Archive for October 11th, 2014

Japan: The worst developed country for working mothers?

Posted on October 11, 2014. Filed under: child care | Tags: , , , , |

March 22nd, 2013           

Nobuko Ito is the very model of a modern professional Japanese woman.

She is a qualified lawyer and she speaks fluent English. She has years of experience working in international contract law.

But Nobuko no longer works in a big international law firm. The reason? She has three small children.

According to Japanese government statistics by far the biggest reason why Japanese women quit their jobs after childbirth is that Japanese “working hours make child care unfeasible”.

“Before I had a child I remember one busy month where I billed the client for 300 hours!” Nobuko says.

Nobuko Ito says Japanese men fear losing their job if they take paternity leave

“I’d get in the office at 09:00 in the morning, and leave at 03:00 the next morning, and I’d come in on Saturday and Sunday.

“If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children, you have to just devote yourself to the company.

“I can’t do this, it’s impossible.”

As Nobuko’s example shows Japan’s working culture can be brutal. It’s one of the reasons why 70% of Japanese women still give up work as soon as they have their first child.

Another is their husbands.

When it comes to housework Japanese men are still far behind their counterparts in Europe or America.

In Sweden, Germany and the US husbands spend, on average, three hours a day helping out with children and household chores. In Japan it’s one hour, and they spend just 15 minutes a day with their children.

The pay gap

Many Japanese women still withdraw from the labour force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labour market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment.

The gender pay gap at median earnings is the second highest in the OECD.

Then there is paternity leave. Japanese men are entitled to take it, but only a tiny minority actually do – just 2.63%, according to the Health and Welfare ministry.

“My husband didn’t take paternity leave” Nobuko Ito says.

“Most Japanese men are very hesitant to use the system. They may want to come back home to help with the family, but on the other hand they think they need to work as hard as possible otherwise they may not get promoted, or they may lose their job.”

Despite all this Nobuko, like many Japanese mums, wants to continue working. She now runs her own law practice from an office near her home.

But the next hurdle she and other Japanese mothers face is childcare, or rather the lack of it.

According to the Tokyo government’s own statistics there are 20,000 children in the city waiting for places in day-care centres.

The government centres that do exist are good, but they are far too few. And even if you do get a place it’s means-tested and can be expensive – around 70,000 Yen ($737, £484) per month for the first child.

Japanese fathers make a “limited” contribution to childcare, and do less housework than men from other developed countries, the OECD says

“I’d get a discount for having three children, but it would still be at least $1,000 a month even at the state nursery,” says Nobuko Ito.

“At an expensive private nursery it can cost $2,000 a month per child. But those are really good!” she says laughing.

Kathy Matsui’s Womenomics

  • Japan’s female employment rate of 60% still ranks well below that of many other developed countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%.
  • Roughly 70% of Japanese women quit working after giving birth to their first child. This compares to around one-third of women in the US.
  • The ratio of Japanese mothers with children under six who work (34%) remains extremely low compared to 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.

All of this adds up to two things. Women who are having children are not working. Women who are working are not having children. Both are terrible for Japan’s future.

In her ground-breaking work Womenomics: Japan’s Hidden Asset, Japanese-American economist Kathy Matsui says getting more Japanese mothers to stay in work or go back to work should be a “national priority”.

She says it could add as much as 15% to Japan’s GDP.

But Matsui says there is another even more pressing reason. Japan is running out of people.

“Although a low fertility rate is common among other developed countries, Japan may be the only OECD nation where the number of pets exceeds the number of children,” she says.

Japan’s birth rate is just 1.37 births per woman, far below the 2.1 figure at which a population remains stable.

Evidence from Europe and America suggest helping women to stay in work can increase the birth rate.

More from the Magazine

Each Swedish child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary.

The state subsidy for preschool services is more than the annual defence budget.

In countries like Sweden, Denmark and the US, where female employment rates are high, birth rates are also higher. In countries where female employment is low, like Italy, South Korea and Japan, birth rates are also low.

In Japan a demographic crisis is already under way. In 2006 Japan’s population began to shrink.

If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next half century.

Nothing like that has ever happened before.

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Single fathers emerge from the shadows

Posted on October 11, 2014. Filed under: single fathers | Tags: , |

AUG 20, 2014 Japan Times

Hiroki Yoshida, a father of three children aged 6, 8 and 11, suddenly became a single father four years ago, when his wife walked out without warning.

He was so shocked he cried for two weeks straight.

“I couldn’t get her off my mind for the next two weeks, but then I thought to myself I had to face reality for the sake of the children,” said Yoshida, 37, in an interview with The Japan Times at his four-bedroom apartment in Konosu, Saitama Prefecture. Yoshida did not move his family after his wife left.

