Tough Choices: Bearing an Illegitimate Child in Contemporary Japan

Tough Choices: Bearing an Illegitimate Child in Contemporary Japan

Tough Choices: Bearing an Illegitimate Child in Contemporary Japan

Tough Choices: Bearing an Illegitimate Child in Contemporary Japan

Synopsis

As is the case in Western industrialized countries, Japan is seeing a rise in the number of unmarried couples, later marriages, and divorces. What sets Japan apart, however, is that the percentage of children born out of wedlock has hardly changed in the past fifty years. This book provides the first systematic study of single motherhood in contemporary Japan.

Seeking to answer why illegitimate births in Japan remain such a rarity, Hertog spent over three years interviewing single mothers, academics, social workers, activists, and policymakers about the beliefs, values, and choices that unmarried Japanese mothers have. Pairing her findings with extensive research, she considers the economic and legal disadvantages these women face, as well as the cultural context that underscores family change and social inequality in Japan. This is the only scholarly account that offers sufficient detail to allow for extensive comparisons with unmarried mothers in the West.

Excerpt

A 14-year-old junior high school student from a middle class family finds herself unmarried and pregnant. It does not take long until her parents, her friends, her classmates, and everyone around her realize what has happened. Her parents, the gynecologist who confirms the pregnancy, and the school authorities all recommend an abortion as she is too young, needs to continue with her education, and would find it exceptionally hard to support herself and her child. Yet the young expectant mother is unwavering in her decision and eventually gives birth to her child outside marriage.

This is not a story of another teenage mother in the United States or the uk, where the numbers of such women have increased dramatically in postwar years, and where many people believe a whole host of social ills can be traced to the lapses of judgment of poor unmarried women who bear children they can ill afford. the girl in fact is called Miki and she is the protagonist of 14sai no Haha (A 14-Year-Old Mother), one of the most popular, as well as most controversial, Japanese television dramas in 2006. in contrast to many Western countries, unwed mothers in Japan are very rare and teenage unwed mothers even more so. Yet, for months after the last episode had aired, the drama continued to attract considerable attention. Part of the audience clearly believed that the drama, if in an exaggerated way, somehow refected social ills that young people in contemporary Japan are exposed to. in a survey by the National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association of Japan it was ranked as the second program parents were least willing to have their junior high school children watch. It also won the highest tv drama award of the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan in 2007 for it was judged to portray well the reality of an ordinary family and what can happen to it, thereby conveying an important social message.

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