For most young Japanese women, the housewife lifestyle a tempting yet impossible dream

Today’s Asahi evening edition had a great op-ed today by author Tsunehiro Uno (age 32). He argues that with such a wide gap between what most Japanese want out of life and what’s attainable for the majority, it’s high time to start setting more realistic expectations. Here’s a rundown of his points, summarized and embellished upon by yours truly:

  • A recent government white paper found that a large portion of women in their 20s want to be housewives. Not only that, another survey found that around 40% of unmarried women aged 25-35 want a husband who makes at least Y6 million a year. Sadly for them, only 3.5% of unmarried men in that age bracket actually make that much.
  • This desire for a typical middle-class lifestyle — a single-income household with a salaryman husband with lifetime employment and the wife at home raising kids — seems to hark back to the postwar Showa era (1945-1989) when the economy was booming. However, today Japan’s economic stagnation has made the idyllic nuclear family impossible for many families, with more women needing to work to make ends meet.
  • Uno relates this revival of Showa values to the conservatism of his generation, in part a reaction against the Koizumi-era economic reforms. Koizumi, in office from 2001-2006, pushed a neoliberal program of deregulation and privatization as a path to lead Japan out of a prolonged economic malaise. During that era, Uno writes, the Japanese people shared a sense that there was no going back, that the stable post-war society that Japan had grown used to had ceased to function properly.
  • Now, however, attitudes have shifted sharply in favor of trying to revive lifetime employment. Uno doesn’t give examples, but they are everywhere these days – the temp worker tent village in Jan. 2009, postal minister Kamei’s offer of full-time status to all Japan Post part-timers, and so on.
  • People may be critical of the deregulation that spurred the growth of temp workers, but it’s simply not possible to maintain lifetime regular employment for everyone, and many people in today’s society prefer more flexible work arrangements to the more rigid life of a full-time worker.
  • Uno worries that people are planning out their lives with the mistaken assumption that the Showa lifestyle is ideal. The real question, however, should be how to live a decent life even under non-regular employment. However, neither the people in general nor our political leaders seem to have the proper mindset.
  • Where Koizumi went wrong, he argues, is in failing to create a social system for the new era.
  • His proposal for the current DPJ administration – create a new social contract (or in his words 幸福のパッケージ) that can allow a two-income household of non-regular employees to comfortably raise two or more children. How to do this? First, set a bottom line and create safety net policies to help people stay above it. In exchange, create more flexible employment rules that would be more compatible with people’s diverse lifestyles.

40 thoughts on “For most young Japanese women, the housewife lifestyle a tempting yet impossible dream”

  1. Btw the only thing I would change about his recommendations is that it should be possible to comfortably raise 2-3 children instead of 1-2 for a large majority of Japanese couples. Otherwise you are doing nothing to stave off the looming ageing crisis.

  2. “A recent government white paper found that a large portion of women in their 20s want to be housewives.”

    I submit that this is related to the later comment about the Koizumi administration failing to institute a new social system.
    Men are still expected to give their lives to the company (should they be so lucky to become a 正社員)and since the oyaji are still in control of so many companies with mindsets stuck in the Showa era, overt and covert sexual/power harassment is still a major issues for women in the workplace (I know of exceptions, but still..).
    So I can see why women would generally prefer to escape the OL-dom and glass ceilings and retreat to the house, where they control the finances and their own space. Not that I like the idea of reversing what progress was made for feminism in Japan, but it’s understandable.

    “Y6 million a year. Sadly for them, only 3.5% of unmarried men in that age bracket actually make that much.”

    Really?? That’s what, US$60,000, right? Are wages in Japan that depressed?

  3. Rose, that wage number is not at all depressed – only 10% of American wage earners make over $75,000 a year and that is across the ENTIRE workforce – not just the 25-35 group, which is obviously going to have a lower median, and certainly not limited to unmarried men who likely make less, given the way that that dynamic works in Japan.

    I think that we tend to greatly overestimate the number of super high earners that are out there. Only 1.5% of US housolds have a combined income of more than $250,000 a year and only 0.1% of US households make over $1,500,000 a year (which is a lot, but isn’t enough to take baths in Hennessy on a private jet and all that pop culture stuff). The “Real Housewives” types talk about blowing $10,000 a week on clothes, but that isn’t really realistic on $1,500,000 a year.

  4. Setting up a new social contract, this 幸福のパッケージ, would seem to require some profound technical analysis. If only we had some tools to hand to look at the concept, some kind of 幸福の科学, if you will.

