In Japan, 1 in 6 children lives in poverty, putting education, future at stake

by and


“Abenomics” may have helped double stock prices and enabled companies like Toyota Motor Corp. to post record profits in Japan, but one segment of the economy remains behind: the poor.

One in 6 Japanese children lives in poverty, the highest level since records began in 1985, according to the latest government figures. That ratio rises to 55 percent among children in single-parent families — among the worst for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

One of the main factors hobbling the poor from getting ahead is the cost of education. Paying hefty cram school fees is a virtual necessity when it comes to passing high school entrance exams to get a shot at a decent job. Parents who cannot afford it risk condemning their children to a life of low-paid work.

The prospect of a lost generation of educated workers in a country with one of the highest debt burdens — more than twice its annual economic output — is something the government can ill afford. Japan has compulsory education until the age of 15.

“If children are unable to exercise their full potential, it’s undoubtedly bad for the quality of the labor force and its dynamism,” Aya Abe, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University who researches poverty and social exclusion, said in an interview. “Failure to invest in overcoming poverty will damp economic growth.”

Already faced with an aging population and declining workforce, the government risks losing about ¥96 million per person in lifetime taxes and welfare payments because disadvantaged youngsters fail to forge successful careers, Abe said.

Japanese kids who lack financial resources are far less likely to stay in school through the age of 18 or beyond, government statistics show, in a nation where about two-thirds of students attend cram schools and tuition fees for one subject can cost tens of thousands of yen a month.

Those on welfare risk passing poverty on to the next generation, as their lack of qualifications means they later struggle to earn enough to educate their own children, Abe said.

Ryosei Tahara, who grew up with a single mom and an older brother, dropped out of school at 15 to look for a job.

Now 19, the clean-cut, six-foot-tall (186-cm)construction worker remembers growing up in a “small, dark, dirty” apartment while his mother worked from early morning to late at night, after he’d gone to bed. The brothers often skipped meals and brought home bread rolls and cheese from the school canteen.

“I wanted to work as soon as possible to get money,” he said. “I was always hungry and looking for something to eat. I didn’t want to live like that anymore.”

While Japan provides relatively equal access to education, the numbers of children on welfare who go on to higher schooling dwindle as they go through the system. About 90 percent of children from poor families go to high school, compared with 98.4 percent among the general population, according to a 2010 study by Professor Ryu Michinaka of Kansai University of International Studies.

As for higher education, less than a fifth of low-income students make it to university, compared with more than 51 percent of the general population, according to government figures.

Fees for public high school add up to ¥400,000 a year, while private schools average roughly ¥1 million, according to education ministry statistics. Getting admitted in the first place is a hurdle for poorer families because tuition fees for the extra classes add up.

“I was going around in circles and getting anxious,” said one single mother-of-two of her 15-year-old son’s struggle in junior high school. “If he hadn’t gotten into a public high school, he might have had to leave and find a job,” said the 46-year-old woman, who requested anonymity for herself and her son, for fear of being ostracized.

The mother, who does clerical work at a school, said she gave up on cram school lessons for her elder son after realizing she would face bills of ¥45,000 a month for two subjects. Her annual income of ¥2.7 million is just above the threshold for receiving welfare payments, she said. Japan defines those in poverty as families that earn roughly less than ¥1.22 million per member.

The government passed a law in 2013 mandating a blueprint to help the poor, including placing more social workers in schools and providing more free after-school tutoring for struggling students.

Professor Mari Osawa of the University of Tokyo criticized the blueprint as lacking a concrete target for poverty reduction and failing to provide enough money to help those in need.

“There’s no system set up to monitor the percentage of these kids who go on to high school each year,” said Osawa. “I have to wonder how serious (the blueprint designers) are.”

Still, Noriko Furuya, a lawmaker with ruling-coalition partner Komeito who helped write the child poverty legislation, said the blueprint was an important step.

“It’s extremely significant that we drafted a law on child poverty,” she said. “It sends a message that we as a country are going to tackle the problem. I am aware of the criticism that specific indexes are not included.”

An official at the Cabinet Office section charged with coordinating the effort on child poverty declined comment on criticism of the plans.

In a report last year, the OECD noted that a long-term trend toward income inequality has curbed economic growth, partly because people from disadvantaged social backgrounds underinvest in their education. A 2007 study in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, found 25 percent of those who grow up in households that rely on government welfare payments also find themselves on social security later in life.

Families can fall into poverty after a divorce, and need a broad range of support, including housing, mental health treatment and job training, said Furuya, the lawmaker.

“In most cases the mother will take the children,” she said in an interview. “Someone who has been a homemaker often won’t have up-to-date skills or much experience. Even if they work long hours, their income is extremely low.”

Under the circumstances, finding the time and energy to help their kids keep up at school is often difficult. The single mother, for example, said she took a second job to try to make ends meet, meaning she is out of the house from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day.

Her 15-year-old son was one of the lucky ones. After enrolling for free lessons run by a nonprofit organization called Kids’ Door, he passed the entrance test for a public high school where he’s now enjoying his first year and making plans to go to university.

The weekend classes, taught by student volunteers from the University of Tokyo, Waseda University and other top-notch colleges, helped him understand how education could broaden his career options, the boy said in an interview at his former cram school. “I had thought people went to high school just for the sake of studying,” he said.

The students who volunteer there say they are shocked by the problems they find.

“People talk about the educational divide, but when you come here, it really hits you,” said Yuki Yamada, a student at the University of Tokyo who teaches at Kids’ Door. “There are third-year junior high school students who don’t know their multiplication tables and can’t spell a single word in English. They have been left high and dry.”

Ryosei, the construction worker, said going back to school isn’t an immediate concern.

“One of the supervisors at the construction company told me to study or obtain some kind of qualification while I am young,” he said. “But I don’t know what I can do, or what I want to do.

