Home Political science Capturing contemporary Japan: differentiation and uncertainty
Drop-in play centers have played a valuable role in connecting mothers of preschoolers who are relatively isolated in their communities of residence, which are now characterized by high mobility, low fertility rates, and the predominance of singleand nuclear-family households. Staff members strive to involve mothers and their children by creating a homelike, warm environment and by encouraging them to participate in the social interactions at the play Centers. When consulted by mothers, staff members listen to them sympathetically and create informal discussions of child-rearing issues by engaging other mothers, rather than by trying to give any single, “right” answer.3 Mothers themselves provide support as peers by sharing concerns among themselves. Users may not necessarily resolve their issues as the result of a discussion or consultation, yet my informants often told me that they “felt refreshed” (sukkiri shita) or “felt relieved” (ki ga raku ni natta) after talking to a staff member about an issue of concern. Therefore, the interactions that take place at drop-in centers can reduce the anxiety felt by young mothers.
It is worth emphasizing that the nonprofit organizations encourage mothers to act as helpers and supporters of child rearing rather than being the passive recipients of support. Drop-in play centers may also inspire mothers to use their existing skills and experiences and to explore future work possibilities through engaging in center activities. As a result, the involvement of mothers in a drop-in play center can give them a sense of belonging that they do not necessarily experience in their daily lives in their communities. While the nonprofit organizations certainly cannot revive the organic unity of a given community, it is significant that they are attempting to recreate social connections in metropolitan communities.
Because most research participants were recruited through the drop-in play centers, this study does not include the voices of mothers who, for a variety of reasons, do not use such centers, including those who are reluctant to meet or talk with others in public settings. It also excludes those who are not familiar with drop-in play centers. Among these are mothers of newborns and those who have only recently moved to their communities of residence. Further research on mothers who rarely use these centers and those who are not familiar with them would refine our understanding of the existing needs for child-rearing support. A focus on non-users is also important given that public welfare services do not always reach the people who need them. studies on public services for low-income clients in north america indicate that the services are often located outside their clients' neighborhoods and cannot be reached easily by public transportation (e.g., allard 2009; Peck 2008). None of my interviewees drove to visit the centers but usually came by bike or on foot. Thus the lack of an automobile in a family, a factor that is linked to a family's class status, did not necessarily limit access to drop-in centers. Nonetheless, access according to class—geographical or otherwise—remains largely underexplored and requires further research.
To assess the sustainability of child-rearing support through drop-in Play centers run by nonprofit organizations, the following two issues deserve consideration. The first is the matter of quality. As this study illustrates, staff members play important roles in connecting a mother to other mothers and to support providers outside the play centers. Unlike drop-in play centers managed and staffed by municipal bodies, those run by nonprofits depend heavily upon married women volunteers. As noted, some representatives of nonprofit organizations reported that they have not been able to attract a new generation of successors who would be likely to continue their operation. The limited availability of human resources to rejuvenate the existing support staff can pressure the staff to overwork and thus risk lowering the quality of support.
The second issue is a larger structural problem. The increase of drop-in centers run by nonprofit organizations further strengthens the dominant division of labor between married men in the formal employment sector and married women in the informal employment sector or in domestic roles. It is true that drop-in centers can provide opportunities of social engagement for married women during or beyond their child-rearing years, thus encouraging citizen participation in creating better social environments. Nonetheless, the existing easy reliance on nonprofit organizations to fill the social vacuum created by diminishing community ties can be seen as evidence of the state's reluctance to shoulder its responsibility and promote gender equality in patterns of child rearing and employment. The recreation of connections among relatively isolated young mothers is less valuable if it is achieved only at the cost of older mothers who provide the bulk of labor that is remunerated below its market value.
A Japan Foundation research Fellowship (2008–2009) funded the fieldwork in Japan for this project. I would like to thank Glenda roberts of waseda University for her kindness and generosity as a host researcher during my stay in Japan. I would like to express my deep gratitude to people who participated in this study. I would also like to thank Glenda roberts, susan Long, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.
1. Such is the case in many other nonprofit organizations in contemporary Japan.
For example, at the organization where i conducted fieldwork for my project on ash scattering ceremonies between 2002 and 2004, regular staff members and volunteers were remunerated, although the monetary rewards were sometimes referred to as “allowances” (okozukai) rather than as salaries or wages. See also nakamura (this volume).
2. A drop-in center must have at least two regular staff members. The number of Staff and volunteers varies greatly from center to center. For example, Play Center B had two regular staff and at least five regular volunteers, while Play Center C had only two regular staff and several occasional volunteers.
3. This pattern of interaction and guidance is also common in classroom settings. See Cave (this volume).
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