It was only in the 60’s of the last century that being a housewife was still a perfectly acceptable way to live your life for the majority of people. Things have changed tremendously ever since, and today women’s participation in the workforce is on a par with men. It is not just because of women’s lib and personal choice that in most households both partners are working, people are expected to do so out of financial necessity.
In most Western countries it has become difficult to survive on only one income, so for many it is not even a choice to keep going to work after marriage and children. Besides, nowadays many people have a slightly negative attitude towards those who choose to stay at home and have their partner be the sole breadwinner. Some even see homemakers as ‘lazy’ or ‘idle’ and think that stay-at-home moms chose the easy way in life.
Now, what is the state of affairs in Japan? Being one of the world’s most industrialized countries and clearly a part of the First World, one would expect that things in Japan wouldn’t be much different from the way it is in most parts of the West. So it might be surprising to find out that in Japan, around 44.8% of women stay at home after their first child is born. Even though there are more women in the workforce today than ever, being a housewife is still considered the norm, especially after a couple has children.
It seems that Japanese people’s attitudes toward housewives are positive as it is believed that they provide the family with a better quality of life. How do they do that? What does a day in the life of a Japanese housewife look like? A good example of a schedule of an average day is this:
- 6:00 am: wake up, prepare bentos for husband and kids
- 7:00 am: wake up husband and kids, prepare them for work and school
- 8:30 am: follow your husband to the door to give him his bag and coat, wave him goodbye, see off school-aged child(ren).
- 9:00 am: play with younger child(ren), do the dishes and laundry
- 12:00 pm: prepare lunch, have lunch with child(ren)
- 2:00 pm: do some housework like vacuum cleaning or dusting
- 4:00 pm: buy the groceries with the children, take them to a park
- 6:00 pm: cook dinner
- 7:30 pm: bathe the children, get them ready for bed
- 8:30 pm: finally, some time for herself
That’s actually quite a busy schedule don’t you think? And being a housewife in Japan, this is not all…
In Japan, housewives have some special duties as well, some of which you won’t find in many other places. One of those tasks is the managing of the household’s finances. And this is taken pretty far: come payday, all the money goes straight to the bank account that the wife has full access to. She takes all the money, then divides it into subcategories like rent, insurance, groceries and utilities. So far so good. But the one thing where Japan truly stands out in the home economics department is that the wife gives the husband pocket money. That’s right, even though it is the man’s hard earned money, he will only see a fraction of it as Japanese housewives are known for being extremely frugal. Amounts equal to around 300 American dollars a month (even when the salary often is a lot more than 10 times that amount) are not unheard of. The upside of all this? The average amount of personal assets and savings is close to 150,000 American dollars! No wonder why many people also take the amount of money saved in account when thinking about the positive sides of having a wife who stays home.
Besides needing to have skills akin to an accountant, a Japanese housewife is also the main agenda manager and event planner. This sounds simpler than it is, as in Japan there are many special occasions and ceremonies that have rules as to what needs to be done and who does what. For example, when a family receives gifts for the birth of a child or a wedding, special attention needs to be given to who gives what, as you are expected to give a gift in return that’s worth about half as much as the one you received. This custom is called ‘okaeshi’, and if you don’t want to ruin your relationship with your family and friends, you had better be serious about this and return the right gift to the right person.
As you may know, ‘saving face’ is very important in Japan. This affects housewives to a great extent, as especially the work you do at home might not be seen by others and thus not be appreciated. So what you see often, is that stay-at-home moms go out of their way to show to the outside world that they are giving it their all. This can be seen in the beautiful little pieces of art that lunchboxes can look like, immaculately kept front gardens and well-dressed children.
The other side of the coin is the helicopter parenting that some moms do, where not only teachers get a verbal beating from an angry mom that thinks her child is not given enough special attention, but also kids who don’t get the chance to make their own mistakes. This starts at a young age when some kids in the sandbox are never left out of sight, moms play with their child non-stop, and the child doesn’t even get the chance to get bored and find their own way to play. These are the same kids that are always kept in a sling when they are babies, and that will not be left to cry for a second as that would make the mom feel like she is a bad at her job. The neighbors might hear the crying and think the same thing, and that would mean ‘losing face’.
For a mom in Japan, things like these make being a housewife and stay-at-home-mom that much harder. Of course being a wife and a good mom are very important, but only doing certain things because otherwise you may feel that others think less of you must be quite tough. Maybe these women are actually high achievers and feel undervalued as ‘mere’ housewives. They might be better off with a nice career in which they can develop themselves as professionals, and not only as moms. As there is going to be a large shortage of qualified workers, a part of the solution might lie with these women.
What do you think? Are the housewives of Japan the lucky ones with the good lives, or are those who choose to combine work with a family better off in the end? Is the life of a (Japanese) housewife a desirable life to start with, or is it actually one of the hardest jobs you can have?