  5. Very clever, my dear Mulboyne.

    Great write-up. There is a lot of discussion that could go into this further –perhaps over drinks on Saturday, for those of us in Tokyo?

  6. Update on the income figures:

    The “40% of unmarried women/3.5% of unmarried men” figure comes from a 2002 study in the book


    Study of Consciousness of the Risk of Raising Children in Young People’s Life Planning, by Masahiro Yamada (according to Wikipedia, the guy who invented the term “parasite single”)

    It’s been repeated a lot online but I have not seen much about how the study was conducted. It’s probably something similar to this study done by the securities broker association (this study deserves a series of posts in itself but annoyingly, it seems to slice the data in every which way EXCEPT what we are looking at).

    Even if the results come from an unreliable online survey, it is still a pretty accurate description of the game being played (btw in his piece he calls chasing rich husbands the 昭和妻ゲーム and wonders why women want to play a game that’s so tough to win). And remember we are talking about unmarried men, by their 30s most of the good men have been taken already.

  7. It is still possible in rural areas of Japan for a one income household with 2-3 children. One of the main problems is that most young ladies live in the metropolitan areas and want to continue their materialistic lifestyles after marriage in a metropolitan area. The government should continue to encourage and support young couples to relocate back to rural communities where a healthy decent lifestyle one income family is still somewhat plausible.

    The typical situation in the rural area I live in is that a wife that wants a little extra pocket money will work part-time but earn absolutely less than 1,000,000 yen per year. Staying under this amount keep the family in the same tax bracket as if she weren’t working at all.

  8. First, to gaijin, are you implying the men aren’t equally at fault? With their golf, their high tech gadgets (that get used once a week because they’re busy working the rest of the time), or their late night “mandatory” enkai? Blaming the problem on women’s materialism is questionable at best and discriminatory at worst.

    As for the article itself–it seems to me that the last bulleted point is the key, and the one that is the most resistant to change. They’re are a few points of hope–for example, it’s now possible, at least in my prefecture, for women who work as public school teachers and have pre-school aged children at home to work “half-days” (that is, about 45 hours per week) in order to be home in time to retrieve their children from day care.

    And Rose makes an important related point–when the job prospects for women, even with higher degrees, are so limited, it seems perfectly natural that they should “aspire” to a mythical past in which everything seemed idyllic.

    Finally, a question. Per Adamu, Uno says “it’s simply not possible to maintain lifetime regular employment for everyone.” This, of course, is true–no post-industrialized economy can function with a completely inflexible labor force (one where everyone is locked into lifetime contracts) given the need to respond to changing economic conditions. But that doesn’t address whether it might be possible to maintain the higher level of lifetime employment available during the Showa era. Is it necessarily the case that such a system of overall security is incompatible with something in the present? If so, what is it that causes the incompatibility, and is it the secure job status that should be changed, or that other thing?

  9. gaijin, thank you for reminding me about that.

    In fact, the DPJ campaigned on a policy of eliminating the tax deduction for spouses and children as a way to pay for the new child allowance program. I had thought the new law would end the practice you described, but the final bill passed a few weeks ago apparently only eliminates the deduction for children, not spouses. The deduction for adult dependents was also left in place.

    According to this analysis from the upper house’s research service, the DPJ gave up on eliminating the spouse deduction this year but the issue might resurface again since it would be a major source of funding for the massive child subsidies.

  10. Aaron:
    This is a big question, but I would frame the problem a little differently. The institutions of Showa-era employment (lifetime employment, seniority-based pay structure, company-based unions) were useful in the period of high economic growth. Eventually the protection of lifetime employment arrangements became enshrined in the law through labor ministry ordinances and court decisions that make it very difficult to fire people.

    But today, instead of working as intended and guaranteeing stable employment for the masses as they had in the past (though this point is debatable), these rules offer outsized benefits for the few who have landed the full-time positions, leaving companies to create two tiers of workers – the core full-timers who get full benefits and the non-regular employees who have to make do with less in terms of both money and security if they fail to find work as a new graduate.

    In practice, I don’t think anyone is arguing against long-term employment per se. However, the system that has developed makes this more difficult – for one, the part-timers have trouble landing satisfactory employment, and for another, it’s relatively tough for the full-timers to find a new job if they lose their old one.

    So it’s not a question of trying to restore “Showa” employment so much as restoring some equality of opportunity.

