How coincidental that right after I wrote about one women’s issue in Japan another one pops right up in the news. Masami Ito reports in Assemblyman’s rebuke of moms seeking day care draws outrage. Yutaro Tanaka of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan wrote in a blog that the women of Suginami were making “shameless” demands for more daycare services. He then digs his hole deeper by complaining, “What I am saying is don’t force your child-rearing on society from the start. . . . (The mothers) should have the manners and etiquette to say ‘Please help us raise our children.’ ”
The only shameless part of his entire little spiel is his absolute disrespect towards the women under his political care. However, this come as no surprise to me since the entire Japanese culture has flung back to a much more conservative style of thinking when it comes to women in general. Working moms in Japan exist, but generally the mothers work jobs that are part time and require little to no education to attain. Usually, these jobs are during school hours so moms can be there for their children before and after work.
That’s the ideal scenario, anyway. The fact is with the stagnant economy in Japan, more mothers have to work longer hours or even full time in order to make ends meet along with their working full time husbands. Married women make up about 57 percent of the female work force while about 65 percent of mothers are stay-at-home housewives. Yet usually a working married woman will need a way to keep the job while also juggling the responsibilities of managing any children born into the household. Tanaka seems to misunderstand the situation. It’s not that these women are placing a burden upon society, it’s that society is placing two very heavy burdens on Japanese women.
Men in Japan, as a general rule, don’t have a big hand in raising the children in the household. On average, men in Japan work 70+ hours a week. For statistics, the division of gender labor in a household in Japan is 1.5, with 1 being only women raise the children and 5 being only men raise the children. Tanaka probably couldn’t comprehend working those 70+ hours on top of raising a child, but he fully expects the women of Suginami to do just that, as do many men in Japan.
Besides, child care shouldn’t be a burden on society. Taking care of children should be a high priority for all of Japan considering its declining birth rate and rising aging population. Masami Ito reports that, “The massive number of children waiting to get into publicly certified nurseries is a nationwide problem…Health ministry data show 24,825 kids nationwide were denied day care in 2012. Tokyo led by far with 7,257 such kids. The ministry has set up a special fund, currently totaling ¥550 billion, to provide support to municipal governments to ease the problem.” Investing in child care is the smartest option, considering that more and more women in Japan would rather have a career than be mothers since there’s little to no help given to working Japanese moms.
On top of that, it’s interesting to note that families with non-working wives receive a tax deduction of about ¥ 270,000.00 ($3,000), whereas a working woman when she earns more than about ¥ 750,000.00 ($8,200) a year the deduction drops to about ¥ 22,000.00($240). Women who work are also often denied benefits from their husband’s pension plan. In other words, it can actually hurt the household in the long run if a woman works. There’s little to no reward for working moms through the government as it stands now, and it doesn’t look like the LDP will change that part of the system anytime soon.
Adding even more salt to the economic wound, Goldman Sachs said in a report in October 0f 2010 that there’s “a significant lost economic opportunity for the nation,” since only 65 percent of college-educated Japanese women are employed. Many of these college educated workers are in low-paid temp jobs. In comparison, 80 percent of college-educated women in the United States are employed. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave the work force after their first child compared with just one-third of American women, the report said, often because of corporate and societal norms, as well as insufficient child care. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 17, 2011] Basically, Japan is keeping quality minds and workers out of the economy, thus keeping Japan’s economy down. Society could be benefiting from them, but instead have to be forced into child rearing.
And so, to Tanaka I say work on getting college-educated women the help they need to help boost your economy. Quit calling them “shameless” for needing help because your system puts them in a tough position between having a job or having a child. Don’t be so surprised when they get angry and demand change because they have the degrees to do the work but the lack of government assistance, and even government hindrance, prevents them from doing so. While I’m not Japanese, I’ll use all my manners and etiquette to say to you:
“Please do your job.”
