SlideShare verwendet Cookies, um die Funktionalität und Leistungsfähigkeit der Webseite zu verbessern und Ihnen relevante Werbung bereitzustellen. Wenn Sie diese Webseite weiter besuchen, erklären Sie sich mit der Verwendung von Cookies auf dieser Seite einverstanden. Lesen Sie bitte unsere Nutzervereinbarung und die Datenschutzrichtlinie.
SlideShare verwendet Cookies, um die Funktionalität und Leistungsfähigkeit der Webseite zu verbessern und Ihnen relevante Werbung bereitzustellen. Wenn Sie diese Webseite weiter besuchen, erklären Sie sich mit der Verwendung von Cookies auf dieser Seite einverstanden. Lesen Sie bitte unsere unsere Datenschutzrichtlinie und die Nutzervereinbarung.
Ofra Goldstein—Gidoni. 1997. Pub: 4'] :
Wedding; Biuirm1And Brides. g‘ apﬂmmw
Housewives of Japan
An Ethnography of Real Lives and
56 0 Housewivesollapan
Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2009, 2:46 PM
Subject: RE: query
Comen [sorry] for not answering you earlier. I was still ﬁghting with tax
[forms], which I finally ﬁnished yesterday. Today I spent in Esaka, look-
ing for a nice shade for our living room. I found one in Toltyu Hands.
You know, I was thinking the other day why I was reading feminist
books in those days and why [feminism caught] my attention. . . I think,
it's because it's something that gave me a new point of view to what I
had been believing as atarimae [the natural order of things].
I suddenly remembered how when Yuki was small when I was still
living in C31, one neighbor, [an] obﬁchan Igrannyly when I told her
[that] I was tired of child rearing and daily life, said to me "what is there
to be complaining about? You have your kawaii [cute] kid, you have
your sweet husband working and bringing you money, what else [do]
you need? ” Maybe she said that without any big intention, only said to
encourage me but something [got] stuck. . . like, "so you mean I have to
feel happy about this boring situationif”
News: remember; the area beside Royal Heights [that] was in con-
struction when you visited the last time? Well, the street where the new
Delicious [cake shop] is seems to have become a street of restaurants,
etc. and. . . today I saw a new Starbucks in constructionl Sugoi desune
[Great isn't itil. This area is tuming into a big city center!
On ”Naturally” Becoming
Who Are the Women of Royal Heights?
Mariko and I interviewed and followed the lives of over 50 women, most of
whom lived in Royal Heights. ’ By deciding to focus on one neighborhood,
not only did I follow the ‘‘classical'’ anthropological path ofstudylng a com-
munity, but I also took advantage of the unique opportunity to meet with
women who share many social aspects, including their age and life stage, the
age and number of their children, and. more generally, their social class. It
is customary in japan to define people by their age groups. The women who
formed the largest age and social group in the neighborhood and who made
up the majority of the interviewees were born between I966 and 1970 and
were in their 20s during the last days of the “bubble economy. “ They were
known as the last of the "Hanata tribe” (Harrakn-uh: _), ’ after a women's
magazine titled Hamlin. whose advice on fashion. dining, and travel was
almost religiously followed by its readers, most of them young women
(Pollak, 1993). Hannah’: zealous radars were allegedly extremely consumer
oriented and leading a ﬂashy, hedonistic lifestyle while pursuing their office
jobs after graduating from college.
Sociologist Ochiai Emiko describes the women born between 1966 and
1970 as a generation that extolled the consumer lifestyle while “dancing
on the platforms in discos” but that at the same time also maintained a
high labor-force participation ratio. Cultivating so-called individualistic
ideas unknown to former generations of women in Japan, the Hanahn were
expected to make a change both in women’s lives and in the nature of the
Japanese family. However, reaching their 505. “one after the other [thcyl
58 I Housewives oflapan
married, had children and became housewives” (0chiai, 2005). These same
active women, she laments, despite holding a promise for major change.
broke this promise, as they all became housewives.
How right is Ochiai in her explicit disappointment with the Hanaolrar
who. in her eyes, failed to fulﬁll the promise they allegedly held to produce
a major change in women’s lives and gender roles? Or. in other words, what
are the implications of the fact that most women of that generation seem to
have followed their mothers by becoming housewives? How much is this
description true for Royal Heights women who are of this same generation.
and, even more imponandy, what did becoming a housewife really mean for
them? In this chapter. I aim to tackle these quutions as I bring in the narra-
tivt: of Royal Heights women who talked about their lives, about how they
"naturally" became housewives and about their views and concepts of their
mles in family and society. Listening carefully to the similarity and diversity
in the women’s narratives, I begin this chapter by looking at the way this
"natural" process is embedded in the larger social structure.
The “Natural Order of Things”:
The Hanakos Become Housewives
l have never asked myself if it's okay to be always inside the house as a
housewife only. My mother was there to guard the house (it o rruunaru).
I thought it was so natural (ararirnae) to resign when you get married.
Murakami-san, interview. October 2003
I worked at a bank. I was a good student. It was the time of the [economic]
bubble. Good times for banks. so they were able to employ many people.
I worked for three years, only to am money to get married. My parents
opposed our marriage. They expected me to get married to a banker.
My mother also worked in a bank. She had to quit [the bank] when she
got married. At my bank also girls had to quit when they got married.
It was natural (ararimae) to quit. The girls were treated well. .. We were
the oﬂice ﬂowers (rhnkuba no Imus). When they got old [meaning they
passed the time for marriage]. girls were sent to the central office to work
inside the office [not at the counter serving clients] . ‘
Katoh-san, interview, November 2005
As the women of Royal Heights narrated their lives and especially as they
talked about moving through life stages, one of their striking realizations
was the strength of the "natural order of things" (ararirrta: -ness) that gov-
erned these transitions. "1 have never thought about thwe things until now, ”
On "Naturally" Becoming Housewives u 59
Murakami-san said at one point in the lengthy conversation Mariko and
I had with her. "What do you mean by ‘now’? .' I asked her just to get reas-
surance for my supposition that other women, just like Mariko, used the
crossroad in the housewife's life plan when she becomes less occupied with
child rearing as a point for contemplation about this social role. However,
she replied, to my surprise, "I mean, now, right now, here. ” ln—depth inter-
views have the propensity to become shaped differently as the circumstances
and the people involved change. Some of the interviews Mariko and l con-
ducted tumed into open and often extremely thoughtful conversations,
which obviously were concerned not only with the life of the "interviewee, "
who became a partner in a mutual exchange of ideas and feelings. Many
women acknowledged this unique opportunity to think about their lives
and to talk about topics they hardly ever discuss. For many of them, this
conversation provided a rate angle for observing the natural way in which
they had made their role transitions in their livt: so far, from a student to
an oﬁice lady (OL) and then from a company employee to a "professional
Listening to other women narrating their lives inevitably made Marika
think about her own life. thus, on one of the occasions when the conversation
ﬁacused on this ‘natural way" in which Japanese women of her generation
quit their jobs upon marriage, she suddenly said:
That's right, I actually never thought about it. I feel that I really stopped
thinking when I started working. After getﬁng a job in a company, I began
just following the way the river pushed me. I never really planned any-
thing, like, for example, "I will give birth after working for three years and
then . . . ," I mean, these kinds of Ihings.
