WORKING WOMEN IN JAPAN: LOW-STATUS JOBS, LACK OF OPPORTUNITIES, WASTED EDUCATION , FEW FEMALE EXECUTIVES

JAPANESE WORKING WOMEN

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Women accounted for 42.6 percent of the workforce in 2010 (compared to 35 percent in 1985) and 61.7 percent of the temporary employees. Of the women who work about 31 percent of them are self employed and 25 percent are part timers. In 1986, a law stipulating equal employment opportunities for men and women went into effect, and in 1997 this law was amended to explicitly prohibit gender discrimination in job advertisements, hiring, assignments, and promotions. In spite of this, the average monthly salary for women in 2010 remained at about 69.3 percent of that of men, and the upper-level managerial posts in major companies were still almost entirely filled by men. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“In recent years, the wage differential between men and women has been adversely affected by a new trend: in order to cut costs, large companies are increasingly using lowpaid part-time and temporary workers for clerical functions formerly performed by older and relatively high paid female employees. Women were paid 67.8 percent of what men made in 2008, compared to 43 percent after World War II, one of the largest gaps in the industrialized world. According to Global Competitiveness Survey in 2001-2002, conducted by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranked 69th out of 75 countries in terms of female participation in the economy.

“A childcare leave system that was implemented in 1992 has begun to show some effect as the number of women who take advantage of it is gradually increasing. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to improve the working environment and childcare infrastructure for women who want to have children while continuing to work. This is an area that has received increasing attention in recent years as fears over the rapid aging of Japanese society have prompted the government to look for ways to encourage women to have more children. [Ibid]

There is dual track employment system in Japan in which women are hired as office ladies secretaries and are expected to quit when they get married and men are given jobs with opportunities for advancement. What is becoming significant is that the number of those in the 35 to 45 age group, which had traditionally not worked, is rising. Between 2002 and 2009 the number of women in this age group rose from 5 million to 6 million.

Many women entered the work force in World War II while men were fighting. Today about 67.4 percent of women between 25 and 54 have jobs, about 15 percent less than countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In 1999, about 59.5 percent of women between 15 and 64 worked, around the same number that worked in 1960. In the United States, 70.7 percent women of that age worked in 1999 compared to 46.2 percent in 1960. [Source: OECD, International Labor Organization]

If Japan’s 60 percent female employment rate in 2009 could match the 80 percent rate among men, the country would have 8.2 million more workers to replenish its rapidly aging population and raise its gross domestic product by as much as 15 percent, said the report, by Kathy Matsui, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Japan.

“Since 1980 the percentage of households in which both the husband and wife are employed has been gradually increasing. Except for the years 1995 and 1996, since 1992 the number of such two-income households has exceeded the number in which only the man is employed, and the gap between the two categories has been widening in recent years.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; New York Times Article: Career Women Find Path Blocked nytimes.com ; Work Situation of Women in Japan jiwe.or.jp/english/situation/working ; Washington Post Article: Working Women Still Serve Tea washingtonpost.com ; Working Conditions for Women bookmice.net/darkchilde/japan ; Center for Advancement of Working Women miraikan.go.jp ; E-Book: Working Women of Japan (1915) uoregon.edu/ec/e-asia/read/workingwomenofjapan ; Academic Paper on Female Temporary Workers allacademic.com ; Labor Market Transitions for Female Workers in Japan nanzan-u.ac.jp/ASIAPACIFIC/documents/TomokoKishi

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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

On Women : 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

Links in this Website: LABOR, UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;WORKERS AND THEIR COMPANIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;FREETERS, TEMPORARY WORKERS AND FOREIGN WORKERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; 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 ; KAWAII, GOSU-RORI, AND STREET FASHION IN JAPAN 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

Sociolegal Status of Females in Japan

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: An important insight into the status of women and men in the realities of everyday life and legal statutes can be found in the workplace. Female employees who pass the tekireiki, or marriage age, without getting married often encounter discrimination, despite the enactment in 1986 of an Equal Employment Opportunity (E.E.O.) Act. While firing such a female employee is against the law, the atmosphere may become so strained because of inquiries from supervisors and colleagues that the unmarried female may decide to leave the company. Women who remain employees and unmarried after tekireiki must be compensated as they climb, however unwelcomed, the corporate ladder. Onna dakara (“Because I am a woman”) is a line often heard in the perennially popular and unabashedly sentimental Enka folk songs. Indeed, in a conservative country in which Confucian samurai ethics were resuscitated in the 1880s and fomented lucratively ever since in industrial disguise, being a woman can be difficult. Obligatory marriage and motherhood, and subservience to her husband and his family, would seem to have no place in a technopolitan economic supergiant in which half of the work force is female (Bornoff 1991, 452). [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