  11. Its not only men who make it hard on women who have children to work, its the other women in the company. I’ve seen progressive Japanese companies where women are equal in the food chain and men embrace that diversity. Then there are a few women who sneer or slyly chat about the woman who has to leave at a normal hour to pick her kid up at hoikuen.

    Jelousy, perhaps, who knows but its a reality. Unfortunately in this culture many of those working moms, don’t have the huzpah to stand up for themselves or even talk to HR. They shy from confrontation. The life of a house wife starts to look more attractive than having to be passively bullied at work.

  12. “So it’s not a question of trying to restore “Showa” employment so much as restoring some equality of opportunity.”

    Word. It is not that part time employment should be done away with. It simply needs to be made more humane.

  13. Lifetime employment is not strictly a Japanese phenomenon, by the way. There was an interesting article in Bloomberg Markets magazine last month about lifetime employment at the French state telecom company. Apparently they have the same harsh rules about permanent employees–impossible to fire and hard to accept elsewhere. As a result, there are a bunch of “window people” who are given no work and no bonuses in hopes that they will quit, and a lot of these people end up clinically depressed and physically ill. Spain is another intersting case–unemployment is at something like almost 20% and there is still a glut of salarymen bleeding some companies dry.

  14. the nostalgia about Showa-era lifetime employments sounds so much like Russians nostalgic about Soviet era stability.

  15. “Word. It is not that part time employment should be done away with. It simply needs to be made more humane.”


    Also, another major issue with Showa-style lifetime employment is that many (most?) people hired into the company are simply “社員” without designation in a certain field or department. Hence the ritual shuffling of employees every three years (either within the main company or to and from different branches within the country overseas.) This results in employees not having enough time to master any one skill. If an employee were to always work in, say, research and development and mastered the related skill set, he would be able to use those skills at a competing company. Sadly, this is often not the case.

  16. There are benefits to a freer labor market. Yes, you can get laid off, but you can also jump to better companies, learn specific skills, become an expert, improve your salary through negotiations, choose your own path, move up the corporate ladder despite being from a non-elite background etc. The old Japanese system was better in terms of stability and security and did encourage a certain amount of competition among employees in that you wanted to get a better promotion than other guys your age. So in an ideal world, they both have their pluses.

    The freer labor market has been criticized as being a better deal for elite workers but leaves less elite workers out in the cold. The irony of the Japanese system now though is that, as Adamu says, it basically rewards elite college kids with total security and rising salaries, while letting the companies have a formal system to completely stiff non-elite labor doing the same jobs.

    So if you are a lazy elite kid, the Japanese lifetime employment system is incredibly cushy. If you are not particularly talented non-elite, both systems are probably equally bad. But in the case of the freer labor market, someone who didn’t go to the best school but has a particular skill or drive would be able to move up the ladder despite not joining the company at 22. Call me radical, but I have a lot of friends outside of Japan who “blossomed” later in life and would have been permanently knocked off the corporate track had they been subjected to a Japanese-like system.

    Once the Japanese system’s loses its ability to “protect the little guy” there is basically no egalitarian or economic fairness reason to keep it in place. It just lets big companies control labor and forces young people to be very very serious right out of school. It lets elite companies and elite managers reward elite students. And yes, it’s also incredibly unfair to women’s natural lifecycle.

    But as far as I can tell, everyone I know from elite Japanese universities who did the normal shushoku katsudo and went into Japanese companies ends up bailing out of the Japanese system within 5-10 years and going to work somewhere else. But again, they only have flexibility because they are elites.

  17. ” bailing out of the Japanese system within 5-10 years and going to work somewhere else”

    Yes this happens all the time – there was a “tenshoku boom” during the later Koizumi years with the rise of many placement agencies. In practice, the system is kind of a hybrid and many employees change employment and so on.

    The trouble is, the laws and practices of most companies are still predicated on the lifetime employment myth. So for every elite job-hopper theres a 50 year old laggard who is collecting a huge salary and benefits without contributing a damn thing.

