WOMEN IN JAPAN: HISTORY, CHARACTER, CUSTOMS, ADVANCEMENTS AND VIOLENCE

WOMEN IN JAPAN

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Japanese women are among the best educated in the world. In 2005, 42.5 percent of them had at least some post-secondary education.

In 2010, Japan ranked 94th among 134 nations in the World economic Forum’s ranking of equality among the sexes. It was ranked 101st among 134 nations in 2009, 80th among 115 nations in 2006, 91st among 128 nations in 2007 and 98th among 130 countries in 2008. In a 2008 ranking Japanese women came in 97th in political empowerment, 102nd in economic participation and opportunity and 82nd in educational attainment.

Contemporary expressions for women include "parasite single" (adult children, especially females, who live with parents and have jobs and lots of disposable income), "three meals and a nap" (an expression used to describe the care free existence of housewives), a "Christmas cakes" (unmarried women over 25, a reference to a cake that nobody wants after December 25) and "old mountain hag" (young women with an unnatural tans, streaked hair and thick make-up).

In August 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The happiness level for women in their 30s, 40s and 50s was almost uniform, but it peaked when they reached their 60s at 7.32, according to the survey. Midori Kotani, researcher at the institute, said Japanese men in their 40s likely find the challenges of raising children, work and caring for parents stressful, but Japanese women seem to relieve their stress by talking to others with similar concerns. [Source: Jiji Press, August 9, 2012]

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: JAPANESE FAMILIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SALARYMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MOTHERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE WORKING WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TAKARAZUKA, JAPANESE ALL-FEMALE THEATER Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GEISHAS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GEISHAS AND THE MODERN WORLD Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE CHILDREN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources: Samurai Women on About.com asianhistory.about.com ; Women in Ancient Japan www.wsu.edu ; Japanese Women Get Thinner japanprobe.com ; Japanese Women Don’t Get Wrinkles www.more.com ; Wikipedia article on Women in Japan Wikipedia ; Family, Marriage and Women’s Issues family.jrank.org ; Gender Roles family.jrank.org ; Tale of Genji Sites: The Tale of Genji.org (Good Site) taleofgenji.org ; Murasaki Shikibu Biography womeninworldhistory.com ; Murasaki Shikibu?Bio, Quotes and Links infionline.net ; Tale of Genji Summary and Characters mcel.pacificu.edu ; Tale of Genji Links meijigakuin.ac.jp

Work and Women 2003 Article on Working Women in Japan Japan’s Institute of Worker’s Evolution ; Equal Work Law Equal Work Law ; Gender Equality Bureau gender.go.jp ; Fem-Net, site on the Women’s Movement in Japan (last updated in 2000) jca.apc.org/fem ; Foreign Executive Women (FEW) in Japan fewjapan.com ; Field of Mugi, a site for Working Mothers mugi.com/en ; National Women’s Education Center nwec.jp/English

History of Women in Japan

Of the eight empresses that have ruled Japan, six reigned during the Nara period (A.D. 710-794).

The matriarchal family system that dominated Japanese social structures in ancient times was still in place in the Heian Period (794-1185). There were female feudal lords, and economically-independent women artists and writers that left a distinct "feminine" imprint on the culture of that time.

Women became leaders in literature in the 10th century because they were still required to be versed in the Chinese classics. The Hokkekyo sutra spread by the Tendai sect, founded in A.D. 850, raised the idea that women could achieve Buddhahood.

In the Edo period, prostitutes mingled with daimyos and members of the Imperial court, set the fashion trends of the day and often enjoyed social standing higher than that of noble ladies. But male dominance was also prevalent. Daughters were often sold, a pregnancy that resulted in a daughter was called a dog stomach and twin daughters were regularly abandoned.

Describing the "inordinate respect to ladies" in Victorian London in 1872, one Japanese government official wrote, "The ladies...assume an air of importance equivalent to that of an imperial princess in our land." A nadenshiko (“traditional Japanese young lady”) is expected t be well-versed in things like the tea ceremony and Japanese dance.

Before 1867, women needed passports to travel on the Kiso Road. Before the end of World War II, women had no property rights in Japan.

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Tale of Genji and Women

Tale of Genji is Japan's most famous classical literary work. Regarded by some scholars as the world's first important novel and the first psychological novel, it was written as an epic poem by Murasaki Shikibu (975-1014), a lady from the Japan Imperial court, between A.D. 1008-20.

