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Social guilt: putting the blame on Mom

by Philip Brasor

Though the media agrees with the government that Japan’s flagging birthrate is a bad thing, they seem determined to make potential parents dread the prospect of raising kids in a world where every wrong choice, major or minor, could turn their offspring into criminals, deviants, or just plain miserable people.

The main target of tabloid press derision for the past several weeks has been actress Yoshiko Mita, whose 20-year-old son Takuya was arrested for drug use Oct. 21. It isn’t the first time Takuya has been in trouble with the law, and though his situation hews closely to that hackneyed scenario of privileged youth screwing up in the public eye, the media has determined that Mita deserves their Bad Mother of the Month Award.

Which is quite an accomplishment, given the competition. A woman in Sapporo was arrested Nov. 3 for killing one of her two daughters and attempting to kill the other. The same woman had been convicted before of killing another daughter in 1995.

Though the press deplored the incident, extenuating psychological circumstances seemed to disqualify the woman as a Bad Mother. The earlier killing was part of an unsuccessful bid at what is called muri shinju (killing a loved one and then committing suicide), so the woman was given a suspended sentence. Supposedly, the desperate act was carried out because the woman’s husband was seriously in debt and they could collect insurance money for the death of the daughter. According to the definition of muri shinju, however, the mother should have killed herself, and though she tried, she survived. As gaijin tarento Dave Spector said on one wide show, that isn’t muri shinju, it’s murder.

Apparently it’s the effort that counts, because most of the press seems to view the woman as a tragic figure, someone who has become perverted by her role as a mother. In other words, she loves her daughters so much that, believing she has no choice but to leave this world, she must take them with her. She’s not a Bad Mother, she’s simply an overzealous one.

Yoshiko Mita, however, is negligent and self-centered. It seems odd that at this late date the media are still pitting full-time mothers against career women, as if the two were mutually exclusive concepts, or even mutually antagonistic camps, but that is essentially what the Mita story comes down to. Shukan Bunshun magazine summed it up best in its headline, “Yoshiko Mita: Quit Being a Mother or Quit Being an Actress?”

Mita, apparently, did not raise Takuya herself. Her mother did, and while this is common in Japan and not just among show-biz families, the press has determined that it is at the root of Takuya’s troubles. They gleefully report that Mita’s mother pushed her daughter to become an actress and did everything in her power to help her become famous. Still, they don’t accuse her of being a Bad Grandmother. (Mita’s husband, an NHK executive, has been let off the hook because he is seen as being at the mercy of these two strong-willed women.)

Mita’s worst mistake was saying to a TV interviewer three days after the arrest that she had told her son that once he became an adult “you have to be responsible for your own actions,” and that, essentially, her role as a mother no longer held the same priority now that Takuya had turned 20.

The press made mincemeat of these statements, implying that Takuya’s drug problems were the result of bad parenting before he became an adult. Mita was forced to retract her comments and as penance has quit a number of acting projects she’d already begun. She might have to pay a huge sum of money as recompense to one theater company since her involvement in a certain play was the entire reason for the play’s existence.

Rumiko Koyanagi, the dancer and singer, was brought in to replace Mita in a TV drama. Koyanagi, like most female show-biz personalities around Mita’s age, has no children. In a sense, that is the point, since the media aim to punish the actress for daring to want to have it all, both a career and a family.

The actress’s dilemma becomes even more puzzling if we look at another recent case, that of Kageki Shimoda, a 60-year-old cross-dressing writer-talent whose son was arrested for beating up a host club employee, supposedly in the act of defending a female friend. Shimoda also told reporters that his son is old enough to take care of himself and that, in any case, he raised him not to be violent, but that if he was attacked he should defend himself. Shimoda was characterized as a good parent, a verdict that was aided by his son’s going on TV and apologizing, not to the man he beat up but to his father.

If there appears to be a double standard at work here, it should be remembered that while parents are always seen as being responsible for their children’s actions, no matter how old the children are, they also have a claim on their children’s accomplishments, no matter how little involvement they have in those accomplishments.

For that reason, reluctant parents-to-be might be reassured by another recent show-biz-related story. The estranged father of secretive teen singing sensation Mai Kuraki was sued by her management company last week for trying to market home videos of Kuraki as a child against his daughter’s wishes. The press, suspicious of the father’s motives but respectful of his parental prerogatives, allowed him to make his case on TV. When asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the singer, he looked at the camera and said, “Mai, are you listening to me? I’m still your father.”

And there’s nothing she can do about it.