Man with kids: News at 11

Yesterday, the evening NHK news announced that judo Olympic star Ryoko Tani (also known in Japan as “Yawara-chan,” because she reminds people of a comic book hero by that name) would be running in the upcoming Upper House election. News articles in English appeared online this morning.

One interesting point of note is how the Japan Times article refers to the sangi-in (参議院) as the Upper House, while the Mainichi Shimbun and Japan Today articles refer to it as the House of Councillors. This is probably because the Japan Times writes its own articles (generally in American English), while the Mainichi and Japan Today typically buy the same translated story from the Kyodo News Service (which is typically in British English).

I certainly hope that the British English translation is not the reason for the final line at the very end of the Kyodo News article: “She gave birth to her second child last October.” This line does not appear in the Japan Times article.What on earth does this illuminating fact have to do with Tani running for office? If her husband, Yoshitomo Tani, decided to quit playing baseball for the Yomiuri Giants and run for office, would the news articles would end with, “He just had a child last October”?

One could draw several implications from the “she has a child” line. One possibility is that, because Ryoko Tani is a woman, she does not have the time to be an effective politician. Another is how difficult her life must be, being a judo athlete and having to raise a young child.

By herself? Where is the friggin’ guy?

The morning TV show Toku-dane commented extensively on the relationship between Ryoko Tani and the DPJ Party Secretary Ichiro Ozawa, but they saved the best for last: “And she has two children. She must be incredibly busy! That’s amazing!”

Again, doesn’t the baseball husband do anything? Or more to the point, isn’t he expected to do anything?

No doubt this is a big cultural difference (particularly between the U.S., where I was born, and Japan). U.S. male politicians practically bend over backwards to show off their children during campaigns, in order to demonstrate their “family man” credentials. Japanese male politicians don’t talk about their children at all. Are men in Japan really not expected to care about their kids?

This attitude was also evident in the media when Naoko Yamazaki went into space in April 2010. The Japan media touted her as “Uchu-okaasan” (Space Mom), and special attention was paid to her husband, who had quit his job in order to stay home and care for their children while she trained to become an astronaut.

Have you ever read a newspaper article or seen a TV show praising a male astronaut for having children? Imagine if there were one titled, “Man with kids! News at Eleven.” Or if TV commentators were to end a piece about a male politician or athlete with the words, “And he’s even got children! Amazing!”

Japan’s birthrate is the lowest among all industrialized nations, and it’s been going down each year for 29 years now. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s about time the men in Japan start actually paying attention to raising their children…and for the rest of society to start expecting them to.

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
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