Japanese culture and I formed a deeply loving if complicated relationship over this past year and a half. I have the greatest opportunity to learn about it on Japanese soil, which is awesome. I’m one of the lucky ones. However, at times, Japanese culture and I discover irreconcilable differences. Christmas cake is one such issue.
Christmas cake refers to a woman who is over 25 and not married. The idea behind this term is that Christmas cake is only good and only wanted until December 25th. Past that day, it’s no good and nobody wants it. In Japan, this term applies to women as well. If a woman isn’t married past the age of 25, then she’s no good and no one wants her.
I’m 23 years old and single. To well meaning Japanese men and women, they hear “nearing the expiration date” and forewarn me with a smile about Christmas Cake. At first, I just changed the subject and moved onto another topic. Now, I make a point to say, “女性はクリスマスケーキではない (Women are not Christmas Cake).”
Women are quite capable of being good wives and mothers past the age of 25, Japanese or otherwise. I don’t know why Japan has this idea that woman over 25 are somehow “used goods” or “too old.” Women are not like cake at all. When we age, we age like people should. We get (hopefully) smarter, wiser, and stronger. Beauty comes from experience, and to deny women experiences makes me a little angry with Japanese society.
Marriage is an experience, true, but in Japan marriage for most women means the life of a housewife. I can’t see myself getting married until far, far into the future. I want to travel, write novels, build up my career (whatever that is), and a thousand other things before I “settle down.” Quite frankly, I don’t see myself as ever really “settling” anywhere. It breaks my heart to think that any woman feels trapped due to this cultural concept to marry before they’re ready. No woman should feel worthless because she’s over the age of 25 and still free to do as she pleases.
A woman’s worth, in my opinion, shouldn’t come from her age or her relationship status. I am absolutely Western like that, and I refuse to change my views on the subject. If a woman decides of her own volition she wants nothing to do with marriage and children, then by all means revel in the freedom! In America, such a choice is becoming more and more common, for both men and women. In Japan, such a decision is rare and nearly impossible to consider.
Colin P.A. Jones’ article “Blame it on the hara: harassment vocabulary makes us all victims,” defined Mariji-harasumento (“marriage harassment”) as “any sort of commentary that makes a woman feel bad about still not being married.” I think the term Christmas cake definitely falls under that category of harassment. Japanese women, and foreign women such as myself, get constant reminders from well meaning people about our age. The idea persists in Japan that women must want to get married, want to become mothers as soon as possible, and must find a man to fulfill that ambition before it’s too late. They think of mariji-harasumento not as harassment but as encouragement.
For many women, I’m sure it is a dream to become a wife and mother, and that’s an honorable ambition. Finding someone to love and making a family shouldn’t be looked down upon as a life choice, by any means. Moms are awesome. They put up with all the crap from their kids and still love them. They take care of all the stuff we don’t think about as kids, not just cleaning and cooking but also scheduling doctors appointments for the whole family, getting everything ready for birthday parties, and, if you’re a Japanese woman, the household money.
There’s a lot that goes into motherhood and the responsibilities of being a wife, which is even one more reason I think 25 is actually too young for marriage. When you’re a mother, you’re responsible for a whole other life besides your own, maybe even more. To me, that’s a little terrifying if I think about it too hard. Babies are especially prone to rolling around unexpectedly and toddlers like to walk into things. I baby sat enough to know children are not low maintenance even at the best of times. They need food, from you. They need love, from you. They need everything, from YOU. See? Terrifying.
Getting mariji-harasumento from a Japanese man is the worst. It sometimes takes every last drop of patience I have in my body not to lash out with some barbs about misogynistic cultural acceptance of outdated norms. It helps that I don’t know enough Japanese to yell all that out. Even if I did know the language for it, I’m sure I would confuse a Japanese man who holds firm to these ideas that I don’t want to get married at 25. Instead of understanding it as a decision, he would probably assume something is wrong with me, because that’s what all women want. I would never be able to convince him otherwise, but I can battle this cultural difference the only way I know how: Stubborn determination. And so, I just smile and say for the thousandth time, “女性はクリスマスケーキではない (Women are not Christmas Cake).”