  18. We have a reaction from a history teacher and “shojo enthusiast” in Brazil.

    Here’s the Babelfish translation:

    Japanese, overwhelming society and in mutation

    The site Mutant Frog – and I arrived there saw Japanprobe – published a summary of a great substance of the Asahi Periodical (*infelizmente they had *infelizmente not placed link*) on the disparity between what the Japanese and Japaneses desire in the life and what they really can have. What it is evident for me of the substance of Tsunehiro Uno is that the people had not gotten used to economic crisis Japanese e, more than what this, to the changes imposed for the Neoliberalismo that started to erode all a society constructed on slight knowledge of sacrifice with full job established in the Age Showa. As the people desire to the past and its idealização, men and women do not understand themselves, the Government also do not move themselves of fast form, for example, making possible better conditions of work for the more unhappy women, and people if they feel each time. My commentaries are between parentheses in different color. They are given of the such article:

    >> According to one it searches of the government, a great parcel of the women in the band of the 20 years still dreams in being house owner. Another research points that 40% of the women between 25-35 years want a husband who gains at least 6 million yens year (* more than 112 a thousand reais*), but 3.5% of the single men of the same age only receive this.

    >> The ideal of family of middle class continues being, husband salaryman with full job and wife owner of responsible house for the education of the children. In the entento, the economy is estagnada and this dream, constructed at the time of abundance and vendido until today, is inaccessible for the majority. The women need to work.

    >> The Koizumi First-minister promoted a series of neoliberal reforms between 2001-2006 and the majority of the Japanese sees this period as a retrocession and that there the country left to function of adequate form.

    >> Now, according to article, ahead has an emphasis in the propaganda of jobs for all the life of the previous period where the casual employment blossomed. The car-head of this campaign seems to be the State.

    >> According to article, the people can be critical in relation to the casual employment, but she is not possible to offer full job for all and many people prefer (*sei, I know… *) regimes of work more flexible, therefore the current society adds styles of life very varied.

    >> The author believes that it is preoccupying that the people continue planning its lives as if still they were in the Age Showa and that is necessary to think that the option can be to survive without a regular job. Only that nor the population in general, nor the leaders politicians seem made use to think the question.

    >> For the author, Koizumi failed to not creating a system of social security in its government. (*Contraditório, because the neoliberalismo does not have social security as flag. Then, the government did not fail, followed cartilha direitinho, the same destructive politics only undertook that was seen in other countries as Brazil of FHC or Argentina de Menen*)

    >> The proposal of the author is that the government creates a new social contract (in words of the one of it one 幸福のパッケージ) that it allows that if thinks about a family based on double income (*marido and wife trabalhando*), without full job, but with the possibility to create two decent or more children. (*Sério? Before this she will be necessary to rethink sort papers and the labor laws of the women. E more, I would not create two or more children without certainty of that he would have a job tomorrow. I find that many Japanese must think as eu.*) For the author is necessary to create a working net of social politics that this guarantees and compatible different rules that admit regimes of work with different styles of life.

  19. Marxy: As far as I can tell, everyone I know from elite Japanese universities who did the normal shushoku katsudo and went into Japanese companies ends up bailing out of the Japanese system within 5-10 years and going to work somewhere else.

    That says a lot about who you hang out with. There are many, many people who stay in the system and end up married to their company. You don’t meet these guys so often in the gaishikei or small-business world because they are too busy sitting at their desks and drinking with their co-workers.

    The ACCJ Journal a month or two ago had a comment by a recruiter about the kind of people you’re talking about. The recruiter outlined a typical scenario where a mid-level chair-warmer with passable English skills quits their Japanese mothership company and sweet-talks a foreign company into an appointment as their head of Japan. They then proceed to bring over all their chair-warmer “cronies” from their old company, and suddenly the foreign company finds themselves with a legion of incompetent employees in Japan who they can’t get rid of without closing their office entirely. Perhaps it’s a stereotype, but I actually saw this happen to several foreign corporate clients when I was working at a law firm.

    I work at a large Japanese company and come across many people who were drafted into it straight out of Keio or Waseda undergrad, and are still there 30 years later having picked up some courtesy promotions along the way. These people are real, but you are unlikely to meet them unless you work at a large Japanese company, because most of them [at least seem to] have very little social life outside the context of their company.

  20. “move up the corporate ladder despite being from a non-elite background etc.”

    I think this discussion is getting away from Uno’s major point. When you say “non-elite background” here, you mean a degree from a state university, not the GEDs who are very much the rule rather than the exception, right?

    Even in Japan, desk salarymen at companies with more than 100 employees were never more than 5% of the workforce (including female part-timers, etc.) so considering this group and its current version is only of major importance on the level of corporate vitality, not larger quality of life issues. Something more than 25% of the Japanese and American workforces are in semi-skilled retail or similar jobs. The people in these tenuous jobs are are not moving up any ladders. No amount of social engineering is going to move these individuals into corporate security or skilled freelancing. Manufacturing is not coming back. A social agenda to give these individuals security, confidence to spend and start families, etc. is an option. There is still the matter of paying for it, however. The taxes of those 50 year old windowsillers sound like as good a place to start as any.

