TOP > Papers & Essays > Parenting > The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 8. Full-time Mothers of Young Children in Japan

Papers & Essays

The Issues of Childhood and Parenthood in Modern Japan - 8. Full-time Mothers of Young Children in Japan

When I encounter difficult situations in my work or childcare, my mind momentarily swings like pendulum; should I be a full-time mother, at least until my son enters elementary school, or is it OK that I continue to pursue my work aspirations?

Still, knowing the agonies of full-time mothers and the unfavorable labour market for those mothers who wish to resume work upon completion of child-raising, I do not have the guts to become a full-time mother even for a short period of time. Besides, I am far from being Martha Stewart or Harumi Kurihara (i.e., the charismatic celebrity homemaker in Japan), who can find self-fulfillment in the homemaker business.

In fact, recent survey data demonstrates that full-time mothers find caring for children to be more burdensome than do working mothers in Japan. The life of full-time mothers of young children is not as peaceful and heart warming as it may appear in contemporary Japan.

Introduction
Despite the harsh economic climate and women's advancement, full-time (and almost full-time) mothers with children under age three remain the majority. Concurrently, the heavy childcare burden felt by full-time mothers has started to receive public recognition, as we witness an increase in the number of nuclear families together with the declining birth rate and an accelerating number of child abuse cases by mothers. In the following, I focus on the issues revolving around full-time mothers of young children.

Why full-time mothers? : Sansaijishinwa (The three-year-old myth)
Sansaijishinwa (the three-year-old myth) is the conventional belief that mothers should be the ones to take care of children, at least until age three.[1] Although the government has denied the scientific validity of this belief in the White Paper on Health and Welfare (1998), partly to encourage working mothers, many mothers of young children continue to become full-time mothers. Likewise, 'the three-year-old myth' can explain why some women are forced to become full-time mothers (e.g., unavailability of a childcare center, hence mothers stay with children while fathers work). According to a nationwide survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2001), 67.4% of mothers who used to work a year prior to the first childbirth were without a job, and the 70% left the job in the end. It is important to note, however, that some women use this myth as an excuse to quit working (i.e., I am better off taking care of children than working).

Realities of full-time mothers
Division of work at home
Upon childbirth, the life of women drastically changes, while that of men remains the same. Exhausted from the work and/or a long commute, fathers' involvement in physical and psychological childcare is minimal, or in some cases, almost nil, with the "division of labour" being the justification. Further, many Japanese men estrange themselves from their partners, whom they consider to be mothers of their children more than wives. For instance, husbands often neglect casual conversation with their wives, albeit husbands may be the only adults whom wives can talk to in a day.

Distorted reality and the accusation of mothers in the media
At the macro level, Japanese media continuously celebrate the romanticized image of motherhood, while focusing on exceptional individuals, such as new fathers who are enthusiastic about involvement in childcare and successful working mothers, at the micro level. Furthermore, when child abuse cases or juvenile crimes are reported, many still make blunt comments that are accusatory of mothers (e.g., how on earth can a mother beat her own child!). The underlying messages cast by the media are not inspiring but merely arouse negative feelings in mothers, if not ambivalent, such as anxiety, pressure, jealously, self-denial, and/or regret.

Loyal to manuals, bound to the child-centered approach
Not knowing how to handle one's own baby, conscientious mothers of today become excessively loyal to manuals and the opinions of experts. Most of them encourage a child-centered approach (e.g., hug the baby whenever s/he cries), which results in mothers exhausting themselves.

Lack of daycare centers/baby sitter services for children of full-time mothers
In Japan, daycare services as well as baby sitters are generally for children of working mothers. Nannies are virtually non-existent. Also, it is not the custom for couples to leave children at home and go out on their own. Hence, the mothers have hardly any private time, even to go to the bathroom.

End Result
Amid heavy childcare responsibilities, many are under pressure to be a good mother, while feeling left out or deprived from fulfilling one's aspirations as an individual and a woman. Though frustrated, those mothers try to reconcile themselves to the situation by saying "it cannot be helped (as I am a mother and my child should be prioritized)."

On another front, some immature women dive into motherhood with unrealistic expectations, as some experts point out. As a result, these mothers end up getting upset, "this is not what I expected to be."

