An Insider's comments on Japan's high tech business world

* * * * * * * * * TERRIE’S TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

General Edition Monday, Apr 29, 2019, Issue No. 989

– What’s New — Psychological Challenges of Being a New Mother in Japan
– News — So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?
– Events — New “Friends of Carlos Ghosn” group
– Corrections/Feedback
– Travel Picks — Yagiri Crossing on Edogawa, Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum
– News Credits


+++ Psychological Challenges of Being a New Mother in Japan

On December 26th, 2012, in his inaugural speech as the newly elected
Prime Minister, Shintaro Abe announced that his administration would
create a country in which women are dynamically engaged and in which
it is easy for them to raise children. He even announced a new
position in his cabinet, being the Minister in Charge of Support for
Women’s Empowerment and Child-Rearing. Although the government has had
7 years to fulfill this promise, the reality is that having a baby is
just as difficult now as it always was for aspiring career-minded
mothers. Indeed, in some ways it feels as if we are going backwards,
because promoting women in the workforce appears to have taken a back
seat to the country’s many other threats, from extreme weather and
earthquakes to Trump trade wars and possible real (territorial) wars
with China.

While it’s understandable that the public’s attention is drawn by
existential threats, the very existence of Japan itself will in any
case be threatened if there are no Japanese left to populate it.
Therefore, there is no more appropriate time to do what needs to be
done than now, and which is to allocate sufficient budget, resources,
and the leadership necessary to give young women the confidence to
start having babies again. Not just budget for more buildings and
helpers, but also psychological support for women isolated by the
demands of modern society, and who are cut off from their extended
families and other support networks. We also need core changes in the
attitudes of the nation’s law makers – those mostly cynical old men
who run the country, spouting fine speeches while giving very little
of substance.

Today we thought we’d take a look at some of the psychological
pressures that young mothers are up against, and why so few moms are
willing to have kids these days. The following material comes from
interviews with new moms sharing their challenges and concerns.

The challenges start well before child birth, when a pregnant woman is
forced to confront the costs of having a baby.

Japan has a policy of supporting new mothers-to-be with check-ups, and
each local government issues “Nimpu Kenko Shinsa Jushin-hyo” (prenatal
health care) tickets that are supposed to cover the primary costs of
pregnancy. However, in reality there are surcharges up to about
JPY8,000 per visit (if you have shakai hoken). Since most pregnant
moms go to see the doctor once a month until the second trimester,
then late in the second trimester every two weeks, and when almost at
full term (the last month) every week, that’s about 20 visits at
around JPY200,000… plus transport, plus babysitter fees if you have
another young child at home. In contrast, mothers in the USA will
usually have health insurance and a co-pay of just US$20. Even the
health insurance cost/coverage in the USA is cheaper and better for
pregnancy. In one interviewee’s case, in Hawaii her health insurance
was just US$200/month and this covered all eye, dental, pharmacy, and
of course having the baby. Japan’s much vaunted shakai hoken on the
other hand costs the average wage earner about US$500/month, and comes
with many exceptions and gaps on what is covered (such as the actual
birth cost).

Let’s not forget, either, that what you are buying for your
JPY8,000/visit out of pocket is pretty pitiful. Whereas in most
western countries you can expect your doctor to take time and do a
proper consultation, lasting maybe up to an hour, in Japan you’re part
of a medical factory line. You don’t get to ask questions, the clinics
are packed, and waiting with little kids is a nightmare (which is why
you need a babysitter). Basically the patient is dehumanized.

