Caregiving and Japanese welfare

Japanese citizens in Singapore

Ying Shan Kung, National University of Singapore [About | Email]

Volume 17, Issue 2 (Article 6 in 2017). First published in ejcjs on 27 August 2017.


This article explores how Japan’s political economy has affected the lives of Japanese citizens living outside Japan. Japan’s approach to welfare and the family during the high economic growth period has created a gendered distribution of labour in the family, resulting in the male breadwinner and female caregiver model. In light of Japan’s recent economic stagnation, the Japanese state has attempted to encourage more women to take up regular employment. However, many Japanese women are unwilling to give up their roles as primary caregivers of the household. This article examines the reasons why Japanese citizens in Singapore may be unreceptive towards the idea of married women working, even though it is generally accepted and easy to do in Singapore. This article argues that the Japanese citizens interviewed hold on to notions of gendered caregiving and work that hinder women from balancing career and caregiving, despite their geographical removal from Japan.

Keywords: women, caregiving, welfare, family, Singapore, transnational movement.


An effective welfare system is instrumental in ensuring that every citizen of the nation is well-cared for and has access to a comfortable life. Nevertheless, there is a disparity in approaches adopted by nation-states towards welfare provision. As Borovoy (2010) explains, Japan’s welfare system contrasts with the European-style welfare state that allows citizens to be dependent on the state for social support. Instead, Japan relegates social support and welfare to the family. Scholars Schoppa (2006) and Allison (2013) have illustrated the workings of such a system, where the availability of females as caregivers and the prosperous economy during the economic miracle supported and perpetuated each other. Under this system, caregiving work was expected to be undertaken within the household and by females. Women were tasked to care for children and the elderly, while supporting their husbands’ careers. The perceived effectiveness of this system led to Japan being dubbed a ‘welfare super-power’ in the 1970s (Schoppa 2006, p. 36). Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly wrought with its share of limitations and contradictions. While scholars have previously analysed the limitations of Japan’s welfare system in relation to the fall of the economy, this article problematises the system further by exploring transnational movement of Japanese citizens.

Globalisation has brought with it increased movement of people and ideas across national borders. This is further exacerbated by the trend towards deregulation of labour and capital as prescribed by neoliberal values (Ong 2007, pp. 3-4). This article explores how ease of movement of people has made them more vulnerable to certain problems. The study of transnational movement and families is not new. Kelsky (2001) explores Japanese women’s romanticising of the West and white men, bringing in themes of race, class and gender. Her work has been influential in highlighting racial hierarchies and, more relevant to this article, how transnational movement has allowed some women to escape the constraints of the expected family and corporate structure in Japan. Thang and Toyota (2015) study Japanese women in marriages with Balinese men and shed light on how the women form families that adhere to Japanese social norms. The article is particularly significant in showing how the women construct ‘traditional’ families and retain their cultural roots despite being geographically removed from Japan. Similarly, this article attempts to unravel notions of family and caregiving through an ethnographic study of a group of Japanese in Singapore. This article begins by establishing the theoretical framework for welfare and family structure in Japan, before analysing some interviews with Japanese citizens in Singapore. I explore their ideas of marriage and caregiving, followed by their sense of liberation from living outside Japan. I argue that the interviewees hold on to notions of gendered caregiving and work that hinder women from balancing career and caregiving, despite their geographical removal from Japan.

Japanese state’s approach to welfare and the family

The high economic growth in Japan beginning in the 1950s allowed for a system where companies and families supported and reinforced each other, which in turn ensured Japan’s economic progress and stability at the time. Schoppa (2006, p. 2) introduced the term ‘convoy capitalism’ to illustrate how large firms supported and ushered smaller firms during the period of economic growth, while the government supported the economy through ‘its bank-centred financial system, cartels, and extensive regulations’. Economic stability made it possible for firms to promise lifetime employment to regular male workers and provide their families with an array of benefits such as housing subsidies and family wage (Borovoy 2010, p. 62). This Japanese management system, accompanied with state policies, created an environment that encouraged women to be full-time housewives. Many women were provided with pension, tax credits and other benefits that incentivised them not to take up regular work, as a high income would make them ineligible for the benefits. Instead, they became a source of flexible labour that was used to support regular male workers (Schoppa 2006, p. 11). Thus, many women, freed from participation in paid labour, became full-time caregivers, while men were freed from caregiving work and focussed on their roles as breadwinners (Borovoy 2010, p. 64). It is important to note, however, that the system of lifetime employment and benefits to employees was not a reality for most of the Japanese population (Sugimoto 2010, pp. 88-89). Nevertheless, the hegemony of this system shaped Japanese ideas and beliefs of gender roles, traces of which still can be found today.

