Posted in Culture, Lifestyle

Mamatomo – The 'Mum Friends' Culture of Japan

What, or should I say who, is a mama-tomo (ママ友)? This is an interesting phenomena that is experienced by many Japanese mothers.

Aptly explained by aki-chan:

“Mama-tomo is made up of MAMA which means mother and TOMODACHI which means friend. For example, I have a baby, so I’m a mother. If I have friends (mothers) through my baby, these kind of people called Mama-tomo. I have a friend who is ex-co-worker, and we have know each other over the past 10 years. She has a child, too. But in this case, she isn’t my mama-tomo.”

The situation with mama-tomo is that mothers with children will have to interact with other mothers when they pick up their children from school, or when they meet the teachers to follow up on their children’s performance. These mothers then form friendships, have regular gatherings and confide in one another the ups and downs of child-rearing, as well as receive support during tough times. However, competition between these mothers underlie their friendship, and things can become rough when conflicts arise.

A survey done by NHK shows how mama-tomo are being ranked in their circles based on the following criteria:

  • husband’s income (66%)
  • money spent on child (55.6%)
  • child’s academic & athletic ability (50.9%)
  • size & location of house (45.4%)
  • being or not being a full-time housewife (31.5%)
  • mother’s job before marriage (25.9%)
  • mother’s appearance (17.6%)

Yes, they do have rankings in their own circles of mama-tomos!

What are some of the troubles faced by these mothers?

  • parents interfering with quarrels between children (29.8%)
  • being outcast or ignored (17.0%)
  • being talked about badly (17.0%)
  • having conflicting opinions or feelings (17.0%)
  • someone who you are supposed to be angry at is getting angry at you instead (10.6%)
  • others (36.2%)

Hence, this intricate yet delicate relationship between mothers has gained attention in recent times, where popular culture tries to unravel the mystery of mama-tomo.

The TV drama series Desperate Motherhood (or 名前をなくした女神 which literally means “goddesses who lost their names”) depicts the lives of five mothers who face challenges within the mothers’ community.

Why the unusual title? Mothers in Japan seldom call each other by their names. Instead, they are often referred to as (insert child’s name)’s mama etc. For example, Terry’s mother would be called テリ君ママ (Terry’s mama).


For those who prefer to read, Matano Nao drew Mamatomo no Okite, Honne & Sadame based on her personal experience as a mother of 15 years, and observations of mama-tomo around her. This light-hearted series deals with the competitive spirit that mama-tomo hide behind their sparkly smiles!

So, how exactly should mama-tomo interact with one another?

Here are 3 important rules to remember:

Image from
  1. Mama-tomo are NOT your friends. They are the mothers of your child’s friends and not to be treated with the same value as friendships. It is better not to treat such feelings as friendship like you felt back in your school days towards other mama-tomo.
  2. Socialising with mama-tomo is a form of society training. You will not be able to get along with everyone. Even if you do feel a sense of dislike towards someone, society is such that you would have to continue socialising with her even under such circumstances.
  3. It is better not to just live in a world of mama-tomo. If relationships between mama-tomo were to become your main social interactions, trivial matters would come to be thought of as serious instead. It is advisable to be in contact with your interests and other people as well.

Despite subtle rivalry between mama-tomo, many do achieve satisfying and long-lasting friendships!

Are mothers in other countries facing the same situation? What are some differences in relationships between mothers worldwide vs. those in Japan?

What do you ladies (and guys) think?



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