The extent of this "natural-ness" as a major feature In the lives of the women
was further manifested as we listened to those women who expresed some
kind of negation or resentment toward the lhﬂﬁl role but nevertheless abided
by it Muraltarni-san, who so bluntly said that she had never asked herself
‘if it's okay to be always inside the house, ” was in fact one of those few
women who openly admitted that they disliked being a housewife. ‘I'm
not a good housewife. ' she said, ‘I cannot stay still, I feel frustrated staying
always in the same place; others [other housewives] don't understand me. "
As she also “hate[s] doing the same thing every day, ’ she always keeps herself
busy with shopping or lunches with friends. During her interview as well as
on other occasions, Muralrami-san also often expressed her aversion to the
patriarchal and old-fashioned views that most Japanese husbands still hold.
What was it then that made her—a person who hates the thought of being
60 I Housewivesofiapan
indoors—so “naturally” resign her job upon marriage and become a house-
wife who “guards” the house from within?
The Hanaltos' life Course: A Sequence of Clear Social Roles
Ivry. in her illuminating research on pregnant women (2010, p.138), found
that Japanese women who could economirally afford to quit their jobs when
they were expecting their ﬁrst child basically saw this act as replacing one
full-time job with another. The stories I heard from Royal Heights women
strongly support this idea. Moreover, as I will show, retiring upon marriage
or pregnancy did not merely mean an occupational change but surely also
signiﬁed a transition into a new rnrialmle. This signiﬁcant transition should
be regarded in the context of a general social order that has developed in
corporate postwar Japan, in which individuals tend to identify themselves at
each life stage with a single role that is clearly gendered.
Being by and large daughters of rnidclle—class families. Royal Heights
women have a college education, although, like most women of their gen-
eration, this usually means that they attended a junior college and not a
four-year university. Japanese female education has been vastly differentiated
from male education.7 In a comprehensive study about gender and work in
postwar Japan, Mary Brinton (1993) shows how the labor-market incentives
that motivate males to acquire higher education are not applied to women.
Brinoon demonstrates how the position of employers, combined with govern-
ment policies, has been discouraging women from entering four-year univer-
skim. ‘ As a consequence. one educational track. the junior college system,
evolved to become almost exclusively female. Junior colleges (tarrdai) tend
to offer areas of study considered "feminine, " including home economics,
education, and humanities. They got a reputation for functioning like “bridal
schools, " preparing women for their first rule as office ﬂowers and their sub-
sequent role as good wives and wise mothers (see McVeigh, 1995. 1997).
The way the Royal Heights women discussed their education clearly
matched with the general idea that education for women is more of an
"education for its own sake" and especially for the sake of making a good
marriage match and being a good mother. Very often, these women were
apologetic when talking about their studies: they usually were not very pre-
cise about what their majors were, and when their major was English they
felt especially embarrassed, feeling that they could not show any special pro-
ﬁciency in the language that they assumed I can speak. ’
Yamaguclri-san studied modern Japanese literature in a private women's
four-year university. After graduation she worked as an 0L for a few years;
however, she never had any intention to work for her whole life. she says.
On "Naturally" Becoming Housewives 0 61
Being employed was only a temporal stage between school and marriage.
When I ask her why, then, she chose a four-year university instead of
the more popular two-year college, she replies that it was not a question
of choice, it was just the "normal step" for students at her high school.
Apparently, her family could afford sending her to one of those comprehen-
sive private and sheltered schooling systems that allow students to matricu-
late from one school to the next without entrance examinations. Entering
a four-year university was in fact not only “natural” for her and her class-
mates, furthermore, studying at a four—year university did not impose any
special academic burden on her:
I majored in modern Japanese literature at the faculty of literature.
However. the important thing was actually only to graduate. not the
studies. I played a lot. I especially liked tennis. We [me and the man who
later became my husband and who studied at the adjacent all-male uni-
versity] were in the same tennis club so we practiced tennis together. He
majored in economics. We are of the same age so we graduated together
and we both started working at the same time. I became an OL at a
trading company Crbdrba). I didn’t like the job; it was only for the time
in-between [school and] marriage (lzelzkon mm mule rm aida). I started
working with the intention to quit. We had a clear plan to get married.
After working for two years. I dedicated two years to bridal training
(lmnayomz rlzugyo). I studied Japanese things (niban no alveikc) like the tea
ceremony and ikebana, with the aim of becoming a “good bride. ” I never
thought about any promotion in the company.
The way women narrated their life transitions seems to deeply reflect a
tendency to follow what can be described as a carefully written script of
a strictly ordered life plan in which each life stage is firmly fixed. This
tendency has been described in statistically revealing terms showing that
Japanese women’; entry into a position both in the educational system and
in marriage is carefully timed and typically occurs once in a lifetime. Not
only do women tend to marry and enter schooling at the same age as their
friends, but they also usually make such changes in life role one at a time
(see Brinton. 1992). The way women narrated these ordered transitions
highlights what actually lies behind this orderliness. '°
Key adults—those individuals Brinton refers to as “stakeholders"—play
a critical role in shaping the ‘socially embedded” life courses of Japanese
women. " Women, in their stories. gave a very signiﬁcant role to their
parents. especially their mothers, in decisions such as retiring from work
upon marriage or during pregnancy with the first child. The way Sakai-san
62 I Housewives oflapan
describes her decision to leave work upon marriage clearly lllllstlliﬁ the
signiﬁcant role other adults play in shaping such key life transitions:
I worked as a computer instructor always walking around writing on
white boards. Initially, I was planning to take a maternity lave [and
resume working]. However, even though the company’s regulations
offered such an option, no one has taken it before Moreover, it was my
first child and my mother strongly objected. She herself was a profs-
sional housewife (rengyi r/ ngﬁr), so she advised me to follow her way for
the sake of the child. She said that I should first become a professional
housewife and only after that could I think about what I would like to do
next. My husband just told me to do what ever I wished to do, though,
naturally, the heavy duty [of child raising] would be mine because I’m
the mother. " Thur again. I had always longed (ahrgitre) to become a
professional housewife, so I retired.
Sakai-san lucidly narrates the details of her retirement from work in terms of
a transition from one social role, with which she totally identiﬁed (“always
writing on white boards"), to another clearly socially ascribed role, that of
the professional housewife. Her mother’: words are not only clearly heard in
her narration but also were inevitably and compliantly followed by her.
Employers and coworkers also play a significant role in the decision to
quit work. Most women explained that quitting not only felt natural but
also was accepted by all the people around them as the only possible step in
the circumstances of getting married or expecting a baby. In Sakai-san's case,
even though the option of maternity leave eristcd, “no one" actually took
it. The striking disparity between Japanese companies’ ﬁzrmal stance and
informal atmosphere was very evident in many other accounts. Endoh-san,
one of the very few women in the neighborhood who had had the experience
of taking a maternity leavc—although she later resigned and became a ﬁlli-
time housewife (more on this later)—worked as an OL at one of those com—
panies considered "woman friendly? " Nenrtheless, she mcallgd
the nonfriendly atmosphere for working wives and mothers:
Even if the company changes the system, it's hard forthem to
their way of thinking. Basitally, companies are men-dominated, so [in my
company] there were high-position personnel who didn't like the idea of
working mothers. They used to say that women should remain at home
takingcareoftheir children. Maybeafter all these old men retire andwhen
the group of the leading members of the comparrywill be that of men who
have worltingwives, then they might change. but itwill surely take time.
