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Child's Murder Unveils Lack of Sympathy for Japan's Single Mothers

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Screenshot of Yutaro Tanaka's blog.

A recent case in Japan highlights the predicament of single mothers in that country at a time when lack of childcare resources and social assistance are forcing children into dangerous situations.

In March 2014, a single mother in Yokohama, hoping to pick up a few extra shifts at the restaurant where she worked, contacted a babysitter whom she had never met over the Internet to care for her two toddlers. Two days later one of the toddlers was dead, apparently killed by the babysitter.

Months later, the case continues to be talked about, and the mother has faced a backlash on social media and from a local politician eager to score points.

Yutaro Tanaka, a municipal councillor from Tokyo’s Suginama Ward, used the incident to muse about the current perceptions of childcare in Japan in a March 2014 blog post:

大切な子宝を乳飲み子のうちから赤の他人に預けて憚らない風潮は、なぜ当然のようにまかり通っているのでしょうか。

How could a mother possibly hand over her young tots, her most precious treasure, to a complete stranger without even a second thought?

Tanaka, who admits to being unmarried and childless, also frets about a trend he has identified online called a daycare concierge:

「保育コンシェルジュ」という言葉にも、私は以前から不健康なものを感じていました。コンシェルジュというのは、「ホテルで、泊まり客の求めに応じて、街の地理案内や交通機関・観劇の切符の手配などをする係」と辞書にあります。観劇の切符の手配と、子供を他人に預ける手配が同列で良いのでしょうか。観劇の切符の手配と、子供を他人に預ける手配が同列で良いのでしょうか。

Even before this incident, for quite some time I have felt uncomfortable every time I have encountered the term “daycare concierge.” A concierge is someone, typically employed by a hotel who provides advice and information about local transportation, attractions, and nightlife.

Should handing over our children to a caregiver be as simple as getting tickets for a night out at the movies?

At the same time, the poverty and lack of support that forces single parents in Japan into these sorts of situations is getting worse.

Half of single-mother households in Japan now live below the poverty line, making Japan among the worst in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings. More than 48 percent of households headed by a single mother fall below the 1.25 million yen poverty line (about US$12,000 a year).

One reason for this increase in poverty rates is declining social welfare support for single-parent households combined with the decline of intergenerational households. In the past single parents, most often mothers, could be expected to live with parents who could provide help as caregivers and cover the cost of necessities such as rent.

On top of this, joint custody between parents is still relatively rare in Japan. Children receive little to no contact with the alienated parent, and the remaining single caregiver, typically the mother, receives little to no financial support.

As a result, single parents must work to support the household while somehow finding day care at a time when local governments are cutting back on childcare programs.

Yutarou Tanaka, the muncipal councillor from Suginami Ward, attracted criticism at the time for his blog post:

In his new blog post, Tanaka wonders if the mother is not somehow at fault. He's always using daycare to stir up controversy. If I lived in Suginami, I would never vote for this guy.

I was shocked when I read Tanaka's blog post – his way of thinking represents a total failure of imagination. Tanaka has been criticised in the past for a lot of the other stuff he has written on his blog, and it sucks that there are people in this world who hold his sorts of views.

LOL, this guy never changes, does he?

It turns out that Suginami councillor Takana was also notorious for an earlier blog post made about parents waiting for non-existent daycare spaces in Suginami, entitled “A Touch of Shamelessness, a Touch of Doubt” (一抹の忸怩なき待機親に一抹の疑義あり). In the 2013 blog post, Tanaka essentially argued that parents (and mothers in particular) should be assuming more responsibility for ensuring their children are taken care of.

Even in 2013, Tanaka's comments had created a storm of controversy:

…There's just so much wrong with his way of thinking, the worst of which is that parents (particularly working mothers) in Suginami are entirely responsible for providing childcare, with no help from Tanaka and the local government.

A common observation on Twitter was that, although there is absolutely no available daycare space in Tanaka's home ward of Suginami, the local politician is still criticizing a working mother using an unlicensed and unregulated childcare provider.

Councillor Tanaka is totally out of touch. Instead of taking responsibility as a public servant and suggesting ways to solve the problem, he's merely using his blog to create more worry and frustration for parents on waiting lists for childcare.

It was also noted that in 2013 Yutaro Tanaka had also scored cheap political points by visiting and hoisting the Japanese flag on the disputed Senkaku Islands (China, Taiwan and Japan all claim territorial rights over the islands. China refers to them as Diaoyu; Taiwan as Diaoyutai.) 

Tanaka's March 2014 blog post continues to attract a flood of comments. Said one commentor:

杉並区民として恥ずかしい。こんな現実見えない議員が居るなんて。
やめて下さい。

As a resident of Suginami Ward I'm embarrassed. This is a politician who is unconnected with reality, and should quit.

  • Alan Jeffrey Marcy

    I am sadly aware of the fact that in my country, also, there are working politicians who are too stupid to hold real jobs. Politics are just another religion. You must believe in magic to think those who sell their nonsense have any touch with reality. They call themselves conservatives. They are simply incompetent, but lie well. Some voters prefer pretty lies to the honest truth. Sigh.

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