Japanese Mothers

Japanese Mothers

This past Shabbat I gobbled up Aliza Orbach’s thought-provoking and wonderful book To be a Mother (Yediot Books, Hebrew, להיות אמא). Each chapter focuses on the life of a different Israeli mother. One of my favorite chapters is about a 40-year-old mother of 5 named Carmel Ronen, who shared the following:

I lived in Japan for 4 years. I worked with Israeli companies helping them to enter the Japanese market. When I married Zeev, I returned to Israel. A Japanese woman who marries stops working and becomes a housewife. I promised my Japanese customers that that was not going to happen to me, but when Ayalon was born I decided that I was going to stop the work trips and flights and that I was only going to work as much as motherhood allowed…

I made a choice to replace one career with another– the children. To this day, when people ask me what I do, I answer, “I am a mother and household manager.” And when they say, “Ahh, so you don’t work…” I tell them what my day looks like: I take care of my babies, I nurse, I clean, I do laundry, I fold laundry, I iron, I cook, I take my children to school and bring them home, I drive them to their friends and afterschool activities. Excuse me, that’s not work?!

In Western society, what I do is considered less respectable and “not working.” In Japan, the system works differently, and in this regard I connect very strongly to the Japanese culture.

When a Japanese man gets married, he receives a raise in salary, so that his wife can take care of the home and the children and the family can live honorably on one salary.

The nickname in Japanese for a married woman is “Kami-Sama” which means G-d, and that is also the way society relates to her.

We, instead, see her as “the Little Woman.” In Japan, they give true respect to the job which is called “household manager.” The man is the one who brings home the money, but the woman is the one who decides what to do with it. Women in Japan don’t have to earn money to feel self fulfilled. They are free to study, to enrich themselves, to be with their children, to meet friends. That’s what I call feminism.


  1. Love it, would be wonderful if Americans would see motherhood the same way. Raising dignified human beings is quite the honorable job, despite the mundane tasks which motherhood involves. I’d like to compare mothering to building a beautiful building, the construction itself is a messy process, but the results are magnificent. May we all be blessed with magnificent results. Thanks for sharing Chana Jenny! Happy Purim Jewish Moms!😊

  2. I feel awkward about saying something, but I feel I must, based on constant articles I’ve read lately about problems with Japanese marriage and birth rates. I’m wondering why Aliza Orbach got such a rosy picture of Japanese family life?
    Two links:
    Japanese birth rates at a historic low: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30653825
    More than 1/3 of Japanese do not want to marry: https://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/33-of-japanese-think-marriage-is-pointless-survey
    And many many more articles of this nature. As far as I understand, Japan is undergoing a major crisis in their traditional family structure and I don’t think the author is accurate in saying Japanese woman are fulfilled at all 🙁

    • JewishMom

      my facebook fanpage (where I also posted this article) has gotten a lot of scathing comments about Japanese society. Anyone interested can look at http://www.facebook.com/jewishmoms

      • Thanks for allowing my comment 🙂
        I realize now that Aliza was simply reporting what the Israeli mom told her, sorry for accusing her of being inaccurate. But truly, Japanese culture is an awful in terms of normative gender relations by all accounts 🙁

  3. I also felt that this mother is ashamed with what she does. Why does she have to say household manager? Is she embarrassed to say stay at home mom?? She should be proud of what she does, not pretend it’s something else.
    Also when they say,”ahh you don’t work”, she jumps up to say, “yes I do, look how much work I do.” That also sounds so defensive. What happened to, “yes, you’re right I don’t work. I value staying at home with my children as the idealistic way to live, and I’m proud of that.”

  4. I’m thinking:
    Household Manager is a job description and a helpful way to think about ourselves and describe ourselves to others, while Akeret Bayit is an essence: no matter how much time I spend on my career outside of home, I still embody the essence of being the support beam of my home.

    • JewishMom

      beautiful, thank you noga. akeret habayit–the essence of the home.

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