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Divorce means liberation for some, virtual servitude for others

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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

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

30 Comments
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It's 50/50 I'm afraid. Some of these mothers were nasty evil wives, that's why they found themselves a single parent. My ex-wife turned out to be so cruel and self-centered. She even used emotional and physical blackmail for me to leave. I hung in there as long as I could to try and save the family and allow my daughter a fighting chance of a quasi-normal upbringing. In the end I had no choice but to leave. Now the ex still uses blackmail and threats and she gets away with it because I love my daughter so much. She takes almost 65% of what I earn. I am the one who has to struggle financially each month. Now, tell me what support or protection do loving fathers like me get? Exactly nothing. We are not even recognized. Hence I started by saying that single mothers are 50/50 so please don't fall into the common belief that they are all innocent victims. Nuff said.

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“That’s OK, mom,” they said, “we don’t need anything.” Good kids there..knowing the value of money and realities of life.

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They should move to the UK, where a woman can divorce her husband on a whim and live off his salary forever, even if she shacks up with a millionaire.

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I think the woman above with the cheating husband would have been better off to live a loveless marriage and make a boyfriend on the side. Japan is tough on single mothers, and it only gets worse as they get older.

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The 15 and 17yr old kids mentioned should be doing more around the house.

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She takes almost 65% of what I earn.

Surely not.

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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.

It is a new challenge for Japan society in order to open a new gate of helping a single mother surviving in a long-term.

Divorce means liberation for some, virtual servitude for others

Usually, Japan has a few non-profit organizations providing useful information and other assistances to divorced women with children. But women can rejoin the workforce if they can have more sympathy and welcome attitudes from business firms.

Men or women all need stable finance and self-confidence to restore their peaceful and happy lives, raising their children. Government childcare allowances and other assistance are helpful and essential to women in these situations.

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cracaphat Well said, my thoughts exactly.

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tokyokawasaki: I am sorry to hear about your situation. I have heard it many times in Japan from western guys. I believe that there are many women in Japan who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (its spectral, ie varies in degree person to person) so I suggest you read all about it on the net and figure out if she does or not. There is also a fantastic book called "Emotional Blackmail" that I highly recommend. Maybe knowledge on these two topics may help you manage your situation better. Take the power back. Good luck.

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still part-time, but now five days a week, from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

I hate to break it to the writer or translator, but 13.5-hour days are not part time.

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@Nessie - in Japan, unfortunately, they are. I'm not sure how it works, but I had a lot of students who would tell me they were working 6-8 hours 5 or 6 days a week and it was a "part time job." I still haven't figured out what that means, but I imagine it must mean the wages are hourly and not salaried.

It sucks that there might be women out there who are batcrap crazy, but they're still in a disadvantaged situation when it comes to making a living after a divorce. And this is why I think that being a housewife does a woman no good. Oh sure, you get a tax break if your wife's income is below xx amount, but then she gets screwed if the marriage goes belly-up. A lot of employers won't hire people over 35.

I still remember the lady--in her 50s or so--who said to me that all women should work (she worked) in case they got divorced (she was happily married). You never know what's going to happen, and if your husband cheats or is abusive or any other thing that can break up a marriage, you don't want to be living off of 120,000 a month or less.

Also, something really needs to change as far as work culture so that women have more security. A lot of the social and cultural rules in place now seem to favor forcing women into unhappy marriages with no way out.

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Dentshop: Surely not

Yes 65% (it was not a typo).

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Space_Monkey

Been there done that. I tried every professional support option possible. Nothing helped, it only made her more aggressive and abusive. Hence I had no choice but to leave. Yet in society, she will be seen as an unfortunate single parent/victim.

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@Nessie - in Japan, unfortunately, they are. I'm not sure how it works, but I had a lot of students who would tell me they were working 6-8 hours 5 or 6 days a week and it was a "part time job." I still haven't figured out what that means, but I imagine it must mean the wages are hourly and not salaried.

It probably means they are non-contract employees, which is not the same as part-time.

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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.

This needs to be addressed!

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Yeah, sadly divorce is simply not a financially viable option for most especially in Japan. Chinese have long noted that the primary purpose of marriage is financial stability and children. Which is why we blindfold our children at their own marriage ceremonies. You get to see your wife after, not before!

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Wrong Nessie. A lot of people work 13.5 hours a day part time. It's legal, and it's a huge difference from being a full employee in both benefits and the fact that you can be terminated or have hours cut on a moment's notice. I know this might be a surprise to an American, but Japan is different.

