An Honest Look At Life In Japan: Living In A Crystal Birdcage

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I had so much fun learning about Japanese traditions for the little monster. But, the last celebration, momo no sekku, really made me think. Why is tango no sekku to make sure boys grow up to become strong warriors? Why is momo no sekku to ensure that daughters get married off?

Then I wonder, “Why am I trying to push my ‘western’ culture and standards on Japanese society? Sure, boys wear blue or black kimono and girls wear pink kimono. But, at the end of the day, no one really takes that stuff seriously anymore. It’s just about taking pictures.”

Am I sweeping things under the rug?

It’s difficult to talk about issues like sexism and race in Japan as an “outsider,” because there’s the idea that only Japanese have the right to criticize Japanese.

Well, since I’m technically Japanese, that gives me a “right” to talk, yes? Or, does that put me into the category of, “If you don’t like it, go home!” ?

I still feel it’s not my place to say what Japanese women should or should not do.

As a working mother and tax paying citizen, however, I will say that attitudes in the workplace need to change if Japan wants more women in the workforce. And that means addressing sexism.

We need to focus on why it’s a woman’s “duty” to take care of kids. Only less than 2% of men take paternity leave. By the way, I’m so proud to say that my husband falls into that group! I had to practically coerce him to take paternity leave, but he absolutely loves being home with the monster. I seriously doubt he wants to go back to work!

We need to address the daycare shortage, daycare costs, and the ridiculous catch-21 runaround that keeps so many parents from enrolling their babies in the first place.

Do these changes start at the grassroots level? Probably. Society should change, but why rock the boat? You can live comfortably as a woman… depending on your definition of comfortable.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the glass ceiling. In Japan, it’s a crystal birdcage. Gilded and fabulously decorated – why would you want to leave?

I don’t think of it as a trap, I do love living here. But I can point out a few issues:

Japanese women get paid less than men, but traditionally women control the purse strings and dish out allowances to their husbands

There’s plenty of Ladies’ Days/Nights at shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants that offer discounted rates for women.

You’re expected to stay home and look after your kids… but is that really such a bad thing when the alternative is being packed in a crowded train, deferring to others all day, and working insane hours?

You can speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace, but when you’re up against someone powerful, what’s the point? When you’re expected to quit working after you get married, being harassed is probably just a way to show you the door.

Back when I worked in Shibuya 109, I remember trying to explain US attitudes toward sexual harassment.. I clearly remember feeling like there was something wrong with me.

The idea that being told by a male superior or coworker, “You look cute/sexy” is harassment was met with “What’s wrong with being told I’m cute? I put a lot of effort into my hair/makeup/etc.” Being told that women can not sexually harass other women was another one that I gave up on explaining further.

This was, of course, ten years ago. The tide is changing; attitudes are changing. Maybe it’s due to the increase in foreign workers and tourists, and/or the way social media nowadays facilitates the exchange ideas.

Still, sexual harassment continues to be a problem in Japan and some efforts to treat it don’t actually get to the root of the problem.

We know about women-only train cars. There are women-only areas of comic book cafes. You can even book women-only floors at hotels in Japan. (I’ve actually stayed in a few and felt a sense of security, mainly because those floors could only be accessed by a special key card.)

I appreciate the safety of Japan, especially its big cities. I can walk down the street at night with no problem. This is a country where you can lose practically anything and be reunited with it.  

Still, crime happens (I am NOT going into the gun debate on this blog, no sir, no ma’am), especially among family members and lovers.

Stalking is an issue – I actually chased away one, as in literally ran him down in heels! When I lived by myself, in the heart of Tokyo, I was so sure I was going to get a Doberman, mainly because of stalking. Not to me, but there were, and still are, plenty of cases that make the evening news.

I always ordered delivery online using a very stereotypical “manly man” man’s name. I bought some boxers and men’s t-shirts from the 100 yen shop and put in my laundry so it would look like a man was living with me.

It’s absolutely unfair that as I woman I have to take these precautions. I envy that men don’t have to think about going out of his way to protect himself,

Yet, when I travel to the countryside (田舎/inaka) to visit my in laws, I’m so amazed that no one locks their doors! I’ll be taking a nap and the fish man, mailman, or Yakult lady just opens the front door and walks in.

(Then again, when your father-in-law is a career police detective, that probably has a lot to do with super low neighborhood crime rates!)

I am so so grateful for the safety of Japan. I know that sexism isn’t so much of an issue in my workplace. Aside from “mom = primary caretaker,” meaning that most kids, when they have a fever, mom is the one to pick them up from school. Still, I can’t deny there are serious issues that need to be addressed.

That’s my honest look at life in Japan. Obviously I’m still here. But, now that the little monster is in tow, I need to seriously think hard about the future. Her education is one thing, as well as being in an environment that fosters her development and creativity. Oh and race/ethnicity and being “half,” that’s another issue for us!

An Honest Look At Life In Japan: Living In A Crystal Birdcage


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