While Prince Genji--a man--is the main character in the novel the real focus of the book, many think, is the thoughts and emotions of the women who loved him. Respected author and Buddhist nun Jakucho Setouchi told the Daily Yomiuri, “Shikibu wrote about the pain and joy the women felt in their relationship with Genji and how they overcame their grief. Because she wrote about women’s emotions and there desires, the tale is still enjoyed 1,000 years later.”

Some scholars say the novel was far ahead its time in that it expressed the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters. Japan expert Donald Keene told the Daily Yomiuri, “Let’s take the Greek stories, We never see inside the person. We know what they did, but never really think about their feelings. In so much of “Genji” the different people in it are independent of action.” The The Tale of Genji “presents emotional conflicts and depicts people’s sensitivity.”

Many of Genji’s lovers sit around waiting for him to show up and seem to take great pleasure in being exploited. Rokujo no Miyasudokoro is a Genji lover whose jealously becomes a viscous game resulting in the murder of her rivals.

The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami wrote: Rokujo “becomes so consumed with jealousy over Genji’s main wife, Lady Aoi, that she turns into an evil spirit that possesses her. Night after night she attacks Lady Aoi in her bed until she finally kills her...But the most interesting part of the story is that Lady Rokuju has no inkling that she’d become a living spirit. She’d have nightmares and wake up only to discover that her long black hair smelled like smoke. Not having any idea what was going on, she was totally confused. In fact the smoke came from the incense the priests lit as they prayed for Lady Aoi. Completely unaware of it, she been been flying through space and passing down the tunnel of her subconscious into Aoi’s bedroom.”

See Literature

Traditional View of Women in Japan

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The female writer Natsuo Kirono has observed that status of women in modern Japan is derived first from youth and beauty, second from whom they marry and third from the school their kids get into. Their success at being a wife and a mother is measured by things like the school performance of their children and how well they makes box lunches.

Even today, many married women still call their husbands shujin (master), send their daughters to charm school to learn how to be good wives and have no ambition to enter the world of overworked, stressed out salarymen. The ideal woman in the eyes of many is still the self-sacrificing “good wife, wise mother.” Child rearing is still regarded as the primary duty of women. Housekeeping is also important. Women are expected to do the cleaning and cooking and in many cases peel apples, get cigarettes and make coffee on the demands of their husbands.

Women have traditionally controlled the purse strings in their families. Many give out allowances to their husbands. The Los Angeles Times described one woman who took the money after she paid her mortgage and utilities and placed it into separate envelopes for food, medical expenses, her kids and miscellaneous.

Outdated views of women endure in the highest levels of government. In January 2007, Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare minister Hakuo Yanagisawa was widely condemned when he called women “birth-giving machines” in a speech on the declining birth rate.

Mariko Bando---a graduate of prestigious Tokyo University who became an elite bureaucrat and deputy governor of a prefecture and university president after marrying and having children’said “Japanese society hasn’t matured enough yet to accept independent and aggressive women.” Her guide for young women, The Dignity of a Woman has sold 3 million copies in the mid 2000s. In the books she advises against talking too fast, condemns bargain hunting and stresses the importance of writing thank you notes and being punctual. She advises not to share problems with friends and “reveal one’s weak and unattractive sides.” She also offers tips on maintaining dignified manners, using dignified speech and wearing dignified clothes.

Status and Gender Role of Women in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Although in reality Japanese tradition has never frowned on working women, and today the majority of working married women are obliged to help make ends meet in their families, the officially sponsored portrait of “wholesome” family life invariably shows that the proper place for women is at home. In a country where stereotypes are treasured, emphasis on the established proper roles of women is especially noticeable. It extends to demurely polite deportment, a studied innocent cuteness, a “gentle” voice one octave above the natural voice and always a nurturing, motherly disposition. The modern woman in the world of the salaryman [white collar workers] is a cross between Florence Nightingale and the minister of finance (as women are always totally responsible for household finances). Superior intelligence is a liability for girls and women, and must be disguised. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

In ancient times, Japanese women wielded considerable authority. Until the eleventh century, it was common for Japanese girls to inherit their parent’s house. The rise of Confucianism and a conservative moral movement that preached the inferiority of women in the early eighteenth century significantly reduced women’s role. In some respects, Japanese women today have less power in society than they did a thousand years ago. Fewer than one in ten Japanese managers is female; women in less-industrialized nations, like Mexico and Zimbawee, are twice as likely to be managers. Only 2.3 percent of Japan’s key legislative body are women, compared with 10.9 percent in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this regard, Japan ranks 145 in a list of 161 countries, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. ++

