Terrie's Take 989 - Psychological Challenges of Being a New Mother in Japan, e-Biz News from Japan
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Tue Apr 30 01:04:56 JST 2019
* * * * * * * * * TERRIE'S TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
General Edition Monday, Apr 29, 2019, Issue No. 989
- What's New -- Psychological Challenges of Being a New Mother in Japan
- News -- So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?
- Events -- New "Friends of Carlos Ghosn" group
- Travel Picks -- Yagiri Crossing on Edogawa, Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum
- News Credits
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+++ Psychological Challenges of Being a New Mother in Japan
On December 26th, 2012, in his inaugural speech as the newly elected Prime
Minister, Shintaro Abe announced that his administration would create a
country in which women are dynamically engaged and in which it is easy for
them to raise children. He even announced a new position in his cabinet,
being the Minister in Charge of Support for Women's Empowerment and
Child-Rearing. Although the government has had 7 years to fulfill this
promise, the reality is that having a baby is just as difficult now as it
always was for aspiring career-minded mothers. Indeed, in some ways it
feels as if we are going backwards, because promoting women in the
workforce appears to have taken a back seat to the country's many other
threats, from extreme weather and earthquakes to Trump trade wars and
possible real (territorial) wars with China.
While it's understandable that the public's attention is drawn by
existential threats, the very existence of Japan itself will in any case be
threatened if there are no Japanese left to populate it. Therefore, there
is no more appropriate time to do what needs to be done than now, and which
is to allocate sufficient budget, resources, and the leadership necessary
to give young women the confidence to start having babies again. Not just
budget for more buildings and helpers, but also psychological support for
women isolated by the demands of modern society, and who are cut off from
their extended families and other support networks. We also need core
changes in the attitudes of the nation's law makers - those mostly cynical
old men who run the country, spouting fine speeches while giving very
little of substance.
Today we thought we'd take a look at some of the psychological pressures
that young mothers are up against, and why so few moms are willing to have
kids these days. The following material comes from interviews with new moms
sharing their challenges and concerns.
The challenges start well before child birth, when a pregnant woman is
forced to confront the costs of having a baby.
Japan has a policy of supporting new mothers-to-be with check-ups, and each
local government issues "Nimpu Kenko Shinsa Jushin-hyo" (prenatal health
care) tickets that are supposed to cover the primary costs of pregnancy.
However, in reality there are surcharges up to about JPY8,000 per visit (if
you have shakai hoken). Since most pregnant moms go to see the doctor once
a month until the second trimester, then late in the second trimester every
two weeks, and when almost at full term (the last month) every week, that's
about 20 visits at around JPY200,000... plus transport, plus babysitter
fees if you have another young child at home. In contrast, mothers in the
USA will usually have health insurance and a co-pay of just US$20. Even the
health insurance cost/coverage in the USA is cheaper and better for
pregnancy. In one interviewee's case, in Hawaii her health insurance was
just US$200/month and this covered all eye, dental, pharmacy, and of course
having the baby. Japan's much vaunted shakai hoken on the other hand costs
the average wage earner about US$500/month, and comes with many exceptions
and gaps on what is covered (such as the actual birth cost).
Let's not forget, either, that what you are buying for your JPY8,000/visit
out of pocket is pretty pitiful. Whereas in most western countries you can
expect your doctor to take time and do a proper consultation, lasting maybe
up to an hour, in Japan you're part of a medical factory line. You don't
get to ask questions, the clinics are packed, and waiting with little kids
is a nightmare (which is why you need a babysitter). Basically the patient
Back to the costs. The government munificently provides a subsidy
("josei-kin") to offset actual birthing costs. Currently the amount is
JPY420K, which sounds generous until you consider that while indeed at a
countryside hospital if you share a room you can get a birth done for this
amount or even slightly less, in Shibuya if you want a single room, you're
looking at JPY800K or more. The problem with the countryside equation is
that most working moms with careers live "downtown", and a shared room
isn't going to work if you want your partner to be with you after the
birth. So, again, you're made to feel part of a factory line - which may
have been appropriate 50 years ago, but Japan is supposedly far beyond the
militaristic society it used to be.
[Article continues below...]