The E.E.O. law has been largely ineffectual because large corporations have a strong standing with the government, making enforcement of any measures against sexual discrimination unlikely. From the largest international firms to the smallest businesses, the widespread view is that sexual discrimination is unethical only according to concepts adopted in recent years, concepts which, to some, are quite foreign. The law entitles women to complain, but this more often than not results in “counseling” rather than action, and so few women complain. Even if filing a complaint could theoretically win a woman higher wages and guard her from dismissal, the action of filing a complaint would be viewed as a complete lack of loyalty to the firm and only earn her complete ostracism by her colleagues. Nevertheless, some major firms, including several banks, have recently moved to put ability before traditional stereotypes and hierarchical promotion, and stress greater sexual equality in the workplace. However, even when management gives female employees equality with males, the male business associates the women have to deal with are often uncomfortable or unwilling to deal with a woman as an equal (Bornoff 1991, 452). ++

Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: In 1986, Japan passed an equal-opportunity law for women that was purely advisory and only asked companies to make “an effort” to prevent discrimination against women. The 1986 law provided no penalties for companies that discriminated; it did not even mention the term “sexual harassment.” In December 1996, a Labor Ministry panel recommended putting teeth into the 1986 law by publicizing the names of violators and specifically barring sexual harassment. The panel said that the revised law should expressly forbid gender discrimination instead of simply recommending efforts against it and should ban advertising that describe jobs as “open only to women.” Despite these efforts, protection against sexual harassment in Japan lags far behind American and European standards. [Source: Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D. and Tsuguo Shimazaki Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 1997 hu-berlin.de/sexology ++]

Political Empowerment of Japanese Women Lower than World Average

Japan placed 42nd among 75 nations, just ahead of Macedonia, in the United Nations’s Development Program’s “gender empowerment measure,” an index of female participation in a nation’s economy and politics, in 2006.

In November 2011, Kyodo reported: “The level of political empowerment of Japanese women is more than two times lower than the world average, according to a report on gender equality released the World Economic Forum in November 2011. The influence that Japanese women wield over political decision-making processes is only 7.2 percent of the level of their male counterparts, against a world average of 18.5 percent, according to the forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2011. [Source: Mainichi Japan, Kyodo, November 2, 2011]

Japan ranks 101 out of the 135 countries covered by the report. Commenting on the low level of representation of women at the ministerial and parliamentary levels worldwide, WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab said in the report, "A system where women are not represented at the highest levels is both an unequal and an inefficient system." From a more general perspective on gender equality, the forum's Gender Gap Index for 2011 put Japan in 98th position. The index includes economic, educational and health-related considerations in addition to political empowerment.

Career Women and Working Mothers in Japan

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Few Japanese women are regarded as career women and fewer still combine a career with children. Married women make up 57 percent of the female work force and 65 percent of mothers are stay-at-home housewives. Families with non-working wives receive a tax deduction of $3,000. Once a woman earns more that $8,200 a year the deduction drops to $240. Women who work are also often denied benefits from their husband’s pension plan.

Japanese women often have to choose between raising children and holding on to a job because of the difficulty of doing both. Many working women have to quit their jobs after they get married. Those that continue working are encouraged to leave their job and follow the "normal" course after they have children. One reason the birth rate is so low in Japan is that woman don't want to give up their jobs for children.

Women often lose their jobs when the word is out they are pregnant. One woman told the New York Times, “I reported to my boss that I was pregnant and would like to take off for a medical check. When I came back from the hospital, I was sacked...{My bodd} had just left a message, saying that I needn’t bother coming to work anymore.”

Women who make the choice for career often find they can not get married, let alone have children. Some women get abortions because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Working women complain about a lack of day care facilities, long working hours and lack of allowances made for pregnancies and sick children. Some women have said they have been denied promotions and kept from participating in projects after staying home with a sick child. Many career mothers rely on their parents or parents in law to take care of their children, pick them up at day care centers, give them baths and even put them to bed.