In a 1982 opinion poll conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office, 70 percent of the Japanese surveyed agreed with the statement that “Japanese women still believe a woman’s place is in the home and that little girls should be brought up to be ‘ladylike.’” In a 1989 multinational survey by the same agency on the theme “Men should work and women should stay home,” 71 percent of the Japanese women either completely or somewhat agreed with the premise (see also discussion of Figure 36 in Section 5B). Critics suggest that respondents to government surveys may be inclined to give answers they believe the authorities want to hear, so it is important to balance these government survey results with similar surveys in the private sector. In one such survey conducted by a noted cosmetics firm, four fifths of the women found working women admirable, and 70 percent rejected the notion that a woman should quit her job after marriage (Bornoff 1991, 453). Still, the argument that traditional sex roles are strongly valued in Japan is persuasive when one considers that only 20 percent of Japanese firms offer female employees a year’s maternity leave, in most cases without pay, and that day-care facilities are woefully inadequate. (One should recall, however, that the record of American corporations is not much different on these issues, and certainly lags far behind the policies in some European countries.) ++

Formation of Gender Roles at Home and in School

Both parents and teachers tend to be less aggressive in encouraging female students into achieving higher educational goals, in contrast to male students, because of expected gender roles. Most people believe that women, unlike men, do not have to work to support their families once they marry. According to a 1999 survey of the parents of fourth to ninth graders, the majority of parents (69.3 percent) wanted their daughters to be “like girls” and their sons to be “like boys” (So-mucho- 2000b:123-124). Many parents expect their daughters to have a “woman-friendly” education such as junior college. Parents generally expect their sons more than their daughters to attend four-year colleges. According to a 2000 survey, 66.9 percent of parents of children ages 9-14 expected their son to go to a four-year college, while 44.7 percent of parents expected their daughter to go to a four-year college, and 17 percent of them wanted their daughters to go to a junior college (Naikakufu 2002:104). [Source: Miki Y. Ishikida, Japanese Education in the 21st Century, usjp.org/jpeducation_en/jp ; iUniverse, June 2005 ~]

According to the 1995 Social Stratification and Social Mobility (SSM) survey, women who had high academic achievements in the ninth grade tended to attend institutions of higher education, regardless of their father’s occupations. The only exception can be found in women from blue-collar backgrounds. It is because it is far less expensive to attend local colleges. However, women in their 20s whose grades were average during ninth grade were 50 percent more likely to attend colleges if their fathers were in professional and managerial positions than those whose fathers were in clerical and sales positions (Iwamoto 2000:87). Many private colleges and junior colleges are not competitive. Therefore, female students who have average grades can still attend colleges. Those who have fathers in professional and managerial positions may also be more encouraged to attend colleges. ~

Furthermore, according to surveys taken in 1980 and 1982, parents tend to spend more on their sons for private educational institutions, such as private after-school classes (juku), private tutors, and correspondence courses than on their daughters (Stevenson and Baker 1992:1643-1655). However, in recent years more parents, especially mothers agree with gender-neutral education at home. According to a 1995 survey, only one-third of women between ages 25-44 agree that boys and girls should be raised differently, compared with more than half (53 percent) of the same age group of women who agreed with the statement in the 1985 survey (Ojima and Kondo- 2000:29-30). ~

In the United States, since the 1970s, education specialists found gender-specific “hidden curriculum” in classroom management, student guidance, and school events, through classroom observation and textbook analysis. Based on classroom observation, they argued that teachers in general expect male students to do better in class than female students, and that teachers interact with male students more than with female students in class. The analysis of textbooks and instructional materials confirms the lack of women’s contributions and the invisibility of females in curriculum materials (Sadker and Sadker 1994:55-65, 70-72). ~

Japanese feminist activists and educational specialists have followed the example of the United States, and began to analyze textbooks and classroom management. Textbooks, especially those on Japanese language arts, social science, and home economics often have many examples of stereotyped gender roles and sexism. An analysis of the 1991 elementary textbooks for 1992-1996 academic years found that the main characters in novels and important figures in history are overwhelmingly male. Traditional gender roles are strongly emphasized, such as the depiction of women as being kind and generous, while men are depicted as being decision-makers and breadwinners (Niju-ichiseiki 1994:22). ~

