Japan’s birth rate has decreased to a point that it will not be able to support its own country in the future. Why? Japan seems to be a rich country with everything you need, with education, food, health etc.
Then why are families deciding not to have kids? Why are families having only one or two children instead of three or more?
As a Japanese mom raising two kids, here is my view.
Terrible working environment
I think this is becoming a well-known issue in the world. Japan’s working environment is terrible, to be honest, and I must say that this is one of the biggest reasons why Japanese people are not having many babies. How terrible is it? Well, image leaving home at 7:00 am, commute on the jammed train for 1 hour, start work at 8:30, work until 21:00 and get on the train for an hour again, and finally arrive back home at 22:00? And this is every day!! And you can never have a paid holiday either. Please don’t think this is a rare type of situation, because it certainly is not. This is average for an office working man.
Meanwhile, the wife will be at home taking care of the baby alone with no support at all. In this environment, how can a family have multiple kids?
Decreasing family income
If terrible working environment isn’t bad enough, let’s look at income. Salary for a typical office worker has decreased in the past years, and many families simply cannot afford multiple kids. It costs money to raise kids. You need to buy new things, get a car, a bigger house, more food, school supplies, save for university… but if the family only receives so much, it makes sense for a family to give up having one more child. Many families want their kids to succeed, and without money, that is difficult.
Increasing working mothers
Because the income of fathers is so low, many mothers have to work outside. Sure, it is great that women get a chance to work. But this is different from working-in-the-field-of-interest-to-make-your-life-happier. It’s not. I will write about this in a different post, but women’s working environment is as worse as men’s. Many women have no choice but to work part-time with low wages.
And if mothers are at work and the father is always late coming home, who is going to take care of children after school? Who is going to prepare children’s lunches? Who is going to attend PTA conferences? Who is going to stay home and take care of a sick child? All of this is becoming a heavy burden for Japanese mothers.
Fathers and mothers cannot leave work
This is related to the terrible working environment. In Japan, is basically unacceptable for a father to leave work for ‘unnecessary reasons’. And this unnecessary reason includes taking care of a sick child or a paternal leave or a family vacation or attending your child’s field trip. “I want to spend more time with my child” is inappropriate in Japan.
So, who has to do all this instead? Of course the mother. So if the mother is working, she needs to leave work all the time. And the difficulty for leaving work is no different for a mother. A mom will have to repeat “I’m really sorry” to her coworkers to leave for a sick child. In some cases, coworkers will be unhappy because extra work load will come to them. And if a mother leaves work so often, she will lose her chance to get a raise because the boss will think she is not motivated.
Who would want many kids in such stressful environment?
In Japan, being in order and following social rules is very important. But it has become so strict that even kids (and babies!!) are expected to behave in public. I think the cultural rules are becoming more strict in the urban areas because people are so tired that they cannot accept noise and undisciplined kids. Parents (especially moms) have so much pressure to keep babies quiet on trains, must not make a mess at restaurants, and to behave like a “good mom”. Moms cannot make mistakes. If you are using a stroller in a busy place, you have to keep saying “sumimasen” (I’m sorry/Excuse me) or else they will think your attitude is too bossy.
Living far from family
Japanese people originally lived close to families and relatives. Traditionally, when a woman got married, she would live in the house with the husband and husband’s parents. People rarely moved to far away places because they didn’t have the way of transportation. In a sense this was a difficult time for women, because they had to follow strict rules of the husband’s family and obey. But there were many people to look after children.
Now, it is a very different story. Many young people move to Tokyo from their original town, away from family, for university or for work. That means it is very likely that they will meet their spouse in Tokyo, and get married there. Because the couple is already working in Tokyo, they will probably stay there even after having children.
The grandparents are living far away and cannot come to help with kids. Certainly, they will come visit occasionally, but they will not be there during emergencies. The mom and dad are the only ones who can support with parenting. If both parents are working, who is going to take care of the child when he/she gets sick? How can they take one sick child to the doctor without taking the other healthy one?
In Japan, the idealism of a super-mom exists. A mom always has to keep the house clean. A mom always has to cook healthy food. A mom always has to be understanding. A mom has to give up many things because she is a mom. And this idealism is so serious that many Japanese moms feel guilty when they don’t commit to house chores or parenting fully enough. Not parenting good enough is like “buying dinner at MacDonald’s instead of preparing a nutritious home-made meal” or “leaving the dirty dishes to wash tomorrow instead of tonight” or “not vacuuming the floor for one week”. I know, it’s silly. But it’s serious for many Japanese moms. These small things matter so much that they lose self-esteem. So, many families decide not to have multiple kids because for many moms that cannot be tolerated.
These are some of my impression on why birthrates are decreasing in Japan. Of course there are many other factors, but I concentrated on the environmental factors because those are the factors I feel the most as a mom.