Grandparents seen as cash cows in Japan


If children are a joy and a responsibility, grandchildren are a joy pure and simple – an irresponsible joy. Harassed parents look forward to being grandparents. Grandchildren visit, stay long enough to make you feel young again and then go home, their parents’ to worry and fret over.

What’s wrong with the above? Only one thing: it isn’t true. Probably it never was. Now less than ever, says Shukan Post (Nov 6).

Last month the magazine ran a story on “grandchildren fatigue.” It’s not the little ones themselves who are demanding, of course, but their parents on their children’s behalf. The report, Shukan Post says in its current issue, drew such a vast and eager response – “Me too!” “I feel the same way!” “So it’s not just me!” “If anything Post understates the case!” – that the editorial decision was made to explore the problem more deeply.

Cash cows – that’s what parents are to their grown children. Vultures – that’s what grown children are to their parents. At least that’s the impression you get reading the story. Probably it’s exaggerated. Let the reader judge how true it rings.

“My son and my daughter often come over with their families to visit,” says a 66-year-old retiree. “‘Come over to visit’ – how pleasant that sounds. In fact, it’s more like blackmail.”

The example he raises is comparatively trivial – the visitors won’t settle for home cooking; they’ve come specially; why not go out to a restaurant? No, not kaiten zushi, a real restaurant – meaning an expensive one. We’re not told how many grandchildren there are, only that the bill usually comes to tens of thousands of yen – no small sum for a pensioner, but if he demurs, perhaps they’ll stop coming? Perhaps he’ll lose all contact with the grandchildren? It’s not stated in so many words but one suspects hints to that effect may have been dropped.

A 70-year-old grandfather is always delighted to see his grandchildren, and the fact that his son’s family doesn’t stay with him and his wife but at a nearby onsen is not a bad arrangement either – except that the unspoken understanding is that grandpa and grandma cover the onsen hotel bill. Why? Well, just because. Call it custom. Again: to challenge it might mean the visits cease altogether.

It’s not only meals and accommodation. Having children entails, as everyone knows, all kinds of expenses – medical, educational, supplementary (piano lessons, large-screen TV, what have you) – and the assumption seems to have taken root, Shukan Post observes acidly, that kids ultimately are not their parents’ responsibility but their grandparents.’

“My four-year-old granddaughter developed sick-house syndrome,” says a 70-year-old retiree. “They had to move. But my son’s just 30 – it was impossible on his salary.” There went grandpa’s life savings – 20 million yen. He’d been planning on using part of that to make his own home barrier-free. Now he and his wife are looking for part-time jobs through a senior citizen placement center.

Why don’t more grandparents just say no? The fear of estranging their children and grandchildren has already been mentioned. A more sociological explanation is offered by marriage counselor Makiko Miyamoto. Young parents who grew up in a still-lingering economic depression know their own parents lived and worked through Japan’s bubble economy and think, sometimes rightly and sometimes not, that they’re loaded. The grandparents, meanwhile, know that the current economy is hard, and they know too what hard times are, having gone through the early postwar years when poverty was rampant. They want to spare their grandchildren anything like that.

In short – one generation is primed to give and the other is primed to receive. It sounds perfect, and would be, but for the festering underlying resentment.

© Japan Today

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This cannot be true across the board.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

over-indulging grandparents. it does not only happen in Japan.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Old money being whittled away.....and then what?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"the assumption... that kids... are not their parents’ responsibility but their grandparents"

Oh dear!! :-(

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The grandparents should blame whoever raised their no-good kids...

14 ( +14 / -0 )

All connected. The sons & daughters want the Koto / Minato ward 3LDK lifestyle & the ¥200,000 / mth nursery school. These young families live in a bubble. I deal with them daily & they really have little grasp of the world outside 23 wards. So, when they make their biannual trip to see the grandparents out in the country (or even the outer suburbs ot Tokyo), the grandkids expect the same if not more of their grandparents.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

that’s the impression you get reading the story. Probably it’s exaggerated

Duh. It's the Shukan Post.

the visitors won’t settle for home cooking; they’ve come specially; why not go out to a restaurant?