The lack of state-provided welfare also pushed women to become full-time caregivers for their families. Although childcare leave was available for working women, the lack of childcare facilities meant that women were unable to work while ensuring that their children were cared for (Schoppa 2006, p. 162). In addition, they also had to be available at particular times of the day to care for their children. For example, they needed to attend PTA meetings and aid their children in preparing for competitive examinations. Childcare facilities that supported working mothers were in shortage and many did not complement the mothers’ working schedules (Schoppa 2006, p. 47). Eldercare facilities and services were insufficient and too limited to serve the older population, thus requiring someone from the family to provide care. These factors left women little choice but to take up the role of a caregiver for family members, while at the same time reflecting and sustaining the gendered division of work. This was exacerbated by social norms that advocate women to get married early and commit themselves to caring for their children and the elderly, while supporting their working husbands (Schoppa 2006, p. 64). The idea of gendered division of labour is not new, but has existed since the Tokugawa period. Confucian scholar Kaibara Ekken (1630-1714) posited that it was women’s jobs as wives to take care of domestic matters, while men were responsible for affairs outside the house (Sekiguchi 2010, p. 97). Thus, gender norms and policies that established gendered division of labour were mutually reinforcing.

At the same time, the family was called upon to take on caregiving responsibilities. Since the Meiji period, Japanese state emphasised the ‘moral duty’ of the family and communities to support those in need, shaming those who ‘send one of its own out to bother outsiders and to depend on others for assistance’ (Borovoy 2010, p. 60). The cut-backs on ‘social assistance and public care services’ as economic growth fell in the 1970s also meant that the family had to step up as providers of care and welfare (Borovoy 2010, pp. 60-61). Thus, in addition to the belief that caregiving should be carried out by women, it was also important that caregiving work remained within the family. This formed the basis for ‘Japanese-style welfare society’ (Schoppa 2006, p.65), where women and companies filled in the gaps in welfare by the government.

The aforementioned system of welfare in Japan, which depends on women for caregiving and firms for enabling women with the financial stability to engage in full-time caregiving, began to collapse by the end of the 1980s, just as more married women took up employment (Peng 2001, p. 191). This was further exacerbated in the decades that followed. In response to the long-term economic stagnation and decline in birth rate in the 1990s, the Japanese government introduced structural reforms based on neoliberal principles, among which included reform of the family structure. The government noted that the family structure of a male breadwinner and female caregiver was no longer relevant due to the economic stagnation and change in people’s values towards the family. The 2002 White Paper on ‘Structural Reform and the Everyday Life of the Family’ sought to encourage more flexible working practices while providing more facilities and support for childcare and eldercare (Takeda 2008, pp. 153-154, 157-159). Viewing women as an untapped source of labour, the reforms encouraged more married women to take up paid labour. Underlying the new dual-income family model was the expectation that women be productive individuals through employment. However, these reforms were limited, as women were still expected to fulfil their role as caregivers and struggled to juggle both their careers and caregiving (Takeda 2008, pp. 164-165).

How have the different forms of family structure, as prescribed by the state, affected the lives of Japanese citizens on the ground? In what ways and why are career and caregiving still incompatible for some Japanese women overseas? This article aims to answer these questions through interviews with Japanese citizens in Singapore.

Research method

This article draws on interviews that were part of a project exploring the reach of Japanese political economy into the lives of Japanese citizens living abroad. The participants included seven Japanese citizens living in Singapore, whose names have been changed in this article. All interviews were conducted in 2016, one-on-one by this author and four other researchers, in public spaces or at the respondent’s home. They were then transcribed and shared among the research collective. Thus, while emphasising the life story of one particular individual, Kaori, this article incorporates findings from all seven respondents. Although the research findings are based on a small group of respondents, I believe this rich set of interviews sheds light on how family structure and caregiving norms are interpreted and practised on the ground among Japanese citizens residing outside Japan.