  21. One thing I think I’ve noticed that makes adjusting expectations difficult is that some young people in this country don’t know their expectations until they get further into their 20’s or 30’s. For instance, a woman may be working in a job she loves and does well, gets married, and later has a child. Upon having a child, she may discover that she is a believer in the ‘sansaiji-shinwa’, and she now wants to stay home and raise the child until at least three years old. If you were to survey her a year or two earlier, when work was of central importance, she may have said that she would be ready to return to work after less than a year of childcare leave. Not that it’s unique to Japan, but I think it is very difficult for the government to try and assess the expectations of the younger Japanese generation.

    Anyhow, if any of you like older Japanese movies and want to see an amusing film about an elite young man’s passage into Japanese working life, try and rent “Man’in Densha”.

  22. My wife and I are learning how freaking hard it is to raise kids in Japan with both parents working full-time.

    First, it’s amazingly hard to hire nannies in Japan, unlike in Hong Kong or, say, Dubai, where everyone is issued three nannies and a maid when they step off the plane. So unless you are rich/influential enough to hire or sponsor a full-time nanny, you need to get your kid(s) into a daycare center (hoikuen). Good luck with that; there are way too few and they book up years in advance, by women who think that they MIGHT get pregnant this year and MIGHT need daycare the following year. We got lucky and found a new one just opening and got our daughter in.

    Now, you need to drop off your kid(s) at 9 and pick them up by 7. Most hardcore office jobs require you to work past 7 at least some, if not all, of the time. And many jobs require you to be in by 9, making it impossible to drop the kid(s) off at daycare at 9.

    By the way, you can’t store your baby carriage at the day care center, so be prepared to physically carry your little munchkin all the way from home, or else you’re carrying the baby carriage to work and back to the center at the end of the day. Lots of fun during a rush hour commute on the trains! Heaven help you if your center is not easy walking distance from your home.

    Also, most daycare centers require you to carry home your kid(s)’ used diapers home at the end of the day and throw them out with your own trash. Just an added little bonus for you, the parent. And if your kid gets sick, the center will call you and tell you you need to come pick him or her up. Right now. Too bad if you have a big meeting with a client.

    My wife and I are barely making things work by one of us taking our daughter to daycare in the morning, the other one of us picking her up at night, and relying on expensive baby sitters in cases where we can’t be there. It ain’t easy, it ain’t cheap, and it ain’t family friendly. The DPJ can take its 13,000 yen per month childcare subsidy and shove it. What Japan needs is realistic daycare options for working families, or this country is going to continue to age into oblivion.

  23. Ju2tin, what ward are you in?

    Not all day care facilities require a drop off at 9. Many have workers or volunteers on an earlier shift, and so can accommodate drop-offs as early as 7 or 7:15.

    As well, not all day care facilities won’t allow you to store the carriage there. The ones we have used has no problem with leaving the buggy there all day.

    Many day care facilities do require you to use paper diapers and do require you to bring home the dirty diapers from that day, but (a) they will require you to provide a bag for them to put it in, so it’s just another plastic bag to carry, and (b) if you were raising the child yourself, you’d presumably be throwing away the diapers in your own trash. (i.e. I’m lost on where the burden is. If it truly sucks, then it is all the more incentive to get one’s child out of diapers earlier rather than later.)

    As for your child getting sick. This is almost necessarily going to happen, and different day cares will have different policies, mostly based on the extent of your child’s fever. Some cap it at 38 degrees, others will say either 1 degree on either side of the normal body temperature (heinetsu), which is calculated using the data from the first week or two. If you want to provide some insurance against getting called out of work every time your child runs a slight fever, you can always fudge the initial heinetsu data, submitting an average temperature about half a degree higher than measured. I did not do that, and to make matters worse measured my son’s temperature with a thermometer that guesses after 30 seconds. It measured consistently half a degree lower than the day care’s thermometer, and so I really only had half a degree of leeway above his standing temperature. Result: I was called out of work 7 times in December to take him home.

    Anyhow, the day care workers are also responsible for keeping the other kids from getting sick, so unless you want them to quarantine your kid so you can make the big meeting with your client, find a way to get the kid home, and phone it in.

