Today, after nursing a hangover, I did laundry, talked on the phone with a friend for an hour, dropped off clothes at the dry cleaners, went to the grocery store, picked up supplies at the pharmacy, looked at the gaudy Christmas lights outside the mall, vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom and prepared dinner.
Not a bad day for a housewife?
This behavior gets you ridiculed by most Japanese salarymen. On the other hand, it pleases Japanese women to no end.
The institutionalized gender roles in Japan drive me crazy. When I went to pick up my alien registration card a few months back, the ladies at the counter asked me if I wanted to be listed as the head of household. I told them no, Lisa, my wife, is the head of the household. She pays all the bills. She takes care of all of our documentation. She makes way more money than me.
She is head of the household. Period.
Anyway, the ladies at city hall laughed at me like I was telling them a fine joke.
It was one of the few times I didn’t laugh along at my own expense.
A recent article in the Japan Times reported that among the 87 countries in the Group of Seven nations, Japan was second to last for women’s participation in the labor force. It also said that 70 percent of women quit their jobs after the birth of their first child.
The article went on to say that if the number of women equaled the number of men in the workforce, employment would increase by 8.2 million in Japan. Quite a boost to the economy.
In my job teaching English to businessmen, Japan’s troubling economy is often a topic of discussion. The cause for the trouble boil down to these issues: the strong yen has priced Japan out of the market, China’s boycott of Japan companies in response to the flap over the Senkaku Islands, a dwindling birth rate and the aging population, a lack of immigration, and finally, the papers have recently began listing the lack of women in the workforce as an economic issue.
If there is one way to make Japanese pay attention to an issue is to explain how it is detrimental to the economy, rather than highlight the social effects.
The strong yen can’t be fixed, and making nice with China is dicey. The politicians are standing in the way. There are a lot of politicos on the hot seat, most prominently Prime Minister Noda. They want to keep their jobs. The best way to win re-election is to promise lower taxes and show a tough stance against China.
Unfortunately, doing the exact opposite is what is needed right now. But Japan’s government is rife with career politicians (many of them followed in their father’s footsteps) and the only thing they are capable of is getting re-elected. Making smart moves that have long term benefits for Japan even though it would hurt their election chances does not fall in their wheelhouse.
So Japan is stuck until they overhaul the government.
In other news, it has been reported by the BBC that by 2060 40 percent of Japan’s population will be above retirement age and the total population will shrink by one-third.
Not good for the economy.
The government’s response was to mandate companies to let their workers go home at a reasonable hour so they could impregnate their wives.
Most Japanese salarymen work until 10 p.m. or later. It is considered a dishonor to leave earlier. Many housewives scold their husbands if they come home at 5 like they are supposed to, because if they do come home, it means they are not important to the company.
However, even the government doesn’t follow its own rules. One of my contacts who happens to work for the Japanese government, said this new rule is largely scoffed at in his department, and throughout the entire organization.
One recommendation from the government isn’t going to change the business culture that is psychologically engrained.
The Japanese government needs to get more creative. As one of my client’s said, they need to brainwash society.
I don’t think that was the word he meant to use, but it is still apt.
The government needs to start a mass marketing campaign. While Japanese people love to follow rules, an even bigger fear than a reprimanding is to be non-conforming.
The same client told me a joke about the Japanese. He said (not verbatim):
A ship is sinking in the ocean. The captain says that all the lifeboats need to be saved for the women and children. To convince the men to stay on the sinking ship, the captain told the Americans that if they stay on the ship they will be considered heroes in their home country. The captain told the Italians that if they stay on the ship then all of the women in their home country will worship them. The captain told the British men that if they stay on the ship then their country will consider them to be true gentlemen. Then the captain told the Japanese men that they need to stay on the sinking ship because everybody else is.
So in my opinion, the Japanese government needs to start a subtle marketing campaign, through advertisements, commercials, television programs, movies, even video games, showing Japanese people with large families. Large happy families.
In addition they need to start depicting women in a stronger light. For instance, while we were watching online coverage of the American election, Lisa commented that all of the American anchorwomen wear power suits and have a confident demeanor.
On Japanese news programs, women are merely eye candy. They are almost always pretty young women, dressed up in doll clothes, who always agree with what the men say. When they do cover stories, it is the fluff pieces.
This view of women is seriously damaging to society’s psyche. It is teaching little girls that it is more important to grow up to be pretty and servile and it is teaching boys that women are secondary citizens.
It is grating.
Women need to be shown standing on equal footing as men. Of course, as my friend Jen Elliott pointed out, one way to improve the view of women in Japan is to finally pass the law allowing a woman to become emperor.
Another problem with women staying in the workforce, while trying to increase the population, is the fact that there are very few daycares. Working mothers are given a year off from work after giving birth simply because there is nowhere to take your child during the day, unless you live close to your parents.
The Japanese government needs to deregulate the restrictions on day care services and encourage its development. What better way is there to jumpstart efforts to get women in the workforce and foster the entrepreneurial spirit?
As for a way to increase immigration? I think the Japanese government needs to entice American and Australian gaijin like myself to come and marry the Japanese working women who are tired of the misogynistic attitude of the Japanese salaryman.
There, it only took me one beer, but I think we got it figured out.