Back to the costs. The government munificently provides a subsidy
(“josei-kin”) to offset actual birthing costs. Currently the amount is
JPY420K, which sounds generous until you consider that while indeed at
a countryside hospital if you share a room you can get a birth done
for this amount or even slightly less, in Shibuya if you want a single
room, you’re looking at JPY800K or more. The problem with the
countryside equation is that most working moms with careers live
“downtown”, and a shared room isn’t going to work if you want your
partner to be with you after the birth. So, again, you’re made to feel
part of a factory line – which may have been appropriate 50 years ago,
but Japan is supposedly far beyond the militaristic society it used to

[Article continues below…]

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Terrie’s Take) at:

[…Article continues]

Oh, and these costs only apply if you can actually find a hospital
that will take you. Competition for hospital rooms in central Tokyo is
severe enough that most women start looking for a hospital as soon as
they find out that they are pregnant. And of course you have to show
up in person at the hospital to make your application – nothing is
done online yet – so you can throw in the cost of a few cab rides and
more babysitting as well.

Next, we get to the childbirth process itself and the psychology
behind it. Generally speaking, there are 3 options for having a baby.
Do it the conventional way at a larger hospital, opt for an
alternative birth at a mid-wife’s facility or a water birth, or
“cheat” and do a (relatively) painless epidural birth. There are also
C-sections, although in Japan these are generally performed when a
medical condition threatens the health of mother and/or baby and not
because it’s a personal option.

First-time Japanese moms are avid readers of everything that can go
wrong in birth and the fear factor is high – so for this reason most
opt for the relative safety of a major hospital. But while a clinical
environment does get you sophisticated help if you suddenly need it,
there are also plenty of downsides. Among these are: the cost –
especially in inner city hospitals; the “habits” of Japanese doctors
who worry more about their schedules and convenience than patient pain
and discomfort – for example, the prevalent use of episiotomies
instead of allowing the mother more time to stretch fully. Then there
is the authoritarian attitude of the staff, which can prevent the Dad
from being at the birth, the sharing of hospital recovery rooms and
thus a lack of peace and quiet for a recuperating mom and baby, and,
speaking of lack of privacy, the tendency to invite interns and
non-medical staff to view the show when the mom is delivering (OK, she
might have the top half blocked off by a curtain). Anyway, you get the
idea, some aspects of Japanese maternity hospitals can be rather

Alternative births such as using a mid-wife or doing a water birth are
becoming rarer these days, even though both are cost-effective and
much kinder to the mother. Giving birth with an experienced mid-wife
is a revelation in knowledge and patient-care. Generally the partner
is allowed to stay with the mother both before, during, and after
child birth, making the event a family experience and giving the
partner a deeper appreciation of what the mother is going through.
This sharing of preparation, pain, and jubilation is remarkably
lacking in Japanese families and in our opinion is one of the
contributing factors to the breakdown of familial relationships a few
years later.

Mid-wives are more likely to offer practical advice to get the mom
ready for the big event, ranging from how to do yoga poses to orient a
baby which is upside down, through to walking up and down stairs to
get the fetus to drop down and speed up a slow delivery. This is in
contrast to hospitals, where busy doctors quickly resort to surgery to
get things straightened out. The downside to a midwife is when there
is an emergency and sudden action is required. This is probably the
biggest reason these low-cost providers are disappearing, although
most still in business are likely to have a hospital on standby just
down the street.

As mentioned, a second alternative birth is the water birth, something
that is not popular in Japan but is entirely do-able. The benefit of
water birth is two-fold, to soften the mother’s skin tissue, to reduce
the likelihood of tearing, and to give the newborn a less invasive
entry to the world, given that the water is as warm as amniotic fluid.
If you’ve ever witnessed a water birth (we’ve seen 3), you will be
amazed how calm the baby is and the lack of physical “violence”.

The third major option (and very much an “alternative” birth in Japan)
is to stick with a major hospital but opt for an epidural. The upside
is that the procedure, while still painful, is that the mom
experiences just a shade of the intense pain of regular childbirth,
and so it has become popular overseas. The reason that epidurals are
not popular in Japan are three-fold. Firstly there is the physical
risk of an incorrectly administered needle, which are huge and very
invasive, especially in Japan where such procedures are not common. In
fact, the risk is high enough that some mothers we know who decided on
epidurals, opted to have their babies abroad where at least they can
be sure of doctors who have done the procedure many times before.