Married or single, 25 or 105, Japanese or American, women are always good.
On February 17th, I participated in the Kashima Friendship Association Japanese Speech Contest. Before the competition I practiced everyday for two hours for two straight weeks with the help of my friends Yoko-san and Osaki-san. It was tough, but I did it! Since some people couldn’t come and wanted to read it, I decided to post the speech for all to see.
The Japanese version:
わたしが きょねん にほんに きたとき、にほんは ３月 １１日の
じしんから ふっこうしている さいちゅうでした。
わたしのまち いたこは まだ すいどうやどうろが ふっきゅう していませんでした。
わたしが すんでいる ちいきの ひので では、すうかしょで じめんが かんぼつしていました。
まいにち ふっきゅうさぎょうをする こうじのおとが きこえていました。
そのような ひがいにも かかわらず、わたしは じしんが こわいとおもう いじょうに、 わたしは じぶんが ALT として よいせんせいに なれないのではないかということを おそれていました。
にせんじゅういちねん の くがつに わたしは はじめて じゅぎょうを しました。
いっしょに じゅうぎょうを たんとうする せんせいがたは まえに おあいしたことがありました。 でも れっすんぷらんの つくりかたも にほんじんのせんせいとのじゅぎょうのしかたも にほんごじたいも あまりわかりませんでした。
こんなしっぱいを するんじゃないか、あんなしっぱいを するんじゃないかと
いろいろなしっぱいを そうぞう してしまいました。
つきひは ながれ、 わたしの あぱーとの まわりの どうろも ゆっくりでは
ありますが たいらに そして まっすぐに なりました。 そのようすを しゃしんに おさめていきました。 つぎつぎと わたしの あぱーとのまわりの たてものは ふっきゅうされて いきました。 そんかいした いえは とても はやく しんちく されていきました。 わたしは このめで じぶんのすむ にほんのまちが さいがいを のりこえて いぜんより より ちからづよいまちに なっているのを みてきました。
いつも つねに よりよい しゃかいのために へんかを おこしている にほんじんを わたしは、そんけいしています。
わたしじしんも ゆっくりですが へんかしてきました。 どのようにすれば よいれっすんになるのか わかってきました。 にほんじんのせんせいと いっしょにおしえることは たいへんなことですが、 せいとに まなんでほしい というきもちは いっしょです。いっしょに はたらくことで おたがいにどうしてほしいかを はなしあって
いくなかで、よい じゅぎょうが できるように なりました。
わたしは かしましで にほんごを まなんでいます。たくさんのことを まなびました。
でも まだ たくさん まなぶことがあります。 たくさん まちがえました。 ときどき、とてもおおきな まちがいをすることもあります。
でも そのなかで わたしは せいこうするためには しっぱいをすることを まなびました。 そのけいけんから せいとにいつも いっています。
てれびで みやぎの ひとたちが せいかつのたてなおしを しているところを みました。
ゆくえふめいしゃを ひっしでそうさく していました。
にゅーすを みるたびに ししょうしゃすうが ふえていきました。
そのたびに なみだが あふれてきました。
ししゃが はっけんされることもありましたし、せいかんしたひとも いました。
しかし、どんなときでも みんなきぼうを すてませんでした。
けっして あきらめない すがたが とても かんどうてきでした。
そして わたしじしんも よいせんせいになることを あきらめてはいけないと おもいました。
わたしは せいとたちの さくぶんの てんさくをしていました。 せいとは２０１１
年に おきた できごとに ついて かくことに なっていました。 もちろん ひがしにほん だいしんさいも とぴっくに なっていました。
せいとは おなじようなことを なんかいも くりかえして かいていました。
ひがしにほんだいしんさいは ３月 １１日でした。 そのひのことをよくおぼえています。 じしんがあったとき わたしはがっこうにいました。
とても こわかったです。おおぜいのひとが なくなりました。あのじしんの ことは
そのことについて かかれた さくぶんを よむたびに こころが はりさけそうに
なりました。 ふくしまのちかくに かぞくがいる せいとも いて、ほうしゃのう
れべるが たかくなっている ということをしんぱい しているせいとが ふくすう いました。
３月１１日 のすうじをみるたびに ９月１１日のことが あたまをよぎって しまいます。