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She originally applied to Japan Travel, and although she passed our
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Interested employers can contact her directly (quoting this ad in Terrie's
Take) at: elenore.sabirbehier at audencia.com
Oh, and these costs only apply if you can actually find a hospital that
will take you. Competition for hospital rooms in central Tokyo is severe
enough that most women start looking for a hospital as soon as they find
out that they are pregnant. And of course you have to show up in person at
the hospital to make your application - nothing is done online yet - so you
can throw in the cost of a few cab rides and more babysitting as well.
Next, we get to the childbirth process itself and the psychology behind it.
Generally speaking, there are 3 options for having a baby. Do it the
conventional way at a larger hospital, opt for an alternative birth at a
mid-wife's facility or a water birth, or "cheat" and do a (relatively)
painless epidural birth. There are also C-sections, although in Japan these
are generally performed when a medical condition threatens the health of
mother and/or baby and not because it's a personal option.
First-time Japanese moms are avid readers of everything that can go wrong
in birth and the fear factor is high - so for this reason most opt for the
relative safety of a major hospital. But while a clinical environment does
get you sophisticated help if you suddenly need it, there are also plenty
of downsides. Among these are: the cost - especially in inner city
hospitals; the "habits" of Japanese doctors who worry more about their
schedules and convenience than patient pain and discomfort - for example,
the prevalent use of episiotomies instead of allowing the mother more time
to stretch fully. Then there is the authoritarian attitude of the staff,
which can prevent the Dad from being at the birth, the sharing of hospital
recovery rooms and thus a lack of peace and quiet for a recuperating mom
and baby, and, speaking of lack of privacy, the tendency to invite interns
and non-medical staff to view the show when the mom is delivering (OK, she
might have the top half blocked off by a curtain). Anyway, you get the
idea, some aspects of Japanese maternity hospitals can be rather primitive.
Alternative births such as using a mid-wife or doing a water birth are
becoming rarer these days, even though both are cost-effective and much
kinder to the mother. Giving birth with an experienced mid-wife is a
revelation in knowledge and patient-care. Generally the partner is allowed
to stay with the mother both before, during, and after child birth, making
the event a family experience and giving the partner a deeper appreciation
of what the mother is going through. This sharing of preparation, pain, and
jubilation is remarkably lacking in Japanese families and in our opinion is
one of the contributing factors to the breakdown of familial relationships
a few years later.
Mid-wives are more likely to offer practical advice to get the mom ready
for the big event, ranging from how to do yoga poses to orient a baby which
is upside down, through to walking up and down stairs to get the fetus to
drop down and speed up a slow delivery. This is in contrast to hospitals,
where busy doctors quickly resort to surgery to get things straightened
out. The downside to a midwife is when there is an emergency and sudden
action is required. This is probably the biggest reason these low-cost
providers are disappearing, although most still in business are likely to
have a hospital on standby just down the street.
As mentioned, a second alternative birth is the water birth, something that
is not popular in Japan but is entirely do-able. The benefit of water birth
is two-fold, to soften the mother's skin tissue, to reduce the likelihood
of tearing, and to give the newborn a less invasive entry to the world,
given that the water is as warm as amniotic fluid. If you've ever witnessed
a water birth (we've seen 3), you will be amazed how calm the baby is and
the lack of physical "violence".
The third major option (and very much an "alternative" birth in Japan) is
to stick with a major hospital but opt for an epidural. The upside is that
the procedure, while still painful, is that the mom experiences just a
shade of the intense pain of regular childbirth, and so it has become
popular overseas. The reason that epidurals are not popular in Japan are
three-fold. Firstly there is the physical risk of an incorrectly
administered needle, which are huge and very invasive, especially in Japan
where such procedures are not common. In fact, the risk is high enough that
some mothers we know who decided on epidurals, opted to have their babies
abroad where at least they can be sure of doctors who have done the
procedure many times before.
Secondly there is the cost. There is exactly one doctor in Japan who
specializes in epidural births. Of course there are others who know and are
licensed to do the procedure, but why would you use an amateur? For the top
guy, his services will set you back about JPY1.2MM-JPY2MM - about 3-5 times
the cost of having a baby in a regular hospital. Considering the cost of
flying and accommodation, you could hit the same budget by taking a holiday
and giving birth overseas.