    I dunno, there are a lot of moving parts, and between employers, the day care industry, and the government, there is still a lot of adjustment needed in order to make parents in Japan (our discussion is really about Tokyo, but hey) comfortable with raising kids and working. But the overall theme for the parent when raising kids is finding the stuff to sacrifice and throw overboard now that the kid is here. For me it was two months’ salary, overtime, and the majority of my drinking habit. Do I miss those things? The money from those two months, the freedom of not having to come home at a certain time, the enjoyment of drinking with friends? Sure I miss them.

    But that’s what it takes, and the sacrifice is worth it, all in all.

  24. I’m in Setagaya-ku, in Shimokitazawa. No doubt there are other daycare centers in Japan or even just Tokyo with other policies, but we are limited to those in our area. 9 to 7 it is. They use a time-stamp machine so if you are a minute early or late, they sock you for overtime fees. And what would be so crazy about them having a “sick room” to quarantine any kid with a fever until his parents can come and get him?

    We have sacrificed plenty. My wife passed up 6 months of salary beyond the paltry 3 months of maternity leave at 80% pay she got from her employer. Now she has the unmitigated gall to want to return to her career-track position in a law firm. Women! Don’t they know their place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?

    Our easiest course of action would probably be to sacrifice her entire career and then we’d have no problem taking care of kids at all. But that simply proves my point: it’s damn hard for a serious two-career couple to raise kids in Japan, especially in Tokyo.

  25. lurker here and now first-time poster, and father of two.

    I think that if you are lucky enough to have children, why do both parents need to work
    unless you are financially constricted ?
    I have moved heaven and earth to be able to spend the last few years with my daughter,
    bonding with her and watching her learn to walk, talk and play.
    the trouble with leaving your infants and babies to daycare centres is that you miss out on the crucial bond that will last throughout the rest of your lives.

    I have it on good evidence (my father is a child psychiatrist) that children in the first year form a very important bond with their mother that has implications for all sorts of behavioral aspects later on in life including confidence and self-esteem.

    a lot of people in Tokyo, some constricted by money of course, seem in a hurry to rush their kids off to day-care soon after they are born.
    You only get one chance and if you are not careful, your child will form their bond with somebody else.
    A kid isn’t a puppy to play with at weekends – they have crucial needs.

    It’s not so hard to raise kids in Japan at all, but some sacrifices do need to be made.

  26. Adrian, where do you get off lecturing me on how to raise a child? You don’t know anything about me, or my wife, or our jobs, or our finances, or our relationship with our daughter, so I’ll thank you to keep your trite lectures to yourself.

  27. Ju2tin – I think that it is safe to assume that your household makes approx. twice what a single income household would. In this situation, it sounds like you feel that single income households should be subsidizing your childcare (through taxes funding programs they do not use) and that daycare workers making $16,000 a year should be starting their commutes at 5:30 so that they can open and set up at 6:30-7 for your convenience.

    Overseas, we discovered that arranging childcare would cost more than my wife could conceivably make and that was a big part of her decision to stay home. It ain’t all rosy elsewhere. You describe 3 months of mat leave as paltry, but I know of people who got more like 3 weeks, once again, developed country, outside Japan. No matter what you do, you don’t get the career, the cash, the prime location, and the family time. Something has to give.

    “The DPJ can take its 13,000 yen per month childcare subsidy and shove it. What Japan needs is realistic daycare options for working families”

    Families that are not power earners and have 3-4 children – far more numerous than the Tokyo dual power couple – are utterly saved by this money, the education subsidy, etc. Childcare applies more to the bigger earners, so I feel that more of the financial burden should fall on users. Otherwise, there are other options – I know of a shift-sharing daycare collective NPO in Osaka and there are others in Japan.

  28. I’m not asking anyone to “subsidize” my childcare; quite the opposite. I want the GOJ to let the free market work. There is a real need for daycare in this country.

    Neither my wife and I nor the parents I meet when I pick up my daughter each day are not part of “power couples” unless the definition of that term is stretched to encompass anyone who is not actually grappling with poverty. They’re people who work jobs, need someone to watch their kids, and are willing to pay for it. However, Japanese regulations on the opening and running of day care centers and the ability of people to work as nannies keep supply well below demand.

