Is This Why Japanese Women Quit Work After Marriage?

Recently I caught this article posted on twitter by @hikosaemon, about a woman who was chewed out, and called irresponsible by her manager for getting pregnant in the first year of her job. (Note: the article is in Japanese).

It made me think about the conversations I’ve had with students about women in the workplace in Japan. One student even claimed that companies won’t hire older women, because older married women will more likely to be the ones who have to leave work to take care of the kids if they get a call from the school or something.

I’d known about this situation, but there’s a particular conversation with one of my students that really hit home, and made me feel uncomfortable, even sad. She was telling me about her amazing, “dream job” as the editor of a magazine. The way she glowed when she talked about it, I could tell she really loved it.

“It was really busy, but so much fun.”

“Really? Why did you leave?”

“When I got married, I decided the hours were too…eeto…”

“Long? Irregular?”

“Yes! I needed a more…fixed job. Fixed hour job. Otherwise it would be difficult…”

Now, everyone has the right to live their own life, and to make their own choices, but I did wonder what exactly she meant. Doing housework? Cooking? Surely her husband, a grown adult male, could help out with some of that? Having children? Alright, many women even in the West choose to make the sacrifice to care for their children. My mother did it. But my student didn’t have any children at the time of the conversation. Perhaps she just wanted to have more time to spend with her husband, or perhaps she wanted to avoid being “irresponsible” by getting pregnant.

When I put that conversation in the context of the article above, I can’t help the hairs on the back of my neck rising in apprehension. As I said, everyone has the right to make their own choices, and what if the choice wasn?t hers?

I feel there is a societal expectation for women here to “have their little jobs” while they’re young and unattached, but once they get married it’s time to settle down and become a “good wife”. Now, this attitude is by no means exclusive to Japan, but there is something about the contrast of Japan’s high rises, sleek bullet trains and robots and this attitude that we in the West associate with the 1950s that makes it all the more glaring to me.

Also I thought about myself in my student’s situation. How I would feel if I had to choose between my dream job and my dream man? Or my dream to have a child? I didn’t like the thought at all. Granted, she’s grown up with this expectation, but by her own admission it wasn’t easy to leave her job. She’s still working now, part-time, in the service industry.

However I did read another article here (don’t worry, this one’s in English) about how the East and West view marriage. The gist is that in the West people marry for love and in the East people marry for children. Though overall I find the article generalizes too much, this is an interesting point, and a plausible explanation for why women in Japan feel the need to leave their jobs after marriage. But it’s not like women in the West aren’t popping out their share of rugrats. And the average number of children in a family is actually falling according to the Asahi Shimbun (newspaper). So, what’s up with that?

Personally, I don’t think my student should have quit her dream job, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been pressured by the company after her marriage. Situations like this really make me value the freedom — the free state of mind that gives me the feeling (delusion?) that I can do whatever I want — that my upbringing has fostered.

Should my student have given up her job? What do you think?

“I’m done with Life Abroad, Now What?”

Since my recent return to Canada for Christmas vacation, I’ve been thinking about my life in Japan, and what I’ll do after I’m done here. Many people, myself included, move abroad simply because they are bored with the status quo, or life in their home country no longer appeals or works for them for one reason or another (for me it was because I couldn’t get a job in my field if jobs were bears and I stripped naked and marinated in honey.) So you move abroad, and eke out a new glamorous life full of excitement adventure and employment. But sooner or later, home calls. Maybe you realize you’ve gone as far as you can go in this new country — I know this is the case for English instructors in Japan. I feel there will come a time when I’m sick of having the same salary year after year, and I have no ambition to open my own English school. When the time comes, I’ll have to move on to greener pastures. So I’ve come up with steps to make things easier for myself (and consequently, you if you happen to be in the same position).

Have a plan

Maybe it seems strange that I’m not even close to experiencing all I want to do here, and I’m already drawing up my exit strategy, but I’m pretty sure that by the time I want to leave, it’ll be too late. I’ll be taking some internet courses at a university back in Canada, so that when I go back I can be eligible for an internship that will likely lead to a job. A better opportunity may come along, but if not I can at least fall back on that.

Realize I don’t Have to Go Back Where I Came From

In fact I’m seriously considering moving to another city in Canada, if not another country all together. The beautiful thing about this move to Japan is that it has completely eradicated any fears I had about “living away from home”. I’m international, baby! Now that I know for a fact that I can make a comfortable life for myself in another country, I have a lot more freedom of choice in where I work, and where I’m willing to relocate.

A penny saved…

Is a penny spent on rent instead of living in my parents’ house. I probably love those two dear souls the most in the world, but I never again want to live with them lol. I like my independence too much.

I know things might not work out exactly as I plan them. After all, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “plans are useless, but planning indispensable.” But knowing I have somewhere to go from here makes me feel a lot more secure.

If you live abroad, what are your plans once you’re done where you are?


Reflections on My First Year in Japan

The anniversary of when I first set my restless, adventure-seeking feet down on Japanese soil is shimmering on the horizon. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year! I made this move not knowing exactly what to expect, only sure that it would be big, new, exciting and a tremendous challenge, and has it ever. In this past year in Japan I have:

  • Experienced the worst Earthquake in Japan’s history
  • Learned to be more giving and less selfish, not just materially but with myself
  • Started learning another language
  • Learned to no longer hate seafood
  • Created new bonds, while sadly seeing some old ones weaken
  • Learned a whole lot more about the nature of love
  • Finally made it to Thailand to eat authentic Thai food
  • Got up close and personal with freaking tigers
  • Moved into my first apartment
  • Realized I’m a lot stronger than I’d ever thought I could be.

I moved with the aim of learning something more about the world and about myself. I moved with the aim of finding a new adventure. I moved with the aim of proving to myself that I am strong and independent, by surviving and thriving on my own in a foreign country, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. So despite the trouble and stress that came with all the changes and challenges in 2011, I officially declare this year a smashing success.

And, thanks to all of you who read and commented. I’ve also learned a lot about blogging this year as well, and seen a lot of growth and success on this, my very first blog! Blogging has been an invaluable tool to me in learning how to navigate in Japan. I’ve learned a lot and avoided some pitfalls simply by reading about the experiences of others, and I’ve also been able to share what I’ve learned with others who stumble my way. This blog has led to interviews, new friends and I even met up with one of my readers for a lovely afternoon in Shinjuku.

So I have to say a big, heartfelt DOUMO ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHITA!!!!! to all of my readers and fellow bloggers. It’s been a great year of learning and sharing, and I think this year would not have been as interesting without the input of the j-blogosphere.

Thank you and hears to an even better 2012!