Women and Japan’s Work Culture

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Employers prefer men because they stay with companies longer and don't require maternity and child-care leaves. Employers are less likely to expect married women employees to put in long hours because of chores they are expected to do for their families. Women are often the last hired and first fired in recessions because men are usually seen as breadwinners who put their families in dire straits of they lose thier job.

One of the biggest obstacles for women is Japan’s demanding morning-midnight corporate work culture. One woman told the New York Times she was skipped over for promotion when she starting leaving work before 6:30 in the evening to pick up her daughter from dare care. After being pushed into a dead-end clerical job she quit.

A woman who was the only child of a president of a small car part maker said that when she was a child her father cut her hair short and forbade her from playing with dolls. When she had her first son her father forced her from the company and anointed the infant grandson as his successor. When the father died she took over the company---the only women head of the 160 companies that supply Nissan with car parts---and said she returned home every night at 7:00pm to put her son to bed and then returned to work.

Waste of Educated Women in Japan

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the underemployment of well-educated women in Japan is a “considerable waste of valuable human resources.” Japanese women are among the best educated in the world. In 2005, 42.5 percent of them had at least some post-secondary education.

Only 65 percent of college-educated Japanese women are employed, many of them in low-paid temp jobs, compared with about 80 percent in the United States—“a significant lost economic opportunity for the nation,” Goldman Sachs said in a report in October. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave the work force after their first child compared with just one-third of American women, the report said, often because of corporate and societal norms, as well as insufficient child care. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 17, 2011]

In the academic community women only account for 12.4 percent of scholars, compared ro to 42.1 percent in Russia, 34.3 percent in the United States and 29.9 percent in Italy.

As Japan faces sharp population declines and labor shortages it needs more women to bear children and work when the opposite is in fact happening. One female cabinet minister told the New York Times, “If expected to work 15 hours a day, then most women will give up. Japan is losing half of its brainpower as it faces a labor shortage.”

Jobs Done By Japanese Women

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Women often work as uniformed OLs ("office ladies"). OL jobs are generally, low-paying clerical and service positions with duties such as opening doors, serving tea and coffee, doing secretary work and answering phones and being polite. OLs have been called "flowers of the workplace." They often hang out in groups and wear matching uniforms of skirts, white blouses and vests. Most quit when the get married.

Many women do tedious jobs in factories and fisheries, hold subservient positions in department stores or offices, or work as nurses, home care assistants, food service workers or teachers. Many of these jobs have "women only" listings in the classified ads. Rural women have long been expected to work without complaining, pay or inheritance. Today there are some but not many women taxi drivers, truck drivers and bus drivers.

Some women are required to cook for their superiors. Others have to speak in high voices. Some college-educated women who have worked for many years for companies still have dead-end jobs answering phones and writing memos for their bosses. Even women in management positions are routinely asked by male coworkers to serve them tea and push the buttons in elevators.

Many Japanese women, even those who are highly educated, still long to be airline stewardesses. Many fork out big money for training courses and the job themselves are hard to get. Some well educated women work as Miss Fairladys---miniskirted woman who stand smiling next a new cars at car shows.

When a women becomes a doctor, bank manager or soldier it is sometimes big news. Women were not allowed to driver Shinkansen bullet trains until 2003. There was even a woman Japanese astronaut.

In the 1990s, stewardesses at Japan Airlines became upset when their employers asked them to wear Mickey Mouse ears on the job. The airline had recently signed a $3.5 million deal with Disney which allowed them to paint Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the exterior of three of their planes, and the mouse ears were another ploy by the airlines to raise profits. "It's a childish...I wouldn't do that," a former flight attendant told the Wall Street Journal. After complaints the flight attendant union, it was decided that the flight attendants will decide if there are enough children on the plane justify wearing the ears."

Low-Paying Jobs Done By Japanese Women

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Many female employees are part time workers who receive low pay. Even in relatively high income households with working women, the women often have low-paying jobs.

The majority of part time or temporary workers are women. They often work as hard and put in long hours like full time workers but receive less money and are denied benefits and opportunities for advancement. The slang word for a part-time work is a "throw-away" because they are repeatedly hired and fired. Many women sign contracts that only allow them to work for three years.