On 'Natura| ly" Becoming Housewives 0 63
Japanese companies have formally developed new programs for combining
home and work; however, the informal messages women receive from their
coworkers and mainly from their employers appear not to fully correspond
with this direction. " The same active Hanaknr of the 1990s with their high
participation in the labor force were in fact informally but often quite firmly
encouraged by their employers to “harmoniously separate" (nmmu rairbcz)
from their companies upon marriage or childbirth. This cordial encour-
agement for OL to leave their companies included monetary incentives to
women who chose to retire upon marriage or childbirth (see Ogasawara,
1998, p.65). Some companies also used to offer temporary unemployment
benefits. or in eﬂect a wedding dowry (Saso, 1990, pp.37-8).
“Social Studies”: Women Becoming Members of Society
In postwar Japan, at least until the 1990s, there were two distinct contexts
that mark the transition into a full adult member of society (: balrar'}'in): the
first is entering the world of work (Roh| en, 1974, pp.49—50). and the sec—
ond is marriage (Edwards, 1989, pp. ll6—27). Albeit signiﬁcant markers of
adulthood for both men and women, marriage and specially childbaring
seem still more crucial for becoming a wholly mature person (iebininmae)
in the case of women (see Matsunaga, 2000, p.123; Brinton. 20ll, p. 31,
n 19). This dual idea of social adulthood may, on the one hand, lie in the
background of the initial encouragement of women to enter the corporate
world upon graduation and, on the other hand, to "harmoniously" leave this
same world after a few years.
The short tenure of corporate work for women is often refened to as
knrbihake, which literally mans ‘hanging one‘: hips” on an uncomfortable
chair. However uncomfortable, the few years that female college graduates
spend in the labor market hdore marriage have in fact larger social implica-
tions than those sigrrifcant practical considerations of earning some money
for their later married life or even than the more important aim of looking
for an ideal husband among company employees. " Like other stages in the
strictly ordered life plan of the Japanese woman, this period seems to have
a particular purpose with regard to maintaining as well as reproducing the
From the women of Royal Heights it was revealing to learn that even
those who had graduated with a certain specialty such as nutrition, lan—
guages, or preschool edutation were very strongly advised not to take the
professional direction at the crucial life stage right after graduation, which
for junior college students parallels the formal coming of age at twenty. "
Graduates were strongly encouraged to go and study satiety (sbalrai benlryd)
64 I Housewivesofjapan
where real social life takes place, that is, in a Japanese company (larirl/ a)—
the bigger, the better.
The Royal Heights women, in their narratives. repeatedly mentioned the
strong parental pressure to enter a proper company. Katoh-san, the daughter
of the senior banker who followed her mother and worked for a short time
in a good bank, as mentioned previously, recalled how her acquired license
as a kindergarten teacher did not convince her parents that there was any
direction open to her upon graduation other than working as an OL. She
was certainly not the only woman who had such memories, which were
Studying society, or “social studies” (sbakai ﬁnrlyé), has a very particular
meaning in the context of growing up as a woman in corporate Japan. The
theme repeatedly came up in conversations, and as I found it hard to fully
understand the implications and conﬁnes of what is deemed necessary to
constitute a proper site and occupation for such essential studies or experi-
ence, I insisted on asking for explanations. One of the lengthy ones was
given by Takahashi—san as the tried to explain to me how it was that working
as a translator was not considered a properjob by Mariko’s patents upon her
graduation from a university for foreign studies.
Takahashi-san is a little older than most of the women we interviewed
and thus, has older children; the eldest of three was already attending uni-
versity at the time of the interview. On the one hand, she presented herself
as a "carefree" (nnulvina) mother in a typically apologetic way, as she com-
pared herself with other women in the neighborhood, whom she generally
saw as model or hardworking (gznbarteiru) mothers. On the other hand,
she seemed to regard herself as a typically genuine exemplar of corporate
Japancse society. The topic of “social studies” came up as Takahashi—san
was lamenting her own poor language skills. She talked about her fnistra-
tion that, unlike the generation of her children, she might need an inter-
preter if she wanted to travel abroad. Like many others in the neighborhood,
Takahashi-san admired Marilto for her special language skills. As our con-
versation moved smoothly between personal and more general themes, she
asked Mariko about her work upon graduation. I knew Matiko's biography
(or thought I did). However, I was intrigued by the following conversation
and especially by how Takahashi-san so easily or ‘naturally’ understood the
position Mariko's parents took at the time:
77:1-nlraslzi [a. <h'ngMaril-0]: What did you do for a job. ’
Mrrrilm: I worked at a German company. During my studies, I went to
Mexico to study for one year on a scholarship. After coming back,
I graduated and started working as an OL in a German shipping
On “Naturally” Becoming Housewives 0 65
company. When 1 was in Mexico I worked as a translator and inter-
preter, and coming back to Japan I wanted to look for a job using my
language skills, but my parents opposed, so I had no other choice but
to work for once as an ordinary adult member of society (ﬁrm? no
Talvalmbiz I know, parents were like that at those times.
Ofrrr: But why? Isn't a translator a rbdlraijin?
Marika: I am not sure. They insisted that, no matter what, I have to be
in an organization.
Tul-aIm. rIvr': Maybe it was a special feeling of our parents‘ generation, of
those who were born before the (Second World] War.
Oﬁa: Is this what you call t/ mini bark; -o‘?
Marilw: Yes, [it means] to be a member of an organization.
Tirkaharlzi: We had to enter the office at a certain hour, stamp the time
card . . . everything was under strict control. And if we happened not to
be members of such a controlled organitation, our parents were wor—
tied that their children were "off" track. or going what was considered
to be the wrong way. It was the tendency of that age. and if you did not
act like this, it was as though you were moving against the stream. As
long as their children began working in a company after graduating
from high school or college, patents felt okay, as if they were putting
them on the right trail. But. what happened if one of their children
suddenly quit? The parents were in total panic. They believed in one
job lot a lifetime. They could hardly believe in the existence of freetets
(ﬁrrirri). .. '7 They [our parents] were of a generation who believed
that it was a virtue to work in one company until retirement, so they
wanted their kids to belong to one organization. They wished for their
children to start working in a company of respectable siu so that they
would not have to worry about their future, economically. That’s why
they wanted their kids to work in a well-known company.
Oﬁa: I understand that this was expected for boys, but what about girls.
what about OL?
Ta. £aI: a.r/ u’: OL were expected to quit at their marriage.
