I commented on the rise of the ‘salary woman’ in Japan a little while ago. One big problem is child care. I did not know this until I lived in Japan, but Japanese people have an extreme aversion to private childcare. If it is not a relative they do not traditionally do it. As my wife often tells me, “strangers will abuse and molest your kids”. Well, if you look at the America media, there is some truth to this, although it is not that common considering all the children in daycare around the nation.

As less and less women want to quite their jobs after they marry/have children their will be more demand for child care. I am guessing people in this industry are making a killing right now as they are so rare.

Japan’s newest growth industry: Baby-sitting

Sunday, November 18, 2007

When Yasuko Nakadate founded her baby-sitting company, Family Support, 13 years ago, demand for baby sitters was limited to a tiny group of high-income families, willing and able to ignore the lingering disapproval of a culture that sees child care as the unequivocal responsibility of a mother.

These days, Nakadate is swamped with customer requests for her professional baby sitters, requests she must often decline. There are simply not enough baby sitters to go around.

Despite powerful cultural disincentives in a country that – despite rapidly changing social norms – retains traditional notions of home, family and motherhood, demand for home child care is booming, far outstripping the limited supply of women willing to provide the service.

The shortage of baby sitters “is the biggest bottleneck for growth of our business right now,” said Nakadate. The company brought in ¥300 million, or $2.7 million, in revenue last year.

The trend is driven by the increasing numbers of women competing with men in the professional work force. Expected to put in 12-hour days and to devote a portion of their off-hours to company social activities, these women find themselves unable to pick up their children from day care centers and nursery schools in the early evening.

With their husbands also toiling in the office and entertaining clients late into the evening, professional mothers often have no choice but to seek out a baby sitter, a service still relatively novel to Japan, where access to one’s home is considered an intimacy not easily shared with strangers, and where the notion of mothers delegating child care duties in the home to strangers is still considered distasteful.

“In Japan, there is a unique sense of privacy, one that denies the entry of a stranger,” Takehiro Amino, a specialist in child welfare at Tokyo Kasei University. “But the pressing demand for child care was so strong, it overrode it.”

The cultural awkwardness in the work is just one factor deterring women from entering the baby-sitting profession, contributing to a stubborn shortage of caregivers, especially in rural areas. Baby-sitting jobs are generally part-time, highly demanding and moderately paid. Skilled caregivers often find work at day care centers to be more rewarding and reliable.

“There are certain areas or prefectures in Japan where there are no service providers at all,” said Mitsugu Fujii, general affairs manager at the Babysitter Association, citing the conservative regions of Tohoku and San-in as examples.

Even in Japan’s cosmopolitan cities, demand for qualified baby sitters far outstrips supply. According to All-Japan Babysitter Association, an industry body, there are only about 27,000 professional baby sitters nationwide, up from 16,000 in 2000, serving a population of 130 million people – 13.6 percent of whom are children under the age of 14.

Megumi Muto, who works for a government agency in Tokyo, says she makes sure to secure a baby sitter for her 4-year-old son well in advance.

“It’s too risky to ask on the spot,” she said. “You may not find anyone who can come to help you.”

Aware that demand for baby sitters well outstrips supply, she tries hard to be a good customer.

“I ask the same company for other services, for example, like cleaning the house and so on,” she said. “I want to maintain a good relationship with them.”

Professional baby-sitting in Japan emerged in the 1970s, when a small minority of working women began assuming professional responsibilities at the office. With the withering away of the Japanese extended family, asking a professional to look after one’s children also became marginally acceptable when parents had to attend important social engagements, like funerals.

“Demand for child care began to diversify for the first time then,” Amino said. “Until then, the overriding thinking was, ‘Mothers should come and pick their kids up, regardless of the situation.’ ”

Baby-sitting took another step toward respectability with the passage of an equal employment law in the late 1980s. More recently the government – which contends with frightening demographic prospects if Japanese women do not start having more babies – began to expand public day care services and some municipal bodies started offering subsidies to working couples who hire baby sitters.

Nonetheless, both customers and service providers agree that engaging a baby sitter remains a privilege reserved to high-income earners. The words “hiring a baby sitter” are closely associated with the popular image of upper-class life.

“It’s a kind of luxury service,” said Kozo Morishita, general manager of the nursery division at CombiWith, a Tokyo child care service provider. “It’s for people with a certain amount of wealth.”

Customers typically pay between $15 and $20 an hour, plus transportation fees, for trained baby sitters, many of whom are licensed nurses. For professional couples using baby sitters on a daily basis, the bill often comes to more than $1,000 a month.

In the United States, baby-sitting is often handled by neighborhood high school girls working for pocket money. Such arrangements are rare in Japan.

Most Japanese parents prefer to hire a complete stranger, through a credible private company, rather than risk exposing intimate details of their household to their neighbors.

Another factor is the perceived risk in asking an inexperienced, unlicensed high school girl to take responsibility for the children, explained Aya Abe, a government researcher who spent her high school days in the United States and often worked as a baby sitter for American couples.

“American parents would just want you to give a call in an emergency, and that’s all what you are expected,” said Abe. But Japanese parents are much less likely to “ask a kid to take care of a kid.”

In addition, young girls in Japan are reluctant to take on the burden of baby-sitting for fear of the consequences of an accident.

“You cannot take on a job that involves taking care of someone’s life for a convenience-store wage,” said Morishita of CombiWith.

But even with adult professionals, the awkwardness of having a stranger in the home sometimes triggers suspicions. When a Louis Vuitton bag went missing in the home of one customer, Morishita said, the baby sitter immediately was suspect.

Noriko Nakamura, the president of Tokyo-based Poppings, the largest baby-sitting agency in Japan by revenue, said that Japanese customers apply very exacting standards to their baby sitters. Fastidious parents give caregivers low marks, for example, when laundry is not folded in precisely the right way.

Some say that a baby sitter might inject a much needed dose of fresh air into the typical Japanese home, known for its seclusion, which critics say has bred such negative phenomena as hikikomori, the Japanese term for acute social withdrawal.

“I believe in the concept of ‘social parents,’ where children are raised with lots of adults around them,” said Amino. “Sociability of children is fostered when they are exposed to different adults in a much more balanced way.”

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