Table 1: Profiles of respondents
Name Age (Birth year) Year that they first visited Singapore Marital status
Kaori 35 (1981) 2007 Single
Megumi 27 (1989) 2015 Married
Kumiko 39 (1977) 2011 Divorced
Takuya 34 (1981) 2014 Single
Tomoko 54 (1962) 1995 Divorced
Rie 34 (1982) 2015 Divorced
Yumiko 46 (1970) 1990 Married

Marriage and the Japanese wife

Kaori has been working in Singapore for nine years, and is currently employed by a Japanese company in Singapore. Despite being a single, Japanese woman working overseas, she was not consciously seeking better career opportunities outside Japan. Instead, when asked about her future goals, she revealed her hope to become a full-time housewife, dedicated to supporting her future husband and caring for her future children. She said that, in this aspect, her ‘thinking is still conservative’, unlike that of other women who wish to pursue their careers. She noted that growing up, she and her peers held the notion that ‘girls don’t need to work’, even though her mother had helped out in the family business. Ideally, she would have preferred to get married at the age of 25 or 26, but ‘didn’t have any chance’. She felt that it was ‘quite late’ still to be unmarried at 35, and expressed her desire to get married in a few years’ time. When asked if she would want to continue working after she gets married, she said it would depend on her future husband, but that she would prefer to be a full-time housewife, as long as her husband’s income allows it. Whether she stays in Singapore or returns to Japan in future would also depend on her husband. Her words seem to indicate that she has internalised social norms of her time when women were expected to get married and support their husbands and their husbands’ careers from home. Also, her notion of family fits into the model of a male breadwinner and female caregiver, and she does not seem to think she has a responsibility to work. Thus, calls for reform of the family in the 2000s do not seem to have affected her ideals or life. Nevertheless, she notes how this family structure is dependent upon the condition that her future husband has a sufficient income to support the family. Thus, she is aware that her ideal family structure may not be achievable in the current economy. Even as the male breadwinner and female caregiver model was not a reality for most families at any point in Japanese history, and is even less possible today with the global recession, the hegemony of the model is exemplified by Kaori’s ideal family structure.

Other interviewees acknowledged the expectation on wives to play a supporting role to their husbands. Megumi gave up the opportunity to pursue her Masters degree in the UK in order to be with her husband when he was posted to Singapore for work. Despite wanting to pursue her teenage dream, she ‘just gave up’ because ‘marriage is not about one person’, but ‘all about the family’. Even though her husband did not object to her going to the UK alone, his family did not want her to do so. Explaining her decision not to go, she said that it was ‘not very good’ for her as a wife to live abroad and leave her husband alone. When asked to explain what she meant, she clarified, ‘In Japan, most of the people still think that the woman has to take care of the family even though you don't have kids, the woman is the main person who cooks, does the washing, that stuff. All my families were thinking that why don't you take care of him, your husband? This is not normal.’ Even though she was not explicitly told not to go to the UK, she felt that leaving to pursue her dream on her own would compromise her role as a wife supporting her husband. It is interesting to note, however, that her husband is due to return to Japan for work, while she has decided to stay in Singapore to pursue her career, explaining that it would be a waste to quit after three months. While her adopted family had expressed disapproval towards this decision, she said, ‘I also want to live my life’. Perhaps she was able better to justify being apart from her husband this time since she was staying in Singapore while her husband returned to Japan, instead of her leaving her husband to go overseas.

Megumi’s story reveals a conflict between her career and domestic responsibilities. While Allison (2013, pp. 155-156) argues that women choose to exit the struggle of being working mothers by giving up either their careers or marriage, transnational movement has complicated the situation further by making career and domestic responsibilities incompatible for Megumi, forcing her to give up one or the other. While she could go back to Japan and find a job there, she was determined ‘never [to] go back’ to a Japanese company, due to her distaste for the long working hours expected from full-time career track employees. As a result, for the time being, her husband’s career and her career require that they be located in different countries. The choice for neither of them to give up their careers to follow the other would seem to reflect equality between the two of them. However, it should be noted that while Megumi was expected to care for and support her husband, the same expectation was not placed on her husband. This reveals the inadequacies of Japanese reforms of the family. While women are expected to fulfil both their roles as productive individuals as well as domestic caregivers, the perceived harsh working conditions in Japan have pushed Megumi to pursue a career overseas instead. The availability of the option to work overseas is particular to today’s context of globalisation, where increased flows of labour and capital across territorial borders have brought ever more people to move overseas for work. However, this option makes it even more difficult for women to provide care and work full-time at the same time. Also, one should note that Megumi and her husband are not free to work in any country as they please. Megumi lists her husband’s ineloquence in English and reluctance for either to leave their stable jobs as reasons for them living away from each other.

