Looking for a Husband: On Single Parenthood in Japan

looking.jpg

Looking for my husband. Have you seen him? Image, courtesy.

Alright guys, buckle up. I am going to tell you my single parenthood experience in Japan. I prefer the term “single parent” to “single mother”; semantics, I know, but married or not, a mother is a mother. The parenting bit is the one that is single.

Where is your husband?

Whenever I am with Jeremy and I meet people (mostly old ladies) in my neighbourhood in Japan – the pool, the supermarket etc, the first question out of their mouths after remarking just how cute Jeremy is, is:

やっぱりご主人は先端大学ですね。

Which roughly translates to:

Your husband must be (studying or working) in JAIST.

So JAIST, my uni, is the main ‘source’ of foreigners around; about half the student population is made of international students and maybe 30% of the faculty and researchers. It’s a valid assumption. However, the assumption that it must be my husband studying or working and not me, that I have grown tired of.

“No, I am the one studying there.” I always reply.

This is then inevitably followed by a shocked face because how can you be studying and you are a mother?? This is Japan after all. Everything, even the path that people are supposed to follow in life, has a certain order. As a woman, you work hard, go to good schools so you can meet a husband with potential, and once you get your first kid you must drop out of work to look after your child. (Everyone works to ensure this order is maintained. “Many institutions incentivize this arrangement: Japanese corporations often give husbands whose wives stay home a bonus, and the Japanese tax system punishes couples with two incomes. “ – and recently on the news, it emerged that at a Tokyo medical university lowered scores of female applicants because it didn’t want too many women in the workplace.)You are supposed to finish school, even PhD if you must, before you start a family.

Anyway, back to my conversations. Once the old ladies process the shock of me being the one in school, the next question almost always is:

Your husband is Japanese?”  as they try to catch a second or third glimpse of Jeremy to see if he’s “half”.

“No.”

Your husband is in Japan?

“No.”

Where is your husband?

“I don’t have a husband.”

This usually ends up leaving them so shocked and confused that most of the time, they stop talking to me altogether. Maybe they think I misunderstand the question. Mostly, they will repeat the question in another form.

You mean your husband is in your country?

“No, I mean I am not married.”

Their voices drop to a whisper, as if to ask some embarrassing secret.

Are you divorced?

“No, I never got married in the first place.”

Most single parents in Japan are as a result of divorce. Rarely are any kids born to unwed parents.

To go to a foreign country, live there, study there while bringing up a child, as a single parent… that’s so out of order with the Japanese set way of life that this ends the conversation, because they just can’t comprehend it.

Why Didn’t I Get Married?

Of course, I think that it’s better for a kid to be brought up by both his/her parents. Better yet, by a community, as it used to happen a long time ago – older siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But this is the 21st century and it’s nuclear families all the way.

In my case, I couldn’t marry Jeremy’s dad for many reasons including the fact that I wasn’t ready to get married then to him or anyone else, and he was also married at the time anyway. So I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be a single parent. He doesn’t support us in any way and I have no expectations. However, I do want Jeremy to have some kind of relationship with him, because he (Jeremy) is already asking me where his father is. Lines of communication are open and maybe they will meet soon.

On Single Parenthood (in Japan)

So the other day at this part time job I do, a colleague asked me:

Your husband is in Japan?

“No.” So tired of the question by now, lol.

Your husband is in Kenya?

“No. I’m a single parent.”

Heeee… taihen! taihen! taihen!” she exclaimed. That’s like saying “oh, terrible, terrible! terrible!

WTF?

I know a lot of married women with kids. Are they living in heavenly bliss?

Do they put their feet up, sipping tea and enjoying massages while their husbands do everything?

(Most of) the married women I know have to do even more housework than I do, in addition to school/work. They have to do an extra set of laundry, dishes, have to plan meals for one extra person. They have to provide emotional, psychological, etc support for more people (including husband’s side of the family maybe).

They do not have it easy just because they are married. I have nothing against marriage and in fact, I look forward to someday enjoying some nuptial bliss myself, but I enjoy my life as it is right now, with the freedom and responsibilities alike that it embodies.