Future implications:
As possible solutions to various social issues, recent government policies call for greater attention to the heavy childcare burden of full-time mothers as well as father's role in a family setting.

For instance, a new national five-year plan (2005-2009) to halt the declining birth rate particularly emphasizes the criticality of balancing work and family for both genders as well as expanding childcare support for those families with full-time mothers by assigning specific numerical targets to businesses and municipalities, unlike previous plans (i.e., Angel Plan and New Angel Plan) which mainly focused on the issues of childcare facilities for double income families.[2]

Hopefully, these initiatives will 1) increase meaningful community childcare support for full-time mothers (i.e., the service which does not merely reinforce women's role as mothers, but reduces mothers' anxiety and encourages them to have positive attitudes toward childcare and their life as an individual), and 2) enable fathers to have adequate time to enjoy their roles as a father and husband at home.

While liberating both men and women from the conventional 'three-year-old myth' and gender-assigned roles, however, we must not neglect the importance of the first three years of children's lives, and enormous amount of attention that a child requires. That is why childcare responsibility must be shared by both fathers and mothers together with the community. Besides, the joy of childcare gets multiplied by sharing the precious moment with one's partner and all the people involved in children's lives.

[1] According to Ohinata (2002), Sansaijishinwa (the three-year-old myth) consists of three tenets. (1) The first three years are critical to the child's development. (2) Mothers are best suited to take care of their children based on their innate maternal instinct, love and kindness. (3) Unless mothers concentrate on caring for children until age three, children will suffer damage from insufficient maternal care, which could have adverse effects throughout children's development.
[2] For instance, in a new five year plan, the companies must encourage employees to take at least 55% of their paid holidays every year (de facto figure in 2003 is 47.4% per person on average), and reduce at least by 10% the number of employees who work more than 60 hours per week (de facto figure in 2003 is 12.2%). Also, the municipalities are requested to boost the number of places for childcare consultations and temporary childcare facilities in the community where parents can leave their children when they are sick.

References

In English

Japan Institute of Workers' Evolution
http://www.jiwe.or.jp/english/evolusion/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/index.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research
http://www.ipss.go.jp/index-e.html

Specific Documents

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2003). Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance 2002-2003: No Gains Without Reforms III. Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved on August 5, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www5.cao.go.jp/zenbun/wp-e/wp-je03/03-00301.html

Chitose, Yoshimi (2003)."Chapter 2: Policies Targeted to Families with Children: Policy Responses to Declining Fertility." In National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (ed.), Child Related Policies in Japan. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved on December 8, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.ipss.go.jp/s-info/e/childPJ2003/childPJ2003.pdf

Doteuchi, Akio (2004). Toward a Prosperous Society with a Declining Birthrate - Enhancing the Social Environment for Childcare Support. NLI Research Institute. Retrieved on August 5, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.nli-research.co.jp/eng/resea/life/li040421.pdf

Explosion in Child Abuse Reported (2004, July 24). The Japan Times Online. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20020724a5.htm

Japan Information Network (2002). Spicing Up Life: Celebrity Homemakers Make Everyday Activities Fun. Web Japan. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://web-japan.org/trends01/article/020128soc_r.html

Japan to be More Family Friendly (2004, December 21). Big News Network.com. Retrieved on December 27, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://feeds.bignewsnetwork.com/?sid=8689bd947aef3b19

Maciamo (2003). Marriage in Japan and in the West. Japan Reference. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.jref.com/culture/westerners_japanese_marriage.shtml

State to Push for child-care leave at All Companies (2004, December 25). The Japan Times Online. Retrieved on December 27, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20041225a6.htm

Tatsuno, Yoko (2001). Child Abuse: Present Situation and Countermeasures in Japan. Japanese Women Now. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://wom-jp.org/e/JWOMEN/childabuse.html

In Japanese only

Cabinet Office of Japan. Seishounen no ikusei ni kansuru yuushikisha kondankai. [The specialists committee regarding upbringing of children and youth].
http://www8.cao.go.jp/youth/suisin/kondan.html

i-kosodate net. Heisei 16 nendo chiiki kosodate shien center tantousha kenshukai A gata nitteihyou: hoiku social work kenshukai [2004, training session for community childcare support centers].
http://www.i-kosodate.net/pro/long_edu/center_a04/index.html#a1

Kurihara Harumi Suteki Recipe [Harumi Kurihara's wonderful recipe] Homepage.
http://media.ffn.ne.jp/fusosha/suteki/index2.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Shoushika taisaku [tackling the declining birth rate].
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/index.html
This home page has links to various official documents related to the declining birth rate.

