Monday March 18, 2013
A mother’s lot
A Sip of Matcha
By SARAH MORI
Japanese mums learn to make do without maids.
MANY Malaysians are fortunate to have maids. My Japanese friend and her family once lived in Penang many years ago. They led a comfortable life, living in a big house with a maid and a chauffeur. The wife enjoyed learning English and local crafts. After her husband’s 10-year tenure was up, they were sad to leave. Back in Hiroshima, she had to do everything herself and look after her aged parents-in-law.
Another Japanese expatriate and his family had a luxurious life in Nigeria because of the low cost of living. The wife cried when they were transferred to the United States.
Around 8am on schooldays, I often hear chatter near my house as some mothers gather with their kids on the narrow street. A mother wearing a sash and holding a banner stands at the junction. She escorts the children to an elementary school in the neighbourhood. Other groups around the area meet up with them and together, they walk to school. The principal greets them near the school gate.
There are mothers walking their preschoolers to a kindergarten in the vicinity. Some parents send their kids to kindergarten at the age of three. If a kindergarten is located some distance away and has a school bus, the mothers wait at a designated spot to see their kids off and fetch them back. There would be one or two teachers to supervise the kids on the bus.
For mothers who do not have anyone to mind their kids at home, their babies or younger children tag along. Not all mothers drive. One mother speeds things up by pushing two children in one stroller: her baby sits in the stroller while her son stands on the frame between the rear wheels of the stroller.
I often see mothers taking their kids along on bicycles, while shopping for groceries. Wow, what strong women! Their groceries in a basket, a toddler seated in front, and a preschooler seated at the back of their bicycles. I wonder how they balance their bicycles. Mind you, many streets in Japan are steep. What’s more, a few mothers even carry their baby in a baby carrier and ride with two kids on a bicycle. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking what would happen if they were to lose their balance.
The Daily Yomiuri reported that a survey showed that the task of a homemaker is 20% more physically demanding than that of a clerical worker. Besides, there are other duties like participating in PTAs and community services, and sewing and labelling kits for their children.
It is said that more than 70% of married women leave the workforce when they have children, due to difficulty in balancing both job and family.
Some mothers take up part-time jobs when their children start schooling. Married women, especially mothers, are less likely to seek full employment as placing a child in a childcare facility eats into one’s wages and a full- time job deprives them of tax deduction for dependent spouses.
In Shiga Prefecture, three female policewomen (in their late forties and early fifties) returned to the force last August after a re-hiring policy which forbade officers to resume their job after leaving the force for more than 10 years, was scrapped. These women quit more than 20 years ago after childbirth. The working conditions then were not conducive for them to continue working.
One might assume that a mother’s job is a thankless one. But thanks to modern electronic gadgets at home and ready-cooked meals from stores, mothers can now enjoy workouts in the gym and lunch dates with other mothers, and pursue their hobbies. And with baby-friendly services under the Mama’s Club Theater project, babies and parents can watch movies at dozens of venues at Toho Cinemas in Tokyo.
I frequently come across young, stylish mothers who go out together with their kids in strollers. They look like gyaru-mama – mothers who gave birth in their teens or 20s and wear trendy clothes and heavy make-up. These mothers have built a network via the Internet.
Last May, a Tokyo-based group set up “Stand for Mothers” – an association for members to share matters which range from child-rearing and health concerns to social contributions. Apparently, the Nippon Foundation financially supports the gyaru-mama group. Such is the life of many mothers in Japan. n Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.