Date: Wed, 15 Apr 98 18:57:15 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: JAPAN: Single Mothers Dictate Their Own Terms
Article: 32481
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

/** ips.english: 501.0 **/
** Topic: POPULATION-JAPAN: Single Mothers Dictate Their Own Terms **
** Written 4:05 PM Apr 11, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Single Mothers Dictate Their Own Terms

By Suvendrini Kakuchi, IPS, 8 April 1998

TOKYO, Apr 8 (IPS)—Japanese women seem to be getting less and less interested in marriage these days, but a good number of them still want to have children and have been going ahead to rear them as single mothers.

A decade ago, there were some 30,000 single mothers in Japan. By 1994, about 7,500 were added to that figure, says the Health and Welfare Ministry.

Some of them may have been like the 20 women interviewed for the book ‘Kodomo Dake Umitai Shokugun’ (The Syndrome of Wanting Only Children), who said they dated men only for their sperm.

But others could also have been like single mother ‘Noriko’, who had indulged in a passionate affair overseas but had had no plans of getting married from the very start.

Sociologists say this slow but steady trend may be tracked the desire of many Japanese women to avoid ending up like many of their mothers, whose needs usually came last in the family.

But while the women do not want to end up as subservient wives dependent solely on their husbands for financial support, experts say they nevertheless want to have children.

The experts add that the trend is being helped by the fact that single mothers today are no longer treated as social outcasts, especially in the bigger cities, and even receive government child support allowances.

Freelance graphic designer Noriko, for instance, says she lives a relatively trouble-free life despite having to support an eight- year-old son all on her own in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

As a child, I thought my mother, who was dependent on my father for financial support, was a sad woman, she says, explaining why marriage is not and has never been in her plans. In contrast, says the 36-year-old Noriko, she and her son have friends and have fun. In fact, I think I am happier than my mother was when she was rearing us.

Statistics compiled by local women's groups indicate that more young Japanese women are putting off, or opting against, marriage. Women respondents in several surveys cite independence and career development as main reasons for staying single or delaying marriage until their late 30s.

More women are shunning marriage because for many, it would be like retiring to be a full-time homemaker whose life centres around her children and husband, explains Saito Chiyo, who runs 'Agora', a magazine that covers issues relating to working women and human rights.

She adds that these women are being accepted because more people are realising that the Japanese system is such that it denies the right of women to develop as an individual.

According to Chiyo, the Japanese workplace does not encourage women to compete for important positions because the priority is placed on male workers.

Women are paid lower wages than men, and the income tax system is constructed in such a way that the household budget benefits more if wives do not work or have low-paying part-time jobs than if they pursued fulfilling corporate careers.

Japan has a long way to go before genuine equality between the sexes is achieved, says Chiyo, whose 40-year-old magazine is known for leading the battle for asserting women's rights and equal status with men.

Sociologists point out that women like Noriko are resorting to only way they see for them to maintain their independence: shunning the men, who had imposed this system on them in the first place.

Already, the owner of Japan's only sperm bank so far reports that his business is booming, partly because of eager single young women who make up some 30 percent of the bank's clientele.

But veterinarian Junko Yoshikawa, 41, apparently preferred a less clinical approach. Yoshikawa, who was among those interviewed for 'Kodomo Dake Umitai Shokugun', scouted for her would-be child's father the traditional way: through dates.

She is quoted in the book as having been on the look-out for someone who had good teeth, eyesight and personality. Yoshikawa found someone who fit these specifics and went on to get pregnant by him, after which the would-be father was dumped.

The growing number of single mothers, though, has raised issues at the other end of the spectrum, such as the importance of the father's role in child-rearing and the silent, but strong, hand of mothers in families.

Says Chiyo: The irony is that while husbands are doing important business, wives exert too much power in the family by being in charge of the family budget. That again represents an inequality between the sexes.