“Right now, I’m able to feed myself. I don’t feel a need for change.”

  • zer0_0zor0

    Note the stunning parallels between the conditions in the societies of Japan and American, where neoliberalism currently holds sway.

    • Don Corleone

      America spends half its money on weapons, so there is no comparison – America chooses to starve and let everything fall to hell, I think Japan does not.

    • Jay

      Neoliberalism? Do you even know the definition of the term? Neither country is in the slightest degree “neoliberal.” Both have experienced a sharp sway to the right in the last few decades.

      • zer0_0zor0

        The term has been used with varying definitions, but I was referring to the primary definition, per Wikipedia

        Since the 1980s, the term has been used by scholars in a wide variety of social sciences[3] and critics[4] primarily in reference to the resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, its advocates supported extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation,free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberalism is famously associated with the economic policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States.[5] The transition of consensus towards neoliberal policies and the acceptance of neoliberal economic theories in the 1970s are seen by some academics as the root of financialization, with the financial crisis of 2007–08 one of the ultimate results.

      • Jay

        My apologies. Perhaps it is I who didn’t understand the term.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Milton Friedman is the person to listen to understand. YouTube has a lot of extensive videos. Watching him in his heyday might also convince you that being neo-liberal economist doesn’t automatically qualify you as a selfish, greedy, immoral SOB. Anyone who wants to hold tgeir economic and political views with true convictions, it is important to understand the experiences of the generations who went through the rise of totalitarian governments (whether ‘fascist’ ‘communist or ‘socialist’) all of which centered themselves around state-controlled economies.

  • GBR48

    It’s quite shocking that in the country with the 3rd largest economy in the world, pre-university education is not free. Aside from the huge inequalities that such fees inject into society, it doesn’t exactly encourage larger families in a country with a declining population.

    The ‘good school’ concept is self-perpetuating, damaging to all concerned and suggests hopelessly inadequate across-the-board standards. It puts too much pressure on students and parents, increases the suicide statistics and is damaging to the jobs market. Early teen school ability is an unreliable guide to how a person will turn out as a mature adult in the workplace.

    Employers would be well advised to ignore the ‘good schools’ bias and consider all-comers if they want their businesses to prosper. Some of the best employees and entrepreneurs in the West were lousy at school.

    The existence of so many cram schools is a big red flag for the system not working.

    • Oliver Mackie

      “It’s quite shocking that in the country with the 3rd largest economy in the world, pre-university education is not free.”

      But it is. The ‘problem’ is that such free education will not get you into the top public universities, which are not only the academic pinnacle domestically, but relatively inexpensive. Demographic pressure on the lower half of the post-18 education is such that anyone who has graduated from high school can get in, but the cost is much higher.

      Thus one solution might be to upgrade the free public education so that entrance to better and free further education is possible through that free system.

      To reiterate, kids get sent to juku because the free schools they attend in the daytime do not teach them what is required to pass exams into better universities.

      • GBR48

        Interesting – Wikipedia etc all noted fees. Thanks for the response Oliver.

      • Oliver Mackie

        To be clear, there are some better public schools that do charge, though they still charge much less than private schools. But, if someone who has graduated from a public junior high wishes to continue their education until 18, there will be something they can attend for (next to) free (though it will likely be both lower status and lower academic standard.) The article (not necessarily incorrectly) raises the point about the poor not being able to afford juku, because juku are key to entering the higher status high schools and then the higher status universities, and thus being able to jump very far up the economic ladder in one generation.

      • GBR48

        Interesting. This is a problem everywhere to some extent, with US Ivy League universities, Oxbridge and ‘public schools’ as private schools like Eton are bizarrely called.

        It sounds a little like the old system that the UK used to have. The ’11+’ exam would effectively divide students into those who would go to grammar schools and university, and those who would go to secondary modern schools and technical colleges.

        The comprehensive system was brought in to try to prevent people’s futures from being pre-determined at such a young age. For all its faults, it worked well enough until the cost of university courses was hiked up to the point where a degree guaranteed a huge debt.

        Japan might learn by examining the benefits of the more egalitarian comprehensive system, whilst, with hindsight, being able to avoid the pitfalls.

        It is bad for individuals, families and Japan Inc. to have a two-track education system with the rails separating at an early age. A free education needs to be of a high standard, and both higher education and businesses need to have better accessibility. To not do that is toxic. It sucks money from concerned families, condemns those without enough cash to make up for inadequate schooling and damages the economy, which cannot make the most of entire generations of new entrants. It also adds to the suicide stats.

        The role of ensuring that the opportunities of all of its citizens are maximised is one of the most important that the state has, and it can best do that in the education sector.

      • High school education is not free in Japan. Through middle school (age 15) is free at public schools. As the article says, even public (state) high schools charge fees.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Please google “MEXT free tuition at public high schools”
        This will explain.

      • Oliver Mackie

        For anyone who can’t be bothered to read it:

        “(As of 2010) In 24 municipalities, households with an annual income of less than 2.5 million yen receive an amount of money equivalent to an exemption from the entire tuition cost. Including the 13 municipalities that have already implemented the program, a total of 37 municipalities enjoy a level of assistance equivalent to total exemption.”

      • Thanks, Oliver. I stand corrected. My information was old.

  • ichifish

    The take-away from this is less about child poverty and more about the failure of the test-driven education system. How could familes be required to pay for both high school AND cram schools in order to ensure that their children can access higher education? It’s incomprehensible.

    • Buck

      I would not believe what the author says about the necessity of crams schools. Everything taught in the classroom is enough to succeed, if only the students pay attention in class, completes their homework, and study hard every day.

      • Jay

        That’s not correct. Many universities test materials that are not taught in the regular curriculum.

      • Buck

        The author at several times was referring
        to entrance exams for high schools. The student that author was referring to was 15 and trying to get into a good public school. It is this instance in
        which my comment is directed.