This exchange shows that the homology between "company" and "society"
is very clar to both men and women in Japan. Working in a company, or
entering the corporate world. is in fact considered in terms such as ‘being in
(or entering into) society” (1/mini ni / miru) or ‘seeing the bigger society’ as
other women explained. This experience, although short lived for women, is
still considered an extremely signiﬁcant brick in the general social structure
that is constructed from the strictly planned life courses of individuals.
66 - Housewivesofjapan
Generally accepting the mrural order of thing. including the mandatory
‘hanging one’s hips” in the real world of worlr before marriage. Mar-ilto was
surely not the only woman who told a story of some kind of resistance to this
natural order. Ikeda-san, who at the time of the interview had recently started
working as a part-timer at a Fast-food restaurant as her two children grew
older, had a sour memory of this period. As she recalled, after graduating from
a four-year university majoring in linguistics. she had some thought; ofan-y.
ing on with ha work as a ballet-dance assistant, which she had been pursuing
on a part-time basis (arubaito) during her studies at the university. " However.
her mother insisted that she quit assisting her ballet-dance ueadrer and enter
a company. As in Marikos case, llteda-san's determination to pursue her own
talent or inclinations instead of entering the company track was futile:
I argued a lot with my parenu. especially with my mother. She [my mother]
said she would never accept it [continuing with the ballet]. Even though
she was the one who sent me to study ballet when I was a child. she later
didn’t approve of my job as a ballet teacher's assistant.
Both Ilreda-san and Mariko had to succumb to the social order and enter a
company upon graduation in order to lave some short yars latter to become
housewives. The way Mariko narrated her frustration wltile referring to this
same painftrl atperience during another interview pointing out her presum-
ably unique position of having spent some time outside Japan only under-
scored the rigidity of the social structure into which the Hurrah: were bom:
[After returning from Mexico, i day after day I thought about how I could
gel out of Japan again. But my family obviously was against it. My grand-
father told me to stay. I also thought about becoming an interpreter at that
time, but my parents, especially my mother, did not approve and told me
that it was necessary to work In a company for doing lmyl social studies.
So, finally, I gave up. I thought that the only place for me to work in Japan
was at a foreign company, " so I got a job at a Gemran company, worked
for five years, got married, got pregnant and retired.
Entering the Home: kites and Symbols of Role Initiation
Royal Heights women‘: life plan has been described so far as a sequence of
social roles. Certain role transitions just seemed to occur, as iflyy an almo5[
passive adherence to the nrles of the ‘natural order of things. “ However,
other transitions required a more active involvement. Whereas upon gradu-
ation young women tend to relatively passively abide by their parents’ strong
On ‘Naturally’ Becoming Housewives - 67
desire that they get a job in a proper company as something that "can't be
helped” (rbrllara go nai). ’° most women tend to describe their entry into the
role of the 'prt-tfusional housewife‘ in more active terms. At that stage in
their life course, they already tend to feel like members of society.
The women of the Hanaka tribe. who were highly criticized for their
hedonistic lifestyle. are daughters of postwar-generation housewives, the
epitome of ‘Japan's new middle class" (Vogel, 1978), who along with their
salaryrnan husbands allegedly built Japan after the war. Their mothers’
carefully ascribed social role as professional housewives required the invest-
ment of high levels of self-sacriﬁce, endurance (garnan), hardships (krmi),
and arduous work (Iaibm) for the cﬂicient and proper management of the
household (Lebra. 1984, p.55).
The discrepancy between the values of these two generations is thus
hard to ignore and was in fact highlighted by the public condemnation of
the ‘selfish’ generation, which has become a ban mt since the 1990:. The
japanme media and public commentary on the whole have tended to empha-
size the generation gap between the young. mrefree, and indulgent women
and their family-oriented. responsible mothers (Nalrano and Wagatsuma,
2004). Tnrly, this critical campaign, largely promoted by conservative mrle
politicians and social critics. cannot be simply explained only in terms of value
disapproval. In its background was the almost national panic with regard to
]apan's demographic problem. of which delayed marriage and nonmarriagc
have been largely identified as major causes, as will be discussed in later chap-
ters. " However, in reality, at least in the 1990:. most of this tribe's hedonistic
and selﬁsh women did in fact finally get married and have children.
As already suggested, for Japanese women, marriage and bearing children
are usually considered as the final crucial steps for becoming frrll social per-
sons. Howevcr, it seems that in the case of the Hauler, who were inherently
suspected for their inaptness in the role of wife and mother. the change of
marital status alone was not enough. Their initiation into their new social role
required further symbolic acts to mark the genulncnus of this transition.
In the happy days of the economic bubble, the excessive consumption
of brand goods became one of the emblems of the lifestyle of young 0L.
However. alas. what should a perfect housewife, who is expected to put the
welfare of her family before her own personal needs, do with sudr symbols
of consumerist self-fulfillment? Sairai-san, one of Royal Heights‘ prominent
second-generation ‘model housewives" (see later) described this dilemma
when two contradictory sets of ‘necessities’ or "nonnal' habits clash:
If I were no work and have some income. I would spend it on my family.
There are so many nrcwary [Salrai-san's emphasis] things that I need.
68 0 Housewivesollapan
I don’t think I would want to buy brand-name handbags as I used to do
when I was an OL. I'd rather buy my son a soccer ball or some clothing.
I still have some brand-name shoes and handbags, a total of five items,
but tmly I have no idea how to use them now. When I was an OL I went
to sales, I shopped at duty free shops when traveling overseas, just because
it was the normal thing to do. In fact. I am not so sure anymore if I really
liked them in the first place.
Sakai-san still holds onto the precious objects that she now deems useless.
whereas others with more entrepreneurial notions or better access to tech-
nology actually sold such items of theirs through Amazon Japan. “Where
would I use a Chanel bag? "; "Can I wear a brand-name blouse when going to
a PTA [Parent-Teacher Association] meeting”; ‘I don’t go out anyway” were
the frequent explanations they gave for this explicit act.
Putting the practical considerations aside, I believe that this act of aban-
doning consumer goods should not be analyzed in terms of puritanism.
as such. ” Instead. the act in which the women discarded the epitome: of
their happy, consuming years should be regarded as a symbolic act of role
initiation. By getting rid of the symbols of their self-oriented hedonistic
years as OL. the young married women had initiated themselves into their
new social role as wives and mothers.
Housewife as a Social Role and Identity
Robin beBlanc (1999. p.28) argues that for the women of suburban Japan,
"‘housewife' is a label for public identity. " For most women of Royal Heights,
becoming a housewife was just the ordinary thing to do or become when
they got married. The social role of the "housewife" and, more speciﬁcally,
the “professional housewife. " has undoubtedly gained rather clear meanings
and implications in postwar japan. Women‘; perspectives on the role of the
housewife and actually on their social role as women in family and society
have been largely affected by the idea of the housewife as the idal woman in
middle-class postwarjapan. However, the careful study of women as house-
wives does reveal some significant distinctions among women or among those
who are often seen and commonly also see themselves as “regular house-
wivs” (LeBlanc. 1999). Attentive listening to the women's narratives reveals
some other factors that have affected their lives and more particularly their
perspectives with regard to their idea of what constitutes a proper housewife
and a proper woman. These include some usually neglected “thin” class dif«
ferentiations, certain generational gaps, and other structural and personal
characteristics. In the following. I begin to explore these particularities by
On “Naturally” Becoming Housewives 0 69
focusing on those perspectives of housewifery and women's roles that can-
not easily fall into the ordinary housewife category. By doing this. I hope to
raise some new questions about the role of the housewife and more generally.
about gender roles, gender relations. class and social structure, which will be
further developed throughout the book.