I guess there is one important difference between being a single parent in Japan and in Kenya: income disparity. The economic gap between married mothers and single mothers  is huge here. (Please see this article on why Japan is the worst place to be a single mother, aside from Islamic countries I guess). I read somewhere (can’t find the link now) that the average savings for a married household is 10,000,000 yen, while for single mothers(most single parents are women so I am back to using “singe mothers”) is 500,000 yen. Imagine that, 10million vs 500k!

This is because Japan is very discriminatory towards women in the workplace. People work reaaaaallly late hours here. For example, my neighbour in JAIST stays in the lab until 3am every single fucking day; because of pressure to get results from his supervisor. People stay in the workplace until 8 or 9pm, then leave for drinking parties with business partners where they bond etc until past midnight. As a mother, you have to leave work at 5pm or earlier, so how can you keep up with the overtime or networking?. Taking maternity leave could also hurt your career as it’s hard to rejoin the workplace. Single mothers are left with no choice but minimum wage/part time jobs, and these jobs not only pay very low wages but they have no benefits like health insurance, pension, housing allowance, etc.

Unlike in Kenya where we can hire nannies for cheap (because the unemployment  and poverty rates are really high), here ordinary people cannot afford nannies full time to take of their kids while they work. In Kenya, being a single mother will not harm your career as you can have a full-time nanny so you can even travel for work. In Japan, even finding a babysitter is impossible. I have never found a babysitter I could pay in rural Japan – I mostly rely on my network of friends.

This obviously puts the single mother in Japan at a disadvantage. If a woman is married, the husband can work all the long hours, and his salary will go to his wife’s account (yes, this is true in most cases) who will then budget it and give the husband a daily allowance for the train etc. The wife stays at home and looks after the kids. Everyone is happy, right? The husband is basically a walking ATM who never sees his family. I think the Japanese housewife enjoys this life more, no?

I wouldn’t enjoy being a housewife though. But I can understand why someone would make the choice.

The Japanese government tries to support single parents by for example, providing full cover for health insurance. We of course pay a monthly contribution depending on our income , where in the usual case the national health insurance covers 70% of the cost. For single parents, it will cover 100% of the cost. There is also a discount on the cost of nursery school. And a monthly welfare cheque. However, these are peanuts compared to the cost of living in the real world in Japan, especially if you are forced to do min.wage hourly or part time jobs.

However, I think that my case is different.

I am a PhD student living in a remote campus. Rent here is quite low. I don’t spend anything on the commute as I live within the campus itself. I have a scholarship that is just enough to keep a single person on the poverty line, but with the little welfare from city hall, Jeremy and I can stay afloat and even afford traveling sometimes.

Yes,I have spent long hours working on my PhD, but unlike my colleagues in physics and chemistry, I don’t have to be physically in the lab to do my work.  I can work on my laptop even when at home. I usually go to the lab from 9am to 4pm, pick J up and spend time with him till his bedtime at 9pm; then I can go on working till late in the night. I am very lucky that I have a very understanding supervisor who even changes meeting times to accommodate my schedule, and also gives me jobs like RA or TA so I can earn some extra income.

Some time next year, I may join a major company for a professional career, where I hope to make (more than) enough money. However, I don’t know how life as a single mother in the industry in Tokyo will be like, even as Jeremy will be joining elementary school. I can only say that am cautiously optimistic.

Social Life? What’s That?

Because of my busy schedule – PhDing and single parenting, I don’t have any semblance of a social life. There are no babysitters here, so Jeremy and I spend all evenings and weekends in each other’s company.  My social life wouldn’t be better anyway even if I were married (a social life in rural Japan while doing a PhD, haha), but at least I wouldn’t be swiping Tinder at 3am on nights when I can’t sleep. Should I blog about the horror stories from the Tinder dates I have had with Japanese guys? (Update: I did the post).

