In Focus: Status of Women in Japan

In Japanese society, women are perceived as illustrative figures seeking their identity against male adversaries. As Japan has made remarkable history eventually redeeming itself and being hailed as one of the most powerful countries on a global scale, we are left with the question as to whether Japanese women shall come out victorious in their struggle against gender discrimination.

Japanese society has evolved as a result of numerous influences. From Confucianism, Buddhism, Samurai, Feudalism – their laws and rules do vary and yet they are held by the unifying concept that group success is more important than individual success. “Therefore, it is an implicit notion that the accomplishment of an individual holds lesser premium than a victory involving a group” (Becker 45). Family matters are held with utmost importance in this society, and reconciling family problems and settling arguments are among the most pressing issues that are addressed by the members of Japanese society. These considerations  involve not only an individual but the welfare of a group. As early as era Confucianism, males have been bestowed the power to dominate over society, while women were only acknowledged for their supporting roles (Almond 67).

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Gender is an important issue for Japanese history – men take charge of society while women are perceived merely as followers. Women are docile servants to their husbands; thus, Japanese women were stereotyped as homemakers in the past and they were obliged to focus themselves on family and marriage. The main role of the woman is to see to it that traditional values are handed down to children as a form of legacy. Other duties and obligations are performed by the homemaker ensuring the family’s welfare (Lam 206). It has been acknowledged that Japanese women and men exercise equal rights; however, this has yet to be realized in the real sense. Though voting rights, citizenship and other women-related polices have been created, these seem inadequate to prove that men and women are indeed equal in the eyes of Japanese society (Barnes 36).

In the most real sense, “what is the authentic place of the women in Japanese society”? As history has transpired, influences from both the West and East have affected the status of women in Japanese society. When it comes to family life, women can dominate over the male members of the family. On the contrary, from the perspective of Westerners, “it seemed that the women are not attached to their families “(Benett 112) The views of Westerners and Easterners are conflicting as to the apt roles that ought to define women in Japanese society. From the influences of both, a woman takes on a path that defines her niche (Fanselow 87).

The Samurai class was a combination of Confucianism and Buddhism.  The Samurai code as it was implemented changed the place of women in Japanese society. Before the Samurai era in 15th century A.D., society was matrilineal. Confucianism, Buddhism and Samurai cultures made a remarkable impact on women and their role in society (Rosenberg 67). The three codes have exercised discriminatory practices against women. As a consequence, a woman did not have the right to disrespect her father and husband and must all times obey the rules given to her. “Buddhism advocates that a woman cannot be saved if she is not submissive to male figures”. As for the Samurai, “they see women as evil, such that if a person is born a woman, she is categorized as a low-class individual” or to some extent not treated as a human person. The three codes programmed Japanese society to think of women as inferior individuals, existing only to be servants of the superior class – men (Fuess 21).

Under the Tokugawa Shogunate, “women did not exist legally”. They do not have the right to own property. Their husbands can kill them for being lazy or misbehaving. She can only write hiragana and is restricted in reading political and business issues. Women in all aspects are inferior to men (Lam 75). It is quite unfortunate that society has not evolved yet in the aspect of gender equity. In fact, the ruler of Japan in 1637 banned its relationship with other nations. Japan was restricted in its growth, as it gave importance to itself exclusively. It was in 1835, wherein they regained their amicable relationships with other countries. The ideals that Japan had, have remained and have proven to be resistant to change despite Western influence. The societal structure of the modern world has not been adapted by the country; instead they continue being a patriarchal society (Lebra 53).

After the post world war II election of 1946, a new election system had been devised  to allow better representation among Japan’s constituency. It was in April 1946 when Japanese women were allowed to exercise their voting rights for the first time.  It was very significant because it also permitted them to run for government office, resulting to 39 women being elected for a position (Ogai 207). Until 1984 Japan  had a distinctly male-dominated society wherein citizenship can only be acquired through a Japanese father, but not through a Japanese mother. Amendments had been done to the citizenship rule; hence if one parent of the child is Japanese whether it be the father or the mother, then the child may have the prerogative of acquiring Japanese citizenship (Lebra 57).