Model Housewives and Wannabe:
At least until the beginning of the l990s, about 90 percent of I3Plﬂ¢-W
identiﬁed themselves as ‘middle class‘ (Pempel, I989, p.23). This tendency
has usually been analy1.ed in terms of the pervasiveness of “middle-class
consciousness" in postwar social life in Japan (Kelly, 2002, pp.236—41).
However, although largely accepted. this pervasiveness of the “middle” has
been questioned. While most critics concentrate on changes after the burst
of the economic bubble (see Ishida and Slater. 2010), a few have expressed a
more harsh criticism of the mere idea of Japan as a society of “new middle
mass" (see Taira, I993. p.182).
The professional housewife has surely become a symbol of postwar mid-
dle-class family life. When women in Royal Heights are asked to define
their identity or status, whether It is for formal purposes like in surveys
or questionnaires or on any other occasion when a self-introduction (jiko
rbolm’) is required, they mostly use the label “: huﬁ4." Nevertheless. as we
have already begun to see. not all of them feel satisfied with this role or
consider themselves as totally fulfilling the role expectations. Among the
women there is. however, a group who are not only proud of their role but
are also considered by everyone (which always actually means by all other
housewives) to be "model housewives" (s/ ngﬁt no lmgami).
Whereas a "charisma housewife” (a more recent term that will be dis»
cussed at length in later chapters) is someone who is usually marked by a
special domestic expertise, usually in cooking, baking. or house decoration.
a “model housewife” is more of a paragon of perfect role performance as a
wife and a mother. I carefully suggest that the model housewife is I sOm¢-
what modernized version of the “good wife. wise mother. ” who emerged
in Japan at the end of the nineteenth century and at least until the 19805
epitomized the role of the married woman who devotes herself to taking care
of the house and her husband and to raising her children.
lnoue-san is considered such a model housewife. She is married to a uni-
versity pmfessor and is a mother of two girls, aged eight and nine at the time
of interview. She worked as an OL at an insurance company after graduat-
ing from junior college. Like most of her fellow OL. she quit her job upon
marriage. After spending over ten years fully dedicated to housework and
70 0 Housewivesofiapan
child raising, Inoue-san decided to take a simple, part-time oﬂiee job not far
from home. Although at the time of the interview she was working five days
a week from 9:00 am. to 3:00 p. m., she insisted that housework remained
the “main part of [my] life. ”
I consider rbuﬁr my profession, and my prim (part-time work) as a way to
pass time. That's why I define myself as rhuﬁt. I'm a r/ rrgﬁ, who might
quit the job suddenly, but I would never quit being a rmgd slmﬁt. I will
be a rmgd slmﬁa all my life; rargyd slmjir is my profession.
Inoue-san said that she does not work at the oﬁice "because I want to. " She
decided to leave the house for work only because she felt 'lonely' when the
girls became busy with school and friends. She had no doubts about her true
self, which seems to totally overlap her social role. -
Sometirnes at the office, I serve tea or clean the room. [I feel that] my
body moves very easily when performing such tasks. Sometimes, some-
one ar the office might say, “I'm sorry, Inoue-san, [that you have to do
this], ” but I always tell them “don’t worry. this is my real profession. ‘
Following this conviction, Inoue-san, like many other housewives who leave
the house for part-time jobs when they become ls: busy with child rearing.
is determined to work only as long as her work does not ause any trouble
(meiwa/ an n hzkrnar’) or any disturbance to other family members’ sdrodults.
Finally, Inoue-san admitted that she works ‘also for the money. ‘ “I don't
want to spend all my time doing some volunteer activities, ’ she said, prob-
ably eomparing herself to her mother, from the former generation of house-
wives. ‘Now [that I am working], I have my own money for traveling or for
buying things for myself. Now I'm actually working for [buying] a wine
cellar, " she ultimately divulged. Still, one should not be misled to think that
all women of Royal Heights who work as part-timers are motivated by the
pressing ‘need’ to purchase a wine cellar ﬁll’ their elegant apartments. There
are certainly others who are more or [as compelled to work in order to help
the family budget. Nevertheless. in the course of the tmearch it became
quite evident that those women in the neighborhood who tend to be model
housewivu are those who not only married ‘well, ’ but also are likely to be
daughters of relatively well-to-do middle-class Families.
Mariko seemed to be aware of this tendency for model ho ‘ to
run in the family and she often made a point of it to draw my attention.
When sending me transcribed interviews as e-mail attachments, Mariko
always included a brief explanatory note. This was one of the pattems we
On ‘Naturally’ Becoming Housewives 0 71
developed through the yars of our collaborative study. As Mariko boame
busier with her work as a translator. sometimes months went by before she
could transcribe the interviews we conducted together. Mari| to's introduc-
tion would remind me of the person and the circumstances of the interview.
The short introduction she wrote when she e-mailed me the transcribed
interview with Sakai-san contained the following:
Remember her? She is a real shufu no kagarnl, she likes cooklng and
housework. Her mother has also been a model housewife who is mar-
ried to a model salaryman (sararrman no kagami). She [her mother] used
to even bake breads on such a regular basis that it made her dauytter
believe, until a rather late age, that breads were usually made by mothers
at home, just like rice.
Sakai-san, the same woman who told us about her strong conviction, pre-
dominantly influenced by her mother, that quitting her job as a computer
instructor upon marriage was the right thing to do. and who could keep
her useless brand-name items and was not tempted to sell them for money
as others did, indeed talked a great deal about her mother. She admired her
mother‘: domestic capacities: “my mother makes everything with her own
hands; [she even prepares] homemade miso. ” She also told us about her life-
long yearning to become a rengri rbrrﬁa, just like her mother.
This same alleged strong yearning to become a housewife seems to char-
acrerize those women who are considered model housewives in the neigh-
borhood. In all these cases, the impact of their mothers on cultivating such
childhood or adolescence dreams is evident. Inoue-san, who told us how she
sees her role as a housewife as a lifetime commitment, gave a very similar
From a very young age, my dream was to become a cute young wife
(kawoii oyornemr). It wasn't as though my mother [clearly] told me so,
but I was raised in such a family. My mother never worked after gradu-
ation. She did her bridal training (hanajome . tImgyi), ” without work-
ing, and then got married. I was often told this story, so I thought I
should follow her. Since I was a child, I was always told. ‘women should
be women, men should be men. " so I just thought this is how things
should be. [Growing up, ] I wasn’t allowed to go out at night. My neigh-
bors used to call me a ‘daughter-in-a-can” (ban-iri rnurrune) instead of
a ‘daughter-in—a-box" (halo-in‘ nrurume).