Similarly, Kumiko noted, ‘Marriage in Japan is very restrictive for girls. It is not between you and me, it is more like [a] tie between families’. She was married to a Japanese man she had grown up with, but got a divorce after leaving him to work in Singapore. Although her husband-at-that-time originally supported her decision to work in Singapore, her extended stay in Singapore had implicated their marriage. She explained that he was ‘really like shocked and surprised. He thought I would probably stay for one or two years and then return to Japan but I didn't. And then we sort of decided to live our life separately because there is no point to keep the marriage as we have nothing in common. We are still talking and communicating but not like husband and wife’. Thus, their divorce seems to be largely attributed to them living separately from each other. Even though reforms of the family have given women the responsibility of engaging in paid labour, Kumiko’s pursuit of her career at the expense of her caregiving duties posed a problem to her marriage.

All three women have subverted the family structure prescribed by the reforms in the 2000s that assign women the responsibilities of taking up paid labour while caring for their families. Kaori seems to be completely comfortable relying on her future husband financially, while Megumi’s avoidance of working in a Japanese company has distanced her from domestic duties. Kumiko’s decision to pursue an overseas career rather than stay with her husband has resulted in problems for her marriage. The fact that Megumi, the only one of the three who is married and working while away from her husband, is the youngest is telling. This could indicate a shift in ideas of marriage and the family over time, away from the notion that married women have to prioritise caregiving duties over anything else.

Childcare support for working mothers in Singapore and Japan

In June 2015, the female labour force participation rate in Singapore was relatively high at 60.4%, not too far from the male labour force participation of 76.7% (Singapore Department of Statistics 2016). This can be attributed to the support provided to working mothers in terms of caregiving help and parent-friendly working environments. In 2015, there were 1256 child care centres in Singapore, with a total capacity of 123,327 places. Approximately 77% of these places were filled, and 91% of the children in these centres were enrolled in full-day programmes. In addition, there were 6,262 places for infant care, of which 60% were filled (Early Childhood Development Agency 2016). Thus, there is an abundance of places for childcare admission in Singapore, and childcare centres operate long hours to cater to the working hours of parents. In addition, domestic help is readily available. In the 1980s, in an effort to encourage mothers to work, Singapore began introducing foreign domestic workers from neighbouring countries to Singapore, and the hiring of domestic help is still widely practised today (Gomes 2011, p.148). In 2015, 231,500 work permits were granted to foreign domestic workers (Ministry of Manpower 2016b). Domestic duties previously undertaken by the wife, such as childcare, eldercare, cooking and cleaning, are assigned to foreign workers instead. The availability of childcare assistance releases women from domestic duties and enables them to take up paid labour.

In addition, Singapore law requires companies to provide parents with paid leave to care for their children. Parents are entitled to six days of childcare leave in a year if their child (up to seven years old) is a Singapore citizen, and two days if their child is not. Mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave if their child is a Singaporean citizen, and 12 weeks if their child is not. In addition, fathers of citizen children are entitled to one week of paternity leave (Ministry of Manpower 2016a). These laws strive to create a suitable working environment that caters to the needs of parents.

Similarly, Japan has been pushing for mothers to take up paid labour. However, support for working mothers is still lacking, contributing to Japan’s low female labour force participation rate (Reynolds and Shimodoi 2014). One reason is that day care centres are not available to many children. A total of 45,315 children were on the waiting list for admission into government-sponsored day care centres in 2015 (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 2016), while private centres are expensive and thus unattainable to many (Begley 2016). Affordable foreign domestic help like that in Singapore is not available in Japan either, due to Japan’s strict immigration policies (Line and Poon 2013).

Tolerance and understanding for working mothers in the workplace also leaves much room for improvement. The term matahara, or maternity harassment, has emerged in recent years, indicating growing concern for discrimination of mothers in the workplace. Matahara is defined as harassment, termination of contract or demotion in the office due to pregnancy or childbirth. The number of matahara victims was estimated to be 170,000 in 2015. In a 2015 survey conducted by Matahara Net with 186 victims, approximately 30% received harassment from male superiors, while approximately 13% from Human Resource departments. Cases of the latter revealed a lack of awareness of the law regarding paid maternity and childcare leave, or blatant disregard for the law. In addition, approximately 23% of the victims received harassment from female superiors or colleagues. Thus, matahara is not solely attributed to gender discrimination, but also particular values towards work that view taking maternity or childcare leave as shirking of office duties. In contrast to the taking of sick leave, which is seen as inevitable and acceptable, taking maternity or childcare leave is seen as something one should be responsible for. Approximately 44% of the victims had to work long hours and regular overtime, and 42% took less than two days of leave in a year. Poor working conditions contribute to a breeding ground for matahara. Efforts by the victims to seek help from the company were mostly in vain, with 70% being dismissed or receiving worse treatment. Most of those who sought help from the Ministry of Labour were also dissatisfied with the assistance received (Igaya 2015).

