WOMENS’ ROLES IN JAPAN – CHANGE AND STAGNATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Many things have changed in Japan since WWII but many things have also stayed the same. This dichotomy is creating unwanted trends and having far reaching consequences for the entire country.

Certain cultural expectations have remained static over time. Employees are still expected to devote most of their waking hours to their company. Working past 10 PM is the norm and men are often expected to take clients out for drinks after work. Rigorous targets must be met in order to get raises and promotions. This culture of overwork even has a name – “death from overwork.” It’s been argued that this demanding work environment leads to inefficiency and low productivity yet it still has a tight hold on Japanese work culture.

Another social phenomenon that has not changed is that women are still expected to care for the home, children and elderly relatives. They are also still given onerous tasks that they must fulfill to adequately perform their roles in the home. Cooking, for example, is a major job for Japanese women. They must prepare numerous, small dishes for their families every day AND the school lunches that they must prepare for their children have to be works of art!

Dishwashers are not as common as in the U.S and neither are dryers capable of doing large loads. So most women have to hang wet clothes on clotheslines outside, which dramatically increases the amount of time needed to do a family’s laundry.

But this is just the beginning. American women would be horrified at the volume of paperwork women have to do, every day, for their children’s schools and day-cares.

That’s right. Pre-schools demand meticulous and voluminous daily journals documenting their children’s temperatures, what they eat, their moods, conversations, sleeping hours and playtime activities. The elementary schools and after school tutoring classes, ubiquitous for older children, also require that a parent corrects and approves every page of their child’s homework. Women are thus swamped with household and bureaucratic tasks at home, which affects their ability to work outside the home.

Japanese elementary school class

Here comes the change part – now close to 70% of women 15-64 have jobs. Nevertheless, the heavy burden of domestic tasks holds women back from advancing in their careers. They can’t put in the crushing hours men do when they are on the promotion track. As a result, almost half of all working women only work part-time and often the other half are on temporary contracts. This creates a huge pay gap between men and women and also a shortage of women in management-level jobs.

Only 1% of the female workforce is in management. Yet women who work more than 49 hours a week typically also put in close to 25 hours of housework a week. Men typically average less than 5 hours a week, even when their wives work too. Thus Japanese men do less housework and childcare than men in any other of the world’s wealthiest nations.

This rigidity of gender roles at home has ramifications in the economy and society. Japan’s economic status in the world has stagnated and China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. The Prime Minister of Japan has pledged to return the economy to steady growth, which means countering the severe labor shortage due to a declining as well as a rapidly-aging population. To increase the workforce and energize the economy, the Prime Minister’s goal is to elevate and increase women’s participation in the workforce. This initiative is called “womenomics.”

The problem is that for women to increase their impact on the workplace, everyone has to reduce the bruising hours expected at work so the women can begin to catch up to the men. In addition, the rigid and excessive demands on a woman’s time at home have to be reduced – and/or these tasks must be shared more equally by the husbands. But that would require a major change in social norms and entrenched gender roles, which is not likely to happen quickly.

However, social change is happening in Japan, just not in the way the government wants or society needs. The biggest trend in Japanese society today is the tremendous surge of women choosing not to marry at all! More and more women are rejecting the life of domestic drudgery that comes with marriage and parenthood and the concomitant drag on their career advancement.

The Japanese are exhausted most of the time

This is a problem because Japan is also suffering from a decline in population that politicians are frantically trying to reverse. The birth rate is the lowest it’s been since 1899 when record-keeping began. The economy can’t continue to grow if the workforce continues to shrink.

The statistics on women staying single are dramatic. In the mid-1990s, only 1 in 20 women in Japan had never been married by the age of 50. By 2015, 1 in 7 remained unmarried. In women ages 35-39, 10% were unmarried 20 years ago and now 25% are staying single. The number of couples getting married is at its lowest level since WWII.

There is some good news for the business world. A growing number of new businesses have sprung up to cater to this large market of single women. Single Karaoke Bars have women-only zones, restaurants market to solo diners, travel companies book tours for single women and photo studios offer photoshoots where women put on wedding dresses and pose for solo bridal pictures. There are even solo wedding ceremonies for women committing to their independence and their single, career-oriented lives.

Women no longer need husbands to ensure their economic security because if they stay single and avoid the cultural demands on wives and mothers, they can put in the hours to get ahead at work. They can also have the freedom to pursue hobbies, travel and cultivate large circles of friends. Many see this lifestyle as more rewarding than being stuck in the quicksand of the socially mandated gender role of wife and mother.

