AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 320

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Session 320: Parenting and Childcare in Japan

Organizer: Barbara G. Holthus, University of Vienna, Austria

Chair: Emiko Ochiai, Kyoto University, Japan

Discussant: Emiko Ochiai, Kyoto University, Japan

Japan has seen a serious decline in its fertility rate over the last decades. At the same time, Japanese families, as well as norms, behavior, and discourses on female employment, work-life balance, and motherhood have been changing. The goal of this interdisciplinary panel (education, sociology, anthropology) is to explore practices and discourses surrounding parenthood, parenting, and childcare, by looking at these changes from various angles and with diverse methodologies (interviews, survey, mixed-methods, content analysis). In summary the papers present significant diversity of how parenting and childcare are practiced and imagined over time. Whereas Holloway (Ph.D., Berkeley) analyzes the different life courses women choose in regards to their employment vis-à-vis starting a family, examining the social norms and pressures that still factor into the decision for or against becoming a working mother, Holthus (Ph.D., DIJ Tokyo) specifically looks at dual-earner families and the role and importance of grandparental care-giving in addition to the institutionalized childcare system. Both papers end with a set of policy recommendations. Igarashi (Ph.D. candidate, University of Hawaii) focuses on a rather new form of Japanese families, so-called “transnational families”. By analyzing the diverse reasons for families to choose this path of parenting - one parent living with the child abroad, in this case Hawaii - Igarashi manages to provide a typology of these parents. Last but not least, Yasumoto (Ph.D., Georgia State University) offers insights into media discourses and the changing images of mothers and fathers in Japan’s daily press over the last 60 years.

Seeking a Better Balance: Women’s Experience of Childrearing and Work in Contemporary Japan
Susan D. Holloway, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Over the past 60 years, as the birth rate has dropped from 4.5 to 1.3, Japan has become one of the world’s least fertile countries. While many industrialized countries are experiencing similarly reduced birth rates, the Japanese phenomenon is particularly surprising due to the strong identification that women have had with the role of mother over the past half century. It is apparent that many Japanese women are deeply questioning conventional norms about the role of wife and mother. In spite of deep national concern about low fertility, government officials have paid little attention to the viewpoint of the women who are making these important decisions. And many academics have viewed Japanese women as an “environment” for producing high-achieving children rather than as individuals whose own beliefs and feelings should be considered. In this paper, I propose to address this gap, drawing from a three-year, mixed method study to describe how women in two Japanese cities perceive and experience the tensions between childrearing and employment. My research suggests that women’s actions are shaped by their own childrearing standards, the support received from immediate family members, and government policies and corporate practices. In the proposed talk, I will illustrate these patterns by describing two women, one who successfully resisted family pressure to resign her position as a teacher when she became engaged and a second who gave up a promising career in product design. The paper will conclude with policy recommendations aimed at enhancing opportunities for Japanese women to be deeply engaged in parenting as well as employment.

The role of grandparents in childcare in contemporary Japan
Barbara G. Holthus, University of Vienna, Austria

Parents in the labor force face numerous decisions when balancing their work and home life, including choosing the right type of care to provide for their children while they work. Childcare arrangements are an important issue for parents, care providers, and policy makers. In my presentation I will introduce the results of a non-representative survey I conducted in 2008 among 350 parents with at least one child enrolled in a daycare facility throughout Japan, aiming to understand parental utilization of, opinions on, and satisfaction with institutionalized childcare. One surprising result is the obvious significance of grandparental childcare – not as substitute for daycare but in addition to the use of institutionalized childcare. The comparatively understudied role of grandparental care for the case of contemporary Japan can be seen in the grandparents’ helping with daycare runs in the evening, in the case a child is sick and cannot attend daycare, and as full-time caregivers during the summer-vacation. This form of intergenerational family support and its growing importance can also be seen in a number of baby-care and child-rearing courses lately offered to grandparents in Tokyo. For grandparents to be able to provide additional childcare, convenient housing arrangements, namely a close proximity between nuclear family and the grandparents, are reported as beneficial. From a social policy perspective, these findings point to a continuing need for the provision of after-hours daycare and institutionalized childcare for sick children, as these seem to be the most significant deficiencies in the existing early childcare and education system for dual-earner parents.

Japanese Transnational Families in Hawaii
Hiroki Igarashi, Chiba University, Japan

Over the past two decades, a new form of transnational family arrangement, called “global householding” (Douglass 2007), in which family members live separately across the national borders, has been practiced by many Asian families. Among the different motives for Asian families to adopt transnational family practices, one of the specific East Asian reasons is to educate children in English-speaking countries and have them acquire English fluency and a degree from higher education. Although such a family arrangement has been observed among Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese families, the case is missing for Japanese families. The exploratory nature of this study aims to understand the holistic picture of Japanese transnational families by using the case of Hawaii, a popular destination for Japanese families for this purpose because it is relatively close to Japan, yet parents can provide their children the opportunity to learn authentic English and Western culture. By interviewing 34 Japanese mothers, my findings reveal five distinctive typologies of Japanese transnational families: 1) corporate elite families, 2) ones preparing the children for exams to enter a Japanese elite private elementary school, 3) ones preferring international education to conventional Japanese education, 4) children who have maladapted to schools in Japan, and 5) single mothers. It was also found that negative conjugal relationships more or less operated as a push factor for families to initiate transnational family practices; about half of the mothers staying in Hawaii for more than a year consider divorcing from their husbands in the future.

Six-Decade Analysis of Gender Disparities in Japanese Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Comic Strips
Saori Yasumoto, Georgia State University, Japan

By using 246 Japanese comic strips published on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day in Japanese newspapers between 1950 and 2010, I conducted content analysis to examine how the media’s depiction of gender stereotypes in Japan changed over time. My findings suggest that the depiction of gender stereotypes have fluctuated over time. In the 1950s, families were depicted in a very patriarchal manner. The pattern changed in the 1970s to fathers and mothers being depicted as sharing egalitarian gender role expectations. However, fathers were shown to be patriarchal again in the early 1980s, and the pattern shifted in the late 1980s that comic strip fathers and mothers shared gender equalities again. Fathers were shown to be patriarchal once again in the 1990s, but the pattern reversed since the 2000s. Based on the analysis, I hypothesize about the impact of various social forces (i.e., feminist movements, economic changes, and low fertility rate) on the depiction of changing gender roles over time. I also talk about the importance of analyzing cultural objects to understand parenthood in Japan. LaRossa (1988, 1997) discussed that acknowledging both the culture of parenthood (i.e., norms and expectations associated with parents) and the conduct of parenthood (i.e., behaviors of fathers and mothers) is necessary to fully uncover changing patterns of parenthood because these two influence each other. Since the extant Japanese family literature tends to focus on the conduct of parenthood, I tried to fill the gap by demonstrating how the culture of parenthood in Japan changed since the Second World.