IV Making Social ties
Although the Japanese media have coined the phrase “a society without ties,” referring to the waning family and community ties of the 2000s, the two chapters included in this section explore the ways in which people make connections and networks. Kawano's contribution (chapter 9) illustrates attempts by nonprofit organizations to foster networks among mothers of preschoolers, as such networks among kin and neighbors had shrunk significantly by the 2000s. The life course is more diverse, families are smaller, and marriage rates are lower, changes that imply that it is more difficult for a young mother to find a married sibling or fellow mothers of preschoolers in her community of residence. To develop stronger support networks in a community, older women volunteers working for drop-in play centers for preschoolers and their parents help make connections among younger mothers. Miller's contribution (chapter 10) explores the social world of young women and schoolgirls who consume contemporary divination as a form of social bonding. The market for divination is enormous, but its analysis is often limited; critics often dismiss divination as an exploitative, addictive, or superstitious practice. Rather than examining it as an expression of belief or analyzing its efficacy, however, Miller explores the significance of divinatory practices from the users' perspective. Contemporary divination provides young women and girls with a range of choices that meet their aesthetic tastes and allow them to “play with the occult” with peers. This chapter gives a glimpse into not only the feminized patterns and strategies of consumption, but also the use of the internet, often accessed through mobile phones, to maintain social ties.
Recreating Connections nonprofit organizations' attempts to Foster networking among mothers of preschoolers
There are many “refugees” rearing their children here. there are not many places for them.—Mother of three children, resident of Tokyo
this center is a place for parents and their young children—for them to get together, relax, and hang out.—Head of a nonprofit organization who manages a drop-in play center for parents and their preschoolers
I felt i fit in very well when i came to this center for the first time. And i am deeply into this place, feeling very comfortable. i have no idea what would have happened to me if this drop-in center did not exist.—Mother of a twenty-three-month-old boy
Unlike in early postwar Japan (1950s–1960s), mothers of preschoolers in tokyo today neither have a sense of belonging in their communities nor can easily find support for child rearing among their neighbors. Their communities no longer maintain strong networks of older child bearers who transmit
223 Their knowledge of child rearing. Such networks have weakened partly because an increasing number of people remain unmarried, and thus fertility rates have declined. New mothers often stop working in order to rear their children, and as former commuters they tend to be poorly integrated into their communities when their first child arrives. Yet mothers with limited social networks for child rearing are more likely to feel frustrated and dissatisfied with the tasks of parenting. To reduce the extent of mothers' isolation and provide more socially engaging community environments for child rearing, since 2002 the state has been developing drop-in play centers (tsudoi no hiroba), where parents and their young children can gather and develop support networks.
Based on participant observation and interviews conducted in tokyo in January–april 2009, in this study i examine the attempts of organizations that run drop-in play centers to connect mothers of preschoolers and their experiences of using such centers. Thus this chapter provides an analysis of mothers' peer networks, which have received limited attention in the study of mothering and child rearing in Japan (see Holloway 2010). the members of the nonprofit organizations examined here encourage mothers to participate in center activities by using their skills and previous work experiences (e.g., designing a web site, teaching yoga), thereby inspiring them to create a place of belonging in tokyo, a city characterized by high mobility, fertility rates significantly below the national average, and a predominance of single-person and nuclear-family households.
The predicament that mothers with young children face as they engage in child rearing is not an isolated problem but is tied to interrelated issues that have been shaped by Japan's postindustrial shift and weak economy following the Lost Decade of the 1990s. An increasing number of new graduates are unable to secure regular employment. The rising number of young people in irregular jobs makes it harder for them to marry and have children, as a stable job is considered necessary for family formation. People's mobility and the development of the service industry have weakened reciprocal ties in communities. The media have sensationalized this crisis of disappearing social ties by using the term “a society without ties” (muen shakai), wherein individuals are described as living lonely lives and dying lonely deaths. Along with changing family and work relations, the weakening of community ties has been seen as an expression of Japan's loss of its very essence. Despite the media's predominantly pessimistic portrayals of postindustrial Japan, however, attempts are being made to reconnect individuals to social networks in a range of settings, And nonprofit organizations have provided support to the socially isolated. For example, these organizations have addressed the issues of homelessness; the hikikomori, or the socially withdrawn (Borovoy 2008); suicide prevention (allison 2011); unionization among irregular workers; the elderly who live alone; and socially isolated mothers. Though the range of issues to which nonprofit organizations devote their efforts is vast, many of them share the attempt to reengage individuals in society. This study focuses on one of the many areas of these organizations' activities: the effort to create networks of support for people who are experiencing various levels of social isolation.