• Life & Culture

Being a Mom in Japan: Life, Work & Childcare

mother walking along beach with child

No matter where they are in the world, all mothers know they face the same universal task. That is, the triumphant but taxing job of raising a child that is a positive influence on the world around them, and helping that child overcome life’s obstacles as they spring up. 

For all the joy and warmth this journey holds in store, being a mom is no mean feat.

Now, imagine you are becoming a mother in a new country, with a fiercely unique culture such as Japan, and are responsible for raising a child to adhere to a society with customs that may be unfamiliar to you. Daunting, right?

It doesn’t have to be! If you are moving to Japan, and find yourself faced with the prospect of being, or acting, as a Japanese mom for the first time, do not fear. This helpful guide will explain the typical characteristics of a Japanese mother, what a typical routine may be, and the differences between a Japanese mom and their western counterparts, so you can look forward to your motherhood quest with only positive thoughts.


What are Japanese mothers like?

The first thing to note about Japanese mothers is that there is a special bond between the mother and child in Japanese society. The family unit is seen as very important, and the mother-child relationship is viewed as one of the key factors influencing a child’s attitude. 

This is especially true with mothers of children below the age of three, which is the age when most children get sent off to kindergarten. Before this age, Japanese moms perform a particularly protective role with a lot of physical contact. The emphasis on maternal upbringing at this stage is intrinsic in Japanese culture, and services like babysitting are not popular.

Despite this, Japanese children, by and large, are noted for their high level of independence at an early age, in comparison with other countries. It is common for children as young as six to ride public transport on their own to get to their school. 

This independence occurs also because Japan is viewed by its inhabitants as generally very safe – after all, it’s rare for bikes to be locked up even in big cities, such is the low rate of crime. 

Meanwhile, another key trait of Japanese mothers and fathers is that they place a lot of merit on their child’s emotional state. Of course, we’re not saying that this is something parents in other countries don’t do, but in Japan, it is encouraged that parents consistently positively reinforce their child’s actions and keep criticisms to a minimum. 

That being said, it’s uncommon for Japanese parents to do this publicly. Children are taught to practice discipline and it’s rare for their moms and dads to praise or scold them in front of a group of other people.

However, that’s not to say that Japanese parents don’t act when their children are being particularly over-excitable…


How do Japanese moms discipline their children?

As with many aspects of Japanese culture, Japanese moms have practiced the art of disciplining their children so well that they have a particular word for it – that word is shitsuke.

This word denotes one notable characteristic of Japanese parents that many visitors observe when arriving in Japan. This is that Japanese mothers rarely engage publicly with their children if they are misbehaving. Instead, they often choose a private, quiet moment to reprimand or discipline their child.

It all comes back to the Japanese belief in teaching children to self-regulate their emotions and to some extent their self-expression. Children are expected to respect authority and look after their own problems, so it’s important to set boundaries early on.


What is a Japanese mother’s routine?

Like parents around the world, a Japanese mother’s fundamental job, alongside the father, is to make sure the household runs smoothly and efficiently.

One thing common in Japanese mothers’ daily routines is preparing ‘bento’ boxes (lunch boxes in English), which contain delicious snacks and consumables. These are always meticulously prepared, as it is a source of pride for a child to have the best bento box at lunch.

With that in mind, here is an example of a routine that Japanese moms may work to:


7:00 – Waking up.

7:30 – Preparing and eating breakfast

8:30 – Household chores

13:00 – Prepare and eating lunch 

14:00 – Household chores

17:00 – Preparing dinner

18:30 – Eating dinner 

19:00 – Relaxing

21:00 – Preparing bento boxes for the next day

23:00 – Go to bed


Of course, every mom’s routine is different, so fill out your day however suits you best. It’s worth noting that this is the routine of a stay-at-home mom in Japan.


What is the difference between Japanese and western moms?

As we’ve already mentioned, Japan has a unique style of parenting, and this at times can seem in contrast with the western style. Here are some key differences between Japanese and western mothers’ parenting traits:


Physical presence

For one thing, Japanese moms often spend more physical time with their children during the first two years of life than their western counterparts. 

It is thought that Japanese moms spend, on average, only two hours per week away from their children, compared to American mothers, who spend a full day away from their children in a week.


Increased focus on independence

Another difference between the two styles of parenting is the fact Japanese moms give their children more room to find out things on their own. For example, they often let their children travel to school and do leisure activities independently at a relatively young age.


Educational attention

Of course, parents everywhere will try and instill in their children the drive to succeed educationally, but this is particularly true in Japan, where academic achievement is viewed as vitally important. By and large, Japanese mothers and fathers will be more strict when it comes to getting those grades.


Preventing problems before they arise

Japanese moms will go to great lengths to try and solve a child’s needs before they become an issue. This is largely possible because of the extended amount of time that the average Japanese mother spends with their child. 

Where western parents may be more reactive to a child’s errant behaviour, there is an increased focus on fuss prevention in Japan.


What’s it like to work as a Japanese mother?

There’s no getting around it: Japanese working hours are long – some of the longest in the world. And combining that with the constraints of child-raising and working as a Japanese mother can hold a particular set of pressures.

According to Japanese government statistics, long working hours can make child care and keeping a career  “unfeasible”, and this is one of the main reasons why Japanese women leave their employment after giving birth.

However, this looks to be changing. Conditions are steadily improving for employed mothers in Japan, and in the most recent fiscal year which ended in March, roughly 71 percent of women with children were employed. That represents a 14 percentage point gain since 2004 and is the greatest level of employment ever recorded.


What are the childcare options for Japanese moms?

Indeed, there are ways to ensure you can meet the demands of both working and home life. Japan’s public daycare (hoikuen) is a government-funded system whereby mothers can leave children between 56 months and 6 years old in the care of a qualified practitioner, although there can be high waiting lists. If you can manage to get your child enrolled in a public daycare centre, this is an affordable childcare option.

There are also private daycare options, which, despite requiring higher fees than their public counterparts, have the benefit of flexibility as these companies typically cater to differing schedules more easily. Also, private daycare centres may offer a better range of bilingual services, which is ideal if you would like to teach your child English as well as Japanese.

Asides from this, it’s worth noting that over the decade, Japanese culture has shifted somewhat, meaning less and less of the child-raising burden is being placed on the mother. Men these days are more likely to pick up more of the share of household responsibilities. 

So, when all is said and done, don’t let the idea of working as a Japanese mother be something that prevents you looking forward to your new adventure.


The Last Word on being a Japanese mom

The truth is, no matter how you choose to parent your child, being a mother is one of life’s great adventures. And despite the cultural differences that may exist between Japanese mothers and moms in other places, it is for all a journey that will broaden perspectives and give life deeper meaning. 

If you are moving to Japan with a little one already here or on the way, we hope this guide has provided an answer to some of the questions you have had. 

Japan, despite being a country that values modesty and independence, is a community-based society that will help you support and nurture your child.

Get in touch with us today for more help on Japanese social customs, careers and more.

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