Although it took him a while to get his feelings sorted out and file for divorce, he now feels he can move forward with his new life with his children, especially since becoming officially single again last year.

Yoshida says he bears his ex-wife no ill will in spite of everything. Her parents both died when she was in elementary school, he says, and she had a tendency to fall into depression. She got deeply involved in a questionable “self-discovery” group awareness training seminar and then in a pyramid scheme, he says, and ended up running off with a man she met at one of the seminars.

Although he tried desperately to pull her back in to the family, his ex-wife’s feelings never returned, he said. But after intensive negotiations, the children now see their mother on a regular basis.

The number of single-parent families is on the rise in Japan, along with the growing number of divorces.

According to the internal affairs ministry, 204,000 families were headed by a single father in 2010, up sharply from 166,000 in 2005.

But there were only 90,000 cases in which the children were living exclusively with their father, in a household with no other relatives such as grandparents.

Single fathers fly under the radar compared to single mothers, who are still more common.

Single fathers also, on average, earn more than single mothers, who tend to struggle more financially as a result. A traditionally patriarchal society also discourages fathers from opening up about their problems, and getting help.

Though they might make more money, single fathers must contend with the attitude of employers who view them as the main breadwinner and free from child-rearing duties. Often expected to put in longer hours, they are burdened both at work and at home, making it hard to strike a good work-life balance.

However, a recent law revision highlights how the situation is gradually changing.

Since 2010, single fathers, like single mothers, have been eligible for child-rearing subsidies offered to low-income earners.

Akemi Morita, professor and dean of the sociology department at Toyo University in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, said isolation is the biggest problem facing single fathers.

Society is not yet set up to allow working men to get fully involved in child rearing, and support services for working fathers and their families are few and far between, according to Morita.

“Issues for single fathers include gaining more support from employers. Single-father families, like any other families with challenges (for example, families with a child with special needs), should be given special considerations, such as flexibility in working hours according to their circumstances. For example, they should be able to work flexible hours to leave time to tend to the child, or easily take time off work when the child falls ill,” said Morita.

She points out single-father families that cannot get enough help from their relatives need “one-stop” services where children can stay for a few hours, play with caretakers, or speak their mind to someone.

Morita said that in some countries, like the United States, single-parent families can get support from members of their religious, social or ethnic group.

“But for the Japanese, such support rarely exists, so single-parent households — especially those of single fathers — tend to get isolated more easily,” she said.

Tomoyuki Katayama, founder and former director of Zenfushiren (short for Zenkoku Fushi Katei Shien Renrakukai, or Single Father Japan), points out that men generally find it difficult to ask for help. The group, founded in 2009, was the first support group for single fathers in Japan.

“Normally, men don’t want to talk about things that don’t have a solution or conclusion — problems such as not having money but not being in an environment to be able to increase their income, or not having time to do housework but don’t have an (immediate) solution. Thus, single fathers tend to solve these problems by themselves,” he said.

Katayama says that he and a few other single fathers felt frustrated that single-father families could not receive enough financial support from the government in the past.

Thus, Zenfushiren, with backing from other nonprofit groups that support single fathers, such as Fathering Japan, appealed to the government for support. Out of this came the 2010 legal amendment.

Niigata-based Katayama is a single father of two children. He says he was a workaholic until his ex-wife left 10 years ago.

After changing jobs several times, he quit his office job and became a freelance consultant a few years ago, offering support to single-parent families and couples with problems.

Katayama, 42, says although not all the problems fathers face are the same, most of the ones he knows complain of not having enough time or money.

“There’s a limit to how much a single father can do, juggling housework, child rearing and career. As a result, some single fathers get depressed, and even have to quit their jobs,” he said.

Yoshida, the father of three, was an editor at a publishing company when his wife left him. He had feature stories to handle every month, and the heavy workload made it difficult for him to juggle child rearing and the job.

Yoshida, like Katayama, recently became a freelancer, and is now thinking of starting up an ecologically minded social services business for fathers.

He also takes part in community activities, serving as the representative of his children’s parent-teacher association, and carrying a “mikoshi” (portable shrine) in the local festival.

Yoshida says that he has always been a good dad, cooking and playing with the children every day, so it hasn’t been too troublesome to start anew as a single father. He says what helped him was that all three children sleep very well at night, and don’t long for their mother when she is not there.

With lots of laundry fluttering in the wind on the apartment’s veranda, and a pile of dishes drying next to the kitchen sink, it’s easy to imagine how hectic a life Yoshida is leading.

But his face looks peaceful as he shows off a handmade bag that he has sewn for his 8-year-old daughter to take to school.

“I’m naturally optimistic, you know,” he said, adding that he has more space in his mind now to think about the future.

“I want to find something that I really want to do in my life, and keep on moving forward,” he said with a smile.

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