Christmas in Japan was over, and like it does in America, things were back to normal. My fiance had to work, so I made plans to go to Tachikawa to hang out with one of my university friends.
After the Illuminations and decorations all over Japan leading up to Christmas Day, things quickly returned to normal in Tokyo the day after Christmas. The same phenomenon happens in the US when Christmas is over, and the decorations are put away for another year. The next big holiday to gear up for is the New Year, which is celebrated on the same day in Japan as in the US.
Earlier during my one-month trip to Japan, I met up with my Japanese friends from when I studied abroad in Japan during my undergraduate studies. My fiance had to work the day after Christmas, so I made plans to meet up one of my university friends in Tachikawa 立川市, in Tokyo. My friend brought her 1-year-old son and we met up for lunch and a day in the park. The weather this winter was mild and warm, especially compared to the previous winter that had record snowfall and very low temperatures.
We ate amazing food at the Tachikawa train station, and then took her son to the park to play catch, play with bubbles (shabon-dama シャボン玉), and toddle around like 1-year-olds. We also talked about motherhood in Japan
Working & Motherhood in Japan
Most of my friends from university in Japan became teachers, but women who get married and have children in Japan are mostly expected to quit their jobs and raise the children. My friend, who I’ll call Mariko, decided to start a family, and therefore she stays at home with her son. In a few years she plans to go back to work, but most likely she’ll work retail like she did before her son was born, rather than becoming a teacher.
Many Japanese husbands, like Mariko’s, work long hours and even on weekends to support their families. Traditionally, the pay structure at most companies was designed to support a family and allow the mother to raise the children and care for the household. Today, with a different economy and different company attitudes towards lifetime pay schedules, many young families find the need for both the husband and the wife to work.
Childcare can be expensive, so while the children are too young to go to school the mother will often remain at home. However, when the children are old enough to go to school, the mother may need to pick up a job to supplement her husband’s income. This is especially true if the family wants to buy a house or a second car. However, since women traditionally leave the workforce when they start a family, there isn’t a good system in place for women to continue their career once they’ve left. A lot of women in Japan lately have begun postponing starting a family in order to build their career, including my friends.
Travelling Mothers in Japan
Mariko’s household has only one car, which means that she takes public transportation whenever her husband is at work. She has to take the stroller, or baby car ベビーカー, and baby bag with her on the bus and train whenever she wants to go to the supermarket, or to meet up with me for the afternoon. This can be a struggle, as I witnessed firsthand, when she struggled her way off the bus with her son, the stroller, and bag. It can also make her late if the bus or train is full.
When you are pregnant in Japan, you get a small badge that says “Baby in Stomach” or 「おなかに赤ちゃんがいます」。 The pregnant woman attaches this to her purse for the duration of her pregnancy. When you see this badge on the bus or train, you are supposed to allow the wearer your seat. This saves trouble on the whole “is that person pregnant?” question, and prevents awkward conversations. However, many people ignore this badge and won’t give up their seat. Giving up your seat to someone with this badge can be a relief to a person who is having difficulty, so I don’t see why any conscientious person wouldn’t give up their seat. (This has been a PSA…)
Childbirth in Japan
When women give birth in Japan, they often go to their hometown to do so. Many women move away from their hometown when they get married, and live in Tokyo or another larger city. Just before they give birth they stay with their parents, and their mother helps to take care of the baby after it is born. This way, the husband can stay at work and won’t have to worry about taking care of their wife when she is in labor. The women can have the extra benefit of their mother, who has already gone through this experience. A little while after the baby is born, the wife will then move back home and begin family life.
In America, the father has a lot more to do with the birth, and the wife or husbands’ parents may be involved. My Japanese friend was shocked to hear that some fathers even witness the birth of the baby. In Japan, fathers most certainly do not come anywhere near the delivery room!
What is motherhood like in your country? Are there any hardships that mothers have to face? What is it like for fathers? Let me know in the comments!