Prioritizing motherhood over career a tough choice in today’s Japan

Women are encouraged to remain in the workforce, thereby reducing the pool of young mothers

Jun 11, 2024

A family rides a Japanese rickshaw, a traditional two-wheeled passenger cart, near Sensoji Temple, a popular tourist attraction, in Tokyo on April 29, 2023. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

By Cristian Martini Grimaldi
Japan has long grappled with declining birth rates and an aging population, prompting various initiatives aimed at reversing these trends. The latest effort is Tokyo’s Matching App, directed at single people looking to find marriage partners.

While the app aims to foster romantic connections and ultimately boost marriage rates, it raises several critical concerns about its efficacy, security, and underlying approach to addressing Japan’s demographic challenges.

The Tokyo Matching App, launched with much fanfare, is designed to help single people meet and potentially marry. However, the very premise of such an app is contentious. Critics argue that only those desperate for marriage would resort to such a platform.

In a culture where social interactions and relationships are highly nuanced, relying on a digital app to form meaningful, lifelong bonds seems overly simplistic and, perhaps, misguided.

Moreover, the app presents significant security risks. Online platforms that gather personal data are often targets for hackers, and the sensitive nature of the information involved — personal details, preferences, and even tax reports — could be exploited. Data breaches could lead to identity theft, stalking, or other malicious activities, putting users at risk, even more so since we know many of the engineers working on this App are Chinese nationals.

We can safely claim that the app’s potential impact on Japan’s birth rate is doubtful. While facilitating marriages might seem like a step towards increasing the birth rate, it overlooks the deeper societal and economic factors at play.

Japan’s declining birth rate is not merely a result of fewer marriages but also of young people’s reluctance to have children due to financial instability, demanding work schedules, and insufficient support for working parents. An app that promotes marriage without addressing these underlying issues is unlikely to make a significant dent in the birth rate.

A more effective approach might involve a serious commitment to family planning education starting early in schools. This entails teaching the importance of family, the value of raising children, and the long-term societal benefits of stable family units.

Early education on these topics can instill a sense of responsibility and preparedness among young people, encouraging them to consider family life as a rewarding and achievable goal.

Currently, the focus of “activists” in Japanese middle schools often leans heavily towards sexual education, emphasizing the use of condoms and preventing sexually transmitted infections. While such education should not be disregarded, it should be secondary to lessons on the importance of family life and the joy and responsibilities that come with raising children.

Integrating family education into the curriculum can have several benefits. It can help students understand the importance of relationships and parenting, preparing them for future roles as partners and parents.

Additionally, it can shift societal attitudes towards valuing family life, potentially leading to more young people aspiring to have children. Schools can collaborate with parents and communities to reinforce these values, creating a supportive environment for future generations.

But unfortunately, all this looks feasible only on paper. There is a huge hurdle that is rarely discussed in the public sphere.

In the current cultural climate, instilling family values is particularly controversial. Japanese society has evolved to prioritize career development and economic contribution, especially for women.

Today, women are increasingly viewed as vital contributors to the workforce, a shift driven by both necessity and evolving gender norms particularly those pushed unabashedly by Western institutions.

To sustain economic growth and support the aging population, Japan needs more workers. Traditionally cautious about increasing immigration, Japan has instead turned to its female population to fill this gap.

Women are then encouraged, and in many cases expected, to pursue careers and remain in the workforce, thereby reducing the pool of young mothers available to raise the next generation.

Also, attempting to educate young Japanese women to prioritize motherhood over careers would likely provoke an extreme cultural and social backlash. In the current feminist-friendly climate, such an initiative would be vehemently opposed. Advocates of women's rights would likely brand it as regressive, sexist, and a step backward from the progress made in gender equality.

Implementing such a policy would require a larger-than-life visionary leader that unfortunately Japan does not

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