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Basic Survey on Young Children's Daily Lives and Parents' Childrearing in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei - 4. Children and Their Families in Tokyo

*This article is a perspective of an external researcher for CRN based on the evidences found in "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei."
In the last article of the series, I focus on the survey results of Tokyo in an attempt to examine some issues peculiar to Japanese childhood and parenthood. I begin the article with a brief summary of contemporary Japanese society. Next, I look into the survey findings of Tokyo from a comparative viewpoint, followed by a discussion of these results and future implications.

Brief Background of the Contemporary Japanese Society
Japan achieved enormous economic development in the postwar era and became one of the most prominent industrialized countries. Albeit a recent recession that lasted over a decade, the nation has managed to avert economic catastrophe, but at a social cost.

With the advent of meritocracy and a collapse in the middle class awareness among the citizens, Japanese society is often said to have come to kakusa shakai (a society with disparities). Coincidentally, the issue of gakuryoku kakusa (scholastic disparity) has emerged, of which, many argue, accords with differences in educational opportunities between children of those who have and have-not.

On another front, media coverage has focused on children's issues as well as crimes victimizing children, such as child abuse due to kositsu ikuji (childrearing behind the closed door), kidnapping and murders, bullying, hikikomori (children withdrawing from the society), truancy, and kireru kodomo (children who snap, often in a violent rage), all of which have aroused enormous anxiety throughout the nation.

Amid a myriad of social challenges, the majority of Japanese now consider the nation to be a country where it is difficult to raise a child*; such public sentiments may partly explain the declining birth rate, which hit an all-time low in 2005 (1.25), in spite of various official interventions.

So, are symptoms of social decline apparent in Tokyo children's daily lives or parents' childrearing perspectives and practices? In the following, I discuss the survey results to examine the realities of Tokyo children and parents.

Survey Findings
About the Sample: Majority are Full-time Mothers in Nuclear Families
Among the Tokyo respondents, 81.0% of the families are nuclear families. About 59.2% of the families have two children, 28.4% have only one child, and 12.2% have three children or more. The majority of mothers and fathers are between the ages of 31 and 40 (fathers 69%, mothers 76%). 68% of the mothers are full-time mothers and 13.9% of the mothers work part-time. Mothers who work full-time account for only 7.9%. As for the target children, 58.5% attend kindergarten (mainly serving children whose mothers stay home), 15.7% attend daycare centers (mainly targeting children whose parents both work), and 24.0% of them do not attend any form of early childhood institution.

Young Children Have Good Daily Habits, but Watch Too Much TV
Relatively speaking, children in Tokyo get up earlier (75.6% before 8 am), go to bed earlier (75.3% before 10 pm), and sleep longer hours at night (about 10 hours), compared to children in the other four cities. The length of time that they spend at early childhood institutions varies: about 9 hours and 30 minutes in daycare centers and about 6 hours on average at kindergarten.

Tokyo children watch TV the most frequently (94.6% almost every day), and watch TV (including videos, DVDs, VCDs) the longest per day, approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes. Computer use is the lowest among the five cities: only 14.1% of Tokyo children use computer more than once a week.

61.7% of children in Tokyo are engaged in extracurricular activities. The most popular classes are swimming schools (22.5%), followed by foreign language classes (mostly English conversation classes) (17.8%), music/music instrument classes (16.1%) and athletic clubs/classes (15.4%). 7.5% of the children attend general academic classes. Only 1.1% of the children attend the academic schools to prepare themselves for elementary school entrance tests.

Mothers' Views of Children's Future and Childrearing, Feelings on Childrearing
Less academic emphasis, but more stress on social skills
Although about 90% of Tokyo mothers value education in itself (i.e., children can acquire any type of competency/ability depending on their environment rather than believing in inborn aptitude), they place far less emphasis on academics compared to their counterparts in East Asia: 86.2% of Tokyo mothers believe that children can start learning letters and numbers when they develop an interest in them; 71.4 % of the mothers agree that the child's initiative is more important than parental judgment in educational pursuits. Finally, 66.2% of the mothers expect their children to proceed to the university level, and only the 2.2% up to graduate school (Figure 2-4-1).