Women often fill in gaps for companies that cut costs by hiring part time workers. Women often have no choice but to take such jobs because they still have family responsibilities and regular workers are expected to work overtime without pay.

The central government has a tax system that encourages married women to earn less than $10,000 a year to take a tax deduction from their husband’s earnings.

Japanese Working Women, Family and Children

Only about a third of Japanese women remain in the workforce after having a child, compared to two thirds in the United States, and only about 30 percent of those that lave their jobs tpo have a child return to the workplace. Of those that return to work only half get jobs as regular employees. Others work in part time or temporary positions.

Obstacles for working women with children include long working hours and lack of understanding from men. For many the burden of giving birth and raising children is too much to overcome. A white paper cited the difficulty in supporting women in childbirth, child-rearing and nursing care as the main reason behind their lack of advances by women in the academic world.

When women that leave the job market to get married and have children re-enter the job market when they are in their 40s they often find that the only jobs open to them are part time positions with low pay and low skill levels. Two thirds of women who work at private companies earn less than $30,000 a year, with many earning less than $10,000.

In some places there are shortages of nursery schools and day care centers making it difficult for working moms to have their kids looked after. There has been an increase in the number of kids on waiting lists for nursery schools as more mothers return to work after they have children. Some women can’t find nursery schools or dat care centers near their houses and have to travel a considerable distance to get to a nursery school.

See Single Mothers, Women

Only 0.5 percent of Japanese men take government-guaranteed parental leave, compared to 17 percent in Sweden.

Survey: Most Women Leave Work after 1st Child

In December 2012, Jiji Press reported: “More than half of working women left their jobs around the time they delivered their first child, according to a government survey. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey conducted on female employees who delivered their first child in May 2010, 54.1 percent had left their jobs within six months from the time of their deliveries. [Source: Jiji Press, December 15, 2012]

The survey showed 35.3 percent of those who were working full-time said they had to quit their jobs because it was difficult to balance work and child-rearing, while 10.5 percent said they were fired or asked to leave their positions. The largest proportion, at 40.7 percent, said they voluntarily left work in order to fully commit to child-rearing. A total of 25.6 percent said they quit due to health reasons related to their pregnancies. [Ibid]

It is important to provide support for women to continue working to counter the declining birthrate, a health ministry official said. The number of women who left their jobs was down 13.3 percentage points from a similar survey in 2001. A total of 93.5 percent took parental leave, up 13.3 percentage points from the previous poll. Only 2 percent of male employees took leave, up 1.3 points. The ministry sent surveys to 43,767 mothers and received 38,554 responses. Of them, 18,132 delivered their first child in May 2010. [Ibid]

Working Women, Having Children and Childcare

The increase in the average age of marriage for both men and women and the increase in the number of people who are remaining single are major factors behind birthrate declines. Working women’s reluctance to have children, due to the inadequacy of public systems that would help make holding a job and raising children compatible, is also a contributing factor. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

A Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare study found that while more than 70 percent of the mothers surveyed had been working one year prior to the birth of their first child, six months after the birth more than 70 percent were not working. In addition to a lack of desirable jobs, another barrier to mothers who would like to work outside the home is that men still participate relatively little when it comes to helping with housework and childcare. This can be partly attributed to deeply rooted attitudes that housework and childcare are “women’s work,” but another part of the problem is that more and more men---especially in the group of ages from 25 to 40 most likely to have small children---are working longer and longer hours of overtime. [Ibid]

The government considers the problem of a declining birthrate to require urgent attention, and in 1991 it passed the Child Care Law, which stipulated that employers cannot refuse requests from either men or women to take time off from regular work schedules in order to care for children less than one year of age. Subsequently revised a number of times, the law now permits persons satisfying certain criteria to take childcare leave up until the child is one and a half years old. There are also provisions allowing parents of a child younger than elementary-school age to take up to five days off work a year to care for the child when he/she is sick or injured. In addition to the falling birthrate, the other factor behind the aging of society is the rise in average life expectancy. [Ibid]

Addressing the needs of working people in this situation, family care leave provisions were added to the Child Care Law in 1995, and it was renamed the Child and Family Care Leave Law. This revision, which went into full effect in 1999, enables workers to leave their regular jobs for specified amounts of time in response to a need to give special care to a spouse, a parent, a preschool child, or a spouse’s parent. [Ibid]

Lack of Career Opportunities for Japanese Women

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Most companies reserve their career positions for men. Only 3 percent of the engineers and 4 percent of the managers in Japan are women. It is not unusual to find banks where 99 percent of the managers are men.