Anyway, my busy schedule is soon coming to an end as the PhD is almost over (I defended my thesis yesterday). I will soon move to Tokyo and I hear social life there is vibrant.

Looking for a Husband

But wait a minute, could my colleague who said it is “taihen” to be single be right? Is marital bliss so good? Perhaps it is time I found a husband so I can finally continue the conversations with the Japanese ladies whom I left frozen in time, “unable to process”. A husband’s companionship  and support – financial, physical, emotional, etc. – would be welcome. I don’t want to get cats just yet.

When I googled for an image to accompany this post, I found out I am not the only woman looking for a husband on the internet. I am seriously considering it though :P.  Any interested candidates (men) should send me an email through the contact page.

I suppose I should list some requirements.

Age– as I am not an ageist, 21+ ~  ∞ lol, Dracula is welcome to apply. Must be smart. At least taller than me. Spiritual maybe ok, but not religious. Must be willing to share household duties. Should love traveling, it is the one thing we can do together. Enjoy the occasional drink. And some dancing, doesn’t have to be good at it because I’m not either.

Must be willing to relocate to Tokyo for now, because otherwise being in a long distance marriage is like being a single mother all over again.

On a serious note though, it is very easy to enjoy single parenting when you have financial security (or the promise of it based on your career). I am happy single, I don’t think I would be any happier married, but it would be nice to have companionship.

To my fellow single parents(mothers), remember you are the one who turned up and took responsibility. Single mothers are not the problem, absent fathers are.

P.S. If you are going to leave a comment on this post, please leave your religious dogma at the door first.

P.P.S Questions are welcome 🙂

This entry was posted in Blog, Japan, Life in Japan, Motherhood, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Looking for a Husband: On Single Parenthood in Japan

  1. Renah Mokaya says:

    Nice read as usual.Pass my love to Jay….I hope love finds you

    Like

  2. Eva says:

    Your blog is a really good read… Keep it up and all the best in your final stretch…

    Like

  3. Ruff says:

    Truth be told, there are many women wishing they were you. Your son is one of the happiest babies, (aside from mine of course), seeing you every single day. Been alone with mine (called him my handbag) for 12 years, tagged along on ALL except work travels and for the first time this year, I traveled without him. And I miss him so. Dropped to and picked from school from when he was 4 until he joined boarding this year at 12. I didn’t know what to do as it had become routine. After some time, you get used to that life and I salute you for being available for that boy at this tender age. He has no idea how lucky he is. As for you husband hunting, all the best…………….

    Like

    • SK says:

      Thanks, I am sure you understand 🙂

      Boarding school at 12? I went to boarding school at 11 and I hated, hated, that experience. If I have a choice, my son will never set foot in a boarding school. But I am sure you made the right decision of course 🙂 . Situations are different.

      As for husband hunting, I wish they would just sit still and be hunted haha.

      Like

  4. Mike says:

    I like you, you are always honest as I believe it and I wish you all the very best as you look for your prince charming.

    Like

  5. I’m loving that I get to learn more about the Japanese and their culture through. It’s quite sad that even with their levels of development the work environment doesn’t favour women more so single ones. Is this because of their culture, or is it will what you shared in an earlier post about Japanese culture being about order?
    I’m looking forward to your posts once in Toyko and doing the 9-5 . All the best in your husband hunt and of course we want to read about the tinder dates.

    Like

    • SK says:

      I am not sure how the traditional culture used to be, but we can safely assume it was patriarchal. After WWII when Japan was rebuilding, they reinforced a systematic way of doing things, including modeling the work environment exclusively for men and encouraging women to stay home and look after the kids. It worked for a while but now change has arrived, but Japan has not caught up with the times. They are extremely risk averse and thus don’t like change, they consider they’re the “perfect society”. There is probably a research article about this.. They have a lot of rules that govern everything from social etiquette (such as gift giving) to the overall rule of law. And in Japan community comes above individual. It’s an entire field of study, Japanese culture, which persists even in the current times.

