Friday, 22 August 2014

Fatherhood, Ikumen and Japan's Single Dads


Image from Kobe Ikumen Blog
I've had this post sitting as a draft for nearly a year now, intending to write some detailed commentary around the links, but I'm just going to admit defeat and post it as-is. Sadly I don't have time to flesh it out as much as I'd like to.

First, this is probably the dominant image of fatherhood in Japan- the absent bread winner:

http://www.incultureparent.com/2013/09/the-estranged-japanese-dad/
Perhaps the deep gender chasm is to blame. In Kaori Shoji’s article “Ensnared in the office, dads increasingly remote,” she describes the enduring stereotype of the Japanese husband and dad. His principal, if not only, role is to work and provide for the family.

As for Japanese Moms, they were taught by their own mothers that once a woman was married and ensconced in parenthood, it was better that her husband was tassha de rusu (alive, well and absent from the home).

Motherhood changes the lives of Japanese women completely. Once they have kids, they are no longer “woman” or “wife” but “mother,” and that invariably affects marital relations. It is not surprising that Japan ranks lowest in terms of sexual frequency. Moreover, Kaori Shoji writes:

For Japanese parents, too many hours spent in each other’s company invariably led to relationship analysis and the surfacing of discontent. To maintain peace in the household, better to limit things to the innocuous, like a simple exchange of greetings.

So estranged are the dads from the family that when my husband once asked his daughter’s friends what their dads did and where they worked, they did not have the faintest idea. I think it is not fair for women to complain (not that Japanese women do; quite the opposite, they rarely talk about their problems almost to the extent that they seem to be leading perfect lives) about bearing the bulk of childcare when they assume that their husbands know absolutely nothing about childrearing and childcare and cannot be entrusted with the kids for more than short periods of time. Who can blame the husbands when they eventually come to believe that they are ill-equipped to care for their own kids? Some men reason they will just spend time and bond with their kids when they are older. Sometimes, that time never comes.
Active Father Level 5: You're fine to talk about poo while eating! Source
However, I don't believe that this is the model of family that a majority of either men or women want. The "ikumen" (active fatherhood) movement has received government support and there are magazines, organisations and of course TV specials dedicated to this new generation of fathers. The barrier is not men's unwillingness to perform child-caring activities or a lack of interest in their children; it's the work culture. For example, although the law permits paternity leave few fathers take it, in a friend's case not even one day in order to be there for his child's birth. It can be hard to understand from the outside, but in Japanese workplaces labour laws are basically meaningless. I've literally seen co-workers "clock out" before working another (unpaid) four or five hours in order to cover their employer from liability for excessive overtime. Entitlements might look nice on paper, but the company culture is what makes the ultimate difference. Nippon Life Insurance is working towards a father-friendly culture in a meaningful way:

http://www.japantoday.com/category/careers/view/nippon-life-insurance-to-provide-childcare-leave-to-all-male-employees
Currently, Nippon Life Insurance Company has about 7,700 male employees. Among them, 280 were eligible for taking childcare leave as of the end of May, Tokyo Shimbun reported. However, so far, only 5% of them actually took the week off. Starting this month, the company’s human resources department said it is checking those who haven’t taken the childcare leave and will encourage them to do so before it expires. 
http://educationinjapan.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/are-you-an-ikumen
Fathers we interviewed say the contradiction comes not so much from a true desire to be at work but rather from the pressure to be a “Japanese workaholic.” …In addition, most contemporary fathers expressed great enjoyment being in the physical presence of their children and family. One father summed it up succinctly: “We are not like our fathers–I never saw my father in the house. We WANT to be involved, but our work situations make it difficult. We can’t just leave when we want to and expect everyone to understand.” 
I actually doubt very much that "our fathers" were much different, just less able to express these feelings. I know many grandfathers who are heavily involved in caring for their grandchildren and who say things like "when my kids were little I had to work all the time and I never got to enjoy this. I never took my son to the park to play catch, but now I can do it for my grandson."

