A soaring divorce rate has cast hundreds of thousands of women into the oppressive limbo single mothers occupy. Japanese society has little room for them. They must make their way in a harsh, indifferent, sometimes hostile environment. Divorce is now a fact of life, but social adjustment to it has barely begun.
A 2009 Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey counts some 752,000 households headed by single mothers – a 1.5-fold increase in 10 years. 87.4% of single mothers say it’s difficult to make ends meet. No wonder. Their average annual income is 2.31 million yen.
The women’s weekly Josei Seven (March 24) portrays the single mother as a heroine. Truly, she needs heroic qualities if she’s to keep her head above water.
Ten p.m. finds Masayo, 44, at the local supermarket. Late at night is when the bargains are – “a treasure trove,” she tells the magazine. A bundle of spinach, 128 yen by day, is two for 100 yen by night. Pork is half price. And so on.
She divorced seven years ago when her husband had an affair. She was left with two sons, now 17 and 15. For a time, her ex-husband paid 300,000 yen a month in child support but that ended when the recession did his company in. Her own part-time job, two days a week, was suddenly woefully insufficient. What was she to do?
Two months of job-hunting netted her a position at a nursing home – still part-time, but now five days a week, from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. On top of that, there’s cooking, laundry and other household chores. By 10 p.m., she’s exhausted, but bargain-hunting at the supermarket must take precedence over sleep. The money she saves makes the difference between sinking and swimming.
Many single mothers are in similar straits, Josei Seven finds. 43.6% of working single mothers are part-time employees, eligible for no bonuses and reduced, if any, benefits such as company health insurance. They have no job security, and must live with knowing they can be laid off at any time.
Kazuko, 40, hauled herself out of that rut. It wasn’t easy. She’d been working part-time at a steak house when, a year ago, her taxi-driver husband abruptly walked out on her, leaving her with two young children and no child support payments. Her monthly income was 150,000 yen, hardly a living wage.
Like Masayo, she hunted bargains with a vengeance. When supermarket discounts specified one to a customer, she brought the children along, turning one procurement into three – a saving, she figures, of 20,000 yen a month. Bathwater went unchanged for four days. When one of the children forgot to turn off a light, she exploded, only to hate herself afterwards. Things couldn’t, she realized, go on like that.
She threw herself into her work at the steak house, hoping to be noticed. She came in early to clean the toilets, stepped forward as a substitute whenever anyone was off – and it worked. When a full-time position became available, she was invited to fill it. In one stroke her monthly salary jumped to 200,000 yen.
In a burst of extravagance, she called the children and told them to go out and buy anything they wanted. But the children had been too well schooled by hard knocks. “That’s OK, mom,” they said, “we don’t need anything.”© Japan Today