The third downside to doing an alternative birth is the main reason we
decided to write this article - psychological pressure from friends and
family. For young Japanese raised in Japan's group-think schooling system,
this pressure is probably the biggest disincentive.
So let's be straight here. Japan is psychologically harsh on its own
citizens. Pain and suffering are considered purifying acts, and no where is
this more true than in childbirth. To escape that pain is considered an act
of cowardice and is despised by the older generation in particular.
There are two digital sources of information that almost all new Japanese
moms visit, being the Mamari app, and the mamastar.jp website. Visiting
these sites is an interesting peek into the subculture of birthing in Japan
and reveals a lot about the moral code. Both sites have many pages of
comments from young mothers deploring the fact that they are shamed
(usually by the mother-in-law and sometimes by the husband) into so-called
"natural" births, when in fact they badly wanted to have an epidural, or
for medical reasons they had to have a C-section.
In particular, women on both sites relate experiences where they went
through a C-section and were made to feel that they somehow cheated and
didn't birth "properly". The medieval attitudes are pretty shocking and the
comments heartless, as illustrated by the following examples:
"My mother-in-law had some cruel words for me. She said, 'Although the
doctor chose [a C-section] for you, you took the easy way out so you didn't
have to suffer, didn't you?!" [Ed: In this case, the Mother-in-law was
unhappy because the doctor had chosen the birth date for baby instead of it
"My mother-in-law repeatedly and right in front of me as I was recuperating
kept saying, 'Poor baby, you came out so quickly [by C-section], you're so
small, and you wanted to stay in your mother's tummy longer didn't you?
"My sister commented, 'Oh, you got a C-section, you couldn't deal with the
pain could you?'"
"My husband muttered at me, 'Why did you get a C-section?! You're a failure
as a mother...!'"
There are dozens of similar examples.
So while Japan has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world,
this is off-set by the country having one of the highest rates of
postpartum depression and suicide (according to the Japan Times). Yeah,
with family members like the ones just quoted, it's no wonder...! In fact,
a survey by the National Center for Child Health and Development found that
in 2015, 102 women committed suicide before and after childbirth, making it
the leading cause of maternal death. Of these, 92 committed suicide within
a year of giving birth and 65% of them had given birth for the first time.
Notably, many of these women lacked close support networks and belonged to
households with no regular source of income.
This is sad state of affairs, and given that we are now moving into a new
era for the whole country, we think it's time for PM Abe to make good on
his promise and allocate some serious resources, public education, and
top-down support to help the very people who are bringing into existence
the nation's future generation. The more depressed and oppressed our moms
are, the more likely it is that it will affect the kids and thus weaken
society in the long term. It's not difficult to see this connection.
Unfortunately, if you're power-obsessed old men making policy rules and you
look down at women as baby-making machines (in 2007, the LDP Health
Minister health minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, actually said this), then
thinking about the future with kindness is not something that comes
naturally. Instead, harsh feudal values are so much easier to maintain.
Lastly, we will be off for the next 3 weeks, for both the extended Golden
Week and a long bike tour during that time. We will be back on board around
May 19th. Perhaps some readers noticed there was no scheduled Take last
week. This is only the second time in 22 years that we failed to meet our
publishing schedule, and is a reflection of the fact that the travel
business is doing well enough that it is impinging on our other activities.
It's quite likely the rapid growth will continue for the next 18 months, so
publication could become more random than in the past - we seek your
support and understanding in advance, thanks so much.
...The information janitors/
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- So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?
- Ballot-based Olympic tickets available from May 9th
- Year-round hiring to be allowed
- Chickens come home to roost at Nissan
- 13% of homes are empty
=> So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?
The government's top cabinet ministers were in damage-control mode last
week after a close aide to PM Abe hinted that he might delay for a third
time the planned increase in consumption tax from 8% to 10%. The increase,
which is supposed to happen in October this year, is now becoming
increasingly risky, after the most recent economic data show that the
economy contracted for the last quarter - most likely due to a slow down in
China (and thus Japanese exports to that country). Business confidence is
ebbing and given the huge impact of the last increase in consumption tax,
the government is worried about a similar setback this time around as well.
