Everyone hates cleaning the house, but women in Japan have little choice
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
On March 13, the BBC featured an interesting study conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which showed that Japanese men do only four hours of cooking, cleaning and other chores a week while Japanese women spend 29 hours a week on housework. The study was based on survey results from Canada, Russia, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Sweden and the US. Country comparisons indicated that, Japanese men spend the least amount of time on household chores representing only a quarter of the time that American men do, and only one-sixth of the time spent by Swedish men. This is not the first time that Japan has been criticized for gender inequality. The UN Human Development Index places Japan way down on the list in terms of development when a gender component is added to the equation. As to the reasons why Japanese men hardly contribute to housework, readers of the BBC article provided an avalanche of feedback describing why they thought Japanese men did so little at home.
One of the main reasons was pure laziness on the part of Japanese men. Kei, himself a Japanese man, commented, "to be honest, I must admit that Japanese men are relatively lazy when it comes to housework. In my opinion, Japanese men still have this kind of thought "Housework is women's". The whole idea of "women's work", claimed Shelly (UK), led to a more fundamental problem, namely a lack of respect for women in Japan. She argued that, " Japanese men need to learn how to behave in a civilised way towards their wives if they are to be considered an enlightened country. This is not about men being too lazy to do housework, it's about fundamental lack of respect towards women". The situation was even worse explained Jon and Yuka Poulton who described that Japanese men were simply incapable of taking care of themselves. The reason being that, "unfortunately Japanese men seem to be spoiled by their mothers as children and very few move away from home when it's time to go to university. They therefore miss out on the chance to fend for themselves and soon find themselves married and working without knowing how to iron a shirt or boil an egg. The situation is aggravated by the fact that women are still treated as second (or third?) class citizens in Japanese companies and in society in general". Uptal of India further commented that "Japanese men don't even know where the salt is, let alone do any housework".
There were some, albeit mainly men, such as Erwin of Saxon, UK who tried to defend Japanese men by pointing out that "Japanese industry (basically men) are probably the most hard working people in the world, often spending 16 hours a day in the office/factory". Sam of the United States further described a day in life of an average Japanese salary man: "06:30 - 07:15: Get up, have a little breakfast, then take a little stroll to the neighbourhood train station. 07:30 - 08:30: Commute to the city, take a little nap in the train. 08:30 - 09:00: Punch in at office, do a little morning exercises with colleagues. 09:00 - 17:00: Work like mad with a brief 30 minute lunch break. 17:00 - 19:00: Better put in an extra two hours of overtime work since nobody is leaving office before 7pm. There are 200 people going after a position that will soon be open during the next round of promotion. 19:00 - 21:00: Business dinner or dinner with colleagues.21:00 - 23:55: Better join those guys for a drink or karaoke otherwise he will be considered as outcast. 00:00 - 01:15: Catch the last train home. 01:15 - 02:00: Take shower, and hit the sack for his average four hours of sleep". The argument was that Japanese men simply don't have any time to do housework.
Nevertheless some such as, Colin of the UK, were dumbfounded by the fact that Japanese women had to spend so much time doing household chores. "Why do Japanese need to spent 29 hours a week on housework" questioned Colin, "I thought they are known for manufacturing and inventing labour-saving gadgets and machines! Dishwashers, washing machines (including the new almost-zero water invention), etc! The Japanese men should spend some money on buying their wives some of these machines".
Apart from these machines costing a mountain of cash in Japan, even if they were bought it would still be the women who used them. Admittedly, generation based differences do exist in Japan, with younger men helping out more in the house then before, however, gender stereotypes remain deeply imbedded in Japanese society and it is much more difficult for women in Japan to make their own decisions regarding life goals and ambitions. Japanese women are often socialized to abandon their career options once they get married. In fact, it is not only in Japan where women are "second class" citizens, but in almost every country in the world. Yet, the spotlight often falls on Japan because the contrast between its level of economic development and the lack of gender equality is so stark. Japanese women are among the most educated in the world, yet they do not have fair and free access to the labour market and most other options because of their sex. Gender equality is not about imposing one value system over another it is about guaranteeing that all have the freedom to choose. The fact of the matter is that most everyone hates housework because it is boring, non-challenging and doesn't pay. Women have the right to access rewarding life opportunities and men have the obligation to do their part, in all parts of the world, to share in household responsibilities. Women do not have a "sixth sense" for housework and men are not necessarily better in business then women. So why don't we all just cooperate and do our share.
- "Japanese men 'shirk housework'", BBC, March 13, 2002
- Housework: Are Japanese men too lazy?" BBC, March 14, 2002