Murder In The Mothers Club
By Julian Ryall
Taniguchi was found, shocked and bloodied, in her parked car with her daughter some 35 miles away. In her police interview, she poured her heart out-about being ostracized by the other mothers, about being forced to feel like she and her daughter weren't good enough to belong. The media was unsympathetic; Taniguchi was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer.
In private, however, many Japanese mothers could relate. "A lot of women share that feeling," admits Hiroko Kusama, a teacher and single mother in Shiga. "Not as far as killing-but a lot of women are one step short of that."
Virtually every park and kindergarten in Japan has a "mommy clique"- a close-knit group of women who socialize while their children are on playdates and visit cafes together when they're at school. Mimicking the country's strict corporate hierarchy, cliques are governed by a "boss mom," to whom the other mothers defer, and competition within the group can be intense.
For Taniguchi, belonging was everything. If she was accepted by these well-connected middle-class mothers, her daughter could look forward to a lifelong social network, good job prospects, and marriage to a well-off man.
But it wasn't easy. From the start, the other mothers treated her with disdain. As a Chinese immigrant, she found the nuanced customs of Japanese society difficult to grasp, immediately marking her as an outsider. And although her husband had a good job with a manufacturing company, she wasn't as well-off as others in the group. However much she tried to fit in, Taniguchi was frequently excluded from their text-messaging and dates.
But the real cause of Taniguchi's breakdown was her daughter's treatment by her classmates. "I felt the children were to blame for my daughter not getting along [at kindergarten], so I killed them," she told police.
"Socializing in Japan is far more intense than in other countries," says Carol Hui, a Canadian mother of two who lives in Tokyo. "Mothers who don't work spend so much time with other mothers, they've almost replaced the family unit. Whether a woman is accepted by the other mothers determines her entire social life and how her child will be treated."