Twin Towersが こうげきされたとき じぶんが いたところも はっきり おぼえています。 がっこうの ろうかが ぱにっくに なったひとたちで いっぱいだったことを おぼえています。せんせいたちは はやくちで はなしていました。 りかしつにむかうと てれびがついていました。 こうそうびるから なにか けむりのようなものがみえましたが なにがおこっているか わかりませんでした。 それは さいしょの たわーが ひこうきで ついげきされたときでした。
９月１１日のできごとのあと、せんせいたちは がっこうが もとどおりに なるように いっしょうけんめい ちからをそそいでいたことを おぼえています。
ときどき、そのじけんのことを はなしていましたが、ふだんは さきにすすもうとしていました。
にほんでも せんせいや せいとが じしんをのりこえて ぜんしんしようと しているところを みてきました。
大きな じしんがおこると いまだに せいとは こわがっています。
あるせいとは、２０１１年の１１月に じしんがおきたときに こわがって、わたしのてを ぎゅっとにぎっていました。わたしは 「だいじょうぶですよ。だいじょうぶ。」とてをにぎったまま いいました。 いぜんのじょうたいに もどれるように びりょくながら てつだいたいのです。
せいとたちは、ほんとうに つよく ぜんしんしようと しています。 まいにち わたしはえいごをおしえていますが、すこしずつ じぶんじしんも つよくなっているのをかんじます。
じぶんがしていることがわかりますし、どうすればじょうずにおしえることができるかもわかります。どうしたらいいか わからなくなることも ありません。
こどもたちは、じしんが おきるまえのように むじゃきに
まださきの はるやすみのことについて はなしています。そして すぐやってくる バレンタインズ ディのこともきになるようで、 わたしに、だれかに ちょこれーとを あげるかどうかもきかれました。
たてものや どうろが しゅうふくされ、あたらしいとし とともに あたらしいへんかが あるといいなあと おもいます。 にほんにとっても、わたしにとっても よりよいへんかがあると うれしいです。 ３月１１日の きおくを ぬぐいさることは できませんが ここにいて にほんの おてつだいをすることはできます。
すべてを もとどおりにすることは できませんし、ふかのうです。でも いっしょにいて、せいとをあんしんさせることはできます。
じしんは また おきるかもしれませんが、わたしはどこにもいきません。 ここにいて にほんの これから いちねんの おおきな へんかに きたいしているのです。
The English Version
One Year of Change
When I came to Japan last year, I found Japan recovering from the March 11th earthquake. My city, Itako, still had places without running water and many roads were still really damaged. The ground in my subdivision, Hinode, dropped by a few meters in some places. Every day I heard construction workers trying to rebuild the city.
Despite all the damage I saw, I wasn’t scared of earthquakes. I was afraid that I would be a bad teacher. In September of 2011, I taught a class for the first time. I had seen other teachers teach before, but this was my first experience being in front of the classroom. I didn’t know how to make lesson plans, how to work with a Japanese English Teacher, and I didn’t know that much Japanese. I kept thinking about all the ways I could make a mistake. I kept imagining that I would fail in this way or that way.
As time went by, the roads slowly became smooth and straight again around my apartment. I took pictures of the damage being repaired. Constantly, the buildings around me changed. Houses would go down, and the quickly replaced in a few weeks with a new house. I watched my city build up from the disaster to become stronger than before. I admired the Japanese people. Always there were changes.
