Precarious life for Japanese women at work

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

Anonymous student post

This time I would like to think about how is the current precariousness of life in Japan affecting my plans.

After graduate from Ritsumeikan University I would like to get a job. To get a job, I have to do job hunting but there is a “ikizurasa” for woman. It is said that women have much difficulty when they do job hunting because many of the companies think that women tend to retire after they get married, or have children. The companies don’t want to hire people who clearly quit job because no matter how supervise women, it will be absolutely nothing. But there are many women who will not get married or have children. So I think there is a unfairness between men and women, and it will be a “ikizurasa” for Japanese women.

Even if I write this way, I think I will quit job when I have children, and it is related to “ikizurasa” because I believe there is “ikizurasa” not only in the society but also in the company. There is a system that men/women can take a childcare holiday for several weeks whenever the employees want. I think that it is a good system for everyone who got children because you can take care of them, not to abolish or leave them in grandparents care. However, if you take childcare holiday, you will fall behind to the same period. I don’t think that falling behind to the peers is a bad thing, but most of the companies regards the employee as lacking of the ability. But there is a bad aspect to take a childcare holiday.  After I take the holidays, it will be difficult to get back to the job because I would not know how was the company going on during I take the holidays. I think this means that l will lose my “ibasho” in the company. I regard “ibasho” as the place where I can get comfort both physically and mentally. I have a image that companies change very fast so even if the employees take holidays for a while, it will be difficult to catch up the work, and surrender will be changed.

After I raise up my children, I want to open a small English private cramming school in my house. These days, we have variety of jobs nothing to do with gender. I think this is a improvement of “ikizurasa”.

Above all, these are my life plan and thinking. I want to find my “ibasho”.

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Skin Color and Beauty in Japan

by Miyu Fujino

Compared to other countries, there is less racial diversity in Japan. Non-Japanese people who live in Japan for a long time will notice that there are many implicit customs which follow an old Japanese tradition. One of the traditions is to try to be same as people around us and not out stand too much from them. Many Japanese people believe that if they follow the custom, they can live peacefully in the society. This is an element of Japanese culture, and there are many sayings which are related to this idea.

  • 和して同ぜず (washite dou zezu) -coordinate with other people but not do immorality thing or loose independence.
  • 出る杭は打たれる (deru kui ha utareru) -if you stand out too much, people will accuse you.
  • 付和雷同 (fuwaraidou) -do same thing as others

Therefore, for a long time, Japanese people have tended to follow and be normal and try not to stand out. I think that is one of a reason why Japanese people do not prefer dark skin because dark skin is unusual in Japan.

In Japanese society, for a long time, having white skin is one of the features of beauty and regarded as a good thing for women. There is an old proverb (色の白いは七難隠す iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which translates to “white skin covers the seven flaws,” meaning a fair-skinned woman is beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

However, there was a period when this idea didn’t fit. Ganguro: An opposition to the idea of fair skin beauty grew. This subculture appeared in the 1990s but died out in the early 2000s. Young girls preferred to be tanned and wore unique makeup and clothes. This Ganguro was started as an anti-tradition movement among young people. Young people challenged to Japanese traditional society and the stereotype that women have light skin, black hair and stay calm and not stand out.

Recently, white skin has been strongly supported by women again. I’m sure you have seen women who wear sunscreen, umbrella, gloves, sunglasses, big hats, spray, and powder. They are trying hard to protect their skin from the sun. But the reason why they are doing is because everybody is doing. Now, the word ‘bihaku’ is getting attention from women. Bihaku is a Japanese marketing term and often used for representing skin whitening products and cosmetics. Bihaku products are highly popular among women. They are also popular with teenage girls and those in their twenties who strongly affected by the information from the internet and media.

Japanese media and cosmetic industries install in women the idea that only small amount of sunshine can damage their skin. Therefore, Japanese women try to avoid to be exposed to sunshine even a few seconds. Many beautiful actress and models who have white and clean skin appear on the TV and that’s also a reason why people use bihaku cosmetics which is advertised by those beautiful famous people. Japanese TV often broadcast many programs to introduce UV care goods and suggest people to avoid sunshine. Media is helping to plant the thought in people’s minds that they should avoid sunshine and should use bihaku products.

Media often make people believe lighter skin is more beautiful by using white skin beautiful actresses or models. And use them to advertise bihaku cosmetic products as if by using the products, people can be like them. As media has a power to affect people (especially young people) strongly, they have to have an awareness and responsibility for their influence and try hard to give correct information to people.