Still, no matter what gains are being made in active fatherhood for married men, single fathers face enormous hardship. Until 2010 the single parent welfare provisions were literally "single mother" provisions, with no financial assistance for men at all.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/06/01/national/npo-fathering-japan-shows-men-better-dads/#.U_bOT2NIpsI
Another amendment to the law in 2010 provided for a child-rearing allowance for single-father families, rather than just single-mother families. This shed light on the growing problem of poverty in single-parent households.
His passion for supporting fathers comes from his bitter memories of childhood.
“I didn’t like my own father, who was a negative example to me, so I wanted to become the complete opposite, and become a role model,” Ando said in a recent interview, adding that this strong yearning triggered him to set up the NPO.
Ando, 51, said he had no fond memories of his family when he was young because his late father bossed his mother around. Living in that kind of environment left a huge emotional scar, he said.
Even now there are areas of discrimination against certain kinds of single parents, for example those who have never been married:
http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/yen-for-living/government-says-all-single-parents-not-created-equal/
According to Shiho Kawai, herself a single mother and a member of the Chuo Ward assembly in Tokyo, part of the problem is that single mothers who have never married do not readily want to admit their situation because of the social stigma — which is reinforced by laws such as the widow’s exemption. Kawai told Tokyo Shimbun that last fall she proposed that Chuo Ward also deem single mothers who had never been married eligible for the exemption, but the proposal was met with a “dull response.”
Eighty-three percent of single mothers in Japan work, the highest portion among developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Their annual pay is also among the lowest in the world. According to welfare ministry statistics, the average income, including the child allowance, for widowed mothers is ¥2.56 million, for divorced mothers ¥1.76 million, and for single mothers who have never married ¥1.6 million.
The reason the latter is so low is that most single mothers who’ve never married are very young, but in any case they don’t get the exemption that other single mothers get. In essence, the government is telling them it would be better if they married the guy who knocked them up, though in the end they can really marry anyone. It doesn’t matter who.
The support group Single Mothers Forum tells of one member who was married and got divorced. Later, she had a child by a man she didn’t marry, but she still qualifies for the widow’s exemption because she was married in the past, even if it wasn’t to the father of her child.
http://kwbrow2.wordpress.com/category/single-fathers
Over the next few years, he was active in an online community of single parents where he dispensed legal advice about divorce. One day in 2008, a man contacted him for guidance. He said he was unable to juggle child-rearing and his demanding job, so he quit. But he couldn’t find another job because prospective employers didn’t think a single dad with a toddler was a safe bet. When he contacted Katayama, he had used up his savings and was getting evicted from his apartment.
His dilemma: Should he kill only himself? Or would it make more sense to take his child along with him?
Katayama stayed up all night on the phone talking him out of suicide and explaining how to get help. He was outraged that this man had not been given a break and felt that not only were the unsympathetic companies to blame but also that society itself had let him down.
“That was the trigger,” he said. “It made me realize that we need support for single fathers in Japan.”
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/20/national/social-issues/single-fathers-emerge-shadows/#.U_bLkWNIpsI
The number of single-parent families is on the rise in Japan, along with the growing number of divorces.
According to the internal affairs ministry, 204,000 families were headed by a single father in 2010, up sharply from 166,000 in 2005.
But there were only 90,000 cases in which the children were living exclusively with their father, in a household with no other relatives such as grandparents.
Single fathers fly under the radar compared to single mothers, who are still more common.
Single fathers also, on average, earn more than single mothers, who tend to struggle more financially as a result. A traditionally patriarchal society also discourages fathers from opening up about their problems, and getting help.
Though they might make more money, single fathers must contend with the attitude of employers who view them as the main breadwinner and free from child-rearing duties. Often expected to put in longer hours, they are burdened both at work and at home, making it hard to strike a good work-life balance.
However, a recent law revision highlights how the situation is gradually changing.
Since 2010, single fathers, like single mothers, have been eligible for child-rearing subsidies offered to low-income earners.
Akemi Morita, professor and dean of the sociology department at Toyo University in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, said isolation is the biggest problem facing single fathers.
Society is not yet set up to allow working men to get fully involved in child rearing, and support services for working fathers and their families are few and far between, according to Morita.
“Issues for single fathers include gaining more support from employers. Single-father families, like any other families with challenges (for example, families with a child with special needs), should be given special considerations, such as flexibility in working hours according to their circumstances. For example, they should be able to work flexible hours to leave time to tend to the child, or easily take time off work when the child falls ill,” said Morita.
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2012/08/12/commentary/new-breed-of-single-fathers-should-be-a-model-for-men-across-japan/#.U_bLn2NIpsI
Matsuo had to give up his job as foreman on construction sites due to the demanding hours. At times he was at the end of his tether.
“I even thought,” he confessed, “that I would drive my car into the sea and kill us all."
There is a great deal more research on, interest in and concern for single mothers in Japan than for single fathers. This may be natural, considering both the number and the lesser income of the former. The average income of a single father is ¥4.2 million a year. The average for single mothers is only a little more than half that, at ¥2.13 million. Welfare payments for single parents are means tested, however. Consequently, single mothers benefit from more substantial government aid than single fathers.
“The government doesn’t realize the mental pressure that single fathers are under due to the stagnating economy and the pressure on them to put raising their children ahead of their careers,” reported the Sankei Shimbun on Jan. 12, 2011. “If a child suddenly falls ill, a single mother gets much more consideration from a workplace than a single father.”
Share this article :

0 comments:

Post a Comment