Also See Separate Article on GOALS, IDEALS AND WOMEN IN JAPANESE EDUCATION Under Education

Women and Men in Japan

Many Japanese women complain of Japanese men who work long hours, decline to share in child rearing chores and see marriage as way to acquire life-time, live-in help, expecting to be fed, clothed and looked after when the get married,

A 37-year-old a career woman in Tokyo, who said she had no plans to get married, told the Washington Post: “I have never met a man who did not want me to be his mommy...I am willing to take care of and give comfort to a man whom I care about, but that does not mean I want to be his mother.” She said if she gets married, “I want a mature, equal-partner kind of marriage.”

On why Japanese men are not more overtly polite to women. Advise columnist Shinichiro Shuto told AFP, “To be frank, Japanese men do not oppose the lady first ideal. Its just looks too showy and cheesy for us to copy Westerners. And the biggest problem is the gap in perspective---Japanese men tend to or want to believe that women do not need such gestures, but in fact women do want and need them.”

51 Percent of Japanese Think Wives Should Stay Home

In December 2012, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “More than half of the public supports the idea that husbands should be the breadwinners, while wives should stay home and do housework, a recent government survey showed. According to the survey on gender equality by the Cabinet Office, 51.6 percent of respondents supported traditional roles for married couples. The percentage increased by 10.3 percentage points from the previous survey in 2009. By age, the rise was largest among those in their 20s, at 19.3 points. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 17, 2012]

The percentage of people who supported traditional roles rose for the first time since the survey was first given in 1992. Similarly, the percentage of those who opposed the idea also fell for the first time. Among those in their 20s, 55.7 percent of men were in favor of wives staying home and doing housework, up 21.4 points from the last survey. The percentage among women in the same age bracket rose 15.9 points to 43.7 percent. [Ibid]

Prof. Kakuko Miyata of Meiji Gakuin University said prolonged economic uncertainty may be one factor behind the changing trend among young people. "I suspect young people today are deeply concerned about their futures because of prolonged difficulty in finding jobs and the sluggish economy, so they may wish for the home to be a source of emotional support," said Miyata, an expert on social psychology. "Another factor may be that people began to attach more importance to home life after the Great East Japan Earthquake.” [Ibid]

The survey also indicated improved public awareness regarding gender equality at work, with 28.5 percent of respondents saying men and women are equal at work. The figure, up 4.1 points from the previous survey, was the highest since the survey began. When asked in what occupations they would like to see more women, 54.5 percent of respondents indicated Diet, prefectural and municipal assembly members. Corporate managerial posts were second at 46 percent. Respondents were allowed to give multiple answers to this question. The survey, which was conducted in October, polled 5,000 adults nationwide. Valid responses were received from 3,033, or 60.7 percent. [Ibid]

Bound to One’s Husband in Life and in Death

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “For centuries in this male-dominated society, women have been guided by the concept of ie, or household, in which wives are bound to their in-laws for life---and beyond....Formally abolished at the end of World War II, the system has hung on in many parts of Japan.” One of the central requirements of the system us that women are buried with their husbands' families. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011]

Noriko Hegosaki told the Los Angeles Times she often joked with her friends about breaking free of their mothers-in-law in the afterlife."It would be nice to be buried with my own parents, but in reality it's very difficult," the 46-year-old homemaker said. "For many women, once you marry into a family they're your fate, even after death." Women say efforts to be buried with their own parents often fail because of tradition: Hidebound by the past, many families will politely turn their backs on a daughter, advising her to work things out with her in-laws. [Ibid]

“Activists say the burial requirement is one of many outdated responsibilities women are forced to shoulder within the Japanese family structure,” Glionna wrote, “Many must perform duties such as caring for their in-laws. Some of those traditions are also being challenged. In February, six women filed a lawsuit fighting a 113-year-old civil law that precludes brides from keeping their surnames when they marry, insisting that the law violates their right to equality.” [Ibid]

Challenging the Male-Dominated Status Quo

“Quality-of-life changes here, including climbing divorce rates, higher education levels and increased geographic and social mobility among women, mean many are now thumbing their nose at a tradition that often forces a lifelong divorce from their own families,” John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “Sociologists say societal cracks first began appearing in the 1970s when young people started opting out of arranged marriages. The ensuing years continued the breakdown of the nation's extended family hierarchy. Couples divorced. Children moved cross-country from their parents. Daughters-in-law took demanding jobs that left them less time to devote to their in-laws.” [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011]

