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April 18, 2007

Murder In The Mothers Club

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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."

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