      • Jay

        OK. But some high schools will also test material not taught in the junior high curriculum!

      • fuetora

        Yep. Those elite public high schools are really hard to get into. (for anyone unfamiliar with Japan’s educational system, no this comment is not sarcastic)

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        But you don’t need to get into the highest of the high level high schools to go on to university, you just need to not be in the lowest bunch.

      • Jay

        You are right that anyone can get into A university these day, especially a private one that costs a fortune and will admit even the lowest level student (a scam in it own right). But getting into an elite level uni. is still difficult and to some extent dependent on the level of the high school attended.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Can’t you get lists of what is tested for outside of those cram schools? It may require self-study, which is sorely lacking in kids here, but it is possible.

      • Jay

        Universities publish entrance exams from former years which students can use as study material. I honestly couldn’t tell you, however, if this would be sufficient to get one in. I can say that both my older children attended juku in order to pass entrance exams. My oldest says that their are test-taking strategies taught at juku that are not taught in high school.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        Meh, perhaps I’ll take part-time work at one to see what that’s all about.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Yes, and also the atmosphere at juku is much more competitive then at public schools. This drives a lot of kids to try harder.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Buck, are you being ironic?

      • Buck

        Minxy, are you being facetious?

      • Minxy Minamoto

        I’m glad you asked. No. And clearly, I’m not the only one who wondered if you were joking.
        It’s always fascinating to hear what others might think of you so I thank you for that.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I teach at a top-10 Tokyo metropolitan junior/senior combined high school (meaning that the students are both gifted academically at age 10 AND don’t have to waste time studying for high school entrance) and I can assure you, the kids who end up going to the top universities STILL go to juku in addition to the pretty good education they get our the school (including teachers putting on extra classes during summer for ambitious students.) Remember that in order to enter the best public universities, they have to score very high on the センター試験 across 4-5 subjects, then they still have to do well-enough on the entrance exam for the particular university.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        Wait, what?! The universities do use a nationalized test “Center Shiken” as well as their own tests? What a waste of everybody’s time!

      • Buck

        A lot of this tread is missing the point. We are not talking about the best of the best. here. We are talking about low income children and youth being stuck in a cycle of poverty because they apparently need cram school to get into good public school which they cannot afford. My argument is that the author is incorrect to assume cram school is needed to get into a good public school (located in the prefecture where these youth live). The comment section as veered into a discussion about elite
        university entrance exams and the need for cram school there. That is off topic. My comments are directed at by far the largest segment of the population with which this topic is directed. Low income Japanese youth located
        across Japanese many semi-rural prefectures. We are talking about 15 year old youth in Aomori, Okinawa, Kochi, Kagoshima, etc. These are the areas where the
        majority of Japanese low income families struggle to send their children to good public school, located in these prefectures. It is here where students do not need cram school to succeed. The reasons some low income youth are not succeeding, is because of failure of the education system, the fact every student passes JHS even when they should in fact be failed or held back a year,
        and a variety of other problems resulted in poor test scores for some youth. The problem is not because some students cannot afford cram school.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I don’t think we are discussing different things, though the discussion has surely widened. Even in rural prefectures there are public high schools of different standing. I have stated, in apparent agreement with you (not contradiction) that cram schools are ‘necessary’ because the entrance tests for the better public high-schools cannot be passed without resort to them, thus one can validly argue that the junior highs need to be ungraded re their curriculum quality and focus.

      • Buck

        I see your point. But my argument is that many students do NOT need cram school to get into good public schools. A good public school in semirural Kochi is far different from a good public school in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto for instance. I am discussing youth in rural Japan, where I feel cram school is not needed to succeed, and you are talking about youth in Tokyo, where cram school is needed to succeed.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I see your point. But then a ‘good’ public school in semi-rural Kochi can’t be as ‘good’ as one in Tokyo. This is highly relevant as the key cut-off is not between junior and senior high, but between university attendance or not. If going to a ‘good’ high school in Kochi renders one unable to go to a public university, then it is effectively meaningless.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Doesn’t sound like the economically disadvantaged are going to get a leg up at your school, either. Japan used to have the world’s largest middle class but the wealth here is widening.
        I’ve taught academically gifted children and they suffer – as I’m sure you see every day at your school – under the illusion that they don’t have to study to succeed. It’s a tough one to crack. If you have suggestions…

  • ishyg

    I think cram-schooling can be avoided if they just change the curriculum for elementary. As I see it, it’s more like child’s play, then they suddenly put immense pressure for 3 years when the kids reach middle school. Correct me if I’m wrong though.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      It’s not even immense pressure when they hit middle school. They’re expected to behave, but other than potentially shutting out the possibility of going to certain high schools, grades in middle school mean nothing. Because school education is guaranteed until a child graduates JHS, it means that they always move up until the end of high school. A child could literally come to school every day and do nothing, fail everything, and they would be bumped up through the system – you cannot fail a grade/be held back.

      • ishyg

        That’s even worse. I hate it that my brother’s coasting (he’s currently in third year JHS) when most kids are going to cram schools and studying hard, aiming for higher education and stuff. I can now see why. Thanks.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        No problem. Hoping by the time my daughter gets to the end of junior high that high school is part of the promised education. Keep in mind that if your brother is coasting, while it won’t stop him from getting into A high school, his options may be limited to… less stellar ones, which will limit his options in post-secondary options, as well. All depends on the grade level. Keep in mind that the cutoff level for passing here even in high schools is lower – 30 points or above is not a fail, as opposed to 50 and above in my home country.

      • ishyg

        The dire situation is, no cram school would accept him, and last time my wife talked to his sensei, he honestly said no high school would accept him based on his current performance. He’ll probably be relegated to a night school or something.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        That is more than just coasting, right there – sounds like plummeting. Too bad – I mean, once you go to a night school here, it is possible to go on to 専門学校, if you try hard, but as far as I’ve heard, a university will be impossible (although they’ll never say it out loud).