Face lotions and creams from 8brand from kanebo have caused accidents. (September 2013) People who used these got white spots in their skin. All of the products contain skin lightning component called Rhododenol which is treated as a medicine and effective to control melanin in skin. Kanebo is the 3rd highest earning company in Japanese cosmetic industry and most people know the name. Many TV commercials were broadcasted and the company had a pretty high reputation among women. Therefore, people who trusted the brand got damaged both physically and mentally. More than 10,000 people got the white spots.

It is a normal thing for women to try hard to be more beautiful and that means to have lighter skin in Japan. People’s willingness to have lighter skin is one of a reason why this company to cause this accident. In Japan, skin color does not affect social status or salary. People want white skin just because they believe lighter skin is more beautiful and that is what other people say. However, I think Japanese people have to rethink what beauty is for each of them but not only following other people.

Women’s Consciousness of Skin Lighteners in Japan

by Mai Kusakabe 

In South Africa, there are a lot of women who want to make their skin color lighter because they try to get better status and become more attractive. Then, how about Japanese women? What are they thinking about their skin color? Actually, we can see a lot of cosmetics and drugs to make their skin lighter in pharmacy. So in order to reveal what they are thinking, I did questionnaire about skin color, and ask ten Japanese girls answer it.

girls

 

The first question of my questionnaire was which girl do you prefer, and which is more attractive for you? And why do you feel the girl is more attractive?

Nine out of ten girls answered that they like or want to be a girl on the left, who looks Caucasian. Another girl said she liked the middle one, who looks more Japanese. She said middle one seems the healthiest of the girls. Most girls have the same answer, and the reason why they choose left girl is almost the same, because she has white skin! She looks Caucasian! So she looks beautiful!

The second question was have you ever used skin lighteners? And do you do any efforts to make your skin lighter?

To this question, every one answered Yes. This result is kind of interesting. Every girl seeks to get lighter skin somehow, for example, using face lotion and take a supplement including a component to make skin white and using sunscreen to prevent their skin from ultraviolet rays. Thus usually Japanese girls do something to keep or improve their skin color.

The third one is do you use a sunscreen? Yes or No. And for the person who answered Yes, is it for which reason, for health or for keeping lighter skin? Two girls answer No, and the rest answer Yes. Five of them said it is for keeping lighter skin, two of them said for both and one said for health.

The fourth one is why do you do such efforts? Why do you want to be lighter skin? There are two types of answer of this question. First type is that they think or believe white skin is beautiful. Second type is that they said everyone insist white skin is beautiful, so I think so too. The biggest differences between two are their opinion influenced by others or not.

So what kind of factors influence Japanese girls’ opinions of skin color? The options are TV, advertisements of cosmetics, magazines, the Internet, status, public opinion and other. The choice which attracted most votes is TV (six points), following public opinion, magazines (four points), advertisements (three points), the Internet (one point). And there is no vote to status. From this result, we can understand that most people don’t realize that there is connection between skin color and status in Japan, for example trying to get lighter skin is to become more attractive, this is kind of trying to get better status. In addition their idea that white skin is beautiful is mostly influenced by media. One girl said my favorite model has white skin, so I want to get white skin like her. Indeed popular models and actress have lighter skin, and many girls long to be like them. Lighter skin has come to one of major factors to be like admired woman.

Thus, as we can see from this questionnaire, Japanese girl prefer lighter skin. And most of them do some efforts to make their skin lighter, for example, about 70% of girls use sunscreen for keeping their skin color lither. They don’t think it’s for their health, just for their own beauty. They regard white skin as beautiful. The biggest factor of their preference of skin color in Japan is media which give us images of popular models and actress who have lighter skin that makes us long to be like them, and give us impression that lighter skin can get more popularity and attractiveness. The important thing is that it is not always right. Sometimes it makes us wrong decision. So we need to judge whether it is right or not.

Japan reaches top rank – in gender inequality

by Michelle Liebheit

As The Mainichi reported last month, Japan has been slipping down on the gender gap ranking for the last couple of years. This year it finally reached the lowest rank in gender equality within industrialized countries. We talked about this topic various times in class too, but most of our discussions were based on perception rather than data. I was therefore interested how gender equality in Japan is really doing and the data I found was still surprising.

First, the gender gap report shows some interesting numbers. Whereas the unemployment rate is very low for both genders in Japan (women 4%, men 5%), we see a huge difference in the type of employment. 35% of the female labour force works part-time. If we compare this to their male counterparts, of which only 10% are part-time employees, the difference is clearly visible.