It's the opposite with us. Granpa wants to take everyone out for a meal. The kids want Mum's home cooking.

As for spending money on the grandkids - why not? You can't take it with you, might as well enjoy watching people you love get the benefit of it.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Grandparents raised their own kids the way they raised them. If they did a good job I don`t see how those kids who are now adults would refuse to visit with grandchildren just because grandpa takes them to a little less expensive restaurant or onsen. Communication - if grandparents don,t have as much as kids think they do then they need to drop hints to that effect or just come out and say it. They should be able to find some mutually acceptable compromise , unless the young parents were raised as spoiled brats in the first place of course.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"Article / mentality like this"... Japan population ain't fixing soon, may be never.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

That's how it is over here, grandparents don't know any better as that's how they were brought up, the upbringing, the family values, the visitation time, the bonding is all completely differ from other countries. It can't be helped, it's their customs. That's why change is important. Improvement on family life and bonding. More hugs and simple pleasures should be more appreciated and implemented.. I hope I succeed in implementing such values when I get my very own grandchild.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Too many adults being coddled in Japan. This also why they have all these "otono no" products in Japan, but I digress. In any case, a culture of "enryo" is at fault. If you're unhappy, just speak your mind already!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This is what happens in a spoon fed society.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Generalizations like this are for the low IQs.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Baby boomers are now grandparents, and they are also by far the wealthiest generation of humans ever to have existed, not only in Japan. While they had nearly free education and loads of decent jobs waiting when they graduated, today's parents had to go into debt to pay for their education and found very few jobs waiting when they graduated. Every generation born after the 60s has been faced with bleaker and bleaker prospects while more and more of society's assets have been concentrated in the baby boomer's hands with very little way for subsequent generations to access them to pay for their own children other than by asking family for help.

Obviously this is a broad generalization and there are a lot of counter examples of people bucking the trend, but for the most part it is true.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I must of did some right. When my daughter and children visit we go out for a meal and a movie and my daughter always pay. At first I used to try pay but got refused.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As you say, rainyday. An broad overgeneralize.

Japan's, USA's and Great Britain's economies have a lot of similarities and the biggest one is that there are many boomers who are poor.

In the US, almost a 1/3 live in poverty, the remainder are divided between "getting by to doing well," to wealthy, with wealthy being the small majority.

That "wealthiest generation of humans" exists only in statistics. The wealthy are so rich, that they skew the average and even the median.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The wealthy are so rich, that they skew the average and even the median.

I understand how they could skew the average, but please explain how they would skew the median. This doesn't make sense to me.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

my two sisters are grandparents, getting the same type of treatment from their daughters. eat out, grocery bills, down payment for house. wish they can stop and give the children a chance to grow up even though a bit late, age 38 to 45.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As you say, rainyday. An broad overgeneralize.

Its a broad generalization, but also relatively accurate. The accumulation of wealth at the top that you note is something that has accelerated greatly in those countries in the past 3 decades. When the baby boomers were entering the workforce in the 1960s, on the other hand, all of those societies were at their peak levels of egalitarian distribution of wealth and income - the middle class expanded rapidly in the post-war years and provided people in that generation with previously unheard of chances for upward social mobility. Obviously not all were successful, but the fact is many were - to a scale that has never been repeated. Since the 1980s things have regressed a great deal and we are going back to a 19th century type distribution in which the top 1-10 percent or so control the vast majority of wealth while everyone else struggles and face really bleak prospects for getting ahead. People in my generation consider this normal, but my point was that when baby boomers were in their 20s things were completely different, they were given immense opportunities to better their lives. Once they had that, instead of ensuring that system of upward mobility was preserved for future generations they instead more or less lifted the drawbridge, smashed most of the institutions that would benefit younger people and washed their hands of any responsiblity to future generations. Unsustainable pension system? Climate change? Post secondary education too expensive for all but the wealthy? Extreme inequality? M-eh, so long as their benefits aren`t threatened, why should they care?