I changed slowly, too. I learned how to teach. I figured out how to make good lessons. I discovered that working with Japanese English Teacher can be challenging, but we all want the students to learn English. By working together and communicating what we want from each other, my co-workers and I have done some very good work at our schools. I studied Japanese and went to Japanese classes in a nearby city called Kashima. I learned so much, but I know I have much to learn still. I will admit that I made mistakes. Sometimes, I even felt like a big failure, but I learned from my mistakes. I learned that sometimes you have to fail to succeed. I tell my students all the time, “It’s OK to make a mistake.”
I watched on the news as the people around Miyagi rebuilt their lives. They fought so hard to find missing people. The death toll from the tragedy rose with each news story. I watched the numbers rise with tears in my eyes. Still, there was hope. Sometimes, people were found. Sometimes, families didn’t get swept away into the sea. Sometimes it was just a simple misunderstanding. Always, people kept hoping. They never gave up. It was inspiring to me.
I couldn’t give up, either. One day, right after the New Year of 2012, I was grading essays, and the students were given different things to discuss over the year 2011. Of course, the Great East Japan Earthquake was a topic. Some students wrote about it. They said pretty much the same thing over and over again.
“The East Japan earthquake was on March 11th. I remember that day. I was in school when the earthquake happened. I was very fearful. Many people passed away and died. I will not forget that earthquake.”
My heart broke each time a student wrote about it. Some of them had family up near Fukushima and worried about them being so close to the radioactivity. More than one student mentioned the radiation levels getting high, and also about the earthquake damage in Itako.
Every time I saw the numbers 3/11, I couldn’t help but get flashbacks to 9/11. I remember that day very well. I could point out exactly where I was when the Twin Towers were attacked. I can remember how the hallways in middle school were full of people panicking. Teachers were talking to each other in hurried voices, trying to decide what to do I guess. I remember turning to the science room and the TV was on. I saw something smoking and a tall building. At the time I had no idea, but it was the first tower struck by the airplane.
I remembered how after 9/11 my teachers did their best to keep things normal. We talked about what happened from time to time, but usually we just tried to move on. I can see my students and teachers are trying to move on in Japan, too. I can still see the fear students have when a bigger earthquake happens. One student held my hand tightly when an earthquake hit in November of 2011. I squeezed her hand and said, “Daijoubu desu. It’s alright.” I want to keep doing that. I want to help make everything alright again.
My students are definitely strong and moving forward. Every day I teach them, I feel a little stronger, too. I know what I’m doing, and I know how to do it well. I don’t feel lost anymore. I’ve built strength inside thanks to Japan. I am confident in my teaching abilities now. My students already talk about spring vacation even though that’s quite a ways away. Valentine’s Day is also just around the corner. A few of my students have asked me if I’m giving away chocolates to a boy.
As the buildings come back, as the roads get fixed, I hope this next year brings new changes. I want change for the better, both for Japan and myself. I know I can’t take the memory of 3/11 away, but I can be here to support Japan. I can’t get it back to the way it was. That’s impossible. Still, I can try to make them feel secure again. The ground can shake all it wants. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here for yet one more year of change.
My article got into the iAJET Gazette! Check it out! I talk about the anti-dancing laws and what people can do to change them.
Summary provided by editor: It features a new, stunning layout by Mr. Albert David Valderrama and content to match. Travel to Mt. Akina, the heart of the speed-demon manga “Initial D,” with Albert David as your guide. Kriss Scott, our official Japanese Counterculture correspondent, names his “Top 5 Anime and Manga that Aren’t Internationally Famous (but Should Be).” Want to learn a martial art while in Japan? Get started by reading Mike Foki’s guide to budo or “the way of the warrior.”
In other news, I’ll be the new editor of the iAJET Gazette come April! I’m so excited to get started!