Japanese Women in the Workforce

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Due to Japan’s conservative and traditional society, most Japanese women have played the role of wife and mother instead of pursuing careers. The common ideal for young women within Japan is to marry a salary worker and to raise a family. Oftentimes, Japanese women do not plan to pursue a career because the challenge of raising children is enough for them.

Japanese women also face a large amount of pressure from society. Not only must a wife cook her husband meals and make him bento lunch boxes, but she must also care for her children, dress them, keep a tidy house, make sure the children get to school on time, make dinner, bathe the children, tuck them into bed, satisfy her husband, and then plan for the next day. The vicious yet “rewarding” cycle of motherhood doesn’t leave much room for a career let alone a part time job.

Since 1990 around 50% of all Japanese women have participated in the paid labor force, however, they leave due to factors such as marriage, child birth, or to assume the role as caretaker. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave their jobs when they have children and don’t come back. If a woman returns to the workforce after having children, it is usually 5-10 years after the birth of her first child and instead of seeking out a career the majority of women take on part time jobs for extra income.

Japanese companies notoriously under pay their female employees. Women roughly earn 60% as much as men and very few women hold positions of authority such as manager or CEO. On top of that many female employees receive fewer benefits and smaller insurance policies within companies. This makes the allure of a career less enticing and deters many women. For most, job security is crucial and very hard to find.

Recently, Japan’s birth rate is on the decline. In theory this should not make sense. Women are staying home to fulfill the role as housewife so that should result in a higher or stabilized birth rate. Along with a declining birth rate Japan is also facing problems such as longer life expectancies and an increasing elderly population resulting in an economic recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to boost Japan’s economy by encouraging more women to join the workforce. However, Japan is also facing a child care crisis. Women who want to return to the workforce are faced with the difficulty of finding care for their children. Day care centers are often looked down upon by Japanese society because a child is not “receiving enough maternal care”. The Japanese perspective or normality is to see a mother with her child instead of in temporary care. So if a woman wants to come back to work after fulfilling her role in Japanese society as a mother but faces criticism and backlash by placing her child in day care (assuming she even finds a day care) it only perpetuates Japan’s contradictory views of women.

Many people believe that Japanese society and culture must change before women can be seen as equal in the work place. Societal pressure, stigmas, and sexism are so ingrained in Japanese culture that it could take decades or generations before a significant change can be seen.


Gender Inequality

by Michael McDonnell

The Irish constitution enacted in 1937 states that:

“1° the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

These declarations, though strongly criticised, are still in place today. I feel they give a good indication of the traditional Catholic views that influenced the policies of the state at its inception. The Ireland of today is quite different. In a 2014 survey by The World Economic Forum, Ireland was ranked 8th out of 142 countries on the global gender gap. This is calculated by examining the pay, health, education, and economic and political participation. As of 2013, 47% of workers are female, making up 55% of women. Half of women with children are working.

However, there are still many problems regarding gender inequality to be addressed. On average women are paid 12.6% less than men and women hold only 30% of managerial roles. Fewer than 20% of directors of large corporations are women.

One way Ireland is trying to address the gender imbalance is through the use of quotas. Currently, women only make up 19.4% of the Irish parliament placing Ireland 23rd out of the 27 EU member states for the representation of women in government. In 2012, legislation was enacted that required all political parties to ensure that women made up 30% of all candidates put forward in the next General Election and 40% within 7 years of that. Parties in breach of this quota risk having their government funding cut by half.

As no general election has occurred since been called since this legislation was enacted it remains to be seen what effect this will have on Irish politics. Much in the same way that quotas in business attempt to put women in managerial roles rather than just as board members, commentators have criticised the policy for not affecting local and regional elections. Women make up just 17% of local government bodies, where traditionally, politicians get their start and work towards the national legislature.

Japan is a lot like Ireland in the way it has seen the role of women in society, as a caregiver in the home. Japan has however been slower to address the gender gap in its society. Currently women make up just 1.2% of executives of Japanese companies and just 11% of the members of the Lower House of Parliament. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has set a goal to increase the number of women in executive positions in Japanese companies to 30% by 2020. This is not a legally binding directive but he has promised tax incentives for companies who reach the quota and has promised to increase the number of day care places and the length of family leave available to entice women to come back to work after having children. At the moment around 70% of women leave employment once they start a family.

A report from the Japanese Gender Equality Bureau in 2011 recommended the adoption of gender quotas in the political system and it was accepted by the cabinet. However, the report was non-binding and did not set specific quota levels.

Abe has said that “Women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and while Japan seems to be correcting this underutilisation it seems to be proceeding at a slower pace to other developed countries and to be missing the important issue of gender balance in political representation.