Secondly there is the cost. There is exactly one doctor in Japan who
specializes in epidural births. Of course there are others who know
and are licensed to do the procedure, but why would you use an
amateur? For the top guy, his services will set you back about
JPY1.2MM-JPY2MM – about 3-5 times the cost of having a baby in a
regular hospital. Considering the cost of flying and accommodation,
you could hit the same budget by taking a holiday and giving birth

The third downside to doing an alternative birth is the main reason we
decided to write this article – psychological pressure from friends
and family. For young Japanese raised in Japan’s group-think schooling
system, this pressure is probably the biggest disincentive.

So let’s be straight here. Japan is psychologically harsh on its own
citizens. Pain and suffering are considered purifying acts, and no
where is this more true than in childbirth. To escape that pain is
considered an act of cowardice and is despised by the older generation
in particular.

There are two digital sources of information that almost all new
Japanese moms visit, being the Mamari app, and the
website. Visiting these sites is an interesting peek into the
subculture of birthing in Japan and reveals a lot about the moral
code. Both sites have many pages of comments from young mothers
deploring the fact that they are shamed (usually by the mother-in-law
and sometimes by the husband) into so-called “natural” births, when in
fact they badly wanted to have an epidural, or for medical reasons
they had to have a C-section.

In particular, women on both sites relate experiences where they went
through a C-section and were made to feel that they somehow cheated
and didn’t birth “properly”. The medieval attitudes are pretty
shocking and the comments heartless, as illustrated by the following

“My mother-in-law had some cruel words for me. She said, ‘Although the
doctor chose [a C-section] for you, you took the easy way out so you
didn’t have to suffer, didn’t you?!” [Ed: In this case, the
Mother-in-law was unhappy because the doctor had chosen the birth date
for baby instead of it happening naturally.]

“My mother-in-law repeatedly and right in front of me as I was
recuperating kept saying, ‘Poor baby, you came out so quickly [by
C-section], you’re so small, and you wanted to stay in your mother’s
tummy longer didn’t you? Poor thing…'”

“My sister commented, ‘Oh, you got a C-section, you couldn’t deal with
the pain could you?'”

“My husband muttered at me, ‘Why did you get a C-section?! You’re a
failure as a mother…!'”

There are dozens of similar examples.

So while Japan has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the
world, this is off-set by the country having one of the highest rates
of postpartum depression and suicide (according to the Japan Times).
Yeah, with family members like the ones just quoted, it’s no
wonder…! In fact, a survey by the National Center for Child Health
and Development found that in 2015, 102 women committed suicide before
and after childbirth, making it the leading cause of maternal death.
Of these, 92 committed suicide within a year of giving birth and 65%
of them had given birth for the first time. Notably, many of these
women lacked close support networks and belonged to households with no
regular source of income.

This is sad state of affairs, and given that we are now moving into a
new era for the whole country, we think it’s time for PM Abe to make
good on his promise and allocate some serious resources, public
education, and top-down support to help the very people who are
bringing into existence the nation’s future generation. The more
depressed and oppressed our moms are, the more likely it is that it
will affect the kids and thus weaken society in the long term. It’s
not difficult to see this connection. Unfortunately, if you’re
power-obsessed old men making policy rules and you look down at women
as baby-making machines (in 2007, the LDP Health Minister health
minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, actually said this), then thinking about
the future with kindness is not something that comes naturally.
Instead, harsh feudal values are so much easier to maintain.

Lastly, we will be off for the next 3 weeks, for both the extended
Golden Week and a long bike tour during that time. We will be back on
board around May 19th. Perhaps some readers noticed there was no
scheduled Take last week. This is only the second time in 22 years
that we failed to meet our publishing schedule, and is a reflection of
the fact that the travel business is doing well enough that it is
impinging on our other activities. It’s quite likely the rapid growth
will continue for the next 18 months, so publication could become more
random than in the past – we seek your support and understanding in
advance, thanks so much.