Given Singapore’s relative success and Japan’s struggles with encouraging married women and mothers to work, it would be useful to study how Japanese citizens think about the working environment for mothers in Singapore, and investigate reasons that prevent Japanese women from working.

Reception towards support for working mothers

When asked to elaborate on her preference to be a full-time housewife rather than work after she has children, Kaori said, ‘It’s difficult to do both.’ She added, ‘I don’t like to hire maid, also. I don’t have this culture thing.’ While she notes that having domestic help in Singapore is much more affordable than in Japan, she is not receptive towards the idea. She explained, ‘[I] don’t know what they doing. So, [it is] better [if] I do [domestic chores] myself.’ It is interesting that she uses culture to explain her reluctance to hire domestic help. Culture is particular to a group of people, and commonly associated with beliefs and values shaped by interaction within the group (Spencer-Oatey 2012, pp.3-7). Therefore, her opposition against domestic help can be attributed to deeply-rooted ideas that have been ingrained in her when she was growing up in Japan. Her social background, education and socialisation are some factors that would have shaped her ideas and attitude towards caregiving, making her reluctant to make use of available caregiving help in Singapore.

When asked whether she thinks it would be tough to take care of her children alone, Kaori said that she ‘will try’ and that she might get the help of her in-laws when the time comes. In other words, she would be willing to accept help from her in-laws, people considered within the family, but not someone outside the family. Takuya felt similarly towards childcare. Having relocated to Singapore in hopes of advancing his career, he works long hours, sometimes ending at 10:00 PM. He expressed that he wanted his future wife to be a full-time housewife, and that childcare centres are ‘not good’, since children need contact and interaction with their parents. His ideal family mirrors that in which he grew up, as his father spent long hours at work while his mother was a full-time housewife. It is interesting that his ideal fits into the male breadwinner and female caregiver model, despite him having lived outside Japan for approximately half his childhood and youth. This suggests that even if Japanese government succeeds in creating an environment conducive for mothers to take up employment, existing Japanese notions of family and gender norms might prevent people from being receptive to the idea.

Despite the availability of domestic help and childcare facilities in Singapore, the two interviewees expressed a preference to have caregiving remain within the family. Their view towards caregiving supports the stance that Japanese state has taken in its efforts to minimise government expenditure on welfare. Even though the Japanese government has made efforts, exemplified by the Angel Plans in 1994 and 1999, to provide more childcare facilities (Schoppa 2006, pp.170-172), Kaori and Takuya still hold on to the notion that a child should be primarily cared for by family members.

Other interviewees also found companies in Singapore more willing to make concessions to working mothers. Tomoko noted that in Singapore, it is common for women to work even after getting married and giving birth, and companies were more flexible towards the women’s needs. She found it amusing that some women even took one-week leaves to care for their children during the major examinations. Megumi also observed that many women in Singapore continue to work, and have working hours adjusted to cater to school hours. While such practices are unquestioned in Singapore, she said that in Japan, others would think ‘you don’t work so much’ or are ‘not very serious’. Rie works in a Japanese company in Singapore that provides childcare facilities and childcare leave for mothers. She said, however, that ‘Japanese women generally feel insecure to take these up as they fear that they would be burdening others’ or ‘that they would be replaced easily when they return to the workplace’.

Among the interviewees, the environment in Singapore is conceived to be more understanding and flexible towards working women than that in Japan. While some Japanese women are quick to take advantage of this and continue working, others are less willing to make use of domestic help or childcare services because they would rather have caregiving remain within the family, or feel that working mothers may be a burden to their companies. Matahara is a societal problem, not just because women are being discriminated in the workforce, but because it reflects the persisting notion among perpetuators that mothers ought to focus their energies on caring for their children and that caregiving is incompatible with a full-time career. The fact that working mothers themselves feel hesitant to take their entitled days of leave shows how ideas of responsibility in the workplace, as encouraged by the 2000s reforms of the family, may make it more difficult for women to juggle both career and caregiving. Also, the assumption that caregiving should be done by the mother seems to be so deeply embedded in people like Kaori, that even after living in Singapore for many years and being exposed to the practice of hiring domestic help, she is unwilling to take advantage of it. Thus, even if a friendlier environment towards working mothers is successfully constructed in Japan, Japanese women may be reluctant to make use of it due to deeply-rooted ideas of childcare. Furthermore, the notion that caregiving and paid work are incompatible poses a problem to the reformed family model.