"The concept that a woman no longer marries into her husband's family but solely chooses the individual is a fundamental change in Japanese society," Kimiko Kimoto, a sociologist at Hitotsubashi University outside Tokyo, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's been a step-by-step breakup of the three-generational household in Japan. For many families, a daughter-in-law's refusal to take care of her husband's parents and not wanting to be buried with them can cause serious marital problems, even divorce." Kimoto, who is in her mid-60s, said it is highly educated women who are seeking new roles within their families. "Many of my colleagues are rebelling and they are influencing the younger generation as well," she said. [Ibid]

Choosing Not to Be Buried with One’s Husband’s Family

More and more women are choosing to be buried somewhere else other than with their husbands' families. "Women are rebelling against the idea of being buried for eternity with people they didn't even like that much in life. They see it as a form of eternal torture," Yoriko Meguro, a sociologist at Tokyo's Sophia University and former Japanese representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, told the Los Angeles Times. "The refusal to be buried in the husband's ancestral plot is the last stand against traditional family confinement." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011]

At Aoyama cemetery, one of Tokyo's largest public burial grounds, new sections are reserved for people who want to be buried alone or with a spouse, unconnected to larger family sites. "It's left the door open for ... changes in burial rites," Meguro said. "In modern life, you have to make choices. These decisions are no longer predesignated." In a 2009 study by a Japanese life insurance company, only 29 percent of women said they wanted to be buried in the family ancestral site, compared with 48 percent for men. More than 26 percent said cemeteries were no longer necessary, preferring to have their ashes spread at sea or on land, compared with 15 percent of men. [Ibid]

“Years ago,” Glionna wrote, “Junko Matsubara, a popular writer on women's issues in Japan, founded a movement whose aim was to break free of male dominance. The group bought a burial plot in a suburb west of Tokyo, and members have since been buried there. The group calls itself SSS, for "single, smile and senior," and has 600 members “ some divorced, some single and others unhappily married.” "The point is not simply to avoid being buried with one's husband, but rather to learn how we as women can lead more independent lifestyles," Matsubara told reporters soon after forming the group. [Ibid]

Meguro also sees a generational element to the burial issue. "Most women who are opting out are middle-aged," Meguro told the Los Angeles Times. "The eldest are still too bound by tradition and the youngest have not seriously considered this subject yet." Meguro said she has decided to shake up tradition with her own decision: She doesn't want to be interred with her husband's family. "I haven't told him yet," she said, laughing. "If he wants to be buried with them, he can; that's up to him. For me, I think I'd rather just be buried with my cats." [Ibid]

Japanese Women Character

The Japanese writer Sumie Kawakami who has interviewed a number of Japanese women about the intimate details of their lives said that most women may not be “happy-happy” but are content with the lives and able to ride out the troubles that affect them. “Japanese women,” she said, “are changing drastically, They’re becoming more demanding, they’re becoming more independent. They want more from life---more love, more work, more free time, more everything. But society hasn’t been changing as fast as they are. It has to catch up. So they have this internal struggle, but they can’t act on it yet because society hasn’t changed fast enough.”

Japanese women tend to come across as shier and humbler than European and American women who often project an air of confidence. Many women avoid trying to stand out and Some try to look invisible.

The beauty expert Ines Ligron told the Daily Yomiuri that Japanese women often fail to make eye contact when they talk and have a relatively blank facial expression. “I think many Japanese women don’t know how they look when they talk ...Japanese people are shy, but as soon as you turn, they look at you---your legs, your bum, your back, your hair.” She said that Japanese walk with a shy, hesitant stride that says, “Don’t look at me, I’m here but shouldn’t be.”

Women Customs in Japan

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Many Japanese women cover their mouthes when the laugh. Traditionally, a woman that laughed too loud or openly was considered uncouth and ill bred.

Women office workers are still often allowed to take a day off from work once a month when their period starts. Many think that women having their periods should not enter a Shinto shrine because they are regarded as impure. In the old days, menstruating women were required to stay outside Shinto shrines in huts surrounded by a purifying agent.

Many Japanese men look upon women smokers with disgust and consider smoking a very unladylike thing to do. Over the past decade of so smoking and drinking has increased dramatically among women.