In 1960, Japanese women were allowed to form part of the labor force. Instead of confining Japanese women to be the docile servants of the family, society allowed them to make a career for themselves (Ogai 200). After several wars fought by Japan and the continuous change of rulers which have substantially affected the status of women in Japanese society, things have changed for the better. It has been inferred that Japanese society had been previously male-dominated, forgetting the rights and privileges of the female. Instead of the illustative figure of a woman, taking charge of household chores, one can picture a Japanese woman, in corporate attire, gaining her own identity in the career that she has chosen (Rosenberg 57). Also gone are days wherein women had no right to speak up to their husbands; instead women have mustered enough courage to speak their minds. While these developments have been very encouraging, “the process of struggling for gender equality for the Japanese woman is still on-going”. As much as there are tie-up projects, and proposed bills for achieving an equal society, it would take years for before the authentic realization of gender equality. Because Japanese society has been strongly male-dominated for decades, the stereotypes of Japanese women may be difficult to break – these have become a paradigm. Moreover, the roles portrayed by both cannot be easily altered; as it had been a norm that men are more powerful than their wives because they work for the family’s needs. On the contrary, women are expected to stay at home and take care of the children  and the household (Shiso 63).

Japanese women have nurtured their character in such a way that they attend to their personal career; simultaneously, they are expected to be good mothers to their children. The primary role they have played during ancient times has been carried to the present, as it has been effectively assured that Japanese values and tradition are handed down to the next generations. The experiences  of the past and the present have honed Japanese women to become very effective in the multiplicity of roles they need to portray (Fanselow 89). The Japanese government and its effort of establishing a non-biased society are noble, but the path towards achieving this ideal would prove to be challenging. The struggles of the Japanese woman have come along away and progress has been underway. And yet, to this day, discrimination against the Japanese woman remains a rampant and pressing issue.



Universities and colleges are open for all Japanese who wish to study; however, the courses which cause one to easily land a job are given to males instead of females. The courses offered for women are limited to being secretaries, clerks, typists, and sales representatives. In addition, when it comes to job hiring, the employer does not take notice of the knowledge and skills possessed by the candidate but instead focuses on the looks and values of the woman applicant (Tanaka 67).

As early as 1960, society has allowed women to have her share in the labor force; however, as early as 25 years, she must retire from her job because she needs to get married. These rules have been subjected to change in 1980, when women were also required to retire for marriage but were allowed to continue working in their middle thirties, given that their children are already going to school. Moreover, the salaries earned by the women cannot even account for one-third of the salary that their husbands have (Almond 67). Women are entitled to more days of leave such as maternity, sick and other holidays; thus the companies prefer to hire males because they are not entitled to such privileges. No matter how competent the woman applicant is, if a man applicant is also applying for the same position, there would be a higher probability for the man to be hired (Barnes and Kaase 56).

Once a woman has retired from her mainstream job, her reentry is into the nonmainstream market. Many women are hired as part-time workers delimiting them from being promoted as supervisors, store managers and other good paying jobs. Often, the hours rendered by a full-time worker and that of the part-time worker is the same, but their compensation packages are different, due to the fact that one is part-time while the other is full-time (Tanaka 46).

“Japanese women have been slowly veering away from low paying jobs”. Some are entering other professions such as law, medicine and journalism. The importance of the job for a Japanese woman varies. There are some who need a job to feed their families while there are others who apply for a job solely for self-fulfillment. There are different reasons as to why individuals want to have good courses or study at a reputable institution, but the that “there are more available good paying jobs for the male than for females is a reality that is apparent to this day” (Verba 92).