Other major points for Japan’s bad performance are due to a lack of political empowerment (ranking 118 out of 135 in the subindex). In the current diet, only 8% of the parliament seats are hold by women. Moreover, Japan has had no female head of state since the establishment of a parliament in the late 19th century.

This numbers seem quite shocking, but actually Japan has established a very good basis for empowerment in all areas of life for women. A high number (56%) of women is attending tertiary education such as universities and specialized schools. Japanese women are more educated and skilled than ever before. They hold their own bank accounts and have good health. However, at some point most of the female population drops out of the system and their potentials are being overlooked.

So what is still hindering Japanese women from becoming more equal to their male peers?

The major changing point in the life of a Japanese women is having children. Women’s maternity leave is from 6 weeks before childbirth to up to 8 weeks after childbirth. The (expecting) mother will be receive at least 2/3 of her last salary and other benefit, during this time. After childbirth both parents are eligible to take 12 month parental leave each with receiving 50% of their last earnings. However, a survey (2008) found at that only 1.23% of male employes take parental leave, compared to 90.6 percent of mothers. Only receiving half of one’s income can be a huge burden to families. Since the father’s income is likely to be higher than the mother’s, he will keep his job in order to financially secure his family. However, because kindergarten placements are very scare and difficulties in re-entering the job market, childcare often becomes the mother’s task only.

OECD’s studies have shown some further indicators of Japan’s gender gap. Japanese women spend around 270 minutes per day on domestic work, whereas Japanese men are spend around 60 minutes for housework per day (the OECD average being 131 minutes!). Housework clearly seems to be a female task. Moreover, childcare seems to be a female task too, since many women are only employed part-time. Only 28% of Japanese children under three are enrolled in a childcare institution, this meaning that the rest are being cared for most likely by their mothers. In comparison with other OECD countries, Japan ranks fourth lowest when it comes to public spending on childcare and preschool services.

Once women dropped out of the workforce due to maternity and childcare, it becomes very difficult for them to get a similar position afterwards. What the job market offers mothers will be most likely temporary, low paid, non-regular and part-time. Japanese mothers earn on average 61% less than men (full-time workers between 25 and 44) and even the total average income gap of the working force is still nearly 30%, without taking children into account. Due to this fact many Japanese mothers would rather stay at home than work, if their husband’s income can allow it. Additionally, the Japanese tax system actually disfavors married couples with two full-time incomes.

Creating more opportunities for mothers to re-enter the job market would have a huge impact on Japanese economics. Solving this problem and creating work possibilities for these women would rise Japanese GDP by 16% as the gender gap reports states (2010). Moreover, a change in Japanese society‘s perception of motherhood is urgently needed, if Japan wants to stop its population declining and create a more friendly atmosphere for women.

References

The Mainichi. Japan slips further to 105th in gender equality ranking. 10/25/2013. http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20131025p2g00m0dm026000c.html

The World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Report 2013. http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2013/

OECD Better Life Index. Work-Life Balance (Subindex). http://oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/

The Japan Times. Pay gap worst for Japan’s mothers. 12/19/2012. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2012/12/19/national/pay-gap-worst-for-japans-mothers/

The Japan Times. Parental leave still finds dads in huge minority. 06/02/2010. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/06/02/news/parental-leave-still-finds-dads-in-huge-minority/

“Recognizing” and “Understanding” Ikumen

by Chihiro Kobayashi

My mother and father both work as middle school teachers. Even though they engage in the same job, their life styles are very different. My mother’s day starts from cooking a breakfast for the family and making a lunch box for me. One hour later, my father wakes up and starts eating it as if it were air. As soon as my family finishes eating them, my mother washes the dishes and then starts hanging out the cloths to dry. After she finishes her paid work, she comes back to home earlier than my father to cook dinner for us.

Even though my mother works as same paid job as my father, she engages in much more unpaid housework than father. Since my grandmother has very strict and traditional idea toward gender role, my father is not allowed to enter the kitchen to help cooking and washing. My mother often told me that housework should not be the role of only women.

Recently, more and more Japanese women work outside to make money since only husband’s salary is not enough to support their family. Also, Japanese society itself wants to increase the working women because aging society will leads the less working generation. Even though the number of full-time housewife is decreasing and working women is increasing, the idea that housework is a role of women is still remained. As a result, women are struggling with the double burden of paid labor work and unpaid housework.

Since 2010, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has started Ikumen project (育メンプロジェクト) which has established for the purpose of increasing the social momentum of male participation in child care.

Thanks to this project and other effects by mass media, the “recognition” of child caring father has widespread certainly. For example, the cooking book targeting men, Ryori Danshi (料理男子), is very popular and the number of cooking shows by men is increasing. Also, the drama and books talking about Ikumen is popular among women.