Well, this is an unfair picture I have painted, of course not all baby boomers think like that and many do want what is best for future generations. But as a collective generation whose preferences are expressed at the ballot box in voting for policies that pose a serious threat to future generations (which they themselves will enjoy the benefits but none of the costs of), this is more or less the narrative one gets. So when I see an article describing young people as "vultures" and old people as "cash cows" I just have to ask "Yeah, OK but whose fault is that?"

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Only the good die young.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Maybe this is what the grandparents fear:

0 ( +0 / -0 )

anotherexpat Use the Link tag in the comment box, otherwise underscores become italics. Otherwise use tinyurl or

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It a tradition that the Grandparents buy the children's School Bag when they first start school. They are call a ransel. I actual purchase one for myself and you don,t get much change from 50,000 YEN. Can any tell my about this tradition.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's interesting to read an article like this about grandparents feeling pressured to give money, yet they are often times the victims of those phone scams where a relative of theirs calls and asks for money to replace the company money that is lost or some other excuse and they dutifully trot down to the bank and withdraw money.

It seems to me that in probably some cases, they (both parties) don't know how to express themselves without the feeling of needing to "buy" something to show love and gratitude. Maybe this is from the hey days of the booming economy when it was all about work and the mass craving for material goods.

In some of my dealings with Japanese, I have seen where the adult kids have their own kids and do expect grandma/pa to foot the bill. They don't realize that someday they will be in that same position. But it is not just a Japan thing, but I think among grandparents the world over.

I guess I was fortunate enough to have grandparents that didn't really have much and they never did this to me and my brother. I do remember my mom telling me that when we were wee babes, and grandma used to take care of us while she worked daytime, that my mom had to pay grandma for the service. She would be responsible for paying for at least the groceries that we consumed and some expenses, but she didn't just drop us off and expect someone to pay for our needs, even family.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan is having a way to see that old phrase of millionaire grandpas... rich parents and disgraced kids. The way the japanese people are treating their parents shows the sequels of those spoiled kids that only wanted to work to get their stuff (furitas) and not for making a future, now we are seeing the second part of this problem, that, in a future, will be very hard to sustain.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Cash cows? I'm sure there are some people who treat their parents (kids grandparents) like this but it can't be that common here. There are a lot of older Japanese people who hoard cash like crazy and never spend it on day to day things. My in laws are relatively well off but we don't treat them like an ATM. If they come to visit us, we take them to dinner, etc, our treat... if we go there it's their treat. Is this not just common courtesy? Grandparents like to occasionally buy toys and stuff for their grandchildren... is this also not common?

The moving/buying a house story above seems extreme. Buying a house in this country is crazy expensive (unless you live in the boondocks) so I can never imagine having my parents/in laws fronting the cash for this. I don't know what sick-house syndrome is but its hard to think the only solution would be to drain your father's life savings to move.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Parasite children are nothing new in the US, and I guess not in Japan or anywhere. Instead of thinking: My parents raised me and spent a lot on me and now I will serve THEM, they still want to be served and treated. It's a character flaw and it's greed.

If children stop visiting with the grandkids cuz Granpa and Grandma say they can't afford onsens and expensive restaurants or to fund the grandkids school and etc, then those are not real children. They are leeches. Maybe they need to hear a lot of "No, sorry, we love you, but we can't" to get them to face reality.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Although I'm sure the stories in this article are pretty extreme cases, I do find that my Japanese friends share relationships with their parents where a lot more is expected of them compared to us North Americans.

Parents are expected to front the entire bill for post secondary in Japan where as where I'm from, yeah lots of people got money from their parents but they would hide it as a good chunk of their peers would work part time or take a few semesters off to pay their own tuition.

Also, when people get married here its pretty common to have parents from both sides throw down lump sums to go into down payments for a house or condo.

I really got mixed feelings about this aspect of Japanese/ Asian culture. On the one hand its great, on the other hand there is a lot of extra sacrifice involved with assuming the role of parents.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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