Originally, there was the” Equal Employment Opportunity Law for Men and Women” (April, 1986), but this was revised in 1997 and then implemented in 1999 to outlaw gender-based discrimination in job recruitment, employment, allocation of specific posts and promotions and to ban sexual harassment. But despite the law, there is still a wage difference among men and women due to the fact that men are promoted while women become stagnant with their jobs (Retherford 66).


Marriage and Divorce

Marriage is of two kinds – that which is spurred on by love and the other which is arranged, though the distinction between the two are not clearly defined apart from this. Before society, parents arrange the marriage of their children to serve the family’s interest – welfare and tradition. A woman is obliged to marry the person whom the family has arranged for her while she was still young. Fixed marriages can either work for the best or the worst. “The bulk of the responsibility in having a successful marriage is given to women”, as she is obliged to carry out the duties and obligations of a wife and mother thereby maintaining a good family. After the new constitution of 1947, both males and females are encouraged to partake in marriage primarily for love and not because it has been pre-arranged (Benett 102).

Within the years 1975 to 1995, the mean age for marriage increased from 24.5 to 27.7 years for women and from 27.6 to 30.7 years for men, making Japan one of the latest-marrying populations in the world. At the same time, women who opted not to marry increased, from 5 to 15 percent for women and from 6 to 22 percent for men-behaviors sharply different from those characterizing the universal-marriage society of earlier years.”The increase in the proprortion of women not marrying can be attributed to the following reasons: rapid educational gains, massive increases in the proportion of women who work for pay outside the home, major changes in the structure and functioning of the marriage market, extraordinary increases in the prevalence of premarital sex, and far-reaching changes in values relating to marriage and family life”. These factors influenced women not to marry but instead enjoy the single life (Tsurumi 45). Moreover, women have become more aggressive, attempting to match the qualifications posed for men. As for men, the expectations that they have for women have ceased to be complied with. The present generation has become wiser and more aggressive, and do not confine theirselves to being the wives and mothers that society had set for them.If the marriage is not successful, divorce can be an option for both. But in choosing such, all the responsibilities and needs of the child will be solely shouldered by the mother. Males can change wives every year depending on their choice, and providing an allowance for their children is not mandatory. Usually in these cases, women are found in a devastating state. Being a homemaker, she has not been exposed to various occupations and at this point she finds herself with the responsibility of addressing the needs of her children (Lebra 87).

Women instead of filing divorce against their husbands, have second thoughts since all the responsibilities of a parent would be put on her accountability. From the recent law proposed, filing divorce would not be as difficult as it seems, since the father must support the needs of his children, despite what happened with the marriage. With the changes in the archaic Civil Code law, the woman is precluded from remarrying within 6 months from the divorce. This suggests how Japan ignores the rights of women to start their married lives afresh after divorce. Also, it follows that the mother cannot attend to her children’s needs, instead visiting hours would be given for the mother to see and check on the baby (Shiso 85). Such divorce may have taken place because the wife is experiencing domestic violence from her husband but still the reason would not be sufficient to prove that the husband has criminal tendencies pushing her to file the divorce (Mackie 89).

But as Japanese society has been previously male-dominated, failed marriages pinpoint to the woman as the one failing do her part that caused the divorce (Jacobs 94). Divorce can be explained by modern practices in Japan. Women become helpless as they make the Buddhist temples their shelter. Ten percent of the cases are fixed outside courtrooms. In an early modern divorce, if the party left the house, all the belongings that were left will be rightfully owned by the other party. Before, a divorce remains a stigma (Lam 78). Women are obliged to remain in the marriage even if they are abused for their child’s support, since they do not have high paying jobs. In effect, they will not be able to support the family’s needs so they deem that the best option is for them to stay within the marriage (Mackie 56).