However, when I see around myself, there is not so many or no Ikumen yet. I wonder whether Ikumen really exist or are they just a fantasy made by mass media and government. I guess even though the “recognition” of Ikumen has widespread, the “understanding” toward Ikumen is not spread yet and that is why there is not so many or no Ikumen.

For example, I read an article about Ikumen and it described how Ikumen are seen from the Japanese society. When one guy brought his child to the hospital, the doctor asked him “Where is your wife?” Also, when he brought his child to the park, other mothers were talking that his wife depends on her husband, does not take care children and does not play a role as a housewife. Most of the Japanese people know and “recognize” the word Ikumen, but they, even women, still have traditional idea of gender role, and “understanding” of the Ikumen has not spread yet.

Though I do think Ikumen will play an important role in the Japanese future, I do not want to pressure and force every father to be an Ikumen. There is no correct one answer of the way father care their child. Some fathers prioritize their career up and get a better position, while others want to balance their work and housework. I can say the same thing to the women.

I think how parents share their work and housework should be depended on their choice, environment and values. Therefore, I think it is important to make a society which both women and men can share and choose their work and housework flexibly. To attain that society, I think one of the important first steps is to spread the “understanding” of Ikumen among Japanese society. If society flexibly accepts both shufu (主婦) and shufu (主夫), and people recognize and understand both of them, I believe Japanese traditional gender role will be changed.

Opportunist Beauty in Japan

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 20...

Miss Universe Japan 2007 wins Miss Universe 2007 crown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

Every year a number of Japanese students in my university decide to participate in a study abroad program (mainly to the US, Canada, and Australia). They usually start to prepare for the coming life in foreign countries by packing stuff or setting up their goals during spring semester in Japan. It was such a time when I often saw the female students dying their hair black again, although they used to have their hair dyed bright colors such as blonde and brown. I asked some of my friends how come they would do so and they answered, “Obviously that is because black hair represents Asian beauty.” Meanwhile within Japan, there is a huge boom about biracial people referred to as “hafu”, especially referring to people of half-Caucasian and half-Japanese (one parent being Japanese and one parent being of Caucasian heritage) (Okamura, 2009). Recently you can see hafu models and celebrities a lot on TV and in magazines, and many Japanese women try to achieve a western-looking face due to their adoration for hafu’s appearance.

Those two standards of beauty that Japanese women have, “Asian beauty” and “Western beauty,” seem to be the opposites of each other. However both standards exist simultaneously as the dominant viewpoints when thinking about what is beauty for Japanese women. Why?

This phenomenon can be explained with a case of African American women competing in the Miss Bronze or black beauty contests during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Civil Rights Movement flourished against discrimination towards black people. Maxine Leeds Craig, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of California-Davis, pointed out that  at that time black women in the Miss Bronze pageant would realize views of themselves depending on how whites saw blacks, but at the same time this helped them to see the structure of racism (Glenn, 2009). Therefore in order to accept and reject this hierarchy, contestants who had dark skin tone were crowned as winners of Miss Bronze since the 1960s, rather than those with light skin tone, who were considered as the closest color to whiteness. The black beauty came to be used as a demonstration of the value of black people.

Related to this case, what about the pageant of Miss Universe Japan? In spite of the domestic hafu boom, almost all participants of this contest attempt to show their beauty as Asian with typical images of Asian women (e.g., long black hair, slit eyes) (Miss Universe Japan). The same thing can be said of women who stay in foreign countries outside of Japan. Even if the women used to prefer western-looking (e.g., bright colored hair and round eyes) inside of Japan, they somehow start to focus on “Asian beauty,” showing their Asian features to foreigners.

Hence this coexistence of the seemingly opposite standards of beauty and switch between them depending on the situation look similar to the case of African American women. It seems that Japanese women, as representatives of Asian women, would think of themselves as inferior to whites in racial hierarchy and this consciousness would help accepting and rejecting this hierarchy. Therefore Japanese women who have chances to live in an environment filled with Westerners try to behave as one a representative of Asian beauty, although once they are in Japan, they still tend to have the feeling of inferiority toward white people with an ideal to Western-beauty.

References

Okamura, H. (2009). ハーフブームと『ハーフ顔』? [hafu boom and hafu face?]. Retrieved from http://www.kreuzungsstelle.com/column5_10.html

Miss Universe Japan. Miss Universe Japan Official site. Retrieved from http://www.missuniversejapan.com/

Glenn, E. N. (Ed.). (2009). Shades of Difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.