In prewar japan, especially in the Kyoto-Osaka arm. the term “bail-o-in’
rnrr. mrn: " was largely used for dmcribirrg the custom of overptotecting
72 0 Housewivesoflapan
marriagaable daughters by conﬁning them at their homs or by restricting
their activities out of the house. Thae "boats" of confinement could be intel-
lectually as well as physically oppressive ($ievers, 1983, p.34). “ Replacing the
“box” with a “can, ” Inoue-san's neighbors apparently gave the phrase a more
modern maning and at the same time probably also referred to the excessive
strength of the confinement.
Sending 0ja‘. mma, ’5 girls from "good families, " to private schooling,
especially to single-sex education, is undoubtedly one of the mechanisms
for such protection. As we could see by the way Yamaguchi—san related her
“natural” choice of a four—year university, it seems that for women who
grew up in the right families, this educational path, which allows than
to skip the harsh Japanae system of entrance exams and which is in fact
unaffordable to most ordinary middle-class families, is practically taken
for granted. The protected environment of this educational system seems,
however, to be expressed also in these institutes’ educational agenda and
values. Yamaguchi-san’s firm attachment to her . r/mﬁt role. which she sees
as “number one and anything else is number two, ” is apparently not based
only on her evident attempt to follow the steps of both her mother and her
mother-in-law, whom she admires especially for their skillful perseverance
(jizu m’ gamut slriteiru). Her determination to become a model housewife
was also not only the effect of her mother’s advice to her that ‘becoming a
good wife and a good mother will bring her happiness” (ii gamma m‘ mm,
ii afasan m’ nam rm warbrbwarr). One of the strongest impacts can actually
be found in the unforgettable words of her schoolmaster, who from junior
high school through university strongly taught his female students that they
should become good mothers (ii whim: nf rmmnuar‘, it’ of-iron m’).
In a society that has proclaimed itself to be a middle mass one, class
distinctions are naturally too "thin" to be observed, let alone acknowledged.
Nevertheless, within the context of the mass of narratives of the "standard"
middle—class family background. the protected aristocracy of model house-
wives was not the only one to stand out. The "wannabe" middle-clam nar-
ratives were no less intriguing. Naturally, unlike those of model housewives,
thae narratives are normally much less often heard and are sometimes even
muted. However, an attentive listening to womens voices and a careful
observation of their lives reveal that some women need to work harder in
order to fit in or to join the professional housewives’ club. The rules of entry
ttrt: surely not indifferent to class.
Shibata-san and Yamada-san are not the only women whose family
background does not exactly fit that of the “standard middle—class family. "
However, the striking similarity between their social and economic back-
grounds and their rather uncommon views about what constitutes a perfect
On "Naturally" Becoming Housewives I 73
housewife were too intriguing to be ignored. Later in the book, when I focus
on discourses of class and change in Royal Heights, we will get a closer
acquaintance with Shibatavsan's experience and views, as they were revealed
in a memorably long and intimate conversation with her and her mother.
In this lengthy conversation, she expressed surprisingly critical views on
current housewives and their unacceptable conduct. Like her, Yamada-san
articulated extremely old-fashioned or “traditional” views about the role of
Yamada-san and Shibata-san were not in any manner raised as pampered
daughters-in-a-box. They both married atypically young. in their very early
20s, and they both left home before their marriage, or “played around to a
dangerous level, " as one of them put it. Whereas both families were lucky
enough to purchase an apartment in the comfortable mans/ um of Royal
Heights, their husbands’ deﬁnition as salarymen seems to relate to those
stretchrs of the term that have come to cover almost any more or less regu-
larly working man.
As for their natal families, Yamada-san’s father was in fact not a regular
salaryman—he had his own small business, and her mother had to work
as his income was irregular. Shibata-san's father was a salaryman, but he
worked for a small company that allowed the family only a relatively meager
middle-class lifestyle. In both cases, however, the parents made efforts to
produce a middle-class environment or consciousness. Yamada-san recalls
how her father always insisted that her mother would quit her job at some
point in time, which is very typical of salarymen who wish to create the right
middle-class image of the breadwlnner. Shibata-san's mother was so eager to
play the proper role of: professional housewife that she did not worlt outside
although the family needed the money, and instead she became intensely
involved in typical full-time housewives’ activities such as voluntary work
and a demanding PTA participation.
Iust like Shibau-san, who took time to agree to talk with us, and finally
oonscnted only on her own terms (a joint conversation with her mother to
take place at her own apartment), Yamada-san preferred to meet Mariko and
me at her home. She does not go out very much and feels more comfortable
in her own apartment. Sitting at her dining table with her younger daughter
playing around, she begins by telling us her views on contemporary house-
wives and their lack of respect for the "pillar" of the household.
I think that housewives have actually become too strong. My father was
very powerful. He was the pillar (dailtalrubaslrira) that held up our family.
He was our leader. “ Now, I try to do the same. I try to make the kids
respect my husband. When we eat, I begin by saying. "Father, tntcuse us
74 I Housewivesofjapan
for eating before you” (arisen arakini itadzéinmnr). I say it even when he is
not here [at home]. it is in fact very rare that we can all eat together.
Yamada-san has three children. Her husband is a salaryman but not a typi-
cal one who spends all day at the oﬁice. His hours are not set, and he often
works weekends. Like many other women we interviewed, Yamada-san says
that her occupation (rlmlrugyd) is mtgyd I/ Iuﬁa. However, when I ask her what
this occupation means for her, she expressu a rather distinct view:
[The] mrgi r/ mﬁa is normally considered the one in charge of house-
work. She is the one that does the laundry, the cleaning and the child
ruring. But, for me, it also means to make a place where my husband
can relax himself. Always before he comes back home [from work] I try
to prepare everything in the house and make it clean and nice, especially
for him to relax.
Both Yamadaasan and Shibata-san convey a rather excessive identiﬁution
with the role of the housewife. They also hold to a very rigid and patri-
archlc concept of the division of gender roles. However, differently from
model housewives. neither mentions any memory of a yearning (alragnre) to
become a housewife at adolescence. In fact, Yamada-san openly confessed
that she ‘hated housework in general so [she] never dreamed or thought
about becoming a professional housewife. "
Yamada-san, lilte Shibata-san, who clung to the company of her mother,
is aware that her views are not very common among the housewives in her
neighborhood. They both tend not to associate much with other housewives
in Royal Heights. As Yamada-san explains. she cannot tolerate the "rlnrﬁr
of these days who have lunches at nice restaurants while their husbands
(artisan), who are working so hard. have the cheapest lunches. ‘ Her neigh-
bors. on their part, may have never heard the views she felt free to express in
the interview but at any rate regard her as somewhat diﬂetent and hard to
socialize with. Likewise. Shibata-san has a strong aversion toward “new-type
housewives, ‘ who forget their proper role of total dediution to house and
child rearing. and is particularly disgusted by their latest tendency to ‘have
their nails done. ‘
Two uses of women who aresimilat in their class background and apress
similar “traditional” views about gender roles are surely not enough for gen-
eralizing. Nevertheless. in the context of talks with many other women
in the same neighborhood. I date no suggst that just like in the use of
model housewives, whose class background and socialization did not leave
them many other options but to “naturally” become perfect housewives,
On "Naturally" Becoming Housewives 0 75
so is the use with women of la favorable class background. In their case,
their excessively “traditional” views with regard to the gendered role of the
housewife may be interpreted as a mechanism to overcome their relative
incompatibility with the social class required for the production of proper
professional, let alone model. housewives.
