Japanese Birth Machines

CBS News' Barry Petersen discusses the social pressure Japanese women face when it comes to having a baby.
I'm Barry Petersen with this Letter from Asia. Politicians usually score points by praising soccer moms and kissing babies, but not Japan's Health Minister, who blurted out what he really thinks of women.

His name is Hakuo Yanagisawa but you won't remember that as much as you'll remember what he said about Japanese women. He referred to them as "child bearing machines". One Japanese man says, "That is not the remark of a sane person."

Women, well, at least a few, took to the streets in protest. "We are not," they chanted, "machines for making babies."

Facing calls to resign, he apologized, and oops, off the cliff again, this time saying it was sound or healthy that wives have at least two children.

Okay, time out! The real question is why would a Japanese cabinet minster say such things about women, and more, how did he get away with it? The answer is in Japan's past.

In the years before and during World War II, women in Japan were told it was their patriotic duty to make babies. Yuri Horie, President of the Japan Federation of Women's Organizations, remembers her mother. "Women were forced to give birth," she says. "More and more, as much as possible. Of course, {it was} to make them soldiers." Make soldiers they did - and more than six decades after the war ended.

The fact that Japan's leaders say such things, does not give younger women confidence that their rights are being protected. It is a difficult time for Japan; more people aging as the population shrinks, because more women think it's their choice not to have children.

And the best that some men can do is call women baby making machines, almost like cattle. No wonder Japanese women these days worry that they've just taken a giant leap backwards.

By Barry Petersen