All in all, mothers in Tokyo are much more concerned about children's social skills and ethical education together with other basic human skills. For instance, when asked what type of person they expected their child to become, the three most popular responses are: "a person who cares about friends (74.5%)" "a person who does not trouble others (71.0%)" and "a person who cares about family (69.7%)." (Figure 2-2-1).

These findings accord with mothers' responses in other parts of the survey, such as their priorities in childrearing (Table 2-3-1). Among 11 possible responses, 85% or more answered that they placed importance on the following in childrearing: children have empathy for others (97.6%); children follow basic daily habits (93.3%); parents have a lot of contact/time with children (87.5%); children develop physical strength (85.0%).

Different expectations for boys and girls
Tokyo mothers, unlike those in the other four cities, are significantly more gender-biased in their outlook regarding children's educational achievement (Figure 2-4-1); 79.0% of the mothers with boys expect them to complete the university level, but the corresponding figure for those with girls drops to 53.4%.

Furthermore, although the discrepancy between Tokyo and the other cities is much smaller, Tokyo mothers display gender bias in their expectations of the type of person they expect their child to become (Figure 2-2-2). Both girls and boys are more encouraged to have gender prescribed characteristics: "a person who cares about friends (boys 69.7%, girls 79.3%)"; "a person who can fully exercise one's competency and aptitude at work (boys 22.3%, girls 17.9%)"; a person who leads a stress-free life (boys 6.7%, girls 10.8%)"; "a person with leadership (boys 8.8%, girls 3.5%)."

In parenting, both childrearing and pursuing one's own life are important
63.4% of Tokyo mothers agree that the mother's constant presence is important for the child's first three years. Concurrently, 64.4% of mothers feel their own life pursuits are as equally important as childrearing responsibilities. In fact, in spite of the fact that the majority of Tokyo respondents are full-time mothers, only 35.1% of them often or sometimes feel that they are sacrificing their life pursuits for the sake of their children. As for child discipline, 70.2% of the mothers answer that they opt to talk to children gently rather than scolding them.

Frustration and uncertainty in childrearing
Though a majority of Tokyo mothers have positive feelings about their childcare experiences (e.g., my child is adorable/irresistible, I feel joy and blessed to raise a child, it is fun to play with my child, I am also growing through childrearing, and I am doing a good job in childrearing, I am content with my child's growth), quite a few mothers also show negative feelings.

In fact, some negative feelings are commonly shared among mothers in all five cities, such as worrying about their children's growth, or not knowing what to do with their children. However, Tokyo mothers, unlike mothers in the other four cities, also show a high degree of frustration in childrearing: "I often or sometimes take my frustration out on my child (Tokyo 62.2%, Seoul 35.5%, Beijing 11.7%, Shanghai 7.0%, Taipei 14.4%)"; "I often or sometimes get irritated with my child or his/her behavior (Tokyo 61.5%, Seoul 41.8%, Beijing 36.3%, Shanghai 35.2%, Taipei 54.2%)."

Father's Involvement in Household Chores and Childcare
Mothers were asked about the spouse's involvement in household chores and childcare, among other things.

Tokyo fathers come home late, hence limited involvement in household chores and childcare
First, fathers in Tokyo return home late compared to those in the other four cities. A majority of Tokyo fathers return home between 7 pm and midnight. A close look at the graph indicates that 39.7% of the fathers get home after 10:00 pm (Figure3-1-1).

Subsequently, Tokyo fathers' involvement in household chores is the lowest in all areas: clean up after the dinner (Tokyo 11.9%, Seoul, 13,0%, Beijing 27.4%, Shanghai 17.6%, Taipei 24.8%); go shopping (Tokyo 4.4%, Seoul 7.3%, Beijing 12.9%, Shanghai 6.8%, Taipei 31.7%); prepare for meals (Tokyo 3.0%, Seoul 7.6%, Beijing 19.5%, Shanghai 8.4%, Taipei 6.6%); clean the room/house (Tokyo 2.2%, Seoul 14.5%, Beijing 15.2%, Shanghai 6.6%, Taipei 14.6%). (The above percentages represent those fathers who do the corresponding activities more than three times a week.)

