Why does Japan force women to have painful child birth? (Japanese Translation Included)

Why does Japan force women to have painful child birth? (Japanese Translation Included)

Epidurals, known as mutsuu bunben in Japan, are heavily stigmatized in Japanese culture. According to the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologist, only 5.2% of child deliveries were done with the use of anesthesia in 2016. In comparison to 60% in the United States, it is clear that women are discouraged from using epidurals. We will explore the culture preventing women from seeking epidurals and the benefits of easy access to epidurals.

Why are the numbers so low? Women are often discouraged to use any anesthesia during birth. Japan has a culture of patience and endurance. It is believed that the pain the mother goes through during delivery is a crucial part of motherhood. Labor is seen as a “natural” process, as it’s been done since humans have existed. Thus when a woman uses something “artificial” like an epidural, she is portrayed as “weak” and “lazy.”

Furthermore, myths surrounding epidurals infiltrate every aset of Japanese culture. For instance, if a mother received anaesthesia she will not be able to love the child. Take another absurd example –  a mother placed under anesthesia will struggle with providing breast milk for her child. Despite these myths not being backed by scientific evidence, it is the reason epidurals are not covered under the national insurance in Japan, forcing women to suffer through painful labor.

Outdated traditions and myths are not valid reasons to deny women the option of safely giving birth. The American Society of Anesthesiologists confirms that epidurals are “ one of the most effective, safest and widely used forms of pain management for women in labor”. Moreover, an epidural can save the happiness and confidence of the mother as it is believed to reduce the probability of Postpartum Depression. Imagine giving birth and wanting to hold and bond with your baby, yet due to severe mood swings and depression, your mind is not allowing you to do so. Mothers trying to avoid this situation by using epidurals, are criticized and scorned for making that decision for their own health. Medical reasons like these are important on their own to support the coverage and access to painless birth.

Japan’s aging population and lack of youngsters is an infamous problem, yet we don’t seem to be doing enough to address the difficulty of having kids in Japan. Without painless birth covered by insurance, women are faced with two options: a large bill or a long and painful recovery process. Furthermore, the maternity leave in Japan is not very long. Epidurals shorten the recovery process and allow women to return to work quickly. This leads to many women to simply make the option of not having children in the first place to avoid the financial burden. 

Health officials in Japan should give women the option of giving birth in the way they want to. Epidurals, natural birth, and cesarean sections all have pros and cons. At the end of the day, women should have the right to make their decision without being criticized. Traditions and ideas embedded in culture should not be prioritized over the health of an individual. Shaming a woman for a decision she made for her own body reinforces a sexist idea that we don’t own our own bodies. This is why epidurals should be made easily available at the very least. Next time a woman around you is about to give birth, think about their  feelings and wellbeing before you criticize or degrade them. It is their body and health that is being risked and their decision to make.











I am a 16 year old girl in Kyoto, Japan and the founder of SHEQUALITY. After living in the United States for eight years, when I moved back, I saw tremendous issues relating to the treatment of women. When I turned on the news, I rarely saw women in high positions within the government. Many of my female friends at school expressed they didn’t see themselves working in the future, a large distinction to what I was used to in the United States. Most families I met here had a father who worked and a mother who didn’t.Menstrual pads and tampons were packaged away in brown paper bags for no one to see. Seeing these issues with my own eyes made me want to do something to raise awareness about the culture and laws that support the current society today, which was the start of SHEQUALITY.

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