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Recently ranked 101 out of 145 nations (just ahead of Swaziland) in gender gap ratings according to the World Economic Forum, Japan is a world loser for gender equality. Japan’s National Tax agency in 2013 reported that the average salary of men is 502 million yen, while women stand at 268 million yen.These gender gap realities are the remains of the “housewives” era that continues to dominate in our culture, a working culture in which companies regard female employees as unreliable in the long run, and thus place women into replaceable positions since women employees tend to quit the workforce upon marriage, pregnancy or with the subsequent tasks of child-raising.
As a result of this vicious cycle, in a system where seniority is highly rewarded, less than 5 % of company board members are women in Japan.
Also, the harsh wage penalty makes it difficult for single mothers to live without assistance, since their household income is usually not sufficient to make a living with their child(ren).
As in America, there are increasing numbers of households of only a married couple, typically a newlywed couple without children who do not want to live with either set of parents, or married seniors whose children have all left, leaving them to live on their own in their retirement years.
Unlike in America, the incidence of unmarried couples living together is relatively small.
The figure represents an actual family in the Mizusawa area of Northeast Japan, the Satō family (a pseudonym).
The Satōs are close friends of the author of this article, since the days when the now great-grandfather was the new young head of his family and household forty-five years ago.
While many American students will enjoy having a widowed grandmother live with their family for a while, it is not the expected norm that it is in Japan. Whereas in America the grandmother typically "goes" to live with the family of one of her children, in Japan the expectation is that one of the children with family will live in the grandmother's house, i.e., in the natal home. Living in the natal home with the grandparents stands as a strong symbol of the intergenerational continuity of the stem family line, continuing from the founding ancestor to the living members of the family to an infinite number of generations in the future.
Multiple generation households, for example the great-grandparents, the grandparents, the young parents, and the small children, reflect an important feature of the concept of "the Japanese family," even though its expression in actual living arrangements, i.e., the household, has declined in the post-war years.
On the last day of the workshop, the students excitingly stated, “I’ve never received such compliments in my life.
Until now, I had belived that there was no strength within me.“ And, “This great experience gave me a totally new perspective.” Their enthusiasm faded, however, when they discussed their next steps: “After going back to Japan and graduating from school, how can I live? “Any job offers posted in our school as an all-female college were simply office workers positions,” they told me.