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By: Debbie Howard



One of the key places to look for dramatic tradition shifting in Japan is on the home front — not only in changing gender roles, but very specifically in Japan’s new parenting style, and the roles that young Moms and Dads now occupy.

Today’s parents are “new” in the sense of being “new to the job of parenting” as well as “new” in the sense of having quite different viewpoints compared to their own parents.

For example, young Dads in Japan are taking a much more pro-active role in parenting these days. Many say they want to ensure they have close relationships with their children, different from the more distant ones their fathers had with them. Today’s Dads are getting together online to share “parenting tips,” and in the real world, you’ve probably seen more than a few guys bonding with their babies and children out in public. Such actions would have been practically unheard of just 10 years ago!

Japanese Moms have changed quite radically as well — and are a far cry from the selfless “mama” of the traditional past. We’re finding that Moms are much more independent-minded these days; many with young children plan to return to work in the near future, a huge departure from even 5 years ago. While some of their desire is driven by economics, there is at the same time a deep-seated need to be recognized as an individual in their own right — not just as a “mother.”

Moms often feel “de-selfed” starting with what they are called — “okaa-san.” Of course, many children call their Moms “okaa-san,” but this endearing equivalent for “mother” sometimes morphs into being used not only by the kids, but by the husband, the in-laws and even the neighbors! Moms interviewed over the past few years have been much more assertive — stating outright that they hate being called “okaa-san” by anyone but their children. “Call me by my real name!” they lament.

This is a powerful moment for companies and brands to create “new” relationships with Japan’s “new parents” — most of whom also happen to fall within the Dankai Jrs. (“Baby Boomer Juniors”) segment born from 1971–1980.

These new parents have little loyalty or connection with the brands from their pre-parent days, and are actively searching for their own “new” brand repertoire — one that transitions them from “youthful values” to “grown-up values.” Most importantly, these new parents are responsible for introducing a whole new generation of children to brands.

Companies need to ask:

– What are their unmet needs? How can our products and services better meet these needs?

– How can we connect with new parents? How do I portray them in advertising?

– How do we reach them with new media?

Finding the answers to these questions, whether through qualitative or quantitative methods and connecting with these consumers at this powerful point of transition is key to the development and successful maintenance of relationships for the future.

Debbie Howard is Chairman of CarterJMRN and President Emeritus of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Originally Published in Nikkei Weekly, 25th June 2007

CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.

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