Kyoko Taguchi (a pseudonym) loved her children but was happy to see them go. What parent feels otherwise? They’re grown, educated, equipped to live in the world. You congratulate yourself on a job well done and make plans for the looming senior years – years of freedom and ease, if you’re lucky. That’s what Taguchi and her husband were doing 20 years ago. They were in their 50s. Retirement lay just ahead. They were comfortably off financially. They’d travel, fix up the house, travel some more.
Well, no. Kyoko is 73 now and looks 10 years older, says Josei Jishin (July 25). For the past 10 years, her elder son, his wife and their two children have been living with her, crowding the premises and draining her and her husband dry. Not because they’re lazy or inconsiderate or irresponsible – at least not only for that reason.
The son is a licensed chef. He opened a restaurant. At first it did well. Then business dried up. Effort doesn’t always pay off. Nothing he and his wife tried seemed to draw steady customers. They work hard, are on their feet all day, come home exhausted. Fortunately there’s grandma – Kyoko – to look after the kids. The only problem with that is Kyoko herself. She’s at the end of her rope.
If company is consolation (which it probably isn’t), Kyoko has plenty. “Parasite” adult children are a national scourge, Josei Jishin finds. A government survey it cites shows 20% of people 60 or over must help support their children and grandchildren. Financial planner Masako Hatanaka says the actual figure is probably significantly higher. It’s a problem most people prefer not to talk about.
Kyoko’s day begins at 4 a.m. She does the family laundry, makes breakfast for everyone, then leaves the house at 6 for a part-time job at a factory. Her earnings are a necessary supplement. She’s been keeping up this pace for eight years. She doesn’t know how much longer she can continue, or what will become of the family if she can’t.
A 20-year economic slump, a spreading aversion to marriage, and parents who can’t say no have created a crisis of dependency. Twenty percent of Japanese people aged 20 to 34 now consider themselves “lifetime singles” who expect never to marry. Within 20 years that’s expected to rise to 25%. Nationwide, 3 million single people aged 35 to 44 live with their parents.
Josei Jishin tells another story. Noriko Motohashi (also a pseudonym), is 79. Child-rearing should be behind her. Her only daughter Shizuko (as we’ll call her), is, however, at 52, hikikomori (reclusive).
Shizuko’s adult life started off promisingly enough. A junior college graduate, she landed a job with a financial securities firm and seemed on her way. But she didn’t get along well with her colleagues, and quit after a year. That was 30 years ago. Since then she has scarcely left the house.
She was among the first sufferers of what was soon to swell into something of an epidemic among Japanese young people. Hikikomori sufferers are now said to number roughly 1 million. They typically retreat from society into a world that would be literally bounded by four walls, if not for the ubiquitous internet. The more they age, the less chance there is of their ever emerging.
Expert attention to the problem has proved a bane for Noriko. “At first my daughter just stayed home, so there was no particular financial burden,” she says. “Then came the experts, the counselors, the therapy that involves living in dormitories.” All at a price, of course. “Bills come in for a million yen.” She doesn’t say anything about results. Noriko and her husband live on a combined pension that comes to little more than 100,000 yen a month.
“What if something happens to us?” she frets. It seems a situation that can’t go on forever, and yet there’s no way out in sight.© Japan Today