The Younger Generation of Happy Housewives
I have always felt a kind of generation gap (or maybe they are just another
kind of people) with this mothers’ group. I fell that they enjoyed them-
selves too much, much more than when I was raising Yulti. ” They seem
to be together all the time, eating lunch and dinner together (almost
everyday, it seemed). I was worried about what could happen to their
private lives, because they seem to be too close to each other. The group
is about six or seven mothers, always loudly talking to each other and
with their children. Chaosl They also go traveling together with their hus-
bands, another incredible thing lor me, because my husband would never
[agree Io go].
Mariko's introduction to the transcribed conversation with
Hara-san and Kaneko-san
Mariko and I met Hara-san and Kaneko-san at the nice cake shop in the
neighborhood where we conducted some of the interviews. The fancy shop
seemed to agree with the two elegant-looking young women. Mariko ﬁrst
met Hara-san at the park and had always been imprused by the careful
attention Hara-san gave to her daughter’: “cute” (kawaii) look. Whereas
Marilto's relationship with Kaneko-san was one of “just saying hello. " she had
always thought that Kaneko-: an’s daughter was very beautiful and wanted
to recommend that the try modeling. When Marilto asked Hara-san if
she was willing to be interviewed, it was very natural that her close friend,
Kanelto-san, be asked to join as well.
It is hard to say whether the “generation gap" Mariko mentioned in her
introduction to the transcribed interview is really related to the mere four
or five yurs of age diﬁerenoe between her and these “young” mothers. If
anything. it may better reflect the elfect of the age of their first child, or, to
put it more deatiy, the speciﬁc social context in which they became moth-
ets. In any use, the diﬂerenoes she was pointing at are worthy of note. This
"young rengyi xbajia group, " as Mariko referred to them in an introduction
to an interview with other women of the same or a similar group of young.
happy housewives, "seem to feel fewer obligations about mxga rlmﬁi life. as
if enjoying [themselves] very much. ”
76 o Housewivesoilapan
As much as Mariko was bewildered by this ‘mothers’ group, " it was
apparently not their tendency to “be together all the time‘ that she found
perplexing. Sengyd rlnrﬁr in fact tend to give high priority to their “inside
group” unit (nalramn), which consists of mothers from their neighborhood;
similar units have been observed by others (Hendry, 1992, pp. l7l—2). I have
also already mentioned the signiﬁcance women give to the “well-side confer-
ences" in Royal Heights. What Mariko saw as unusual was that their closed
circle was based on enjoyment and on an active attempt to make life full of
pleasure and recreation. rather than on obligatory, perfunctory meetings.
The younger generation of happy housewives in Royal Heights seems to
represent a somewhat novel attitude toward the idea of the “good wife, wise
mother, " or even the basic ideal of the housewife. Wheres their life plan
appears to have followed a very similar route to that of “regular” housewives.
they seem to have never had any clear aspirations to become model house-
wives. However, their position is not a result of any inferiority they may
feel toward perfect housewives. This new image of the housewife who does
not necessarily have to be hard working, suffer (bird), or endure (gaman)
has been defined as the ‘new orientation of housewives” (shin mayo‘ r/114?:
shika‘). This new wife and mother is allowed to enjoy herself, to pursue her
own hobbies and interests, and, very importantly, after finding the “right”
husband, she knows how to use him and his money to do so. "
Is this new generation of happy housewives creating a new reality for
Japanese women? Are they the harbingcrs of a major change in women's
lives and gender roles? Later chapters will further tackle these questions and
related issues, both, as they appear in the discourses and narratives of the
women of Royal Heights and as they are discussed, criticized, debated, and
reproduced in the public sphere. In the meantime. however, I bring to a close
this attempt to look at the natural order of things that made the women of
Royal Heights into housewives by looking at the small group of women who
are not full-time housewives.
Woddng Mothers or Non-Full-Time Housewives
Housewives. and more particularly full-time or professional housewives. are
the main lbcus of this study. The great majority of women interviewed were
not employed, at least when their children were young. They followed the
general tendency of Japanese women to leave the workplace for childcare and
adhered to the strong belief that mothers must take care of young children, as
epitomiwd in the three-years-old myth. Their later return to the labor force,
upturned by the typiml M-curve pattern. is usually to part-time, nonregular,
and low-paid jobs, as will be discussed at length in the next chapter.
On ‘Naturally’ Becoming Housewives 0 77
Neverthelus, among the women with whom we spoke there was a small
number who had some experience working full time when their children were
babies. Being a working mother carries with it superﬂuous burdens. It is still
women—and not only in ]apan—who have to perform most of the work in
what Arlie Hochschild (2005) has referred to as the "second shift, " mean-
ing the houschold duties awaiting the return of those who work outside their
home. Bolton (2000) has aniculated the "third shift, ” which signifiu the
inner dialogue and self—doubt working mothers tend to experience. However,
Japanese middle-class women seem to need even more support than American
or Israeli women in order to make the decision to carry on with their (outside)
work after having children. The narratives of those few mothers who experi-
enced full-time work reveal the social. cultural, and institutional difficulties
facing women who dare to go against the “natural order of things. ”
Okamoto-san was in fact the only one among the interviewees who was
a ﬁrll-time worker at the time of the interview. When she gave birth to her
only child she took a maternity leave for a year and then went back to the
same workplace in the public sector, which is known for its relative support-
ive and encouraging conditions for working mothers. Okamoto-san is well
aware of the favorable environment of the public sector, which she describes
as having “no gender discrimination, ” at least with regard to working condi-
tions and paid holidays, though not necessarily with regard to promotion
and the accessibility of managing positions.
The private sector seems to offer much less favorable working conditions
for mothers. The situation for women employees in Japan began changing
in the mid-I980s, with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Law (EEOL) and increasing globalization. Nevertheless. despite the admin-
istrative guidance approach to enforcing “family (or woman)-friendly” leg-
islation, it is mostly larger companies and especially foreign firms that have
endorsed ‘woman-friendly’ programs (see Roberts, 2007). Moreover; as we
have heard from Endoh-san above, who used to work for such a “woman-
friendly" company. the formal title is not always in accord with the actual
The condition is apparently much worse when a young mother wants
to make a fresh start in the labor market. Okada—san left her job in the
private sector at marriage and, after spending two years at home with her
son, decided to try to go back to full-time work. She was willing to work
hard and long hours using the facilitis of a day care center; nevertheless, her
experience had been very discouraging:
I'm too old. I'm thirty-three, and the companies want [women in their]
twenties. There is a huge difference [between the two age groups]. I also
78 o Housewivesoflapan
need to have the option to take a day off when my child is sick. It’s the
most important condition for me for any job.