The "Ladies First" rule is generally not followed in Japan. When the door of a crowded elevator or subway car opens it is usually the men who emerge first. On one Japanese who broke this trend, a Japanese woman said, "He was so Americanized, very much a gentleman," she said. "He hung my coat, let me sit first"

At funerals women are often required to sit and walk behind male relatives and are sometimes not welcomed on receiving lines for guests. Housewives are often required to hand a beer to their husbands as they step out of a bath all the while putting up with verbal abuse from their husbands and mother-in-laws.

Cuteness and High Voices and Japanese Women

Japanese women are very much into "cuteness" (kawaii): Mickey Mouse, Poohsan (Winne the Pooh) and Hello Kitty are all very popular among women.

Japanese women who work as elevator operators, phone operators, office ladies and saleswomen sometimes talk in an unnaturally high voice that some Japanese regard as cute, polite and feminine but some Westerners and other Japanese find irritating.

One 15-year-old Japanese girl told New York Times, "When girls speak in really high voices, I just want to kick them in the head. It's totally fake and really annoying. It give me a headache. Mom tells me I speak in too low a voice, and that I should raise it."

Department store elevators girls are notorious for talking with glass-breaking falsettos when they tell shoppers: "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for favoring us by paying an honorable visit to our store. I will stop at the floor your honorable self is kind enough to use, and then I will go to the top floor." [Source: New York Times]

A low voice is thought of as too manly, pushy and aggressive. "Your voice in the office and your voice at home are totally different," one office lady told the New York Times. "The point is that when you are with a customer, you want to be polite. If you're being courteous, your voice naturally rises."

Independent Women in Japan

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Among many Japanese traditionalist no matter how beautiful a woman is or how successful she is with her career she is regarded as a “loser until she gets married and has children.” But modern women are finding they can live quite comfortable and have fulfilling, successful lives as independent women. Many single women enjoy the time the can spend alone. There are even special restaurant for women who like to eat alone.

A survey among both men and women in 2008 found that 55 percent o Japanese believe “women can lead a happy life without marrying.” This a marked change from the past. A similar survey was conducted in 1978 and only 26 percent said they believed that women could be happy without marrying.

The number of women that remain single into their 30 has more than doubled since 1980. Although many women do eventually get married (only 4 percent of women over 45 have never been married) many live their lives as if they will never get married. Demographers see this trend as perhaps the primary reason birthrates in Japan have plunged to such low levels.

According to a report Women on Strike by the securities firm CLSA because the number of children per married Japanese woman has remained about the same for three decades “the decrease in fertility is due almost entirely to an increase of women of reproductive age not getting married, and not having children.”

Conquest by surrender has been a familiar theme in Japanese history. Some say that is how women get what want.

See Single Women Below

Working Women in Japan

See Separate Article

Women in Politics in Japan

Japan has the lowest level of female participation in politics of any developed country. In 2006 Japan ranked 11th among 12 industrialized nation in the proportion of women among all national assembly members, at 9.4 percent. In 2005, it ranked 10th out of 10 in the proportion of women civil servants, at 20 percent. Even the Philippines and Malaysia ranked higher than Japan.

Women in Japan didn't receive the right to vote until 1945. Just 4 percent of representatives in the Diet are women. A few women have served as cabinet ministers but not many. For a long time there were no female cabinet members and no top female officials and the person in charge of women issues was a man in his 60s or 70s.

The Japanese Parliament (Diet) has been described as a gentleman's club. In the 1990s countries with the fewest female representatives included Kuwait (0); Mauritania (0); United Arab Emirates (0); Jordan (0); South Korea (1 percent); Pakistan (1 percent); Japan (2 percent); Turkey (2 percent); Nigeria (2 percent).

Women have a bit more success in politicians than business because more women (65 percent of them) vote than men. Among the political issues that interest woman are job discrimination laws and national labor laws that identify them as the "weaker" sex.

The power of women in government is growing. In a national election in 1996, about 10 percent of the 153 candidates were women. Koizumi encouraged more women to get involved in politics. Some saw the politicians he supported, including a former Miss Tokyo University and food author, as props and window dressing for the party.

A record number of women (190) won seas in elections for prefectural assemblies in April 2007. This is up from 164 in 2003, 136 in 1999, 52 in 1987 and 28 in 1979. A total of 367 ran in 2,544 contested seats, 2007. Two women were named to the new 17-member cabinet in August 2008.

