The Role of Family in Japan
After the end of the Cold War, Japan had suffered a relatively long period of recession since its economic bubble burst. It desperately needed an economic revival. In order to do so, it needed to concentrate on the operations of the political and economic structure of its society and the ways the Japanese individuals interacted within that structure.
This structure is one that the people have created themselves to be the accepted norm, meaning the accepted way that people should act and how things should be in Japan.Many conformed and contributed to this way of life and others rebelled against this structure. The key role that helped facilitate this type of social structure is the family, by its function of mediating between the society and individuals. The family, whether it is a “nuclear” family or an extended family made up of different types of members, was a very important unit in society that played the essential role of fulfilling the emotional and physical needs of the individuals which was crucial for social and economic development.The family acts as a catalyst that affected various aspects of the model societal structure and by doing so, the structure continues to revolve around the role and ideology of the family. Some aspects of the social structure it strongly influenced and continues to influence are the employment system, education, technology, and even protests against the very structure. The individual roles of the family members played an important factor in the employment system. Japanese families had an underlying gender ideology.Therefore, it was no surprise that the society developed into a patriarchal system with men as heads of the households who would most likely provide the financial support for the family and with women in charge of taking care of the children and the home. In Japan’s social structure, people believed that women should just concentrate on doing household work and leave working outside the house to men. In the article “A Postwar History of Women Workers,” author Kumazawa Makoto states that “Japanese common sense renders the idea of women working outside the household as of secondary importance (162). Due to this prejudice, women who have decided to go against the norm and get a job outside the household have not been granted equality with men in the employment system. While men were able to possess jobs that used their brains or special skills, women were restricted to simple tasks since they continued to be idealized by the “good wife, wise mother” doctrine practiced widely in the Japanese community. Even the Labor Standards Law’s first priority was to create measures that maintained the health of women workers so they could remain dutiful wives and mothers while working.The law provided women the right to a six weeks’ leave before and after childbirth, the right to request leave to take care of a child, the right to paid leave during menstruation, a cap on overtime work, and prohibition of wage differentials based on sex. These were all measures to protect the women so they could serve their country by bearing more children. In the article “The Grass Seeds and Women’s Roles,” author Sasaki-Uemura states that “women’s patriotic duty was cast in terms of bearing children (116). Although the new constitution of 1947 established the principle of “the basic equality of the sexes” and granted women political and civil rights such as the rights to vote and hold office, equal rights to education, and equality of husband and wife in a democratic family system, it remained a practice to continue employing submissive women in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs that only required manual dexterity with low wages. In the prewar period, female workers were largely employed in the textile industry.In the first postwar decade, most females were still working in low-waged factories even after the revision of the constitution. However, some female workers landed jobs in banks. Nevertheless, in the banks, “the male employees typically ordered the women workers to do all the cleaning, prepare tea for the men, go out to buy them cigarettes, bread, or milk, and wash their handkerchiefs and socks, and management viewed this as a “natural” part of their job (Makoto 164). However, the men should instead be thankful to the women for “what securely opened up this route for male workers was the removal of women workers from this competitive upward track and their permanent restriction to work at the bottom level (Makoto 167). ” With women workers in the employment system, men were able to freely pursue high paying jobs that women could not. Although these women were outside of their households trying to escape from their roles as housewives and mothers, they were unable to do so due to the discrimination that ties them to their familial role as “good wives, wise mothers. The roles of the men and women in families are what influenced the employment system to be strongly based on gender and what allowed men to climb up the hierarchical ladder of the employment system while women were held back to hold the low-waged positions. Aside from the gender-based division of labor and wage differentials, Japanese women had to adjust their careers to fit their family obligations which also affected the employment system. Many working women reaching the time for marriage made the “natural” choice to quit working to prepare for motherhood.Accepting their role in the family, “they did not want to neglect their family for the sake of a job (Makoto 177). ” After these women quit their jobs to attend to their families, they returned to the household to accept their full responsibilities as both wives and mothers. While some possessed a traditional state of mind and stayed as homemakers upon getting married or having children, others returned to the work force after their childbearing days were done. Thus, the employment for women dropped in their mid-twenties and later rose, resulting in an M-shaped graph.Since women had this “in-and-out” working pattern, most held part-time jobs which were beneficial to the companies. “Managers believe that hiring part-time women allows saving in wage costs and facilitates adjustments in the number of employees as needed (Makoto 182). ” With women contributing greatly to the company, their presence was indispensable in the employment system and ultimately in the Japanese economy. Since women were still subject to mistreatment and inequality after the revision of the constitution, women decided to lead protests in hopes of winning the rights they were granted on paper and changing the employment system.Women “fought for the abolition of wage differentials based on gender, the enforcement of laws protecting women, and the “abolition of feudalism (Makoto 164)” in the workplace. Fortunately, through their struggles, women were able to force companies to retract their policies of compulsory retirement upon marriage and create movements that compelled them to “respect laws protecting married working mothers and to establish day care centers in particular regions (Makoto 168). Eventually with a considerable amount of movements led by women with their goal of separating their role in the family from their ability to work, the system of seniority which created a gender-based division changed to a system of meritocracy. This new qualification system based on workers’ abilities was a new change in the employment system that gave single and married women the opportunity to be at the same level and of competition to men. Education is another aspect of the social structure that has been brought about by the discourse of family.The Japanese has been known to be hard-working people. For them to succeed in their jobs and to climb to the top of the hierarchical order, they believed that they need a strong education. Their education would be utilized as their foundation to surpass others in order to become “elites” in the society and which would later be a necessary means to provide financially for their families. Mothers played an important role in the education of their children. Mothers obtained reputations in the society for the amount of care and extent of preparation for their children.They had a nickname of kyoiku mama which meant “a mother so committed to furthering the education of her child that she does everything from sharpening pencils, making midnight snacks, and pouring tea for a studying child to consulting with teachers; investigating the range of schools, tutors, and cram schools available; and boning up on subjects where her child is deficient (107)” states author Anne Allison from the article “Producing Mothers. ” Parents, especially the mothers, are pressured by the competition in society to do anything that would make their children succeed and surpass others in life.Thus, parents start the education of their children at a very young age. At both school and home, the children are taught discipline, social skills, and how to act properly within the social structure of Japan in preparation for their bright futures. As a result, the role of children was to be good students that go to school. “Even play is organized into a lesson or structure that will mold the child into a good student (Allison 109). ” If they followed this path of education, they are on the “normative path” which is in other words, the successful path.Due to the pressures of the family to be successful, children have learned the ability to be good at test taking and memorization. The emphasis on education by the parents had created a gakureki shakai where society was based on academic records and accomplishments. It was an extreme type of meritocracy where the students’ academic records translated into the place they would later occupy in the society. According to Japanese journalist Honda Katsuichi, Japan has converted into a tadpole society owing to the education given to the children.He claims that “the Japanese behavioral principle is like that of tadpoles. Japanese looks around and does what others are doing. Hence, Japanese have trouble with theory, logic, and ethics. In order to create a tadpole society, the Ministry of Education defines education as regurgitation. The Ministry of Education decides what is good to think, while denigrating individual opinions (Lecture 5-10-10). ” The kyoiku mama phenomenon instilled education into the lives of their children which created the tadpole society and the gakureki shakai.Education did not always have a positive effect on the students. With the goal of trying to be successful in society, students were overwhelmed with the constant stress-inducing pressures to study given by their teachers and mothers. Some students turned to living their lives as “neets” as an act of protest against the education system. “Neets” stands for “Not in education, employment, or training. ” These neets are freeloaders who did not plan to contribute to the society. They rebelled against the “normative path” that others insisted on taking.The discourse of family attempted to conform children in the education system but had failed to do so in the case of the neets. What sparked the revival of the economy was the increase in domestic consumption; more clearly, the increase of consumption in the family within the society. Families were the major targets for the consumer sales market with their increasing buying power. They were able to afford and consume technological appliances that were not available to them before such as the “three sacred treasures”: electric washing machines, refrigerators, and televisions.Later on, appliances such as rice cookers and vacuum cleaners were invented to help “good wives, wise mothers” in the household and improve the living situations of the Japanese. More or less, technology, another aspect of the social structure, was revolved around the necessities of the family to help improve their quality of life. Another reason that the discourse of family has facilitated the social structure of technology is that robots are now being created in Japan to deal with the social problems created by the changing structure of the family.These robots are gendered as females and are created to help with the household chores known as women work. While women are out working in the workforce and the youth such as neets not working, a social issue concerning the elderly arose. “With scarcely any public care facilities, it was the job of most housewives to take care of their in-laws (Allison 133). ” Women were leaving the elderly behind to attend to their jobs. Also, with the youth not working, there was a shift in demographics. There would be a social security problem where there are too many elderly retiring and not enough youth to support them.This is where the robots and technology come in to help the elderly in doing certain tasks and serving as companions that were originally the job of the housewives. The role and ideology of the family is the core of the social structure. The structure revolved and continues to adjust its operations to that of the family. The family affected the many structures of Japan such as the employment system, education, technology, and protests against the structures. As for the employment system, men took up the role as salary men which pushed homemaking as the chief role for women.These roles allowed the employment system to be a gender-based system in favor of the men. Women protested against this system and fought for equality of the sexes which successfully shifted the gender-based system into one based on the ability and skills of the worker, regardless of gender. Parents strongly believed that there was a connection between the success as students and their future success as adults. Thus, they pushed education onto their children for the sake of their bright futures and their future families.However, this led to a tadpole and gakureki shakai society where students were homogeneous. As for technology, there was a change in consumption and companies began to market more household appliances to meet the needs of the family. Also, “in order to solve human problems, the Japanese government use technology instead of other humans (Lecture 5-26-10). ” The problems regarding the elderly were created by women escaping from their roles as housewives into the workforce and by the youth who did not want to conform to the education system.Robots were created for care giving to the elderly. The various aspects of the structure are all intertwined and related to the notion of family. Without the family roles, ideology, and structure, the social structure in Japan would probably be in chaos and without order. The family is an irreplaceable and indispensable factor that facilitated the operations of the political and economic structure of the Japanese society, creating the prosperous economy it has today.