Perhaps not everybody sees a young women passing by with two poodles in a stroller and thinks: "wow, that's revolutionary!" But I do. As far as I am concerned, Tokyo's "doggy boom," is nothing less than a quiet feminist revolution.
In Japan, where the social security system has been bungled beyond recognition and the low birthrate has everyone freaking out about the future, the government is beside itself looking for ways to convince women to give birth more often.
As a result, the health ministry has been going around telling women that it is their national duty to have lots and lots of babies. Proclaiming that the fate of the nation is at hand, officials are trying to mobilize a collective feeling of guilt in order to bully these reluctant young women into motherhood.
But it is not working!!!!
Instead, Japanese women of my generation are getting puppies instead. Presently, there are even more dogs in Japan than there are children under ten.
Some say it's because these young women grew up during the bubble economy, knowing none of the hardships that bound their parents and grandparents together as a nation rebuilding itself out of ruin. For this reason, the women are less responsive to calls of "national responsibility".
Having always relied upon myths of "guilt" and "national duty" to control women's bodies in the past (it also didn't help that oral contraception wasn't legalized here until 1999), Japanese patriarchy is currently at a loss regarding how to regain that power. (Keep in mind that a mass conversion from Shintoism to Evangelical Christianity is not really an option. Ha!)
So in this panic, we've had the health minister making the much referred to (by me) "birth-giving machine" slip. All the while, very few people in parliament are looking into the real reasons why Japanese women don't want kids. But they will have to, eventually, should the present trend continue.
For my job, I visit two or three different Japanese families every weekday. As I enter into their homes and glimpse at their daily lives, I cannot overlook how tired all of the mothers appear. These women seem to always wear pretty smiles, and yet their eyes are just exhausted. Many look as if the life has been sucked right out of them. (Only one mother who employs me also works outside the house, and interestingly, she seems a lot more energized). While their husbands are out working themselves domestically invisible, the majority of Japanese mothers are both married women and functionally single parents.
Daycare and babysitting services are not only sparse and costly here in Japan, they are highly stigmatized.
Many mothers here are highly educated, yet have set aside their careers to raise children. "Maternity leave," is entirely at the discretion of individual employers, who, along with the rest of society, tend to assume that a woman will quit her job as soon as she becomes pregnant (if for some reason she hasn't already quit upon marriage). So much makes it immensely difficult for any female in Japan to climb the corporate ladder (but that is a rant for another day).
When the five-year-old girl at my former Japanese homestay family started kindergarten, the school sent her mother heaps of fabric and sewing instructions for making her child's school bag, school cap, lunch bag, excursion bag, and smock. Having the same bags etc. as all the other students in her class was not only socially wise, it was mandatory. And on top of all that, my former homestay mother explained to me that the other mothers would be decorating the children's materials with various embroidery, to show off their housewifing skills. As a result, she felt pressured to decorate her child's bags and smocks with little embroidered flowers and animals, so that her child wouldn't be teased by the other students for her plain-looking accessories. This is only one occasion for which the woman spent many sleepless nights to fulfill her "duties".
She, and and so many other mothers I've met, seemed to be ruled entirely by the fear that society might bestow upon them the stigma of all stigmas: that of a neglectful parent, or "a bad mother".
Now let's look at puppies, on the other hand. Dogs greet you when you return home, love their owners unconditionally, and will only scowl mildly when dressed up in frills and made to parade around town in a stroller. They do not need babysitting, you don't have to press their school uniforms every night, and there are few social norms in place that might declare someone a "bad dog mother" for neglecting trivial busywork.
The choice should be obvious.
Furthermore, seeing as puppies don't tend to wake their single-parent owners by crying all night long, this "doggy boom" is a quiet revolution in more ways than one.