***Ed: Obviously a lot depends on Trump and what kind of concessions he is
going to try to extract from both China and Japan by the end of May.**
(Source: TT commentary from mainichi.jp, Apr 19, 2019)
=> Ballot-based Olympic tickets available from May 9th
The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has
announced that a ballot will be set up to sell Olympic Games tickets to
Japan residents starting May 9th and ending May 28th. The results of the
ballot will be announced on June 20th. Applications can only be made
through the official Tokyo 2020 website, which is now available in English.
If readers miss out on the ballot, they can still buy tickets to specific
events on a first-come, first-served basis in the fall of this year. There
will also be further ticket sales made in the spring of 2020.
The tickets website is: http://bit.ly/2V3hzo5
There will be 339 events in 33 sports, and tickets will be priced starting
from JPY2,500, with about 50% of all tickets priced at JPY 8,000 or less.
(Source: TT commentary from tokyo2020.org, Apr 18, 2019)
=> Year-round hiring to be allowed
The gloves are off in the race for finding new staff for the major
businesses in Japan. Whereas for 50+ years companies had a "gentleman's
agreement" not to solicit university graduates out of hiring season (spring
each year), so as to make it fairer for all concerned, the top business
organization in Japan, Keidanren, has just announced that it will allow
company members to start soliciting and hiring new graduates year round.
Those companies likely to take advantage of the relaxed rules will be
fast-growing tech firms like Softbank and others, who hire year-round
already from the open market. A Recruit survey shows that about 10.7% of
Japanese firms plan to start year-round hiring from next year. ***Ed: What
the fuss is about here is that many universities have agreed to allow
companies to reach out to their students earlier. So now we have an
alignment with what already happens overseas - e.g., that the best
third-year students start getting competitive offers well before
graduation, which is a great way to increase their starting salaries.**
(Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Apr 20, 2019)
=> Chickens come home to roost at Nissan
Nissan Motor has slashed its profit forecast for the current fiscal year to
the lowest in nine years, saying that there will be a 45% drop in profit,
from JPY450bn to JPY318bn. The reason? Apparently "the king" Saikawa has
decided that the company should stop aggressive pricing on its U.S. models
and instead focus on improving profit margins. Unfortunately for him and
the company, he doesn't seem to understand that discounting is what drives
the U.S. markets, and if Nissan wants a share it needs to play the game -
as Mr. Ghosn well knew. ***Ed: This is a classic case of the Japanese
government [Ed: rumored to be behind this whole sorry tale] cutting off its
nose to spite its face. Ghosn may or may not have misused US$5m of company
money, but how does that in any way compare to the destruction of
shareholder value of US$2.5bn going on in Nissan right now? This whole
thing most certainly should have been handled internally, quietly, and
without wrecking the business.** (Source: TT commentary from
the-japan-news.com, Apr 24, 2019)
=> 13% of homes are empty
In an update on the "akiya" (empty house) crisis, the Nikkei says there is
a record 8.46m homes vacant even as the population fell another 299,118
people from 2017 to 2018. The once-every-five-years survey found that the
number of unoccupied homes jumped by 260,000 units, which is 13.6% of all
housing in Japan. Of course many homes will be recycled back into the
economy, but over 3.47m will remain vacant and eventually will be
demolished or taken over by local governments as part of the 2015 tax
legislation deal to remove permanently unoccupied dwellings. ***Ed: BTW,
that death rate of almost 300,000 is important, because it represents
roughly 200,000 home owners who are no longer around.** (Source: TT
commentary from bloomberg.com, Apr 29, 2019)
NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.
+++ UPCOMING EVENTS
=> A group of concerned citizens from the international community has
formed a support group called the "Friends of Carlos Ghosn". The group
points out that Ghosn was a member of TAC and his children grew up in
Japan. With the seemingly arbitrary nature of the Japanese legal system,
what has happened to him could happen to anyone in the community. So if you
would like to help, please contact housinginjapan at yahoo.com for more
----------- Bilingual Sales Manager Wanted ----------------
Japan Travel is a "full stack" travel business, consisting of a large
contributor community, one of Japan's top inbound travel portals, a custom
travel agency, and a technology team. We are looking for an accomplished
bilingual (Japanese/English) person, male or female, to lead our Media
sales team. The right person will be someone with a proven personal network
in Japan, and a solid track record in business development, sales, and team
development. We are a fast-growing company at the top of our game, and the
sales manager will be helping sales team members move up from smaller
projects to larger, more bold ones that are pitched at senior management in
our customer base. Fluent business Japanese is a must.