Many offices have two career paths: sogoshoku (future management) and ippanshoku (for women who want to marry and stop working). Many women don't have any choice in which category they are placed. For the graduating university class of 1995, there were 45 job openings for every 100 women compared to 133 for every 100 men. During economic slowdowns some companies hire new male employees while laying off women and announcing they won't hire any women clerical workers or recruit less women for career positions.

The lack of advancement opportunities for women is referred to as the "thick glass ceiling." Explaining why the situation persists, a woman board member of Hitachi told AP, “People in management positions are all middle-aged men who can’t get beyond their old-fashioned thinking. They don’t want to use women who, they fear, will get dragged down by family commitments. Given equal ability, they’d rather go with a man.”

In a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey on why women do not play a more active role in companies, 43 percent of respondents said they lacked knowledge, experience and judgment and 35 percent said women tended to leave companies when they had enough experience to advance to managerial positions.

Executive Women in Japan

The number of women in managerial positions in Japan was only 10.1 percent in the mid 2000s compared to 42.5 percent ion the United States and 20 percent to 50 percent in other industrialized nations, according to an International Labor Organization survey. Only South Korea and France ranked lower with 7 percent. In Japan there hasn’t been that much improvement since 1985 when 6.6 percent of all managerial jobs were held by women.

The proportion of women working as section chiefs or higher in companies with at least 100 staff has remained extremely low at 6 percent. Only 8 percent of managers are women, compared to 40 percent in the United States and 20 percent in China. Even Kuwait has more women on its boards than Japan. A manger at one of Japanese conglomerate told the Economist that even though 70 percent of the qualified applicants were women 90 percent of the new hirees were men.

A Yomiuri Shimbun editorial read: “The government established a target in 2003 of raising the proportion of women in leadership positions in key sectors of society to at least about 30 percent by 2020. The current rate, however, stands at just 10 percent...The percentage of women occupying leadership positions has already reached 42 percent in the United States and 37 percent in Germany, meaning Japan has been lagging far behind the United States and European countries in terms of gender equality.” A 2011 government white paper on gender equality, approved by the Cabinet in June 2011 says women's participation in many fields is still insufficient, and calls for redoubled efforts to promote gender equality in all parts of society.

Japan has the lowest level of women in executive positions of any developed country. Just 0.1 percent of board members of Japan's top companies are women. Of the 300 companies surveyed only five had women board members. As of 2004, only two women sat on the boards of Japan’s 37 Fortune Global 200 companies---at Sony and Hitachi. By contrast all 78 of the U.S. companies on the list had at least one female board member.

Masako Nara, senior executive at Canon, was one of the first women to attain a senor executive position at a major Japanese company. She said her mentor in the company that told her never serve tea at the office.

In July 2010, Ari Fuji became Japan’s first airliner captain (or in other words, a full pilot rather than a copilot).

Difficulties Women Face in Corporate Japan

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It is especially hard for Japanese women to advance when employers expect them to go on heavy drinking binges and have low golf handicaps. Promotions sometimes are based on exams that men but not women prepare with special company-sponsored classes.

Women who run their own business find they are not taken as seriously as men. One woman told the New York Times that when she gave a presentation men only pretended to listen to her and when she was finished they asked her who her boss was. She said that she finally she hired a man to stand beside her and said sales increased dramatically after that.

Many business meeting extend past 6:00pm, when women are expected to be home. Home commitments also exclude women from the after-hours socializing, where many important decisions are made. At some Japanese companies women executives are not informed of important meetings and male employees are given credit for work they did. When they complain they are told: "you are forgetting your place as a Japanese woman."

Many Japanese women who have successfully advanced up the corporate ladder have done so at American companies which welcome talented women. Many of Japan's most talented women have found that they have much better career opportunities abroad, in Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States.

Discrimination Against Women Workers in Japan

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Office Ladies (OLs)
Japan ranked 91st out of 128 nations in a gender equality survey by the World Economic Forum

Women workers in Japan typically make 30 to 40 percent less money and receive fewer benefits like vacation time and health insurance than their male counterparts for positions requiring equal training and experience.