      • ishyg

        We’re not planning on putting him in college here though (too expensive) so it’s fine. I want to ask if night school is just like a normal high school, like if he graduates will he be able to get a job or attend college on other country or something? My mother’s quite afraid of him attending night school, but if it’s the best alternative I’d rather he take it than stopping school completely. At his current rate, I’m afraid he’s not thinking of his future that much, and as a brother it pisses me off so much, but can’t do much about it since he’s not even listening to our parents.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        As far as other countries go, consider it like a GED. Would there be any problems with the GED there?

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Cram schools are on an easy wicket. The school system doesn’t even meet it’s own criteria, plus parents (mothers in particular) are suckered in to “keeping up with the Joneses”. Money for (almost) nothing.

  • Starviking

    While Japan provides relatively equal access to education

    I would contend that if cram schools are necessary for getting into a good high school or university, then access to education is unequal.

    There is also the problem of high schools abetting the cram school system by setting their entrance exams on the same day: kids only have one shot, and they are encouraged to aim low, not high.

  • Buck

    The author is missing part of the problem by not looking at the problems with the education system in
    Japan. The necessity of cram schools is also over rated. Students who do nothing in Junior High School still pass and move up a grade. A student can literally sleep in class, or never attend, never complete homework, and not write a single test and still pass. Teachers have to pass them and are powerless to force them to do anything in class. I know many students in third year junior high school who cannot write a word in English; this is not because they are poor. It is because their parent’s don’t do anything to motivate them, teachers are powerless to force them and can only encourage them, and students know they
    will pass regardless what they do. Yes, more children live in poverty now, and their prospects for a future job are weak if they do poorly in school, but it’s not because cram school costs too much. The author is conflating two issues. If student from a poor family worked hard in class, paid attention, completed homework, and studied hard, they could enter a good school.

  • Jay

    I agree with the comments below regarding cram schools. I find it outrageous that students should be required to pay more money to study in special schools that are private businesses, and study sometimes until 10 or 11 at night, all in order to pass exams for public schools. The Education Ministry is solely responsible for this mad set-up, which discriminates against students who cannot afford cram schools, and puts undo pressure on all students not to really learn, but to memorize in order to pass tests. I told my kids the other day that in my country–Canada–only the weakest students who have failed classes have to go to summer school, and only the weakest require extra tutorials. All others sail through until university, and there they begin to study very hard. My sister is an MD and she never studied in the summer or had any tutoring. She studied hard, but in summers or evenings, she played sports and practiced music. Clearly the Japanese government wishes to perpetuate income inequality and class differences by allowing the current system to continue. What is really surprising is that Japan has modernized in the last 150 years by borrowing a great deal from the West, especially England, France and Germany. But when it comes to education, Japan can stand and stare at a superior system, say in Finland, and learn nothing from it.

    • Buck

      Good point about cram school, regarding the difference between Canada and Japan. However, I do not think the Japanese government has some cruel plan to perpetuate income inequality.
      Remember, Japan is still one of the most equal societies in the developed world.

      • Jay

        I can’t prove the conspiracy theory (!), but it does seem strange that government does nothing to intervene in a system that is so obviously flawed. Perhaps this is because the majority of politicians belong to a kind of “old boys club” consisting of graduates from the elite schools. Besides, tweaking the rules to ensure fairness and equality would put thousands of private cram schools and their “teachers” out of business.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        I think there’s an acceptance of the class system in Japan that makes the politicians unlikely to do much to eliminate poverty. I’ve heard lots of Japanese people respond to situations of economic inequality with a shrug and a “shoganai, ne”. As if there’s nothing that can be done about it. The concept of karma here implies that your present poverty is the fault of your ancestors.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “I think there’s an acceptance of the class system in Japan” For good reason. See my post below.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “a system that is so obviously flawed.”

        It may have some flaws, but what education system is perfect. Coming from the UK, I notice two very strong points of education here:

        1. The absolute lack of resentment among adults due to perceptions that they weren’t given a chance to succeed in the education system. Whilst one can quibble about the content of various tests, they are applied across the board and one cannot advance any other way. (recruitment into the elite bureaucracy and best companies is exactly this way.)

        2. The absolute stand in many subjects (particularly math, science, engineering) is comparatively very high. (And before anyone chimes in with ‘but they just memorize facts and don’t learn to think’, you don’t know what you’re talking about.)

  • Mike DeJong

    Does anyone notice the common theme in this article? “Single mother” and “families can fall into poverty after a divorce…” The problem lies with Japan post-divorce system of single custody. Mothers (usually) take the kids and cut the dads out completely. So they stop paying support, leaving the mother and kids in poverty and relying on government assistance. The solution? Bring in a system of shared custody that allows equal access to the kids, allowing the dads to remain a part of their lives. Come Japan. Join the 21st century!

    • Foreigner Friendly

      Well, first you’d have to get everyone in Japan to value parenting highly enough that both parents participate in it fully. While it’s believed to be women’s work and done only for the greater good, women aren’t ever going to be on an equal footing financially speaking as the men.
      Corporate Japan generally treats it’s male employees are indentured workers and the female ones as if they are just on secondment from their families. The long work hours prevent the men from developing any kind of healthy work-life balance. Which in turn means they can’t be good parents, leaving the bulk of the housework, domestic financial management and parenting up to the women. No wonder some of the women outsource some of the latter!

      • Oliver Mackie

        “Well, first you’d have to get everyone in Japan to value parenting highly enough that both parents participate in it fully.”

        What makes you think people in Japan don’t value parenting as you say?

      • Foreigner Friendly

        If they did, men would be doing it way more fully. Have you seen the numbers on father-child relationships here? Woeful.

        Children need lots of quality time with a wide of range of competent adults to develop to their highest potential. With Japanese mothers doing the vast majority of the child-raising and the children spending long hours at school and extra-curricular activities then more time in cram schools – if their parents can afford them – I doubt the poor kids know what they’re missing out on.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “Children need lots of quality time with a wide of range of competent adults to develop to their highest potential.”

        Yes, indeed. What you are seeing in Japan is (the beginning of the death of) what was very widely done also in ‘the West’ (for want of a better expression) until quite recently. Division of parenting responsibilities (making the money, doing the house work etc etc) is a time-hono(ur)ed stage in the development of societies, as is also its demise.

        To insinuate that fathers are not ‘doing it…fully’ by committing themselves at considerable personal sacrifice to being income providers is not a very nice thing to say. Both parents can be fully committed to being the best parents they can, regardless of how they choose (or have little choice in the way*) to divide parenting responsibilities.

        *As you note above:

        “The long work hours prevent the men from developing any kind of healthy work-life balance. Which in turn means they can’t be good parents, leaving the bulk of the housework, domestic financial management and parenting up to the women.”

      • Foreigner Friendly

        It’s not personal, Oliver. I don’t know you so how could it be? If a father chooses to spend his time climbing Mount Everest for example, instead of teaching his children how to ride a bicycle or help them with their homework every night of the week, would you still be applauding him? I suspect not. What’s the difference, if a parent chooses to spend their evenings at work or drinking with colleagues over time with their children? Not much in my book.

        You seem to believe that the men working these long hours have no choice in the matter. It may be a tough choice but many people are taking it the world over. It called “downsizing”. Individuals in the developed world are choosing to move to jobs with more reasonable work hours. Often they move out of their tiny expensive city houses and they’re able to get bigger places elsewhere. Marriages are saved, childhoods enriched and new career paths are forged.

        There’s a mountain of research – maybe not Everest high – that shows that the most productive workers actually work only 30-35 hours a week, not the 50, 60, 70 and more, as is common here. When one considers how little is gained by those extra 30-40 hours a week, the work-life balance of many start to look more than a little mad.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “What’s the difference, if a parent chooses to spend their evenings at work or drinking with colleagues over time with their children?”

        Everything. You talk as if most of these people could gain anything close to the same income (and particularly benefits) if they downsized their working lives. For most of a certain age group (currently 40+?) certainly not. Such a loss of income (which is hardly spent on ‘choosing to drink with co-workers. Have you seen the figures for the average salaryman allowance recently?) would surely be highly disruptive to their family lives.

        For the current younger generations, many more work-life balance options are becoming available, but for those older generations, nothing exists. No fairy-tale heroics of telling the company to ‘shove the job’ and starting one’s own business or whatever is going to change that for them.

        You seem to not be fully appreciating just how far Japan has come in terms of standard of living in the past 70 years. It required some sacrifices that the slower progress of Europe and North America didn’t (though they still went through very similar patterns of social development, if less rapid.)

        You’re not a father, are you? (No need to answer.)

      • Foreigner Friendly

        What’s my parental status go to do with this?

        I can appreciate Japan’s economic progress because I studied Japanese history. I can appreciate how far gender equality in Japan has and hasn’t progressed because I’ve studied more Japanese history plus, you know, I live here. I can appreciate what a monumental waste of human lives is taking place in Japanese companies day and day because I’ve worked alongside those people. Talk about thankless sacrifice! And for what? The developed world’s lowest productivity per hour. Why are you defending a system that is laughably the least effective?

        Almost every single Japanese woman I know is adamant that they won’t marry men who worked like their fathers did consequently they’re only interested in foreign men. And a few women.

        When a man is on his deathbed is he going to wish he’d spent more time at work? Or with his family? Or, heaven forbid, with his mistress?

        Ask most Japanese children what they most want and the answer is overwhelmingly to spend more time with their fathers. Usually the second thing they wish for is that their mothers weren’t so stressed.

        When a woman is on her deathbed is she going to wish for more material possessions? Or more time with her family? Sadly, statistically, it’s likely that her husband will already be dead but she’ll hopefully have her children around her.

      • Oliver Mackie

        As yourself, nothing personal, just dealing with what is written.

        “What’s my parental status go to do with this?”

        That you need to ask says something. I suspect (was going to say “I hope” but will give you the benefit of the doubt) that if you were a father, you would have a more on-the-ground understanding of family life and thus would be more empathetic to the role of fathers.

        “I can appreciate Japan’s economic progress because I studied Japanese history. I can appreciate how far gender equality in Japan has and hasn’t progressed because I’ve studied more Japanese history…”

        Abstract study is certainly better than none at all, but it is far from complete (I speak as someone with and undergrad degree in Economic and Social History.) But, like your comments on the pressures and priorities of fathers (and mothers) show, abstract study alone renders it very easy to judge in the abstract, but such judgments are often just that, divorced from reality. (For a humorous illustration of this, go to YouTube and search under “Louis CK why” and watch from 6:20.)

        In the same way that any position of responsibility in a company will only be given to someone with the requisite experience, sound real-world judgments need to be made by people who have experience of what they are talking about. But, let’s move on to your experience:

        “I live here….I’ve worked alongside those people.”

        Narrow experience. You live in one part of here. You’ve worked alongside a very few of these many many people, and to reiterate, if you are not married and a parent like them, your angle of view is distorted.

        “The developed world’s lowest productivity per hour.”

        Two points:

        1. Despite the purported accuracy of such measurements, measuring an abstract thing like productivity is far more complicated than you imagine, and indeed is probably not feasible in any meaningful sense. It fails to take into account all kinds of immeasurable factors such as being on hand to troubleshoot, the requirement to be able to respond quickly even if such responses are rarely actually needed. And of course there’s the famous one, making sure everyone is consulted, so that when projects go ahead, no-one is pissed that they were left out. (There are many more immeasurables.)

        2. You are confusing average productivity with total amount achieved. It may (or may not) be true that average productivity efficiency peaks at 35 hours, but returns after that are simply diminishing, don’t reach zero until perhaps 100 hours a week, and do not go negative. One can illustrate this point perfectly with one corporate name: Goldman Sachs. (If you don’t get that point then you have no right claiming to know about productivity.)

        (BTW, a side issue but something else I suspect you are unaware of. Japanese productivity has been rising throughout the so-called ‘lost decades’ whilst that of the US has been stagnant. That’s right, Japan has achieved mild economic growth with a shrinking population, whilst increases in total US productivity has been due entirely to population growth.)

        “Why are you defending a system that is laughably the least effective?”

        The post-war Japanese system has produced the fastest increase in living standards that has ever been seen. Back to your point about supposedly understanding history. 70 years ago, this place was a smoldering wreck. Cliche that it is, this country has direct access to almost zero natural resources. The entire economy is based on human value-added. Combine the two and you have an astonishing achievement. That’s not to say there might now not be a strong wish to change priorities, but the Japanese people are quite well aware of this themselves. Again, I go back to my point that you are criticizing (in quite a nasty way) the older generation WHO REBUILT THIS PLACE and who had to make major sacrifices along the way. Those are sacrifices that the younger generations do not wish to make, for sure, but they owe their being in a position to say such things to the generations above them.

        Every other comment you make above about children wishing more time with parents, deathbed wishes etc is covered by this point. The older generations did what they did to get themselves out of abject absolute poverty. They succeeded spectacularly and now the younger generations can have the luxury of different priorities. Let’s look at a few of those….

        “Almost every single Japanese woman I know is adamant that they won’t marry men who worked like their fathers did…”

        If they are only ‘interested’ in men who, without doing significant overtime or corporate socializing, can earn sufficient to buy a nice house, run a nice car or two, fund a household budget, educate two children, pay for vacations, save for retirement, whilst still having enough energy to play with and help to educate children, help with housework, cook, romance…….and if they are hoping that that will be achievable without they themselves working (I don’t know, you didn’t specify) then my comment to them would be, “When you actually find this man, what exactly are you going to have to offer in return in this lifetime partnership?” Lots of younger girls are interested in a Prince Charming to come and whisk them away on a white horse: doesn’t mean they are being in the least bit reasonable in desiring it. Again, if you were married and a parent, I suspect you would get this better.

        “….consequently they’re only interested in foreign men.”

        If they’re are only interested in foreign men, I suspect there are other reasons in addition to the one you connect with “consequently.”

        Also, let’s see how adamant they are about anything still, when they hit the point where they realize (perhaps too late) that they don’t have enough to offer in return for all those demands.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        You lost me when you started patronizing me.

        Just because someone understands many of the same things as you do but disagrees with you, doesn’t make them wrong. It just means you have difference of opinion.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “You lost me when you started patronizing me.”

        Anything I tackled was taken from what you offered in support of your arguments. If you offer up your experience, be prepared to have it critiqued. If you offer up your academic background, the same. And so on.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        You’re still coming off as patronizing. When I was in debating, your reasoning, tone and debate techniques wouldn’t get a place on any of the good teams.
        Are you an English teacher here in Tokyo?

      • Oliver Mackie

        This is hardly a debate, the other poster is of the opinion that, “It just means you have difference of opinion” whilst at the same time thinking it is perfectly o.k. to make slanderous statements about a whole group of another society, along the lines of, ‘they are all not serious about parenting.’ That’s serious debate is it? And the support offered for this blanket insult is what? ‘Oh, I’ve talked to a few people.’ ‘I’ve studied history.’

        Even in this excuse for a discussion, show me a poster other than myself who has offered reliable sources (I’ve already had one other thank me for pointing out a mistaken impression.) I’ve offered sources (even added a few humo(u)rous ones) and spelt out my objections to other unsupported arguments.

        I’m coming across as patronizing because the other poster deserves nothing better.

        Oh, and of course, you’re not in the least bit being patronizing with, “When I was in debating, your reasoning, tone and debate techniques wouldn’t get a place on any of the good teams.”

        You might consider oral flourishes like, “Who on their deathbed is going to….?” to be brilliant debating, but leave that is the stuff of high school clubs and image-only politics. Start looking arguments from their actual substantiated assertions and evidence offered. Your ‘good team’ debating technique won’t get you an inch in any self-respecting academically rigo(u)rous discussion.

        If you want to see how I express my opinions with people who are also willing to stick to such rigo(u)r, then sign up for the NBR Japan forum. It is free.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        So you believe some people deserve to be patronized? Is this how you operate at work and in your personal life?

      • Oliver Mackie

        Deserving to be patronized is something a person brings upon his or herself. Again, you seem focused on the relatively minor topic of being patronizing instead of the much more serious one of making highly negative blanket statements, based on little evidence, of ethnic and/or gender groups. Why is that? Just because you happen to agree with that person’s opinion? Are these the kind of priorities you operate on at work and in your personal life?

      • Minxy Minamoto

        It’s interesting that you feel my statements were negative generalizations, Oliver. Are you familiar with the psychology term “projection”?

      • Oliver Mackie

        You are misinterpreting. I was referring to the comments of the poster ‘Foreigner Friendly.’ My point is that you criticize my patronizing manner whilst saying nothing about the negative generalizations of the other poster, simply because, I suspect, that you agree with them.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        You assume wrongly. I disagree with your methodology while possibly disagreeing with some of your points. When anyone of us are patronizing others we are in effect saying to them “I know better than you. Your opinions and beliefs are not valid.” Then we take on the role of the educator and we try to fix them. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what the friendly foreigner was also objecting to.

        Since my first comment here I’ve read through most of your posts on this article in chronological order. Sadly it didn’t improve my liking of how and what you write, nor of how you treat your fellow man and woman. You may well be a perfect charming person when met on the street but here you have been acting in a less than stellar fashion. Perhaps you believe it appropriate behaviour because you’ve earned the right to patronize those beneath you, but by your actions it is you who have shown yourself to be beneath civil discourse.

      • Oliver Mackie

        At some point, you’re going to understand that you’re being wound up…..

      • Foreigner Friendly

        So, you’re not only patronizing us both but you’re attempting to get us angry? Why?
        You seem like a smart man. You seem to want to have a serious discussion about some serious issues but you’re really here intending to wind people up and put people down. I feel awful for you. As Minxy Minamoto says above your behaviour puts you low low down in the respect stakes.
        Enough of you.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Not both, just her. You have made statements of opinion that I have seen reason to challenge. She has just complained about tone. I would hardly be winding you up, given the personal information I have divulged. Note also please, that my Disqus account is wide open to view.

        I mis-read you, in that I had neglected to entertain the possibility that you weren’t simply naive, but rather had had certain experiences that colour your views. If you want to disengage, I will respect that. With your permission, however, there is a response that I would like to make in another thread you have commented on. Your call….

      • Foreigner Friendly

        I have yet to hear an apology or anything even close to one so I reckon we’re done.

      • Oliver Mackie


      • Foreigner Friendly

        I know it’s difficult to do but until you do I going to have to trust my instincts and keep you at a distance. You have form.

      • Oliver Mackie


      • Minxy Minamoto

        Who is doing the winding?

      • Oliver Mackie

        Maybe it’s the Japan Times itself….maybe they hire me to get higher traffic on the discussion boards, to sell to their advertisers. (There’s actually a serious point in there, if you can work it out….)

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Dear me, you’re rude, aren’t you? How’s that working out for you?

        If my parents spent as much time online as you have in the past week I probably wouldn’t know how to cook. Or maybe I would’ve missed out on the science talks. Or the vegetable garden.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Or perhaps you would have learned to actually make more than one point in a dozen posts.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Do you not get out enough? Or perhaps you never get any time to yourself for reflection? Is this your only outlet for self-expression?
        Finished with you.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “Finished with you.” Yay, I win.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Do you? You haven’t won anything in my book. Well, maybe I’ll use our interaction as a character study for my novel. I’ll take great delight in parodying you.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Don’t forget to include the character who just always has to try to have the last word. Spends her life as an easy target for those seeking to wind her up.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        Nothing won. Many things lost.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        I think we’re done, Oliver. You’re not someone I want to spend any more time with online. Your patronizing attitude is bound to have cost you dearly already but I doubt you’re open to that discussion.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        Oliver Mackie acts like a troll therefore is a troll. I suspect he’s an MRA troll. The worst kind!
        He even admits to it. Well, not the MRA bit.

      • Minxy Minamoto

        He seems to have too much time on his hands. What a freaking luxury to waste on trolling. Thanks for the heads up.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        There a few things about your attitude I’d like to critique. This is a newspaper comment section not an academic journal. Even on the latter, you can still operate as a human being. Would you speak to someone like that face-to-face? I doubt it but if you did it wouldn’t be for long. Everybody else would walk away.

      • Oliver Mackie

        ”There a few things about your attitude I’d like to critique. ”

        Are there indeed? And who are you, exactly? (No, I’m not really asking)

        “This is a newspaper comment section not an academic journal.”

        So, sloppy arguments are o.k., then? You don’t have to add academic footnotes to your posts, but real evidence is required.

        “Even on the latter, you can still operate as a human being.”

        My critique of your experience, basically: “You’re inexperienced so don’t really understand.”
        Your blanket insult to a very large group of people of one nationality: “You are bad parents, care more about material possessions, or socializing than you do about your children”
        Which is more ‘operating as a human being’? (I assume you mean that in the sense of ‘being civilized’)

        “Would you speak to someone like that face-to-face?”
        I might. It would depend. Would you insult an entire generation to their faces?

        “Everybody else would walk away.” OH NO! What would I do!? So, better to just go along with unsupported, blanket prejudicial statements, then?

      • Foreigner Friendly

        This is what you said,”You are bad parents, care more about material possessions, or socializing than you do about your children”. I did not say that. No wonder you’re so upset! You are making up stuff to get offended about.

      • Oliver Mackie

        You wrote,

        “If [Japanese men] valued parenting, they would be doing it more fully.”

        which means you clam that they don’t value it fully and that this is the reason that they don’t (seem to you to be doing) it more fully.

        You wrote,

        “If a father chooses to spend his time climbing Mount Everest for example, instead of teaching his children how to ride a bicycle or help them with their homework every night of the week, would you still be applauding him? I suspect not. What’s the difference, if a parent chooses to spend their evenings at work or drinking with colleagues over time with their children? Not much in my book.”

        which means you claim men are choosing evenings at work or drinking with colleagues over time with their children.

        Even worse,

        “When a man is on his deathbed is he going to wish he’d spent more time at work? Or with his family? Or, heaven forbid, with his mistress?”

        which means you state that they are ignoring their children because they are cheating on their wives.

        You wrote,

        “When a woman is on her deathbed is she going to wish for more material possessions? Or more time with her family?”

        This is saying, either women are more focused on material possessions than time with her family, or men have only given them material possessions instead of time with the family.

        And throughout it all, you use blanket terms such as “Japanese people” and “men”, a very bad habit of your which I will be taking up on another thread.

        So, you are saying what I say you are saying. If you don’t intend to say that, then I recommend a much more thoughtful and accurate use of language. Writing is the medium of communication here: you are what you write.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        This seems to have become a negative feedback loop. I can’t be spending any more time helping you to interpret my words in a way that makes you happy. Your happiness is your own responsibility and I suspect you’d be far more satisfied if we just agreed to disagree. Would it help you if I admitted that perhaps I didn’t express myself as clearly as I once believed I could?

