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Family in Japanese Society (Section1)
As mentioned in the first parts of this series of writing, family plays an important role in Japan.
Japanese values, traditions and norms are nourished in the family, where disciplined and hardworking citizens are raised to serve their society. Women enjoy a special place and play a decisive role in the family.
In my November trip to Japan I met a renowned journalist, Hiroko Tsujimoto, a Senior Writer/Editorial Writer of the Nikkei* newspaper, to discuss the role of women in the Japanese family and society. With three million daily circulation, Nikkei is one of the highly circulated newspapers in Japan.
Like any other modern society, Japan is caught on the horns of a dilemma regarding women’s dual role in the family and society. On the one hand, women play a crucial role in the family, particularly in the Japanese society; on the other hand, they are educated and are interested in their social role as well. Moreover, Japan is facing a shortage of workforce as the population is aging.
Therefore, Japan’s first preference is to utilize this pull of available labor due to many reasons: First, they are readily available; second, they are native; third, they are qualified; fourth, they are almost half of the social capital; and fifth, their social role helps them raise better children if they are provided with the necessary means and assistance to play their dual roles. Hence, attempts are underway to make a balance between women’s three roles: as housewives, working outside the home, and also as mothers, who have to give birth to children to fight aging.
I discussed many aspects of Japanese family with Ms. Tsujimoto, who kindly allocated enough time to me at her office in Nikkei.
The first issue we discussed was the role of women at home and society.
There is a problem: the number of children in every family has declined, Tsujimoto said, “But women, many of them having university degrees, want to work outside and play their social role, which may hamper their role as a mother.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has introduced many new policies in Japan.
One of the policies announced in 2013 was paving the way for women to work in the society, while maintaining their roles as mother and housewife.
In order for women to work in the society, Tsujimoto said, “Premier Abe promised to provide women, who have babies and want to work, with the necessary facilities to take care of their kids”.
“In 2013, Abe announced that childcare centers will be built to look after 400,000 kids and later he increased the number to 500,000, and promised to complete such centers by March 2018,” she said.
Although the construction of childcare centers has already begun, they are not enough, Tsujimoto said.
One interesting point about the said childcare centers is that they charge the families concomitant with their income, so that no pressure is put on them. This encourages the women who are interested in working outside their homes to join the market without being worried about their kids.
When we were discussing the issues, a gentleman came and brought three cups of tea for Ms. Tsujimoto, my guide Mr. Haqiqi, and me. The interesting point was that Ms. Tsujimoto was asked to sign a voucher for the tea served. Yet another example of financial discipline in the Japanese society.
“One interesting point about childcare centers is that they must be built on the basis of certain standards, which assures the parents that their kids are looked after in safe hands, whereby encouraging mothers to work while having their kids as well,” she said.
The second point is the wages of women who join the market. The wages are encouraging. In other words, “Women who send their kids to childcare centers, earn more than what they pay to these centers and hence it is economical for them to work and raise children.”
“Today, it is a social demand that women work and do the parenting job both,” she said. In fact, the population began to decline since 1994, but when they decided to build childcare centers, they did not have enough financial resources.
“Japan looks at France and Sweden as a model where women work and bear children,” Tsujimoto said. “The said two countries have allocated a good budget to childcare centers. In other words, the formula of working women bearing children is gaining weight.”
When women began to work in France, in the beginning the birthrate declined, but once the policies were introduced and implemented, it surged.
In Japan too, women had to choose between work and motherhood for a long time, she said, “But we have begun to change this policy to create harmony between work and motherhood.”
* Nikkei’s overseas network spreads around the world with 37 bases with over 240 staff. In 2014, it set up an editorial bureau for Asia in Bangkok and Nikkei Group Asia, a business base for Nikkei and group companies, in Singapore. The strong network in Asia is the heart of its information gathering to send out Asian news to the world. Nikkei is associated in partnership with foreign media companies. Some of the partnership includes mutual exploitation of articles, so that Nikkei readers can observe the world from different points of view. These companies spread in almost all continents of the world, from Southeast Asia to the United States to South America.