Until these domestic roles are redefined, Japan will see more and more women opting out of the domestic rat race. And the population will continue to decline along with the economy. I’m not sure how the government can mandate the kind of social change they need, but they may have to try. It should be interesting to watch how this social experiment works out.



Categories: Ellin Curley, Relationships, women, Work

Tags: , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Fascinating! I wondered if there were changes in how the family operated. It seems there are some improvements for women, but much more is definitely required!

    Like

    • It’s such a culture-wide set of issues, I can’t imagine that it will be easily settled. In ONE respect, China beat Japan completely because many of these issues were settled when they become Communist. It may be the single good thing to come out of Chinese communism — that and making it possible for most people to actually EAT. There used to be mass starvation.

      Like

    • The only ‘improvement’ for women in Japan is that they are welcomed, albeit in a limited way, into the work force now. But that ‘advancement’ for women has come with a high price – the double burden of crushing home duties as well as long hours at work.

      Like

  2. those school lunches were over-the-top!

    Like

  3. You can see why there’s a decline in the Japanese population.
    Leslie

    Like

    • I’m amazed that anyone gets married and has kids in Japan! At least women. Men, as everywhere else, have it much easier, though the expectations for them at work are off the charts. The government is tearing it’s hair over the population decline but there are no quick fixes for a culture so seeped in tradition and historical role definitions. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. A real time social experiment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember watching a documentary about dating in Japan and it was obvious that the workplace culture is a major factor. It will probably take a couple more generations to even things up a bit so that both men and women can have time for work and family life. Not an easy thing to change in a rather conservative country. I had not heard about the solo weddings though, that is interesting although I think probably pushed along by commercialism. All those single career women don’t benefit the wedding industry much.

    Like

    • I think there are solo weddings here and in the U.K. as well, just not as many as in Japan. Life in Japan sounds pretty stressful and exhausting. There is no balance between work and family life and it’s no surprise that women are opting out of having to participate in two rat races at the same time. One is bad enough. I’m surprised anyone has time to date and get married at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such an interesting and informational post! Solo weddings…maybe that will catch on here?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Marilyn Armstrong Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Story Board

News Stories

Covert Novelist

Just another WordPress site

The Small Dog

Life from the Tail End

Cee's Chronic Illness Sisterhood

Peer support and hope for women with Chronic Illness and their support team.

Salted Caramel

Blogging, Motivation, Lifestyle and much more.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Echoes of Life, Love and Laughter

Sarah's Attic Of Treasures

Making My Home A Haven is important to me. Sharing homemaking skills. Recipes and food. Bible Studies. This is a treasure chest of goodies. So take a seat. Have a glass of tea and enjoy. You will learn all about who I am.

Green Screen

The Environmental Movie Podcast

Crittering

Crittering (noun) - the observation of critters in their natural habitat.

Works by Martha Kennedy

Historical Fiction, Memoir and Paintings

bushboys world

Photos of my world and other stuff I hope you will enjoy too. Photos taken with Canon PowershotSX70HS Photos can be purchased.

musingsofanoldfart

Independent views from someone who offers some historical context

SeanMunger.com

Official Site of Speaker, Historian and Author Sean Munger

The HOBBLEDEHOY

I use the best, I use the rest

This, That, and The Other

Random musings on life, society, and politics.

My Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

I'm a Writer, Yes, I Am!

Martha Ann Kennedy's Blog, Copyright 2013-2020, all rights reserved to the author/artist

National Day Calendar

Fun, unusual and forgotten designations on our calendar.

Cee's Photo Challenges

Teaching the art of composition for photography.

Trent's World (the Blog)

Random Ramblings and Reviews from Trent P. McDonald

Views from the Edge

To See More Clearly

serial monography: forgottenman's ruminations

wandering discourse, pedantic rant, self-indulgent drivel, languorous polemic, grammarian's bête noire, poesy encroachment approaching bombast, unintended subtext in otherwise intentional context, unorthodox unorthodoxy, self-inflected rodomontade, …

draliman on life

Because sometimes life just makes you stop and think

The English Professor at Large

Posts about old Hollywood, current concerns

sparksfromacombustiblemind

EMBERS FROM SOMEONE DOGGEDLY TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL...

The Day After

Musings, Photography, Writing, and More

THE SHINBONE STAR

NO LONGER ENCUMBERED BY ANY SENSE OF FAIR PLAY, EX-JOURNALISTS RETURN TO ACTIVE DUTY TO FIGHT THE TRUMPIAN MENACE!

Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

Welcome to the Anglo Swiss World

ScienceSwitch

The Fun Side Of Science

%d bloggers like this: