It must already be daunting to raise children alone, so doing so in a society that looks down on single parents certainly doesn’t make it any easier.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation many single mothers in Japan find themselves in. With the country’s economy going downhill, they are easily among the most vulnerable to financial insecurity. As per official data, half of all single parent households are living in poverty, most of which are mothers.
But why them?
A primary reason for such assumption is the fact that women in Japan are still viewed as inferiors. As Yukiko Tokumaru, head of a non-government organization that aids families living in poverty, put it:
“We have this culture of shame. Women’s position is still so much lower than men’s in this country, and that affects how we are treated. Women tend to have irregular jobs, so they need several jobs to make ends meet.”
This sense of shame is much stronger for single mothers, who would go to great lengths to hide their situation from peers and even their parents. Instead, they end up spending lavishly on cosmetics in an attempt to project that everything is okay.
Junko Terauchi, who heads another non-government group that helps them, said, “Single moms in poverty try really hard not to look poor. Sometimes local government officers, who are often men, say things like, ‘You don’t look like you need welfare.'”
Unfortunately, the shaming extends to the children of these single mothers, who are often bullied for having separated parents. Such is the case of a 48-year-old woman named Akiko, whose 20-year-old daughter skipped several grade levels and failed the entrance exam to a public university.
Akiko now sends her daughter to a private college. She told the The Washington Post of officials who challenged her decision, “I felt hurt by these kinds of comments at the beginning, but now I’ve become accustomed to it.”
Akiko is just one, of course. Last year, CNN reported the plight of Yukako Yamada, a single mom in Tokyo who raises her son with just $1,200 a month — less than half of the national average. Yamada shared that she never forgets to use her pile of loyalty cards while shopping for groceries to rake as many discounts as possible.
For now, Japan will have to thank the support of non-government groups such as Tokumaru and Terauchi’s. The country’s single mothers, after all, are raising children that may just save it from its self-concocted demographic time bomb.