Buckley, F. 2013. Ireland offers an example of the way in which gender quotas can be implemented in national parliaments. EUROPP. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/11/29/ireland-serves-as-an-example-for-the-way-in-which-gender-quotas-can-be-implemented-in-national-parliaments/

Covert, B. 2014. Japan Sets Ambitious Goal For Increasing Women In Executive Suites. [online] Thinkprogress.org. Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/01/02/3111731/japan-women-boards-goal/

Global Gender Gap | World Economic Forum. 2014. Global Gender Gap. Available at: http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-gender-gap#

Independent.ie. 2014. Gender equality is still a problem in many Irish board rooms – Independent.ie. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/gender-equality-is-still-a-problem-in-many-irish-board-rooms-30527067.html

Ryan, S. 2014. Irish system has failed to provide higher number of women TDs: Taoiseach. TheJournal.ie. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/irish-system-has-failed-to-provide-higher-number-of-women-tds-taoiseach-332522-Jan2012/

Sanchanta, M. and Koh, Y. 2014. Japan Ponders Quotas for Women in Politics. WSJ. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304569504576403401964052630

Taylor, C. 2014. Ireland ranked in eighth place in gender gap rankings. Irish Times. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/ireland-ranked-in-eighth-place-in-gender-gap-rankings-1.1979254

A Critique of Abenomics

by Robert Moorehead

Political posters are a common site in Japan, and—surprisingly from an American perspective—are rarely defaced with graffiti. In this case, Prime Minister Abe’s policies met with some public disapproval.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Yasukuni and Nationalist Identities, Japanese and Korean

English: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lilia Yamakawa

In 1985, US President Ronald Reagan agreed to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany to lay a wreath in honor of Germany’s war casualties. Reagan’s team of advisors did not do their homework, and it was later discovered that the cemetery contained graves of some of Hitler’s elite officers who had taken part in the massacre of Jews. Here was a president who always talked about “American values”, and he was going to pray for soldiers who had caused the Holocaust. There were strong protests by Jewish groups, US congressmen, US military officials, and regular citizens who all urged Reagan not to make the visit. He felt he could not cancel, however, and instead, a trip to a nearby concentration camp was also scheduled for the day of the cemetery visit. Reagan was not anti-Jewish, nor was he a Nazi sympathizer, and he himself had even served on the “right side” of the war. Although he had simply bumbled into the visit, the “Bitburg Fiasco” turned into one of the lowest points of Reagan’s presidency. He and his handlers had failed to see the powerful symbolism of the visit.

One German political editor noted the day after the visit was announced that Germany “had been able to become a member of the community of civilized nations after the war not by denying but by accepting its Nazi past.”

The Reagan-Kohl idea of a historic harmony is, therefore, an insult not only to those who suffered and died in the camps. World War II was not just another European war. It was the darkest hour of European civilization. Its end brought to an end the world’s most atrocious regime and the world’s hitherto most dangerous conflict. It also laid the basis for a democratic West Germany and a united West (Lou, 1991).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on 26 January 2013, made his second visit to Yasukuni Shrine, a powerful symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism. Unlike Reagan who had bumbled into his visit, Abe went on purpose. Unlike the Americans, who had fought against the German aggressors, Japan was the aggressor. Unlike many Japanese leaders who deny many wartime actions, the Germans have accepted their Nazi past. Thus, it is understandable that the Koreans and Chinese would be upset by visits to Yasukuni by Abe and other officials.

This post explores national identity and visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese government officials. I examine how the visits help to form and strengthen a sense of nationalistic, racist self-identity among some Japanese. I will also show how the visits help to form a particular identity of Koreans today. This paper is based on Benedict Anderson’s (2006) Imagined Communities.

First, with regard to Japanese identity, Yasukuni Shrine shows us a negative side of Japanese nationalism and patriotism. Twelve class-C war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni. In fact, the government pressured the shrine to include the war criminals in 1978. The museum at the shrine, the Yushukan, does not show the atrocities that the Japanese army brought on its neighbors in Asia, controlling the way history is remembered. The shrine symbolizes the beliefs of ultra-nationalist right-wing groups today. Japanese officials not only insult Asian neighbors when they visit the shrine, but they also make the Japanese identity look bad to the world. Finally, while there is supposed to be a separation of religion and state, Yasukuni Shrine seems like a very political place that portrays nationalism based on “us vs. them.”

Love and self-sacrifice are important parts of a nation’s identity, and Yasukuni is a symbol of that positive side of nationalism and patriotism. Anderson points out that a love of nation is often expressed in its literature. Emperor Hirohito paid a visit to the shrine and wrote a poem that said: “I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino.” Because of this, soldiers who went to war would say “Let’s meet at Yasukuni.” These words signify loyalty to the emperor, to the nation, and to the Shinto religion. In this way, it was and remains a symbol of love and self-sacrifice.

People who believe it is the right or duty of Japanese, even government officials, to pray at Yasukuni argue that it is a spiritual place. To worship at Yasukuni is an act of love and gratitude to those who fought and died for Japan (John, 1991). Many Japanese also believe it is the right of the people of a nation to worship whoever and however they choose to worship.