National Women's Education Center, Japan. Kateikyouiku database [home education database]. http://winet.nwec.jp/kateikyouiku/DBMENU/1dbmenu.htm

Specific Document

Asahi Shimbun (2004). Forum "utaou kodomo no kenri" [Forum: Let's voice the children's rights]. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.asahi.com/sympo/kodomo/index.html

Ataka, Sachiko (Ed.) (2001). Tokushu: kazokutte nani? [special: what is the family?]. i-cube. Retrieved on December 14, from the World Wide Web:
http://www.i-cube.co.jp/mirai/01spring/taidan/taidan1.html

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (1995). Kodomo to kazoku ni kansuru kokusai hikaku chousa no gaiyou [The briefing on the international comparison on children and family matters]. The division for the issues of children and youth, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved on November 5, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www8.cao.go.jp/youth/kenkyu/kodomo/kodomo.htm

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2004). Shoushika taisaku ni kansuru tokubetsu yoron chousa [Special Public Opinion Survey on Strategies to tackle the Declining Birth Rate]. Public Relations, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved on November 5, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www8.cao.go.jp/survey/tokubetu/h16-syousika.pdf

Dentsu Inc. (2004). Shoushikani kansuru ishikichousa kenkyuu [The research on the public opinion on the declining birthrate]. Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2004/08/h0813-2/

Fujii, Harue (2002). Sengyoushufu wa ima: tayousei to koseika no nakade [The modalities of contemporary housewives: in the time of diversity and individualization]. Minerva shobo: Kyoto.

Ikuji ni nayamu sengyoushufu chiiki shien mattanashi [Need for accelerating community support for full-time mothers who are overwhelmed by childcare burden] (2002, Sep. 3). Yomiuri On-Line. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/iryou/ansin/an290301.htm

Ikuji: te o kakesugite imasenka [Aren't you spending too much energy on childcare?] (2004, Nov. 24). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Ikuji shiyasui shakai e [Let us lead to a parenting friendly society]. (2004, June 7). Asahi shimbun.

Jisedai Ikuseishien Taisaku Suishin Hou [The Law for Measures to Support the Next-Generation]. Retrieved on September 7, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/5.pdf

Jisedai Ikuseishien Taisaku Suishin Hou: Koudou keikaku sakutei shishin (2003) [The guiding principles for the development of the action plan]. Retrieved on September 7, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/030819/dl/2.pdf

Kashima, Takashi (2003). Danjyo kyodo sankaku no jidai [the period of gender equality and equity]. Iwanami shinsho: Tokyo.

Ko ni shippai saseru [Let children make mistakes] (2004, Oct. 2). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Koraeshou ushinai ikujitaihen ni [the lack of patience and the childcare become burdensome] (2004, June 19). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Mainichi Shimbun (2004). Daiikkai jinkou kazoku sedai chosa [The first survey on population, families and generation by Mainishi Shimbun] Retrieved December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mainichi-msn.co.jp/kurashi/katei/etc/poll_0729/index.html

Ministry of Health and Welfare (1998). White Paper on Health and Welfare of 1998. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved on December 20, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.hakusyo.mhlw.go.jp/mhlw/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2002). Kousei roudou hakusho [White paper on Health, Labour and Welfare]. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/wp/hakusyo/kousei/02/index.html

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2001). Dai ikkai 21 seiki shusseiji jyudan chousa [the first nationwide longitudinal survey on newly born children of the 21st century]. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved on December 20, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/saikin/hw/syusseiji/01/

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2004). Shoushika taisaku taikou ni motozuku jyuten shisaku no gutaiteki jisshi keikaku ni tsuite, Kodomo Kosodate Ouen Plan no kettei ni tsuite [Regarding the Children and Childcare Support Plan]. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved on December 27, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2004/12/h1224-4.html