…The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

– So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?
– Ballot-based Olympic tickets available from May 9th
– Year-round hiring to be allowed
– Chickens come home to roost at Nissan
– 13% of homes are empty

=> So will there be a consumption tax increase or not?

The government’s top cabinet ministers were in damage-control mode
last week after a close aide to PM Abe hinted that he might delay for
a third time the planned increase in consumption tax from 8% to 10%.
The increase, which is supposed to happen in October this year, is now
becoming increasingly risky, after the most recent economic data show
that the economy contracted for the last quarter – most likely due to
a slow down in China (and thus Japanese exports to that country).
Business confidence is ebbing and given the huge impact of the last
increase in consumption tax, the government is worried about a similar
setback this time around as well. ***Ed: Obviously a lot depends on
Trump and what kind of concessions he is going to try to extract from
both China and Japan by the end of May.** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 19, 2019)

=> Ballot-based Olympic tickets available from May 9th

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has
announced that a ballot will be set up to sell Olympic Games tickets
to Japan residents starting May 9th and ending May 28th. The results
of the ballot will be announced on June 20th. Applications can only be
made through the official Tokyo 2020 website, which is now available
in English. If readers miss out on the ballot, they can still buy
tickets to specific events on a first-come, first-served basis in the
fall of this year. There will also be further ticket sales made in the
spring of 2020.

The tickets website is:

There will be 339 events in 33 sports, and tickets will be priced
starting from JPY2,500, with about 50% of all tickets priced at JPY
8,000 or less. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 18,

=> Year-round hiring to be allowed

The gloves are off in the race for finding new staff for the major
businesses in Japan. Whereas for 50+ years companies had a
“gentleman’s agreement” not to solicit university graduates out of
hiring season (spring each year), so as to make it fairer for all
concerned, the top business organization in Japan, Keidanren, has just
announced that it will allow company members to start soliciting and
hiring new graduates year round. Those companies likely to take
advantage of the relaxed rules will be fast-growing tech firms like
Softbank and others, who hire year-round already from the open market.
A Recruit survey shows that about 10.7% of Japanese firms plan to
start year-round hiring from next year. ***Ed: What the fuss is about
here is that many universities have agreed to allow companies to reach
out to their students earlier. So now we have an alignment with what
already happens overseas – e.g., that the best third-year students
start getting competitive offers well before graduation, which is a
great way to increase their starting salaries.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 20, 2019)

=> Chickens come home to roost at Nissan

Nissan Motor has slashed its profit forecast for the current fiscal
year to the lowest in nine years, saying that there will be a 45% drop
in profit, from JPY450bn to JPY318bn. The reason? Apparently “the
king” Saikawa has decided that the company should stop aggressive
pricing on its U.S. models and instead focus on improving profit
margins. Unfortunately for him and the company, he doesn’t seem to
understand that discounting is what drives the U.S. markets, and if
Nissan wants a share it needs to play the game – as Mr. Ghosn well
knew. ***Ed: This is a classic case of the Japanese government [Ed:
rumored to be behind this whole sorry tale] cutting off its nose to
spite its face. Ghosn may or may not have misused US$5m of company
money, but how does that in any way compare to the destruction of
shareholder value of US$2.5bn going on in Nissan right now? This whole
thing most certainly should have been handled internally, quietly, and
without wrecking the business.** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 24, 2019)

=> 13% of homes are empty

In an update on the “akiya” (empty house) crisis, the Nikkei says
there is a record 8.46m homes vacant even as the population fell
another 299,118 people from 2017 to 2018. The once-every-five-years
survey found that the number of unoccupied homes jumped by 260,000
units, which is 13.6% of all housing in Japan. Of course many homes
will be recycled back into the economy, but over 3.47m will remain
vacant and eventually will be demolished or taken over by local
governments as part of the 2015 tax legislation deal to remove
permanently unoccupied dwellings. ***Ed: BTW, that death rate of
almost 300,000 is important, because it represents roughly 200,000
home owners who are no longer around.** (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 29, 2019)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days
of posting them, thus breaking our links — we apologize for the



=> A group of concerned citizens from the international community has
formed a support group called the “Friends of Carlos Ghosn”. The group
points out that Ghosn was a member of TAC and his children grew up in
Japan. With the seemingly arbitrary nature of the Japanese legal
system, what has happened to him could happen to anyone in the
community. So if you would like to help, please contact for more information.


