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The Japanese pejorative term "kyōiku mama" (教育ママ) translates literally as "education mother". The kyōiku mama is seenTemplate:By whom as relentlessly driving her child to study, to the detriment of the child's social and physical development, and emotional well-being [1].

Directly related to the usage of kyōiku mama is the term juku (学習塾), which refers to cram schools. Various views and criticisms exist in regard to these terms. One viewTemplate:Weasel-inline is that these cram schools are known to make kids miserable, and the blame inevitably falls upon the mothers. Often, kyōiku mama are generalized and stereotypedTemplate:By whom as going to extremes to get their children a good education, and psychologists in Japan[who?] are worried about the impact these mothers may have on their children. Others[who?] attribute the emergence of kyōiku mama to the excesses of the education system and the apparent empty lives of housewives who find fulfillment through the competition for top schools. "These mothers are preoccupied with the idea that admission to private elementary schools is the ticket to happiness for the kids, the family and themselves,"Template:Cq says prominent psychiatrist Machizawa Shizuo.

The kyōiku mama is one of the best-known and least-liked pop-culture figures in contemporary Japan. The kyōiku mama is analogous to American stereotypes such as the stage mother who forces her child to show-business success, or the critical, self-sacrificing mother who coerces her child into medical school. The stereotype is that a kyōiku mama is feared by her own children, blamed by the press for school phobias and youth suicides, and envied and resented by the mothers of children who study less and fare less well on exams [2][3].

Class distinctions

Kyōiku mama, preparatory preschools, and heavily academic curricula exist in Japan, yet they are relatively rare and concentrated in urban, wealthy areas of the country [2][3]. Kyōiku mama are also prominent in the middle-classes. Middle-class women are the ones who train the children, the next generation of the middle class. In a speech at the 1909 Mitsukoshi children’s exhibition, First Higher School principal Nitobe Inazo asserted, “The education of a citizenry begins not with the infant but with the education of a country’s mothers.”Template:Cq

In the post-World War II era in Japan, the mother was the creator of a new child-centered world stamped with middle-class values. The mother was linked with the success of the child’s education. A woman was expected to be a “good wife, wise mother” and became the single most important figure in raising the child to become a successful future adult. More than giving birth, mothers needed to put their efforts into raising and teaching their children. Through both her own self-cultivation and also her rearing of the children, the woman was crucial to a family’s ability to claim a place within the so-called middle stratum of society.

As educational credentials became the recognized prerequisite to social advancement in the early twentieth century, kyōiku mama actively looked to the educational system, especially admission into middle school for boys and higher school for girls, to help improve the family’s social position. The competition to pass the entrance examination to middle school and girls’ higher school became intense, creating the social phenomenon known as shiken jigoku (試験地獄), or examination hell. While risshin shusse (立身出世), or rising in the world, was the clarion call of the mass of the middle class, there was no risshin shusse without a kyōiku mama. For the education mother, making the child into a superior student was a concern that began with the child’s entrance into elementary school at age six and extended to all aspects of the child’s education [4]. Working class mothers are not as intensely active in their children’s education as middle-class mothers. An ethnographic study by Shimizu Tokuda (1991) portrayed one middle school that faced persistent academic problems in a working-class neighborhood of Osaka. The study illustrated various efforts by teachers to improve the student’s academic performance: providing tests, promoting monthly teacher discussions, painting walls to enhance the study environment, and restricting hours spent in extracurricular activities. While students’ enrollment in high school slightly improved, academic achievement level remained lower than the national average. This study revealed that students’ academic problems were deeply related to their home environments. Most students had parents who were uneducated and not involved in their children’s education [5].

Factors influencing development of kyōiku mama

In the early 1960s, part-time women’s labor began at a few major corporations in Japan and was adopted by other companies within a decade. It became popular among married women in the 1970s and even more so in 1985. Women’s return to the workplace is often explained in a twofold way: by financial demands to complement the family budget, and by psychological demands to relate themselves to society. However, part-time workers are clearly subordinate to full-time workers in wages and job security. In a capitalist society, this economically and socially unequal relationship between full-time male and part-time female workers may well affect the relationship between men and women at home [6].

In terms of child-rearing, women in the 1960s inspired the media to produce the idiom kyōiku mama, which referred to ‘the domestic counterpart of sararii-man’ (salaryman). This encompassed a major responsibility to ‘rear children, especially the males, to successfully pass the competitive tests needed to enter high school and college’ [6]. No such idiom emerged that deemed men ‘education papas’; it was ‘mamas’ who became a social phenomenon.

The education system

The education system is a major reason why mothers become kyōiku mama. Getting a good, steady job in the future very much depends on getting into a good college, which depends on acing the national university exams in a student’s last year of high school.