The number of Japanese women in leadership positions is small. Women only account for 10.1 percent of parent teacher association leaders; 0.9 percent of mayors and other municipality heads; 10.5 percent of local assembly members; 3.8 percent of resident association chiefs.

Gender Legislation in Japan

In December 1996, the Japanese government prepared the Plan for Gender Equality 2000, and this led to the passing of the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society in 1999. The five basic principles covered in this law are: respect for the human rights of women and men, consideration to social systems or practices, joint participation in planning and deciding policies, compatibility of activities in family life and other activities, and international cooperation. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“Based on the provisions of the 1999 law, the Basic Plan for Gender Equality was approved by the Cabinet in December 2000. This plan includes the following 11 priority objectives: expand women’s participation in policy decision-making processes, review social systems and practices and reform awareness from a gender-equal perspective, secure equal opportunities and treatment in the field of employment, establish gender equality in rural areas, support the efforts of women and men to harmonize work with their family and community life, develop conditions that allow the elderly to live with peace of mind, eliminate all forms of violence against women, support life-long health for women, respect women’s human rights in the media, enrich education and learning which promote gender equality and facilitate diversity of choice, and contribute to the “equality, development, and peace” of the global community. [Ibid]

“As a result of the central government reorganization implemented in January 2001, the Cabinet Office was created, and the Council for Gender Equality and the Gender Equality Bureau were placed within the Cabinet Office. As one of the four major policy councils in the Cabinet Office, the Council for Gender Equality examines and discusses basic policies and other important matters on gender equality, monitors progress in achieving gender equality, and surveys the impact of government policy on gender equality processes. The Gender Equality Bureau serves as the secretariat of the Council for Gender Equality. It is mandated with the formulation and overall coordination of plans for matters related to promoting the formation of a gender-equal society, as well as promoting the Basic Plan for Gender Equality and formulating and implementing plans for matters not falling under the jurisdiction of any particular ministry. Every year more voices can be heard calling for women’s participation in government and politics. Thus, the government has adopted a policy of increasing the number of female members on government councils and commissions. [Ibid]

Advances By Japanese Women

Japanese women are among the best educated in the world. In 2005, 42.5 percent of them had at least some post-secondary education. One in five of the people taking the national bar exam were women.

Women are exerting themselves in other ways. Many women shoulder sacred shrines along with men at important festivals; girls play on boys teams in Little League baseball; and match their male coworkers beer for beer in after work drinking sessions. The number of women traveling overseas increased from 3.2 million in 1988 to 7.3 million in 1998.

When a housewife was asked by writer Elizabeth Bumiller why she liked carry a shrine with a bunch of drunk men at a noisy festival, she replied, "I forget I'm a housewife. I feel liberated. It feels like I'm going to a discotheque. I can relax. I can be myself."

In April 1999, a law was passed that banned discrimination in the work place. In June 1999, a sweeping "basic law" was passed that promoted equal rights for women.

Some Japanese women have come up with novel ways of asserting their independence. Some elderly women have displayed their distaste with their husbands and their mother in laws by purchasing separate grave sites far from their husbands so they won’t have to spend eternity together. According to one survey 20 percent of women want to be buried separately from their husbands.

Lack of Advances By Japanese Women

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Roland Kelts wrote in The Daily Yomiuri: Many women in Japan remain mired in a patriarchal culture that limits their career opportunities. Japan continues to rank embarrassingly low on the United Nations index of gender empowerment, beneath several of its less developed Asian neighbors. Overseas fans of Japanese pop culture often see an illusion of female empowerment, delivered via enticing visuals and storylines, and created mostly by men.

Japan has been criticized by a United Nations panel for making only lukewarm efforts to implement anti-discrimination measures. Among the Japanese policies that were singled were laws that discriminated against children born outside of marriage and provisions that stipulate married couples must have the same name.

Some Japanese women still get a day off from work every month because of their periods and many work as men-flattering bar hostesses. Women make up only two percent of all the personnel in the military, where they learn important skills like flower arranging. The first question women Olympic medalists are asked when they return to country is "Now that you've won your medal, when do you think you'll be getting married?"