    Interesting that you posit the 13,000 yen DPJ subsidy as a lifeline to poor families with 3-4 kids. That’s not what it’s for, which is why it’s not means-tested. It’s designed to spur Japanese women to have kids at all, and for that purpose, it’s next to useless. Very few people who cannot already afford to have kids would be swayed by an extra 13,000 per month. So that’s another way I’m not asking anyone to subsidize my childcare.

    If the DPJ wants to help poor people, end this wasteful subsidy and create a program targeted to help poor people. If it wants to increase the birth rate and boost economic growth, it needs to make it easier for women to decide to have children without giving up their jobs.

  29. Oops, I meant to say “Neither my wife and I nor the parents I meet when I pick up my daughter each day ARE part of power couples”

  30. “That’s not what it’s for, which is why it’s not means-tested.”

    That’s why I also pointed to the education subsidy, more of a lifesaver, really. This makes it possible for the 1/3 of the Japanese labor force that will never earn substantially more than minimum wage to actually start thinking about having more than one child – people like the nannies and daycare workers.

    “need someone to watch their kids, and are willing to pay for it.”

    Are you willing to pay a nanny or daycare workers a living wage? How much are you paying the babysitter (described as expensive) that you mentioned above? Could they support a family on that wage?

  31. My problem with daycare is not the cost; it’s the scarcity and inconvenience. As for babysitters and nannies, their prices in Tokyo, in my experience, range from 1,600 yen to 3,000 yen per hour depending on the company you use. This compares quite favorably to the Tokyo minimum wage of 5,465 yen per DAY. (source:

    The term “living wage” is politically loaded; it is not for me to determine what someone needs to live on; that’s up to each person to decide for themselves. There are many people in the world who would happily come to Japan and work for much less than you or I would deem necessary, but Japan makes it hard to impossible for such people to immigrate and work. As a result, labor is scarcer here than it should be and prices are higher. This hurts working families (or as you would call them, “power couples”) who need childcare, supresses GDP growth, and consigns Japan to steady economic decline.

    I wonder why some people have so much hatred for those of us who are trying to pursue career success and raise a family at the same time. My guess is that they’re trying to rationalize their own life choices by demonizing those of us who took the other path.

  32. Adrian31, as much as you have a message to deliver about what has worked for you, the most deconstructive thing for any parent is to have criticism heaped on them for choosing the balance that they’ve chosen.

    I mentioned earlier that my son was called out of day care seven times in his first month. A relative who heard that lay into my wife saying that this was the SOS my son was sending to his mother, and that it was too bad my wife was sacrificing her son’s well-being for the sake of her own ego.

    We thought that as a couple that both took childcare leave during our son’s first year, and now worked shortened hours that we were busting our asses; thus, it was angering to be told be someone else that our egos were coming first. In the end, someone else is always going to be trying to devote more time to their own childcare: For every parent that subscribes to sansai-ji shinwa, there is another parent who has decided not to work until the child reaches six years old. What works best is not measured by the time, but the level of stress placed on both the child and the parent.

    The government, in a white paper published twelve years ago, tried to impart to women using survey results that in many cases the women who were taking the first three years to exclusively raise their children were feeling more stress than the women who were trying to balance work and childcare. What adds to the stress in the case of women raising kids exclusively is lack of a support network (family, friends).

    I read Ju2tin’s point to be that what adds stress in the case of two parents’ working is inflexibilities on the part of both the daycare and the employer. (Three months at 80% pay from the employer, however, is in my estimation relatively very good. Most childcare leaves are not paid, and in form are nothing more than up to a year or two of job security, with any partial pay coming from the kenko hoken kumiai. For instance, 25% of salary received in bimonthly payments during the time off, and the other 25% of the stipend received as a lump payment when [read: in order that] the woman returns to work.)

    I don’t know what the schedule of the legal career track is, but balancing that with the parental career track (I don’t say that facetiously, either) cannot be easy, especially if I gather that there is little flex time in the mornings from the employer, and you are being charged sliding scale for the overtime day care you use before 9am. From your response to my quarantine comment, Ju2tin, it does seem like things would be a heck of lot easier if you hired a maid, because no day care that I have ever seen is going to take on the liability of personally nursing a sick child.

  33. Hey justin sure the truth hurts –
    I mean read your post again and it does sound more like someone bemoaning the
    bother of not being able to get their puppy in a kennel.
    I mean, you even have to take the diapers home of your child,
    fancy that !! Your child’s own diapers !!

    You have left enough details on this blog to suggest that your wife
    and you are high earners – I imagine that bringing up children
    and living in Shimokitazawa and working long hours in a career job you are not an
    English teacher.

