Little Ones: Providing Housing for Single Mothers in Japan


SEATTLE, Washington — Although Japan is considered to be one of the world’s wealthiest, developed countries, the majority of the country’s single mothers live in poverty. Due to prejudices against divorced women and single mothers, many women with dependent children fall into poverty. Little Ones, a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo, Japan, supports single mothers in need of financial aid by providing them with refurnished abandoned houses.

Single Mothers in Japan

In Japan, the number of single-mother households increased by more than 50% since 1992 due to its rising divorce rate. Moreover, according to Japan’s labor ministry, the child poverty rate for single-parent households rests at 56%. In comparison, the U.S.’s rate sits at 32%.

The shame surrounding single motherhood and gender inequality across the nation makes it challenging for Japanese single mothers to find work and housing. Additionally, many apartment owners do not accept single mothers in response to the stigma and fear that they are not financially stable.

To address poverty among single mothers, Little Ones makes use of the 9 million abandoned homes in Japan by renovating them to provide affordable housing for single mothers.

Little Ones

Founded by Kunihisa Koyama in 2008, Little Ones addresses both the increasing rate of properties abandoned by Japan’s declining population and the growing rate of poverty among single mothers. By providing housing for single mothers, Little Ones also improves the lives of children in single-parent homes. With access to affordable housing, single mothers can better provide for their children and pursue more stable jobs.

How it Works

  1. Little Ones contacts the owners of vacant properties and instructs them on applying for federal grants, which are used to fund renovations.
  2. Owners are offered grants under the condition that they rent their property to “low-income tenants, including single mothers, homeless people and people with disabilities.” The rent is typically set at a rate of 20% below market price.
  3. Little Ones matches single mothers to a renovated property.

Since its creation, the organization has matched more than 300 single mothers to homes in Tokyo, Osaka and Chiba. Furthermore, in 2018, Little Ones won the esteemed World Habitat Award for its innovative, humanitarian efforts.

Next Steps for Japan

To reduce poverty among single mothers, Japan needs to reform its laws surrounding divorce, which currently do not include joint custody. The divorce rate in Japan continues to rise in leaps, with the rate increasing by 66% in 2012 from 1980. However, while the divorce rate increases, the policies continue to put women at a disadvantage. In Japan, less than half of single mothers receive alimony, and most divorced women receive minimal child support.

Japan also needs to move toward equal pay to reduce cultural stigma against women, as men still make 30% more than women for the same work. The reduction of stigma would allow single mothers to pursue more stable jobs, as Japanese single mothers typically have unstable jobs that do not provide sufficient, consistent income.

Nonprofit organizations such as Little Ones are integral to Japan’s continued progress toward gender equality. By empowering single mothers, Little Ones aims to end the cycle of poverty so that children of single mothers have opportunities to succeed.

— Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr


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