Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wishing for success.

A few days ago when it was still sunny and humid we went to Meiji Jingu (Shrine) in Shibuya, Tokyo. It's a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Shoken for his role in the Meiji restoration, and his wife, Empress Shoken.

In this Shinto shrine (and many others), worshippers (or tourists!) can pay 500 yen and buy an ema tablet. They write their 'special personal prayers' on these small, thin wooden plaques with a flower or animal designs, and hang them on a wooden fence surrounding a 'divine tree' for the kami (spirits/deities) to receive them, after being 'conveyed by priests'.

There were quite possibly, thousands of ema tablets hanging when we came, and it was really interesting to see what people wish for.

Serenity, Health, Happiness
Please grant health and safety to my wife and sons,
and that my new son be born healthy and smart.
Grant me peace in my life and marriage.
I make a wish to have a successful career...
To become regarded as someone who build change.
To move successfully into the company position I want.

Everyone wants happiness, success, serenity and importantly, health. The topic of success is an interesting one -- a career is so important here, that people are wishing for smart children and being able to get the 'company position' they want! We had met up with three Japanese female friends while here and all of them shared with us a common problem: That the conventional Japanese person has only one chance to enter the corporate world.

Ideally (and this was more common in the previous generation), one joined a company as a new graduate and slowly climbed the corporate ladder. It wasn't common to change companies -- one expression summarised it as "die with the company". In this generation, it becomes more acceptable to change in the first two or three years of working with the same company (otherwise it looks really bad on your CV), but it should still be done early on in a career.

The death knell for any chance at a stable job? Coming back to Japan and trying to enter in middle age. Since institutions relating to family and childcare remain tailored to a conventional idea of a breadwinner father and a homemaker mother, working women today find themselves caught between childcare and work -- more clearly dichotomous than perhaps Singapore.

It's near impossible to work and raise children at the same time, because of limited financial child support (to place children in daycare) and possibly, the upper-class expectations of intensive mothering, so women often quit their jobs to raise children.

Entering the job market after many missing years means half the salary, low or back-end positions, contract-based -- precarious for single mothers in the country with a high cost of living!

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