Anderson discusses the roots of racism and says that in some cases it came from social class differences rather than nationalism. But in the case of the Japanese, is it possible that nationalism and racism were pretty much the same thing?

Koshino Kosaku is a sociologist who studies Japanese identity. He argues that “racialism” includes racism but is broader in meaning. He describes race as a socially constructed and imagined community because it does not have a real biological foundation, and because most members of the group don’t actually know each other. Although the Japanese are mixed, many of them imagine that they are a racially distinct and homogeneous group. These people believe that being Japanese is an unchosen result of nature. The Meiji leaders invented the idea of Japan as a “family-nation of divine origin.” All Japanese were supposedly related to each other and to the emperor. “Kinship, religion, and race were fused to produce a strong collective sense of oneness” (Koshino, 1998).

Koshino says that the notion of blood ties is still a part of the Japanese subconscious. The idea of Japanese blood makes the idea of “us v. them” stronger. Japanese culture is associated with a “Japanese race,” and Japanese tend to be possessive of their culture. Many people believe that no matter how long Chinese or Koreans live in Japan, they will always remain Chinese and Korean because they are different “minzoku”. He says the concept of “minzoku” can mean race, ethnic community, and nation. Anderson says that a nation is closed because it is something you don’t choose. It is, however, also open because through language and naturalization you can enter a nation. It seems that as long as the Japanese tend to think of themselves as a separate race and continue to feel racist toward others, Japanese nationalism is much more closed than open. Abe’s visits to Yasukuni only make this racist identity stronger. (Koshino, 1998)

Next, we will discuss Yasukuni and Korean identity. Whenever a Japanese official visits Yasukuni, the Koreans protest. It seems as Korean nationalism has been strengthened through protest against Japanese policy. Recently, the Korean president refused to negotiate with the Japanese because Japan refuses to apologize for its wartime actions. One Korean said that he can not talk about the history of his country without talking about what Japan did when it controlled Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Jukka Jouhki discusses the Japanese politicians’ visits to Yasukuni and the impact of those visits on Koreans. In the following passage he describes Yasukuni as a “wormhole”:

Symbolically, Yasukuni can be thought of as a wormhole that goes through time and space. When this wormhole crops up, the entire Korean nation seems capable of being transported backward into the era of Japanese colonial rule. (Jouhki, 2009)

Jouhki says that the Korean image of Japan is as it was in the colonial period, and Yasukuni represents imperial Japan just as if it were now. The image exaggerates the difference between us and them, Korea and Japan. He says that when the Koreans were colonized, it made the Koreans see themselves as “Other”, just as they saw the Japanese as “Other”, and Yasukuni represents an identity that they are still trying to work through. Therefore, Japanese leaders’ nationalism, expressed through visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the museum and textbooks that fail to show wartime atrocities, is not only a means to form a certain Japanese identity. It seems that Japanese nationalism strengthens a certain Korean identity as well.

Amartya Sen writes that a sense of identity can be positive because it makes us closer to others in our group, but it can also be negative because it can cause a deep feeling of division with those who are outside your group. He talks about how Al Qaeda tries to create a militant Islamic identity so that the people will feel the West is separate and bad. In the same way, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni creates sense of division from both the side of Japanese and Koreans.

The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live. The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity and … the illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price” (Amartya, 2006).

Visits to Yasukuni can cause certain groups, both Japanese and Korean, to get caught up in one identity, forgetting they have diverse identities, and this can lead to conflict. These visits cause some Japanese to identify themselves as Japanese in a nationalist, racist way. They can cause some Koreans to identify themselves as Korean and the former victims of Japanese imperialism in an overly nationalistic way.

Clearly, Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of patriotic love and self-sacrifice. It depends on your political beliefs as to whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing. I believe the people were used and sent to war by the Meiji oligarchs in their official nationalism, and they need to be prayed for. However, I believe, that we should pray for them in a place that is not so political and insensitive to the Koreans and others. It leads to a nationalist identity, on both sides, that is divisive and may lead to conflict and violence.


  1. Benedict, A. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.
  2. Calhoun, C. (1993). Nationalism and ethnicity. Annual Review of Sociology19, 211. 239.
  3. Lou , C. (1991). President reagan: “the role of a lifetime. (p. 520). Touchstone Simon and Schuster
  4. John, B. (1991). Yasukuni: the war dead and the struggle for japan’s past. (2007 ed., p. 56). C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
  5. Jouhki, J. (2009, May 8). The second invasion: Notes on korean reactions to the yasukuni shrine issue. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/179474/The_Second_Invasion_Notes_on_Korean_Reactions_to_the_Yasukuni_Shrine_Issue
  6. Koshino, K. (1998). Making majorities. (2007 ed., p. 19). C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd.
Enhanced by Zemanta