    The biggest problem faced by young families in Japan is the competition to get their kids into day care. It should only be for those who absolutely have to work to make ends meet
    and people who have two high-paying jobs must surely be at the bottom of the list.

  34. Adrian, sure you can look at individual situations and play backseat driver, coming up with ways in which they could theoretically structure their lives to juggle priorities in a different way, but don’t you see an overall structural problem in the lack of flexible childcare services that creates a ripple effect, which is just one of factors that add up to decrease Japan’s overall economic competitiveness?

    At this point, I would like to recommend that people read this essay by former welfare mom JK Rowling, published the other day.

  35. Rowling’s story is hugely important here, but maybe not for the reason you think.

    Rowling isn’t talking about importing an economic underclass to bring childcare costs down for high earners.

    Bringing in immigrants deliberately to depreciate wages in semi-skilled and traditionally female industries like what Ju2tin is talking about is one of the things that crushes single mothers and makes it difficult for working class families to have more children.

    Ju2tin’s tone, talking about being handed a maid when you get off the plane like it is some kind of right for career couples, joking or not, ties in with the most important point in Uno’s original piece and this thread – Japan needs to make part time and semi-skilled work more humane for ordinary families. These demands – work longer hours and for lower wages in the most expensive city in the world to make it more flexible for me – are only going to ensure that the gap between rich and poor gets wider. That won’t see the population problem taken care of (as high earning, dual career families have far fewer children on average) and it likely won’t take care of one of Japan’s major economic problems – stimulating consumption, which relies on ordinary people.

    My daycare experience in Japan has been very flexible – less than 500 yen an hour, no wait list, open from 7. However, this is in an area where the workers can actually afford to live near the daycare and the city subsidizes it as part of an economic vitality thing. Tokyo gives people other opportunities, but cost and competitiveness are a part of that enviornment. There are plenty of reasons why companies or the government should look at other options, but people who are being given an opportunity to earn by a certain enviornment should not, I think, be talking about policies that deliberately depreciate working class wages in that extremely expensive enviornment to swing the balance even further in their favor.

  36. Ju2tin – In Japan, I’ve used “temporary” daycare service. Don’t seem to have quotas, but you have to register, pay a membership fee, and call ahead the day before. It seems, however, that the normal opening time for daycares in Tokyo is around 7:15-7:30 so it might be possible for you to find an alternative location just to use when you and your wife really need to get to work early. This might help to relieve the burden somewhat and should be considerably cheaper than the babysitters that you mentioned (Previous posts are purely academic – just because I don’t think you should have a cheap nanny for social reasons doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see things get easier for you and your wife).

  37. The biggest problem faced by young families in Japan is the competition to get their kids into day care. It should only be for those who absolutely have to work to make ends meet and people who have two high-paying jobs must surely be at the bottom of the list.

    I assume you mean “should be at the bottom of the list”. As it currently runs in some wards, if you are both working, and you have money to pay for day care while you wait for a ninka hoikuen spot, you are placed at the top of the list. For instance, in Kōtō Ward, where areas like the ones around Kameido or Toyosu are very competitive (e.g. Wakaba Hoikuen near Ojima was 12x oversubscribed as a #1 choice and 28x oversubscribed overall for two-year olds), a couple will be awarded 26 points, and then it becomes a competition to see who has been paying for day care the longest.

    I’ve even heard stories of people going back to work days into April–regardless of the age of the baby–so that they could rack up the maximum number of day care to report on their application. All of that jockeying certainly takes resources that not everyone has, and the ward office is in no hurry to turn the tables around and make things needs based, except that the amount you pay for the ninka hoikuen is scaled to your salary.

    As for the discussion on work-life balances, I want to put in a word for men taking childcare leave. I am not going to demonize the 99.5% percent of fathers who don’t, but having done it I do want to recommend it, as well as the guy who’s story gave me the idea in the first place: Masato Yamada

    He came to speak as part of a panel talk, a year or so after he published his book, 「経産省の山田課長補佐、ただいま育休中」 and he had a lot of funny anecdotes about the time he spent taking care of the childrearing the second time around (his wife took maternity leave when his first two children [twins] were born), the difficulties of leaving a ‘career track’ in the government, and the rewards and soft skills that he picked up along the way.

    I only took two months off (that is legally all I could have taken off), but it was definitely worth it, especially if you fear things are only going to get busier on the work front later on.

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