        As a fellow English instructor who lives in Japan, I don’t expect you to have the same opinions and beliefs as myself so your insistence that I should agree with you is simultaneously disturbing and amusing to me. It’s perplexing that you would choose to take the words of a stranger so personally.

        I thank you for the challenge, though. And wish you well, fellow teacher.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “….your insistence that I should agree with you is simultaneously disturbing and amusing to me.”

        Where did I insist that you agree with me? All I insisted on was that you provide some actual credible evidence for the very broad and contentious statements you were making. If you think opinions are just that, why come to a public board to express them? You are of course free to do so, but complaining about negative feedback from another poster is what is ‘perplexing.’ That’s what happens on public boards. In all these exchanges, you have not once attempted to offer better explanations of your original comments, but simply have complained about my ‘attitude.’ If all you want is nods of agreement and acceptance that what a few people say about a huge chunk of society is indicative of what that group actually is, then stay away from public forums and hang around chatting with your friends at the coffee shop. Again, nothing wrong with that, but don’t confuse it with an actual discussion.

        “It’s perplexing that you would choose to take the words of a stranger so personally.”

        Who’s taking anything personally? I can’t be. You are generalizing about Japanese men who work as permanent full-time employees, whilst I am non-Japanese and haven’t had a full-time permanent position in all my 24 years working, In addition, it might just surprise you that I am the epitome of the man your Japanese lady friends say they would like to marry, at least in terms of work-life balance. This week was a typical week for me: cooked more than half the meals, made my son’s 弁当 every day, took/picked up the kids from nursery/school more than 50% of the time, helped my son with every bit of homework he had (liaised with his teachers too), tidied up the apartment twice, did the washing and the washing up numerous times, took my son bowling, took my daughter for a bicycle ride, took both the kids to their swimming lessons and watched, talked to my daughter as she is a bit scared about お泊り保育 next week, gave my wife shoulder massages as she uses a computer a lot, oh, AND made more than 50% of our joint income (though we don’t count it that way, we just consider each of us to be doing our best and don’t compare the income balance.) Due to our great work/life balance, we are able to send both our kids to very good (but very expensive) private schools and still eat breakfast and dinner together every single day. We all sleep together too. And spend all our days off together.

        Now, I’m not telling you all this just to ‘blow my own trumpet’, as it were, but rather to show you that just because I am on the same page as you and your friends regarding how modern marriage should be, that doesn’t mean that one can automatically criticize other who are doing things differently. My original point that you are clearly not married with kids, was the most important point I made. It’s very easy to judge, even when things look so clearly wrong to you, if you have had no experience. Indeed ESPECIALLY at such times.

        If you will take one piece of unsolicited advice from me, take this: when something seems to be so obviously and incredibly wrong, and the fact that it continues is just so baffling to you, those are the times when you should be most inclined to stop yourself and think, what is it that I’m missing?

        “I thank you for the challenge, though.”

        You’re quite welcome. The best way to react to this is, of course, by continuing to discuss such things on public boards and trying to improve how one writes and thinks.

        The only difference between you and me, and the one thing that permits me to ‘patronize’ is the fact that I have been where you are now and also where I am now. You have only the former. Not a crime, of course, and it will be rectified with time, IF that time is spent trying to better one’s understanding.

      • Foreigner Friendly

        I don’t actually find patronizing ever useful when dealing with people. Especially with people I don’t really know. If it works for you …

        I will introduce myself. I’m divorced. The spouse whom I financially supported throughout our marriage is now 20 years into a moderately successful music career. No, I don’t receive any of that money. I worked full-time, studied part-time, did the bulk of the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. I handled all our finances as well as my language skills were better suited to it.

        I helped raise three children. I took primary care of them on weekends and school holidays whenever my dear spouse was gigging. They’re not biologically my own but I love them as though they were. I’m sure you can understand.

        I now get paid to teach and care for other people’s children. Seems like a sweet deal to me as I get to do what I’m good at, plus get paid so I can live here in Japan while I write my novel.

        I think I’ve learnt a few things about work-life balance. I’ve also learnt a lot about the choices I make and why I make them. Parents – including those who aren’t the biological parents – have thousands of decisions to make everyday. They’re not easy choices sometimes. No being able to clearly see the choices available to you doesn’t mean the choices aren’t there.

        I would now not ever choose to marry a man who works 80 hours a week. Here’s some additional experience which helped me come to that decision. Many of my male adult students work long hours, often doing more unpaid overtime than the paid overtime. All of my female students are either single and work the same hours as the men I teach or are married but see their husbands less than an hour a day during the week and maybe a whole day on the weekends. The women do the lions’ share of the childcare and the men often express regret for not being able to do more. Most of them seem miserable with their lives but resigned to the inevitability of them. A common question I get from all my students is and I’m paraphrasing, of course – “Why aren’t you married? You’re a great catch!” I love to joke with them so I answer “Oh, marriage is hard work. I don’t have time for one.” I stopped thinking of my own marriage years ago – so this has been very cathartic for me – but usually I’m regarding theirs. I wouldn’t pity them as that would be insulting and I do so hate to offend but I do have great empathy.

  • Andre Leonard

    Seems a great many of these single and divorced women struggle to educate their kids. Working from 08:00 am to 10:00 pm does not leave much time to be a mother or attend to house.

    Where are the fathers and why are they not made to pay for their children’s education?

  • Minxy Minamoto

    There are plenty of education systems overseas that have standardised testing so the students do one set of tests, get the results and then those are used by schools to determine if the students are “good” enough. Why does Japan need to keep pushing a system that prices out bright but poor kids?