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=> None this week



=> Yagiri Crossing on the Edo River
Take a trip back in time on the Edo River

Tokyo is renowned for its fast and punctual train systems. If you are
brave and have time, riding the buses is a great way to get around
dense parts of the city. The extensive road and bridge crossings are
convenient and relatively safe to walk on. But there is one antiquated
mode of transport in the big city that won’t get you anywhere fast
except back in time – the Yagiri ferry crossing.

The Yagiri crossing was instituted during the shogunate to serve the
farmers who came from what was then the outskirts of the capital, now
Katsushika Ward, to work the fields on the eastern side of the Edo
River. Today, the ferry lands at the dock in the Yagiri area of
Matsudo City in Chiba Prefecture.

Rides on the wooden hulled ferry, cost JPY200 yen for adults, and
JPY100 for children. The ferry doesn’t run when the weather is stormy,
and there is no schedule. The boatman simply waits for passengers to
gather, and pushes off when he is satisfied with the number of

The crossing no longer carries farmers, and is now a living heritage
and a pleasant side excursion from Shibamata. You may wonder what
draws visitors to this little boat. Yagiri no Watashi was immortalized
in an enka song of the same name. It also appears as a setting for a
couple’s elopement in the novel Nogiku no Haka, Grave of the Wild
Chrysanthemum, by Itoh Sachiro.

But there is another charming reason for the preservation of this
little ferry. Yagiri crossing is distinctive for the waves of the
river slapping the sides of the boat, the breeze blowing the river
grass, and the birds flying above. In 1996, the ministry of tourism
began a program to designate and protect soundscapes throughout the
country, preserving this last vestige of non-motorized transport on
the Edo River.

You can combine a ride on the Yagiri ferry with a visit to Shibamata
Taishakuten, Yoshida Tei tea house, and the Tora-san Museum on the
Katsushika side. Note that on the Matsudo side of the river, there is
a monument indicating the site’s literary and cultural significance, a
little shop that sells snacks and drinks, but little else. Visitors
can catch a bus into central Matsudo, which has great architectural
heritage and delicious ramen shops.

=> Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum
Glimpse into the exclusive world of kimono craftsmanship

These days, museums are common everywhere but many can feel highly
sanitized with areas cordoned off, exhibits out of reach and numerous
“do not’s”. If you’re craving an authentic experience, you may be left
feeling disappointed. However, at the Tokyo Some Monogatari Museum,
not only can you get a hands-on craft session and immersive workshop
tour, you’ll also get to peek into the exclusive world of kimono silk
dyeing. What a rare chance that is! Those interested in traditional
Japanese arts or kimonos are in for a treat.

Located in the Shinjuku ward by the Kanda River, Tomita Some Kogei, or
Tomita Dye Craft, has a long history as a kimono dye workshop that
specializes in Edo Sarasa and Tokyo Some Komon. Edo Sarasa is a dyeing
technique imported from the Middle East, India, Thailand and Java that
produces exotic, vividly-covered and richly-patterned kimonos. In
contrast, Tokyo Some Komon is a style of finely-patterned kimonos with
a simple understated beauty. The family business started by the
Asakusa River in 1882, and Tomita Some Kogei moved to its current
location by the Kanda River in 1914 after the water in the Asakusa
River receded, leaving a level that’s too low to be ideal for washing

Washing kimonos in the Kanda River would have continued had it not
been prohibited in 1963. As Japan prepared for the 1964 Tokyo
Olympics, the local government called for a citywide cleanup of
streets and rivers. Therefore, these days, Tomita Some Kogei dyes
kimono silk by a combination of traditional and modern means.…



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