Likewise, Tokyo fathers' involvement in childcare activities tends to be low as compared with that of the other four cities, except in one activity: bathing children (Tokyo 24.7%, Seoul 17.7%, Beijing 9.3%, Shanghai 13.0%, Taipei 27.3%). The results for other activities are as follows: scold children or praise children (Tokyo 52.5%; Seoul, 49.8%; Beijing, 60.3%; Shanghai, 58.8%; Taipei, 63.2%); play with children inside home (Tokyo 26.8%, Seoul 41.2%, Beijing 54.2%, Shanghai 44.4%, Taipei, 48.5%); put children to bed (Tokyo 15.3%, Seoul 24.9%, Shanghai 20.8%, Beijing 13.8%, Taipei, 31.3%); play outside with children (Tokyo 1.7%, Seoul 20.8%, Beijing 22.8%, Shanghai 14.8%, Taipei 20.0%).

Mothers' view of fathers' involvement
Mothers' level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the father's involvement in household chores or childcare is similar among all five cities, regardless of their actual involvement. About 50-60% of mothers in all five cities are either very satisfied or relatively satisfied with the fathers' involvement in household chores (Tokyo 48.8%, Seoul 56.1%, Beijing 57.9%, Shanghai 50.6%, Taipei 58.5%), and the corresponding figure for childcare is around 60%-70% (Tokyo 59.9%, Seoul 62.6%, Beijing 57.7%, Shanghai 59.7%, Taipei 68.0%).

Though the majority of mothers in all five cities would like the father to be more involved in domestic chores, Tokyo mothers show the lowest percentage in their demands for fathers' further participation in both household chores and childcare: the household chores (Tokyo, 66.6%, Seoul 67.2%, Beijing 83.8%, Shanghai 74.8%, Taipei 93.4%); childcare (Tokyo 76.2%, Seoul 83.9%, Beijing 98.7%, Shanghai 97.4%, Taipei 97.0%).

Childcare Support Environment
Grandparents/relatives and fathers as the pivotal supporters
77.7% of Tokyo mothers have someone to count on when they need childcare outside working hours. Among those who have such childcare support, 76.2% of the mothers count on grandparents and relatives and 51.9% rely on the father. (Note that mothers could choose multiple people/institutional services for their answers.)

What mothers want from early childhood institutions
When asked what they wanted from early childhood institutions, the most popular responses of Tokyo mothers concerned the fostering of children's social skills (Figure 4-2-1): teaching rules for communal living or group activities (80.0%); helping children to get along better with other children (77.4%). Other areas chosen by more than 50% of the mothers are as follows: "letting children stay at the facility when family members (e.g., parents) are sick (55.6%)", "more time for free play (50.0%)", "providing parents with childrearing advice (63.4%)", and " facilitating opportunities for parents to get to know other parents (52.0%)".

Tokyo mothers have lower demands for academic or skill-oriented programs compared with other mothers in the survey: "expanded intellectual/educational curriculum (Tokyo 40.9%, Seoul 48.2%, Beijing 94.1%, Shanghai 91.4%, Taipei 91.9%)"; "more extracurricular activities (Tokyo 38.9%, Seoul 50.3%, Beijing 65.4%, Shanghai 69.8%, Taipei, 71.6%)."

Less Academic Emphasis but a Different Set of Issues
Unlike their counterparts in East Asia, young children in Tokyo are far more encouraged to acquire the social skills and fundamentals of early childhood development (e.g., establish basic life habits, strengthen physical development) than academic readiness. While this tendency can be taken positively as a sign of mothers' good understanding of early childhood development, it may also mirror a vulnerability on the part of mothers toward society. In other words, having heard too much about child-related problems, such as truancy, hikikomori (social withdrawal of children and young adults), bullying, and kireru kodomo (children who suddenly lose their temper and get violent), mothers in Tokyo may have lowered their expectations of their children.