Employment advertisements often specify age and sex. Japanese labor laws, which identify women as the "weaker" sex, restrict the number of overtime hours they can work and allows them to stay home during their menstrual periods. Major companies such as Mitsui require unmarried females to live with their families.

In 1999, Ayumi Kurdia, the popular host of morning talk show, was forced to resign from her job when gossip magazines revealed that she had quietly gotten a divorce two years earlier.

Women in their 20s earn nearly as much as men their same age because women can work full time and often have the same job opportunities as men.

Sexual Harassment in Japan

It is not uncommon for male bosses to read sexually explicit comic books, make comments about breast size and tell dirty jokes in front of female employees. Groping, sexual banter and conversations about underwear are also common in many Japanese offices.

When asked for his opinion on the issue of sexual harassment, a 30-year-old businessman said, "I would think a woman would be flattered to be told she had big breasts."

These days sexual harassment is much less tolerated than it used to be. In 2000, the Osaka governor Knock Yokoyama was forced to resign after a 21-year-old campaign worker claimed he groped her for 30 minutes in a van. Other prominent people in the media have been fired after groping girls on subways.

Legislation to Improve Working Conditions for Women

Japan has gender equality laws on par with those in other industrialized nations. Employers are required to give six weeks of family leave before the due day and one year of child care leave after the baby is born. Employers must also guarantee a comparable job is waiting for the women when they return to work

Opportunities and conditions for women have improved slowly over time. In 1986, the Equal Employment Law was passed. In 1990, a court decision made unequal pay for equal work illegal. In 1994, a new rules prohibited companies from setting quotas for the number of women to recruit, banned them from sending recruiting material to men but not women and prohibited them from excluding women from positions because of their family status.

In 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunities law was revised to mandate equality in hiring and promotion. Laws were also lifted that kept women from working after 10:00am, defined sexual harassment and strengthened discrimination rules. Companies were told their activities would be monitored.

Equal opportunity legislation is widely disregarded. There are no real punishments for companies that continue to discriminate and enforcement is weak. In some cases the worst punishment the Labor Ministry mete out is to publish the names of violators, a move that has never been taken.

Even is cases of blatant discrimination or harassment lawsuits are rarely filed because of cultural reservations about litigation. Lawyers file less than a dozen sexual harassment suits are filed each year. In the 1990s a publishing company was ordered to pay a woman damages of $15,700 for spreading rumors that she was promiscuous and an alcoholic. Another woman sought $55,700 from her employer for persistent, uninvited sexual advances by her boss.

In 2000, woman won a discrimination suit against her employer, a drug company, and received $260,000 for back pay and discrimination. In 1996, a female bank employee named Shina Shinkin, who been continually refused advancement while younger men with considerable less experienced than her were given promotions, won a sex discrimination suit in which her employer was ordered to give her $900,000 in back pay and urged immediate promotions for 11 women working at the bank.

Women in the Workplace Legislation in Japan

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law for Men and Women, which came into effect in April 1986, was revised in June 1997 in order to speed up measures to counteract malefemale discrimination. The revised provisions implemented in 1999 prohibit gender-based discrimination in job recruitment, employment, allocation of specific posts, and job advancement; they also make employers responsible for the prevention of sexual harassment. These revisions point mainly in the direction of placing much clearer responsibility for cases of gender-based discrimination on employers. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Along with the revision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law for Men and Women, the Labor Standards Law was revised in such a way as to remove special restrictions on work done by women during holidays, late at night, and during other nonregular working hours. This revision underscored the idea that giving women special treatment was a sort of gender-based discrimination. Although labor conditions for men and women have thus been equalized, there are in fact numerous claims that women for the most part are still responsible for doing the housework and raising the children. The disappearance of regulations that give women special protection might therefore increase, rather than alleviate, the social burdens women bear. In 2010, 42.6 percent of all persons employed in all branches of industry in Japan were women. In 1975, the corresponding percentage had been 32.0 percent, after which time more and more women found employment, particularly in service and food industries, wholesale and retail outlets, and electrical equipment manufacturing. [Ibid]

More than a decade of economic stagnation in Japan has led companies to cut back on their hiring of new university graduates, creating a very difficult environment for young women, as well as young men, looking for jobs. The employment rate of university graduates was almost equal with 91 percent of men and 91.2 percent of women finding work in 2010. However, the positive picture implied by this small gap is complicated by the fact that more female graduates take part-time jobs, and the fact that while many enterprises hold nonrestricted company-introduction meetings and carry out other recruitment activities in which female university students take part, they may not, in actual practice, offer suitable or equal employment opportunities for women. The reality reveals that most women sense an invisible barrier, yet to be breached. [Ibid]