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Japanese women (or any woman of any nationality for that matter), need to stop defining themselves by men.

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Wrong Nessie. A lot of people work 13.5 hours a day part time.

It's a non-contract job. It's not "part time".

It's legal,

Never said it wasn't.

and it's a huge difference from being a full employee in both benefits and the fact that you can be terminated or have hours cut on a moment's notice.

Right. Non-contract employee. Not part time.

I know this might be a surprise to an American, but Japan is different.

I live in Japan. No surprise, just poor translation.

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Before anyone speaks about negative marriage first what called for the divorce. What I have noticed is there are 2 sides to a story and 99% of the time that something that triggered the divorce is missing. I know women have a hard time being alone but if Japan would lay down the law and put dead beat dad's in jail for not supporting the children there would be fewer cases of this happening. I just wish there was a way every child could get all the education funds from the father and the wife can get child support till the child reaches 18 years old.

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Nessie - I hate to break it to the writer or translator, but 13.5-hour days are not part time.

I hate to break it to you Nessie, but in Japan it is a part time job because there us no limit set to the amount of hours you work before you are considered full time. By keeping their employees part time the companies avoid having to pay any pension or health insurance for them and also avoid sick pay and holiday pay. They can also be fired on the spot with no notice. It is just another fine example of Japanese work ethics. You can also bet she was earning around ¥800 per hour, if she was lucky.

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part time or contracted workers cannot work past their alloated time or else they get overtime pay. And, no company will pay that these days.

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Disillusioned, I hear you when you say that companies use non-contract jobs to avoid pension and health insurance payments. Living in Japan, I understand this. I have done you the courtesy of listing to what you say. Would you please do me the same courtesy?

What I am saying is that such jobs cannot be construed as part-time jobs. Wiki defines "part-time job" as follows:

A part-time job is a form of employment that carries fewer hours per week than a full-time job. Workers are considered to be part-time if they commonly work fewer than 30 or 35 hours per week.

Does working 13+ hours a day fit this definition? Clearly it does not. It is a full-time, non-contract job, in other words, a job with full-time hours but without benefits. If you call a turtle a cat, it still won't catch mice.

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To all the posters continuing to miss Nessie's point by a mile--all he's trying to get through to you is that "part-time" is simply the wrong term to describe the sort of jobs we're discussing here. The time spent doing the job is not the relevant detail; it's the presence or lack of benefits that come along with it.

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"part-time" is defined according to different nation usages. Wiki is a site that is edited by anyone who edits the definition. If a Japanese writer defines the term differently than an american living in Japan or a westerner editing the wiki site, so moot be it.

Please read the article for its contents on a local culture and do not impose your westernized cultural ethnocentric understanding/definition/comments on the article to confuse readers.

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Nessie - I am not disputing what you said. I am just pointing out that, IN JAPAN there is no limit for the amount of hours worked on a part time basis, unlike other countries.

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Women's front line service as shock troop economic buffers has its analogy in the desperate sacrifice of those TEPCO workers scrambling to avert nuclear catastrophe. In both cases, those tasked with authority are absolutely beholden to the idea that the ends justifies the means and that you do whatever you need to do to get the job done. Any moral doubts the political and technocratic elites may harbour about their roles as defenders of an order based on fear and exploitation of the weak is assuaged by a utilitarian belief that they are working for the greater good.

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@ tokyokawasaki...maybe YOU made her evil...I sure am she wasn't when you married her, bec. if she was , you wouldn't have married her in the first place...I also don't believe she gets 65% of what you earn...what are you,an ATM? I am sure you had find a way around it.It's not very credible statement from a man calling the mother of her daughter whom he says he loved so much, evil...cheeeez

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Generally in Japan, Men's first wife is a loyalty to his work and company with long hours. This is his identity and self esteem. In most Japanese marriages, if you want marriage to last, women takes a quieter secondary role in the relationship. There is very little quality communication and romance in Japanese life, which leads to alot of frustration for women that wants more feedback in a relationship. Men has listen better and understand the women's needs. As women gets older, financial stability is much more important than anything else and will stay in a bad marriage. Most women are very insecure about finances, especially if you have children.

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Cant ya just say, suffer. Like every single parent around the world. What ya think those whose marriages that make it through were all rosy cosy? All men earnt billions and were great listeners? All women were diminutive and never grew old(er)? Come on! Suffer, is the only way when divorce is chosen.(And you Chinese know nothing about bed movements, with one child policies, so quit ya blindfolded proverbs, theyre full of it-blindfoldin yaself to some luuurrrve, if ya ask me)

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