Working for the previous three years or so as a contracted worker through
a temporary agency, Okada-san was not paid well and did not have any
kind of security or social beneﬁts. She had also lost any hope of ﬁnding a
As much as a supportive labor market is essential for convincing women
not to follow the regular path and stay at home. a supporting husband is no
doubt another crucial factor in the decision to take this uncommon step.
Husbands’ (and children’s) approval seems to be considered as required even
in the case of part-time jobs, and certainly no woman would even think
about taking a full-time job before consulting her husband. There are.
however, also some structural ﬁctors to be considered. A senior colleague
of 0kamoto—san. who joined the conversation at Okamoto-san’s pleasant
apartment. was one of the first women at her job to keep her position after
having children. Talking about the difficulties of working mothers. she said
that "it's only natural” that most women who keep theirjobs are married to
men who are employed in "any kind of job that is not that ofa regular sala—
ryman. " She soon further explained: "otherwise. how can she [any woman]
do it [keep her job]—what [would she do] if her husband had to move on a
job transfer (rail-in)? " Job transfers. which are central to the Japanese labor
market. are surely one of the symbols of total commitment to the company.
in fact, other women used the threat of their own job transfers to explain
why they could not even think of pursuing permanent positions, as it was
unimaginable that their husbands would join them if they had to move to
Another significant factor in the decision to work is the parental. espe-
cially the mother's, position. Whereas very few women can act as t2regiv-
ets for their grandchildren since most ‘new families" live far away from
grandparents. their views and moral support seem to be no less signiﬁcant
in the case of working mothers as they were in the case of those women
who became full-time housewives. Hasegawa-san had not worked full time
after childbirth but had been working a few days a week since her child was
a baby. While her salaryman husband never clearly opposed her work, he
was typically not very enthusiastic about it and often reminded her that her
outside work should not affect child rearing or housework. in her case, her
mother was a significant role model:
After moving to Osaka [due to my husband's job transfer]. I was a full-
time housewife for only three months before realizing that this doesn't
On ‘Naturally’ Becoming Housewives 0 79
suit me. I had not desired to become one before marriage My mother has
been always working. I respect her [for that]. [i think] she, who is not a
professional housewife, is great Crureh‘) with her own job and position.
Unlike Hasegawa-san's mother, Okada-san's mother was a full-time house-
wife. Neverthelss, she strongly encouraged her daughter to go out of the
house, tdling her that it was in fact as good for her to have her own world
as it was for her child to have a mother who has her own world. Okada-can
believed that her mother wanted for her daughter something that she could
not have-—she had wanted to work but instead stayed at home. Okada-san’s
mother also promised that she would help her daughter tarry on with work.
There is at least one more critical obstacle a mother should overcome
beﬁzre she decides to go out to work. She has to be prepared to use the
facilities of a day care center (hvikum). The force of this obstacle gradually
became clear to me (and in fact also to Mariko) as we repeatedly heard the
same phrase “bani-urn ni azukm made, " roughly translated as “[not] to the
level of leaving [my child] in the care of a day care center, ” when mothers
tried to explain whether they ever thought about having full-time work, Day
care centers are not regarded as of poorer quality compared with kindergar-
rcns when it comes to childcare and education. As a matter of fact, not a few
of the mothers considered the “veteran” day—care-center workers as better
caregivers than the less experienced kindergarten teachers. The difference
which is epitomized in the "nor to the level of" phrasing lies in a deeper
Kindergartens (vi: /rim) are usually open half-days and cater to children
aged four and five, whereas lraibum (day care centers) accept children from
a very early age and operate much longer hours. The meaning of this dis-
tinction is taken to be that day care centers are only for the use of working
mothers (single, divorced, or married), and kindergarten; are for the use of
full-time housewives. This concept is formally supported by the day care
system itself. which allows only mothers who can prove that they are work-
ing to enroll their kids. ”
The significance of the provision of social support such as parental leave
and daycare centers has been acknowledged by the Japanese government as a
means to encourage women to join the labor force and to help both men and
women to balance work and household responsibilities (see Osawa, 2005).
Nevertheless, it is paradoxically in these same instinrtions that are assumed
to be supportive that mothers find the most unsupportive attitude; they are
often faced with teachers who hold to "traditional" views about the mother’:
place at home (see Steury. 1993). Working mothers are often reproarhed by
caregivers who may scold them by saying that the day care system should
so 0 Housewivesoilapan
only be used when mothers rally have to work and not when they are pursu-
ing careers for their own satisfaction (White, 2002. pp.58—9).
Furthermore, the uonsupporrive position of day care centers is in effect
revealed in the heavy duty that they impose on mothers. Endoh-san, who
had always been feeling guilty for not being a good-enough mother when
she was working full time and who had finally decided to resign and become
a good mother and full-time housewife. related that one of her greatest
reliefs was that she no longer had to carry the heavy burden ofperfomring
as a good day—t-are-center mother. She could not forget thou sleepless nights
when she had to prepare a handmade doll for her daughter as a small substi-
tute for her own absence, or to embroider her daughter’: class’s cute squirrel
symbol on some clothing. She also found the burden of the compulsory use
ofcloth diapers, which the mothers had to wash every night as a symbol of
their 'motherly self-sacriﬁce and dedication, “ as very tiring and frustrating.
Endoh-sen was very clear about the aim and purpose of all this excessive
duty: ‘working mothers have less time to spend with their kids, [so] they
[the day-care-center teachers] use such obligations so that the children can
feel their mothers’ love. " And in the end. day care centers, just like other
institutions in contemporary japan, may use this imposition of motherly
tasks to convince those mothers who can afford it that their “natural” place
is at home.
Sent: Tuesday. January 20. 2004, Il:00 PM
Subject: |Talteuc| tl)-san's Interview and more. . .
About [Takeuchi]-san [one of the women we interviewed] and I: I think
I feel that we are similar at the point that somehow we both have quite
an old way of thinking. And both of us are now realizing that our idea
is too old.
When I got married and maybe until quite recently, I had the idea
that wives should respect their husbands if they want to build a stable
family. And If we respect them, they will tom into. ..respectfu| per-
sons. (I) I also thought that mothers receive the job of raising children
from god and that we should do that without being unsatisﬁed, giving
all our soul to them [our children). [I also thought] that we shouldn't
ask someone else to carry out this sacred job, if we do that, it's like
running away from your responsibility (haha to shine subeki koto [what
we should do as molhersl).
A friend of mine from the university (she is not married yet). ..to| d
me that she was surprised how I've changed after I got married, [as]
she didn't expect me to be so conservative. And even though I told her
how happy and satisﬁed I was being a sengyri shulu, since I didn't look
happy at all, she didn't feel any envy [of] me.
when you and I talked the other day with Mana-chanl'sl mama
[my neighbor], I really could understand what she said. [I saw how she
looked I just like me [a] few years before, trying to convince herself
that she should (eel happy raising children. And for more, when I saw
her changing Into la] very tired shufu each time we met, as she was
a quite beautiful lady before having Mana-chan, I felt really sad and
many times I wanted to tell her that she can be more free, site doesn't
have to be a prisoner of her job as haha [mommy]