It is hoped that the 1997 revision of the Equal Opportunity Law for Men and Women will continue to have a positive influence on this situation. Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of male and female irregular or part-time workers among all working income-earners has grown considerably, from around 20.0 percent in 1996 to about 34.3 percent in 2010. Deregulation has accelerated this trend by greatly increasing the range of job categories in which companies can use temporary “dispatched” workers in place of regular employees. [Ibid]

Improvements for Working Women in Japan

On survey found that companies with women making up 40 to 50 percent of their workforce made double the profits of companies where women made up 10 percent of the workforce.

An increasing number of firms are trying to keep their female employees by providing better care for pregnant women and young children. Some companies give their female employees money for day care costs. Others have set up day car facilities in their offices. Others still are offering more opportunities to work at home.

The Child-Rearing and Nursing Care Leave law came into effect in the early 1990s. There is a proposal to make employees with small children exempt from working long hours and overtime and extend the amount of leave one can take when a child is born

Japan’s shrinking population and labor shortage is forcing changes. Some analysts have estimated that a quarter of the career-track hirees in recent years have been women.

The number of women scientists and engineers increased from 70,445 in 1985 to 143,166 in 1995. In 1997, Mitsubishi made a number of changes to improve the opportunities for women and minorities after it endured one the United States's largest sexual harassment suits. In 1999, Mazda announced it would promote 500 women into supervisory positions.In 2005, Fumiko Hayashi was name head of Daiei and Tomoyo Ninaka was named CEO of Sanyo Electric.

Woman Who Created Toshiba’s Glasses-Free 3-D TV

Rieko Fukushima, a researcher at Toshiba, developed a way to do away with the glasses of 3-D television. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough as a woman,” said Mrs. Fukushima, 39, who led Toshiba’s effort to develop the world’s first “naked eye” 3-D TV. The project began nine years ago, when she had just returned from maternity leave. “Sometimes, I’d see it in my colleagues’ expressions,” she said—“What? A woman? This age? In charge?” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, January 17, 2011]

Mrs. Fukushima’s success, Tabuchi wrote, has therefore been welcomed as an inspirational tale of what can happen when things fall into place: a driven woman, a supportive family, and a company trying to diversify its work force. “As a researcher, her ideas are cutting edge,” Yuzo Hirayama, the head researcher at Toshiba’s TV research unit, told the New York Times. “Her communication and networking skills also never cease to astound me.” [Ibid]

“It was in 2002 that Mrs. Fukushima, after maternity leave for her first child, helped set up a new research and development team to explore the possibilities of 3-D displays,” Tabuchi wrote. At the time, there was skepticism at Toshiba over whether 3-D technology could be commercialized. Still, Mrs. Fukushima saw the potential in an early prototype. From the start, she was convinced that the viewing glasses that accompanied most 3-D technology would have to go.” [Ibid]

“In conventional 3-D TV technology that uses glasses, images for each eye are rapidly displayed one after the other. Filters in dedicated glasses flash on and off in sync with the TV, so that the right eye sees one image, then the left eye sees the next image, creating the illusion of 3-D. But Mrs. Fukushima proposed a new approach: developing an algorithm that draws on a Toshiba imaging processor called the Cell to display nine images for each frame. A sheet on the screen angles each image so that the right eye sees only images meant for the right eye, while the left eye sees only images meant for the left eye. The biggest challenge was making a TV that displays 3-D images even when viewed from wider angles. Toshiba has not entirely solved that problem: its TVs work best when viewed from within a 40-degree zone.” [Ibid]

“Designing a mass-production setup to keep costs down also posed difficulties, something Mrs. Fukushima tackled by building a network of experts from around the company. But pressure mounted as the project progressed. “When I was just a researcher, a setback would only reflect badly on myself. But now that I was leading a team, I had to make sure nobody lost faith,” she said. “I needed to think things through harder than anyone else,” she said. “I often felt overcome with worry, but I tried not to show that at meetings.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: Hector Garcia, Ray Kinnane, japan-photo.de japan-photo.de ;

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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