As a result, there is a clear map pointing students to the right nursery school that leads to the right kindergarten, the best of which are associated with prestigious universities.

  • Specific case: A restaurant owner paid a $95,000 bribe in an attempt to get his child enrolled in Aoyama Gakuin, a prestigious kindergarten. Because of the kindergarten’s affiliation with an elite university, parents are willing to go to extreme lengths to get their children enrolled. Aoyama Gakuin has room for 40 new students a year. Every year, it receives more than 2000 hopeful applicants. The tests the potential students have to take are known to be extremely difficult. Keep in mind the students are only three or four years old [7].

In fact, most of Japan’s important job positions in business and government are held by graduates from one university: Tokyo University. In addition, which university you go to also determines who your future spouse choices are. It’s no wonder, then, that since a child’s life is basically determined by what schools he or she goes to, a mother would want to do everything in her power to get her children into good schools[8].

Changing family structures

The older generation of Japanese grew up in larger households than those normally found in Japan today. Back then, ikuji (child-raising)(育児) included a larger surrounding environment, made up of more relatives and extended family, and more children in the form of siblings and cousins. Children who grew up in that time learned responsibilities through the care of younger siblings. These children relied on themselves in the outside world through much of their childhood lives. In those days, child-raising was more of a private matter, only handled by the child’s surrounding family [3].

In the 1970s, men’s wages decreased and women left home earlier to find jobs. These women “considered themselves free” after the child’s junior high education. The previous generation did not feel this until after the child had finished high school [9].

In contemporary Japan, couples are having fewer children, and teaching the children self-reliance. This currently involves consulting child-raising professionals. This new need in professional advice is commonly termed “child-raising neurosis” by professionals today. Reliance on professionals has largely created a new generation of young mothers with low self-confidence in their own child-raising abilities. Indeed, most Japanese mothers today grew up in smaller families with only one or two children. Their mothers provided them with everything they needed and gave them little to no responsibilities involving their siblings. Thus, that generation of children has now grown up to become mothers who have no idea how to raise their children [3].

In addition, in contemporary Japan there are also mothers who completely devoted themselves to child-raising. Another subtype, described by Nishioka Rice, is the kosodate mama (子育てママ), who also adds psychosociological elements into child-raising. In addition to providing for her a good education, she also develops an emotional and psychological relationship with her children. One way to do this would be through skinship, which involves being in constant close physical contact with her children. This would, for example, involve carrying her child on her back wherever she goes or bathing with her children every night. Through skinship, ittaikan (一体感) is achieved, a “one-ness and balanced, positively valenced dependency” between mother and child [3].

Societal views

In Japan, a mother who works is commonly seen as selfish in a society where child-raising is linked so directly with the physical closeness between mother and child. This emphasis can be a cause of the development of kyōiku mama who always worries about her children’s educational success. This produces children that society views as lacking self-reliance, antisocial, and selfish [3]. When compared to American mothers, Japanese mothers have a stronger belief in effort as opposed to innate ability. A Japanese child sees his effort as necessary to fulfill a “social obligation” to family, peers, and his community. Children are forced to focus on their effort, seeing it as the cause for failure. According to society, if a child does not succeed they were not trying hard enough. This is unrelated to the child’s grades; kids always need to put forth more effort [10]. Mothers pressure children because they are held “strongly accountable” for their children’s actions [11].

It is pretty hard trying to find a daycare in Japan, and it’s socially looked down upon if a mother sends her child to one. The mother is seen as insufficient, not having the skills to raise a child on her own, or selfish, giving her child over to a caretaker while she pursues her own separate goals [3].

The term became used in other similar contexts of the Japanese society. For example, the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry was dubbed kyoiku mama for its approach and initiatives in guiding industrial growth.[12]


Housewives are surrounded by popular media that encourages their actions. Daytime television, magazines, products, and services for mothers are largely focused on improving the home and raising the children. Thus, the job of motherhood is taken very seriously by mothers in Japan. A common description of a mother’s free time is “’three meals and a nap’”[3].

Contemporary kyōiku mama

Japanese mothers today dedicate all of their time to getting their children from one entrance exam to another. At the national university entrance exams, held in Tokyo, most mothers will travel with their children to the examination hall. They will arrive and stay at a nearby hotel, grilling their children on last-minute statistics and making sure that their children are not late to the exam [13].

  • Specific case: Some mothers are also beginning their children’s education at even younger ages. A 30-year-old mother in Japan says, “’This is my first baby, and I didn’t know how to play with her or help her develop’”. She sends her 6-month-old daughter to a pre-pre-school in Tokyo. A headmaster at another pre-pre-school claims that the school, for children one year or older, helps to nurture and develop the curiosity in children through” tangerine-peeling or collecting and coloring snow” [13].

