The Desperate Housewives of Japan

Posted by Codi Hauka & filed under Pop Culture.

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Outside of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka, you’ll find that a lot of the culture is still very much embedded in traditional Japanese aesthetics flavored with 1960s American nuances. While the country can feel like a futuristic wonderland straight out of an anime, there are a handful of things in Japanese culture that are surprising to find in such an affluent country, including its treatment of women.

There are an astonishing number of stay-at-home wives in Japan. Somewhere around 70% of women do not return to work after the birth of their first child, which is a staggering figure for a country widely hailed as a Mecca of modernity and for its diligent workforce. The reason behind this is a combination of stubborn cultural beliefs interplayed with financial burdens.

There is a crippling lack of childcare in densely populated urban centers, although the government has recognized this problem in the face of Japan’s exponentially aging population. But the problem persists. Day cares are few and far between and often expensive for a family subsisting on one income, leaving wives with little choice but to care for their children themselves.

The next contributing factor is found ingrained cultural practices. While men are entitled to paternity leave, less than 3% do so, as a result of the Japanese work paradigm which is based on seniority. Many men fear that if they leave the workplace to care for their family they may lose crucial promotional opportunities or even their job. Japanese fathers statistically spend far less time with their children than those from other first world countries, hitting around 15 minutes a day.

Some may jump to the conclusion that Japanese men show a Draconian callousness towards women and their children, but this is not necessarily true when you consider that many men with families will work 12 or more hours a day, plus commute time, often six days a week to provide crucial financial support. The legal and cultural system in play here has resulted in an unfortunate dichotomy forcing women to choose between work or children, contributing hugely to the stagnating birth rate that threatens to eliminate roughly a third of Japan’s population within the next 50 years. Ironically, this is an issue that Japan cannot afford to ignore.

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