The company is currently at 35 staff, with 2/3 working in Japan and the
remainder in various locations abroad. We are growing at a rate of 50% or
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For more information, email: terrie.lloyd at japantravel.com
=> None this week
+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS
=> Yagiri Crossing on the Edo River
Take a trip back in time on the Edo River
Tokyo is renowned for its fast and punctual train systems. If you are brave
and have time, riding the buses is a great way to get around dense parts of
the city. The extensive road and bridge crossings are convenient and
relatively safe to walk on. But there is one antiquated mode of transport
in the big city that won’t get you anywhere fast except back in time – the
Yagiri ferry crossing.
The Yagiri crossing was instituted during the shogunate to serve the
farmers who came from what was then the outskirts of the capital, now
Katsushika Ward, to work the fields on the eastern side of the Edo River.
Today, the ferry lands at the dock in the Yagiri area of Matsudo City in
Rides on the wooden hulled ferry, cost JPY200 yen for adults, and JPY100
for children. The ferry doesn’t run when the weather is stormy, and there
is no schedule. The boatman simply waits for passengers to gather, and
pushes off when he is satisfied with the number of passengers.
The crossing no longer carries farmers, and is now a living heritage and a
pleasant side excursion from Shibamata. You may wonder what draws visitors
to this little boat. Yagiri no Watashi was immortalized in an enka song of
the same name. It also appears as a setting for a couple’s elopement in the
novel Nogiku no Haka, Grave of the Wild Chrysanthemum, by Itoh Sachiro.
But there is another charming reason for the preservation of this little
ferry. Yagiri crossing is distinctive for the waves of the river slapping
the sides of the boat, the breeze blowing the river grass, and the birds
flying above. In 1996, the ministry of tourism began a program to designate
and protect soundscapes throughout the country, preserving this last
vestige of non-motorized transport on the Edo River.
You can combine a ride on the Yagiri ferry with a visit to Shibamata
Taishakuten, Yoshida Tei tea house, and the Tora-san Museum on the
Katsushika side. Note that on the Matsudo side of the river, there is a
monument indicating the site’s literary and cultural significance, a little
shop that sells snacks and drinks, but little else. Visitors can catch a
bus into central Matsudo, which has great architectural heritage and
delicious ramen shops.
=> Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum
Glimpse into the exclusive world of kimono craftsmanship
These days, museums are common everywhere but many can feel highly
sanitized with areas cordoned off, exhibits out of reach and numerous "do
not's". If you're craving an authentic experience, you may be left feeling
disappointed. However, at the Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum, not only can
you get a hands-on craft session and immersive workshop tour, you'll also
get to peek into the exclusive world of kimono silk dyeing. What a rare
chance that is! Those interested in traditional Japanese arts or kimonos
are in for a treat.
Located in the Shinjuku ward by the Kanda River, Tomita Some Kogei, or
Tomita Dye Craft, has a long history as a kimono dye workshop that
specializes in Edo Sarasa and Tokyo Some Komon. Edo Sarasa is a dyeing
technique imported from the Middle East, India, Thailand and Java that
produces exotic, vividly-covered and richly-patterned kimonos. In contrast,
Tokyo Some Komon is a style of finely-patterned kimonos with a simple
understated beauty. The family business started by the Asakusa River in
1882, and Tomita Some Kogei moved to its current location by the Kanda
River in 1914 after the water in the Asakusa River receded, leaving a level
that’s too low to be ideal for washing kimonos.
Washing kimonos in the Kanda River would have continued had it not been
prohibited in 1963. As Japan prepared for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the
local government called for a citywide cleanup of streets and rivers.
Therefore, these days, Tomita Some Kogei dyes kimono silk by a combination
of traditional and modern means.
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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