“Divorce favors men in general”.  In the religiois aspect, both Christianity and Islam forbid divorce as it was written in religious law that what has been put together by the mighty being must not be separated by man.  But for the liberated westerners, divorce would help women to get out of an abusive relationship but at the same time giving them financial losses and having a lesser chance of marrying again (Ahl 62). During the Confucian period, a man can divorce his wife for trivial reasons such as jealousy, illness or laziness, and there were no exact provisions given, with the decision being solely dependent on the husband.  In addition, in the ancient times, Japanese men have the right to iniatiate divorce, and tortures her wife emotionally and physically. If a man wants a divorce from his wife, it means that he is unhappy; thus society assumes that the wife is not performiing her duties well making her husband unhappy. The husband being abusive is not immediately thought of as a reason and society tends to put the blame on the wife (Becker 61). The wife is being ridiculed not only by her family but by society as well. Her role as a mother would also be in question since the child’s welfare would be the next aspect to be given focus in such a separation. The woman is left without an option and thus stays within the marriage for her children’s welfare (Fanselow 65).



Japan has been known for its high standard of education. The scores obtained have decreased a few points over the years, yet the Japanese remain to be ranked among the world’s best leaders in mathematics. 95 percent of Japanese are literate which further supports the fact that their education is of high standards(Lam 96). Due to the decreasing population of the Japanese, almost half of all Japanese women with children in school now work outside the home at some point during their children’s schooling. In addition, their education aims to prove among their students that it is important to be literate (Verba 75).

In the twentieth century,” educational opportunities for women have undoubtedly increased. In 1989, almost 37% of the women population was able to have upper-secondary education”. The value was notably close to the percentage of males receiving upper-secondary education. Still, the chances of pursuing education in universities is limited, and they often continue their studies at technical or vocational schools more often than men who usually pursue courses that enable them to become professionals in their chosen fields (Jacobs 56).

Gender inequality has been a pressing issue, particularly observed within the educational system. Men are educated while women are endowed with skills, which will be of use for their lifetime roles as a homemaker. Society has the implicit notion that women do not need to be educated since their lives would be devoted to being homemakers, while men need to be educated to have good-paying jobs which they will be needing to support the family’s needs. Women continuously lag behind men, as they are not given equal chances of being educated, restricting their opportunities not only as woman but as an individual (Mackie 77).

Within the academe, scholarships are given to deserving students who are mostly male (Ahl 62). Males are part of the varsity team in basketball, swimming and other sports giving them more access to the offered scholarships. Moreover, in terms of strength and endurance, men have more body power compared to women, enabling them to achieve more sports scholarships than that of the women (Fanselow, 56). In addition, the university sets a number of female students for such scholarships, since they consider the fact that women may get pregnant and the slot is better bestowed to a male student to be put to better use (Tsurumi 43).



Parliamentary democracy is the form of government in Japan. Sovereignty is vested in the citizenry, and the emperor is defined as the symbol of state.” The government is centered in respecting the rights of its citizens. But despite the aims of protecting, discrimination is very rampant”. Men are confined to the idea that women are still docile servants and that they are still in power. Moreover, it is emphasized that women are not well versed with these situations since it entails strength and critical thinking. The infrastructure and buildings are beyond the bounds of knowledge of women; thus it is better for them to stay at home (Barnes, 87).

Though voting rights have been given to women, hundreds of years ago, the perception of society with regards to women have remained throughout the years. In addition, “the role of being a good homemaker is being questioned once a woman obtains a government position”. Likewise, her role of being a mother to her children is also scrutinized since her priority of serving other people would take precedence over addressing her family’s needs (Shiso 76).

Women are viewed as inappropriate for politics since they should be in the house nursing children. And as a result, little trust is given to them in this particular realm. Due to the norm that men are the only ones who ought to hold positions of power, women must assert themselves the same way with men since both have the real desire to be of service to their fellow citizens (Ogai 206).

Funds are also critical in building a political career. Since there are just a handful of people trusting the woman politician, there would be less funds for her campaign. Insufficient experience and training of women to become politicians is one of the main reasons why they frequently fail to take a seat in government. Rulers in ancient Japanese communities are all male, and none from their rulers were women. The ancient communities continuously share with present Japanese society the notion that women exist to serve as homemakers (Verba 31).