      Like

  6. Betty Nyongesa says:

    This is a very good read totally, the only predicament is when J starts asking about his dad, boys do, for psychological security and support, absentee fathers are a menace to the society. The rest you have handled so well kudos, yeah in kenya single parenthood is normal, so i understand how shocking it is out there, 😄 and hey kudos for the great finish on your PHD , well done…..b

    Like

    • SK says:

      Thanks Betty! That’s why I am looking for a “new daddy” lol.
      But seriously, I hope Jeremy can get to meet his dad and maybe spend summers/holidays with him. I will not stand in the way of their relationship, even if he never provides any other kind support.

      Like

  7. Nice read. Honestly I had missed your Bloggs. .I like your choice of words and humour in it. .👏👏

    Like

    • SK says:

      Thank you! I am a very good writer when I am inspired, I am always glad when people enjoy reading the post. Finishing the PhD has really freed my mind to blog again.

      Like

  8. Mgagaa na upwa says:

    Oh nice blog

    Like

  9. Gitts says:

    Great read. All the best with all the endeavors. Work and social. Waiting for the tinder post…

    Like

  10. Please get a cat. It might attract a husband, you know how they’re crazy about cats there.
    PS: Can I give you some homework and you go visit a cat cafe, so I can live vicariously through you?

    Like

  11. Zenah Nyagogwa says:

    Nice blog Harriet! I totally enjoyed reading it more than once! You’re indeed a great writer No Doubt! Wishing you all the BEST!

    Like

  12. Lucy says:

    Wow! I just loved this read plus the transparency in it

    Like

    • SK says:

      Guess transparency is a requirement of good writing! We’ve got to be honest with ourselves.

      Like

    • Fred Nyator says:

      I’m a very young gentle man at the age of 29 to 30 years off age. I’m from a country called Ghana and I lived in the capital town of Ghana called Accra Ghana. My name is Fred Nyator I’m someone who is very kind intelligent and very lovely I’m someone who is physically strong. And please with all humidity accent you to give me the chance are opportunity for me to be able to be your partner or to be your husband to make you happy in life once again. Please let me live my contact to you if anything you can reach me through this contact and I will have more for you ±233205751938 that is my WhatsApp content so you can send me a WhatsApp for us to discuss more. Thanks so much for your time? Love you

      Like

  13. Great piece.love reading your blog.I should look for you next time am in Tokyo

    Like

  14. Gideon Bosire says:

    Love will finally find you,I have gone through this piece and I attest it is a a masterpiece.Very phenomenal and postive to all populations across the world.Pass my regards to Jeremy Harriet(my childhood buddy)

    Like

  15. Ann W. says:

    Very nice article. I was a single parent to my son for 7yrs before we got a new daddy. I enjoyed those years and I am enjoying this other side too. All is not bleak in marriage but yes you must always make sure you don’t die to self for the other person to live. All the best!

    Like

  16. So glad I found your blog! This was a nice read. I had a feeling about how single motherhood is in Japan, but this confirms it. I’ve always been interested in starting a non-profit that offers support to single mothers in Japan, so this just further pushed my passion.

    Like

    • SK says:

      hi, thanks for reading. Yes, life is hard here for working mothers in general but single mothers have it particularly hard. A support organization would be nothing short of invaluable. Support in any form, psychological, etc would go a long way.

      Like

  17. Elizabeth Mugo says:

    I have enjoyed this read Harriet. I am still translating the terrible bit of being a single mum. Can’t wait for your blog on life in Tokyo.

    Like

    • SK says:

      It’s not been too bad for me as I have been able to complete my PhD in time, but I think Tokyo won’t be as easy. I am willing to give it a try though.

      Like

  18. Remy MOREAU says:

    https://www.diaryfrenchpua.com/english/couple-status-symbol/

    Seems it same in all the country who are developed we don’t see the relationship whith thé other sex in another contexte than the “normal” way…

    Like

    • SK says:

      That’s true, the link you just shared. We now have this defined standard for a couple and “the happiness model imposed to everybody” which means people cannot understand when you’re not following the so-called standard.

      Like

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