Japan is somewhat of a closed society in that there are nowhere near as many foreign workers in Tokyo as you might find in London, New York or Paris. Also, like many nations in the West, the traditional demographic of women of child-bearing age having, on average, just over two children, was broken in the aftermath of World War II. The U.S, on the other hand, has recovered better than other developed countries, since we have been more successful in integrating our Immigrants–especially those with valuable work skills,
Up until the 1940s, women in most industrial societies stayed home, reared the children and took care of the house. The men where generally the sole breadwinners. During World War II, however, women joined the workforce when the men went off to the War. In Europe, fewer women assumed more permanent careers following the war, as compared to the U.S. In Japan, however, the idea of women working outside the home was virtually unheard of. Even today, the thought of working moms, especially those with young children, is still questioned–even by many other Japanese women.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come to realize that the otherwise energized Japanese economy is suffering from a lack of woman-power. The bottleneck here–a shortage of daycare slots, while there is a declining birthrate–seems counterintuitive. But, he has decided to lead the country down that path–as part of an economic strategy, referred to as “Abenomics”. Many Japanese women support Mr. Abe’s efforts, which also calls for more women in executive and managerial positions.
As it turns out, the necessary daycare workers must have a two-year early childhood degree, and pass a national exam, which is only offered once each year. Additionally, the salary approximately $2,500 per month, or less than that of a part-time convenience store employee. So, that really means that the people who have the necessary licenses look elsewhere for work.
Consider this additional fact: there is a greater shortage of slots in early childhood daycare centers than there is for those at senior citizen (dare I say “day care”) centers–even though the early childhood demographic is declining, while that of seniors is increasing. Perhaps that’s due to the typical Japanese focus on what is “important”–that is, until it’s not!
To demonstrate the importance of this shortage in Japan, which might be contributing to its economic stagnancy, consider the following vignette: A woman executive, on a recent trip to Tokyo, ran into an old friend whom she hadn’t seen for quite some time. The very first thing that the other lady said was: “I finally got a seat for my son in a daycare center near my home.” I surely don’t think that anyone would feel so excited to have found a slot for her Father!
In summary: Mr. Abe seems to realize that, with a shortage of young workers and an economy that has been on life support for some twenty years, his only option is to encourage women to join the workforce. To do that, he needs to continue to coax the birth-rate to continue to rise, while still making it possible for working moms to participate. To do that, he needs to multiply the availability of daycare slots exponentially.
In fact, I recently read that the sale of disposable diapers for adults, in Japan, had outstripped those for babies and toddlers, a couple of years back.