Mothers are essentially in heavy competition with other mothers who also want their children to get into the elite universities. In some cases, to make it seem like her own child is not studying as much, mothers will let their child use the parents’ bedroom to study while the mothers watch dramas on the television in the living room. Other mothers who pass by the house will see the child’s bedroom light off, assuming that the child has shirked his or her studies to watch dramas on the television in the living room. The next morning, the mother will report what happened in the dramas to her child, who will go to school and talk about it to his or her classmates, who will also assume that their friend is a slacker, lowering their expectations of their friend and for themselves. However, when examination time rolls around, the “slacker” will be admitted into an elite school while his or her friends will drop behind [13].

Kyōiku mama often give their children a big first appearance in the neighborhood through a kōen debyu (公園デビュー), where the mothers “parade their offspring around the neighborhood parks for approval” [7].

Mothers send their children to cram schools (juku), where children may stay at until 10 or 11 at night. Japan has over 35,000 cram schools for college examinations [13].

In addition to cram schools, children are also sent to calligraphy, keyboard, abacus, or kendo classes [7].

Effects on children

In the 1950s, full time mothers devoted themselves to a smaller amount of children. Parental stress resulted in the commonality of new childhood illnesses; these include bronchial asthma, stammering, poor appetite, proneness to bone fractures, and school phobia. Children were aware they were their mother's purpose in life. Mothers played the role of their children's school teachers while they were at home [14].

Children are undoubtedly affected by their mothers. Sometimes, a child who grows up with a kyōiku mama turns into a tenuki okusan (手抜き奥さん), literally a “’no hands’ housewife”. Tenuki okusan usually have jobs and are not around the children as much, essentially becoming the female version of the stereotypical absent Japanese father, a “leisure-time parent” or “Sunday friend”. These mothers do not do a lot of homemaking, commonly making large, freezable meals that are easy to reheat the next day in case they are not home to do the cooking or too busy to do it otherwise. Tenuki okusan do not attempt to represent their families in the community through participation in their children’s school PTA and other community functions [3].

Children who grow up with restrictive parents like kyōiku mama commonly join one of the many subculture groups in Japan. For example, Lolitas pursue a burikko (ぶりっ子) or “’false-innocent’ look: wide-eyed, lower lip thrust into a pout” [15]. Other subculture groups are kogyaru (コギャル) (literally ‘child-girl’), bosozoku (暴走族) (biker gangs), and femio-kun (フェミオ君) (feminine boys) [7].

Compared to modern American children, Japanese youths have less suicide, drug use, depression, violence, and teenage pregnancy [10]. However Japan does have the 6th highest suicide rate in the world, surpassed only by former Eastern Bloc countries.

Government regulations

The Japanese Ministry of Education has admitted that the education system and parental pressure is taking their toll on the children of Japan. Educational reforms that the Ministry of Education has enacted beginning in the 1970s have challenged Japan’s egalitarian school system. In order to decrease academic pressure among students resulting from examination competition, the Ministry of Education cut school hours and increased non-academic activities such as recess and club activities in elementary and junior high schools. In 2002, the central government reduced school hours again, decreased content, and introduced new curriculum at all public elementary schools to encourage individual students’ learning interests and motivation [16]. The Japanese Ministry of Education has also published a white paper stating that children don’t have opportunities like “’coming into contact with nature, feeling awe and respect for life, and experiencing the importance of hard work learning from difficulties’” [13].

Brief history of Japanese education and related stress

(1950s) Post War Japan made it a “national mission” to accelerate its education program. Children of this era had to distinguish themselves from peers at an early age if they hoped to get into a top university. Entrance exams for these children began in kindergarten [17]. (Mid 1970s) Pressure to achieve in children created the need for specialty schools. Seventy-percent of students continued their long school day at Juku or “Cram Schools” after regular school hours ended. (1980s) Series of suicides linked to school pressures began. Elementary and Middle school students took their lives after failing entrance exams. (1990) The economic collapse in Japan after its global dominance in the previous decade led to a loss of motivation by students. The once highly touted academic ratings of Japan in math and science fell behind those of American levels. The stress began to lead to disruption [17]. (2001) National Education Research Institute- Thirty-three percent of teachers and principals polled said that they had witnessed a complete breakdown of class “over a continuous period of time” due to defiant children “engaging in arbitrary activity” [17]. (2002) Education Ministry - pressured by the need to reform, Japan eliminated thirty percent of its core curriculum. This freed up time for these students to pursue learning in groups according to the students’ chosen path [17]. Mukatsuku is a term recently becoming popular among students, used to describe sickness with teachers, parents, and life [17].


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