National Institution of Population and Social Security Research (2003). Dai 12 kai shussei doukou kiso chousa: Kekkon to shussan ni kansuru zenkoku chousa [The 12th basic survey on birth trends: the national survey on marriage and childbirth]. Retrieved December 13, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.ipss.go.jp/ps-doukou/j/doukou12/doukou12.html

Ninshin shussan de iyagarase oukou [rampant harassment for pregnant and working women at work](2004, August 24). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Ohinata, Masami (1999). Kosodate to deau toki [Your first encounter with childcare]. NHK Books: Tokyo.

Ohinata, Masami (2002). Boseiaishinwa tono tatakai [Fighting against the myth on motherly benevolence]. Soudobunka: Tokyo.

Ohinata, Masami (2003). Media ni hisomu boseiai shinwa [Maternal love submerged in the media]. Soudobunka: Tokyo.

Sengyoushufu hitoiki tsuite [Full-time mothers, take a break] (2004, October 21). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Sengyoushufu yugu minaoshi ni hitokoto! [Let us say a word on the revision of preferential treatments of housewife (e.g., spouse tax exemption)] (2003, March 28). Yomiuri On-Line. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from World Wide Web:
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/iryou/ansin/an332801.htm

Tatsumi, Nagisa (2004). Jikojitsugen boom ga jyosei no kokoro o mushibamu [The celebration for self-realization wrecks the mind of women]. Nikkei Venture keieisha club on-line. Retrieved on December 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://smallbiz.nikkeibp.co.jp/members/COLUMN/20040421/104774/

Tsuma no ikukyuu de atomodori [Going back to the traditional gender division of work once mothers take childcare leave](2004, Nov. 16). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Tsuma no stress, otto ichii [No. 1 stress cause of wives are husbands](2004, September 25). Nihon keizai shimbun.

UFJ Research Institute (2003). Kosodate shiensaku nado ni taisuru chousa kenkyu [The survey research on measures for childcare support]. Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Retrieved on December 20, 2004 from the World Wide Web:
http://www.mhlw.go.jp/houdou/2003/05/h0502-1a.html

Wakai jyosei seibetu yakuwari buntan hikui shiji [A large number of Japanese females of young generation do not support the gender division of work] (2004, July 12). Nihon keizai shimbun.

Yukyu shutoku 55% ijyo, Ikujikyuka seido 100%: Shoushika taisaku kigyou ni suchimokuhyou [The vacation leave more than 55% and childcare leave 100%: numerical target to halt the declining birth rate] (2004, December 21). Yomiuri Shimbun.

The relevant websites within CRN - in Japanese Only

Kokusai symposium 2000: tojitsu no yosu [proceeding of international symposium 2000]
http://www.crn.or.jp/LIBRARY/EVENT/SYMPO2000/SITUATION.HTM

Ohinata, Masami (2001). "Sansaijishinwa o kenshou suru 2: ikuji no genba kara" in Akachan gakkai symposium [A Proceeding of Symposium of Baby Science: Validating Sansaijishinwa, as a viewpoint of childcare practitioners].
http://www.crn.or.jp/LABO/BABY/SCIENCE/OHINATA/index.html

Extra Reference for mothers (in Japanese only)

The following women's internet community sites are set up to support women, mothers in particular, to provide them with a place to exchange information on childrearing, family issues, and local communities. The access is free, but membership is required.

Benesse women's park (Note that the membership is limited to women)
http://women.benesse.ne.jp/

Sukusuku. com
http://www.sukusuku.com/index.php?main=about

Profile

Teruko Kagohashi
Teruko Kagohashi is a researcher in the field of education/international development. She received a dual master's degree from the Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University in New York in 2000. Ms. Kagohashi has extensive overseas studying and/or working experiences in the United States, Germany, Australia and Bolivia. She currently resides in the Tokyo area with her husband and three-year-old son.
Write a comment


*CRN reserves the right to post only those comments that abide by the terms of use of the website.

Facebook

About CRN

About Child Science

Links

CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia

Japan Today

Honorary Director's Blog

Recommended