American Women vs. Japanese Women

Women suffer from the same phenomenon of gender discrimination. Despite the government’s claim to have a gender-non-biased society, it still remains but a lofty ideal. American women have fought for their rights and freedom, and their struggles have not been futile. As a result of their efforts, “society is giving them fair battle in all aspects may it be education, governance, among others”. Moreover, Americans after the WW II have been cautious about individuality; various organizations have been set up to protect the rights of the women (Shiso 45).

In Japan, similar efforts have been carried out. But since it is a patriarchal society, to penetrate and later on change the ideals against discriminating women has proven to be a herculean task. At present, there are still many reported cases concerning discrimination in everyday living. (Barnes 98). Not only do American nor Japanese women face such discrimination but rather all women on a global scale. A standard has been set such that women are perceived docile servants while husbands take charge of the family’s welfare, especially in financial terms. Women are required to stay at home, care for the children and cook food. Of late, “society still holds to such stereotypes of the woman “(Verba 67).

As for women (regardless of race), they attempt to fight for what they believe in. And yet the fulfillment of being a mother cannot be replaced by anything else; hence she tries to balance her activities to ensure that she still performs her most important role – that of being a mother (Almond 54). There are many issues that remain unsettled, and these do not only include gender discrimination in society but other aspects such as those involving work force labor, educational opportunities and politics. Japanese society remains to be biased towards males, giving then power and control over society while women continue to be voiceless (Mackie 92).  As supported by Japanese history, the purpose for existence of women in their society is evolving. There are periods when they were given importance while there were those when their existence has not even been acknowledged (Jacobs 155) .

Discrimination is a concept that can be avoided. It is innate for man to claim superiority, and upon feeding his self -image, he forgets that he is crossing the boundaries of another – women in this case (Bennet 105). Society must not confine women with the stereotypes that have developed throughout time. Instead, as the world changes, these paradigms of Japanese women must correspondingly change. Males and females are totally different individuals, with each being unique and must be given respect. They are entitled to their own rights and privileges not as the ruler or the servant, respectively, but as persons who hold niches of importance in society (Mackie 72). The woman does not claim superiority but instead struggles for her right and freedom that is often taken away by society. Also, her capabilities must not be confined to carrying out household chores, child rearing, low paying jobs instead she must be given a chance to mature as a person, which is rightfully hers. Still, her role of being a homemaker remains to be her topmost priority (Fuess 25). “Society must be open-minded in order to give what is due to the Japanese woman”. The question of superiority can never be resolved; instead, men and women must give each other a chance to be the best individuals they can possibly be in society by allowing each individual to grow, rather than restricting the other with limited choices (Fanselow 57).

Gender inequality is still a pervasive phenomenon despite feminist movements to evade it. To be a woman is equated to the roles of mother and wife, and these have strongly influenced society. Japanese women have been obliged to stay home to ensure that they will raise children with values and dignity. For many, in doing so, the women must devote her whole time to taking care of the children and household. Thus, she must not attend to other matters since the husband would expected to be in-charge of the family’s needs. The desire of creating a society filled with good citizens delimits the rights of the woman (Becker 85).  One must not take control over her or to tell her the things that she could or must do. As the world changes, this view of the woman has changed as well.  Instead of marrying at an early age, women have opted to marry in their thirties or even later, with the awareness that they need to be both financially and emotionally capable. (Ogai  210).

“Japanese women of this generation have become wise”; they have not remained the docile servants of the past. They treated themselves with respect and dignity and intend to show to the world that they are of the same footing with men, not in terms of strength but in equally important aspects as well (Shiso 67). Women are still continuing their struggle, not necessarily to forget their foremost roles but to convey that they are not merely homemakers who can cook food and clean the house for the family. Instead, they are competent individuals who can attain whatever niche they wish to occupy in society, and perform the requisites of that role competently. And for this, they deserve to be respected and recognized (Verba 68).