanese men, who are willing to be engaged more into family issues, face many social and professional challenges.

Fortunately, the Japanese government has started a large-scale policy towards the improvement of gender equality, which includes the promotion of father’s family engagement. The policy includes a social campaign “Ikumen Project”. The campaign consists of seminars, events promoting father’s participation in child bearing, moreover supporting websites are created.

Additionally, there is an on-going media campaign, which includes the production of dramas and TV-shows about ikumen, for instance, a popular movie “Usagi drop”. Moreover, some politicians joined the promotion by taking parental leave: the governor of Hiroshima Hidehiko Yuzaki and the mayor of the central Bunkyo ward Hironobu Narisawa (Koh, 2010).

Maybe, the social campaigns and famous people’ role models will make the society to accept father’s childcare leave and promote new values to the young generations. Finally, Japanese society has to face many challenges before reaching gender equality and forming new family model. The emerging “ikumen” phenomenon supported by the government is giving a hope for more positive changes in Japanese families and society.

References

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan http://www.mhlw.go.jp

Koh Y., 2010. “Japan’s Next Big Thing: Stay-at-Home Dads?”, Japan Times.

Benesse Institute for Child Sciences and Parenting “Wishing to be ikumen: The Ideal and Reality of Young Japanese Fathers