Boys names are listed before girls names on school rosters. Comic books often feature brutalized women. On television a woman often sits next to the male hosts and acts as his cheerleader---agreeing with everything he says, praising his intellect and laughing at his jokes---but offering no insights herself. Many working women have no other duties than saying hello and acting polite. Stewardesses sometimes drop to their knees to serve people. Most women have names that implies they are a child. It has been said that Japanese men feel threatened by capable women and prefer women who are stupid.

In October 2010, a senior Japanese politician---vice minister of economy, trade and industry Yoshikatsu Nakayama---raised eyebrows at an APEC meeting when he said, “Japanese women find pleasure in working at home and that is part of Japanese culture.” In June 2003, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori asserted that women who didn’t have children where shirking their responsibilities and should be denied their pensions. “The government takes care of women who have given birth to a lot of children as a way to thank them for their hard work...It is wrong for women who haven’t had a single child to ask for taxpayer money when they get old, after having enjoyed their freedom and had fun.” Many men are believed to share this view. A government commission studying Japanese demographics concluded that main reason for Japan’s declining birthrate is the over education of women,

Thirty-two percent of women living alone between the ages of 20 and 64 in 2010 in Japan are in poverty. For men the figure was 25 percent. The change of government in August 2009 was seen as an opportunity to change the status quo and improve conditions for women.

Domestic Violence in Japan

Anti-domestic violence legislation was not passed in Japan until April 2001. Japan was the last industrialized country to pass such laws. Among the men who have been accused of repeatedly beating their wives was former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, winner of the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize. Many Japanese men still feel they have a right to beat their wives.

According to Japan’s National Police Agency, the number of cases of domestic violence handled by police in 2010 increased by 5,694 from the previous year ro 33,852. Females accounted for 97.6 percent of the cases. The number of cases involving injury or assault in which police took action rose 40 percent to 2,346. The number of stalking cases rose by 1,353 to 16,176, the agency said, [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2011]

According one study in the early 2000s, two thirds of the women asked said they been victims of violence or verbal abuse, a quarter said they had been victims of serous acts of violence and 16 percent said they had been beaten or kicked. A survey done in 1999 that one in 20 Japanese wives had suffered life-threatening violence during their marriage. Many women say they keep quiet about being abused because they don’t want to bring shame on themselves and their family. In a report released in May 2010, 20 percent of female university and high school student have experienced abuse at the hands of their boyfriends.

Some attention was drawn to Japanese domestic abuse when a Japanese diplomat was charged with punching his wife in the face at their residence in Vancouver, Canada in the late 1990s. When questioned by the police, the diplomat dismissed the incident as “a Japanese cultural issue” and said his wife deserved to be struck.

Women who live in abusive marriages find it difficult to escape. There are few shelters for them and few ways for former housewives to make decent wages. Many find themselves forced back into abusive marriages because they can’t make a living. Often there only alterative is to move in with their parents.

In November 2009, a woman who shot her husband in the head while he slept got a suspended sentence and avoided jail time based on a decision by a judge who felt she expressed deep remorse, had little chance of committing a similar crime and had been repeatedly physically abused by her husband who kept the murder weapon near him when he slept.

Sexual Assaults and Harassment in Japan

According to one survey, 60 percent of 459 Tokyo women surveyed said they had experienced some form of sexual assault ranging from verbal abuse to rape.

Only 6,124 rapes were reported nationwide in 1998. The true number is believed to much higher than that because most rapes go unreported. Women victimized by sexual crimes are regarded as dirty.

Perpetrators of sexual assaults often go unpunished. One American who was molested a Japanese man went to police. The man was arrested but police encouraged her not to press charges because he was a first time offender and he supported his parents. An increasing number of women who are the objects of unwanted male attention are fighting back by suing the men who harass them.

An expert on sexual abuse told the New York Times, “In Japan, there is a rape myth, which says that the victim of rape is always to blame. Moreover, women are told that if you suffer molestation or groping, you have to be ashamed. If you talk about it to anyone else to anyone else, you are going to be tainted for the rest fo your life.”

After a gang rape occurred at Tokyo university, one member of parliament remarked, “Boys who commit group rape are in good shape. I think they are rather normal. Whoops, I shouldn’t have said that.”

See Education, Teachers and Sex

JAPANESE GIRLS AND SINGLE WOMEN

See Separate Section

JAPANESE MOTHERS

See Separate Section

Image Sources: 1) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 2) Tokyo National Museum 3) Utamaro ukiyo-e 4) Goods from Japan 5) Ray Kinnane 6) xcorsystblog7)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2014

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