Apart from the issues regarding children's surroundings outside of home, there are also some concerns over children's home environment. For example, despite opportunities for spontaneous or outdoor play, children end up watching TV (including videos, DVDs, VCDs) for long hours. Because fathers return home late, children lack opportunities to interact with them. Furthermore, quite a few mothers have feelings of frustration regarding childrearing and admit that they take their frustration out on their children or get irritated. Consequently, though most Tokyo mothers avoid scolding the child for misbehavior, they may end up snapping at the child, depending on their state of mind.

Persistence of Traditional Gender-based Roles
A traditional gender-based division of labor is more distinct in Tokyo than any of the other cities: the majority of mothers are full-time mothers and are responsible for almost all the domestic chores, while fathers work long hours and come home late; hence, fathers' involvement in childcare or household chore activities is extremely limited. Yet, about half the mothers are content with the father's contribution. Perhaps, these mothers are bound by the traditional gender division of work: "while my husband works outside as a breadwinner, I must be responsible for all domestic chores".

In addition to the modalities of each family where children live in (i.e., father as a breadwinner, mother as a housekeeper), Tokyo mothers, whether consciously or unconsciously, contribute to reproducing gender-prescribed roles in their off-springs.

Mothers Feel Frustrated and Isolated.
Though most Tokyo mothers feel joy in being parents, and favor the mother's constant presence during the child's first three years, quite a few mothers exhibit a high degree of frustration with childrearing, and are ambivalent about the adequacy of their childrearing practices. Concomitantly, a large number of mothers ask for further childcare/parenting support services from the early childhood institutions, and want the father to be more involved in domestic chores.

In sum, the majority of Tokyo mothers, situated in a nuclear family setting without the presence of the father until late at night, feel isolated and in need of emotional as well as physical support and connections. However, there appears to be limited support available both inside and outside of home.

Future Implications
The survey results confirm many of the issues prevalent in Japanese society. Concurrently, by comparing the findings with those of other East Asian cities, the survey provides us with a different view of these issues.

For instance, the issue of striking a balance between work and home responsibilities for both father and mother has been usually discussed in the context of reversing the declining birth rate in Japan, and quite often, by referring to modeling the West, such as that of Sweden. However, the gender-based division of work continues to be the norm for many Japanese couples; perhaps, examples from the West might have been perceived as something too "occidental/foreign" to internalize. Now, the findings of this comparative survey reveal that gender bias is becoming a distinct characteristic of Japanese society, but not that of East Asia, even though people share the same Confucian cultural background which values patriarchy. In other words, the neighbors in East Asia prove that Japanese can also alter their gender-prescribed practices, if they truly wish.

Another finding worth further investigation concerns parents' expectations of the type of person they want their child to become. In Tokyo, personal attributes related to social skills are more desirable unlike in the other four East Asian cities of this survey where attributes such as personal competency or leadership are also highly valued. What does this result indicate? Is it a healthy sign of parenting, or should it be interpreted as cautiousness on the part of Tokyo parents in response to the insidious incidents that plague Japanese society? Also, looking ahead, does it imply a loss of national competitiveness in the world arena, or to the contrary, a nation with high social ethics, integrity and dignity?

The findings on children and their families in Tokyo remind us of the wide range of problems confronting Japanese society today. Conversely, the survey suggests the importance of taking a holistic and long-term view when considering issues of young children, the most valuable resource of the nation, together with a declining birth rate.

"White Paper on Life Design 2006-2007" by Daiichi Life Research Institute, Inc.
"Shoushika ni taisuru kokusai ishiki chousa (Comparative international survey with respect to the declining birth rate)" by the Cabinet Office of Japan. Note: The survey was conducted in 2005.
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