Life outside Japan

Kaori would prefer to live outside Japan after she gets married. She explained, ‘I don’t know people, right? So I don’t need to care about what they think. But [in] Japan, you know, I need to care about people, what they think.’ When asked to elaborate, she said that, in Japan, she had to face comments from relatives, friends and neighbours. ‘Because I’m quite old, but still not get married yet. So people think, why is she… Maybe she’s a bit high standard, or something like this. So, this is bothering me. And then, you know, like, if I get married and I live in Japan, then who is the partner, what is he doing, you know. What is his background, or what is he like. Everything. But here, overseas, I don’t know people. So people don’t bother me.’ With regards to her living outside Japan, the only thing that concerned Kaori was her family. She revealed, ‘I worry about my parents. They’re getting old. So if something happen[s], then I can’t fly to Japan so fast, right? Other than that, I don’t mind. That’s why I live here for long.’ She does not feel the need to stay in Japan, and would be happy in any country that allowed her to fulfil her role as a wife and mother. Living outside Japan freed her from having to consider the opinions of people around her, and thus, she felt more comfortable outside Japan.

Similarly, Yumiko stated that the best thing about living in Singapore was not having to care so much about others. She explained that it is easier to live as you please, in contrast to Japan where people think ‘too much about others’. Thus, she feels that Japanese people are sometimes hindered from doing what they would want to do, in fear of what people may think about them. In addition, moving back to Japan is out of the question for her. Notwithstanding her husband being unable to converse in Japanese, she felt that after spending her entire adult life in Singapore, she has become unfamiliar with the norms and expectations for an adult in Japan and would not be able to fit back in. A similar point was also raised by Rie, who pointed out that Japanese ‘are really conscious about people around them’, and think that ‘you are not living in this world alone so you cannot do things as you like’. She also emphasised that this is ‘just a natural way of doing things’, a norm that is assumed in Japan. She notes that this could be ‘quite stressful’.

The three interviewees noted a need to be more conscious of others when in Japan, and conceive it as something particular to Japanese culture. They reveal a common sense of constriction, of not being able to live and behave freely when in Japan. Thus, both Kaori and Yumiko feel much more at ease living outside Japan, and identified this as a reason for not wanting to return to Japan. It is worth highlighting that disapproval towards domestic help and over-sensitivity to what others think are both conceived to be particular to Japanese culture. While Kaori has chosen to live outside Japan in order to escape from the particularities of Japanese culture that constrain her, other aspects of her culture such as ideas on caregiving persist. The ease and proliferation of transnational movement has enabled her to exit Japan and live more freely elsewhere. However, deeply entrenched ideas towards caregiving and family are some reasons why career and caregiving are still incompatible for her and other Japanese women outside Japan.


The particular economic and welfare structure of Japan’s high-growth period characterised by convoy capitalism, the Japanese management system, and Japanese-style welfare society reflect and contribute to social norms that assign women to be caregivers of the family. However, Japan’s prolonged economic downturn has triggered structural reform policies in the 2000s targeted at changing familial and gender norms, so as to encourage married women to work (Takeda 2008, p.154). Nevertheless, as seen in interviews with Japanese citizens in Singapore, some Japanese still hold on to past notions of marriage and childcare. Thus, even though they live outside Japan and have easier access to caregiving support, they still find that working while caring for their families is a struggle.

Women are especially important to the Japanese government, which sees them as a source of flexible labour and the target of policies to boost the low fertility rates. However, the persisting notion that career and caregiving are incompatible poses a key problem that the government must tackle. The provision of childcare and eldercare services would be important, but even this would be limited, if women are unwilling to utilise them due to their notions of caregiving. Also, it is necessary to dispel the notions that women have to be key caregivers for the family and that workers should not burden their employees, before widespread acceptance of women in the workplace can occur. There is a need to change extant gendered notions of caregiving and work before policies and laws that encourage women to work and reproduce are able to produce significant results.


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About the Author

Ying Shan Kung is a Japanese Studies undergraduate in the National University of Singapore. Her research interests are cultural diversity and transnational movement.

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