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Opting out:
Exploring reasons behind the corporate gender
gap in Japan through the experiences of
bicultural women.

Rachel Ferguson
April 2009 Intake

A Dissertation submitted in
partial-fulfillment of the requirements for the
Master of Arts in Japanese Language and Society (by Distance Learning)

Faculty of Social Sciences
School of East Asian Studies
University of Sheffield

March 2012

Table of Contents

I. Abstract p. 3

II. Introduction p. 4

III. Review of Literature p. 13

IV. Methodology p. 25

V. Results:

Kikokushijo vs. ryugakusei p. 28
Absconueis p. 32
Xenophobia and Sexism p. 36
Motherhood p. 45
Opting out p. 51

VI. Discussion p. 57

VII. Conclusion and recommendations p. 66

VII. Bibliography p. 74


Twenty-five years after the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law
(EEOL), women remain conspicuously absent from the Japanese boardroom.
This study will investigate reasons behind the underrepresentation of women in
leadership positions in Japan by analysing the workplace experiences of female
returnees. It will achieve this by focusing on themes of xenophobia, sexism,
motherhood, and ambition in thirteen semi-structured interviews conducted
with women between the ages of 27 and 43.

As Japan heads toward economic crisis due to the combination of low fertility
rate, aging population, and labour deficit, effectively utilising the female
workforce is increasingly important. Over the last two decades, women who
have become dissatisfied with unappealing characteristics of the traditional
Japanese workplace, such as restricted employment opportunities and
patriarchal attitudes, have been employing a variety of methods to avoid the
standard Japanese corporate system. The majoiity of this stuuys infoimants
chose to opt out of a tiauitional }apanese enviionment in favoui of foieign
multinationals or international divisions of Japanese companies, however the
pursuit of agency and emancipation has had mixed results.

This study clearly shows bicultural women to be deeply dissatisfied with the
traditional Japanese corporate model in which various types and degrees of
discrimination are still to be found. Motherhood rather than womanhood stood
out as an obstacle for women working in Japan. Furthermore, contrary to
expectation this stuuys infoimants geneially uiu not aspiie to uecision-making
roles. In fact, a negative trend in ambition with increasing age was identified.



As Japan heads towards potential economic crisis due to the combination of a
rapidly declining population and a shortage of available labour, the
underutilization of female talent has become an ever more glaring anomaly;
whereas most uevelopeu nations saw womens paiticipation in the coipoiate
workforce increase in conjunction with their independence, female regular
full-time employment in Japan actually declined during most of the latter half of
the twentieth century (Ochai, 1997, 17-18).

The Corporate Gender Gap Report of 2010, published by the World Economic
Forum (WEF), which rates countries on their representation of women in
business; measurement and target setting; work-life balance practices;
mentorship and training; barriers to leadership; and the effects of the economic
downturn ranked Japan 101
out of 134 surveyed countries, the lowest ranking
for a developed country (the UK was placed 15
, while the US came in 31
Bausmann et al The WEFs ulobal Gender Gap Report 2011
also ranked Japan far below other developed nations at 98 out of 135, a position
little changed from previous years. Despite scoring high on work-life balance
policies, childcare-related polices, flexible work solutions, and targets for female
workforce participation, the absence of women from positions of authority

In the late 1980s, due to an intense labour shortage, female workforce participation in
Japan was at a peak, with rates to rival Western nations (about half of all adult females
employed) (Miller, 2003, 168; Brinton, 1994, 4). However, Brinton identifies three factors
that 'set Japan apart` from these Western nations: Japanese women were more likely to be
involved in piece work or family businesses; women tended to work in blue collar jobs with
men in white collar employment; and the female-male wage discrepancy was more
pronounced in Japan, indicating that a high level of female employment does not
necessarily reflect a high level of gender equality (Brinton, 1994, 4). The recession of the
1990s marked a rapid decline in female workforce participation (which came to be known
as the ultra ice age for female job hunting) followed by a gradual increase in non-regular
employment (which is dominated by female workers) (Miller, 2003, 168). Therefore,
although rates of female employment did show increases during the twentieth century,
regular full-time female employment declined.

indicates an inefficient use of the female talent available in the country, severely
influencing }apans oveiall ianking Zahiui anu Ibaiia 11).

Rectifying the imbalance is increasingly important. Recent figures predict that
}apans population will shiink by peicent ovei the next yeais National
Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 2012). Not only could
narrowing the employment gap increase Japanese GDP by at least 16 percent, in
Tbe Politicol Fconomy of }opons low Iertility Frances Rosenbluth shows that the
more secure a woman is in her paid work position, the more children she is
likely to have (Zahidi and Ibarra, 2010, 11; Rosenbluth, 2007, 8). (The problem
of providing childcare for an increasing number of children born to working
mothers could also be remedied by increasing female participation in the
workforce and relaxing immigration, the latter of which seems inevitable at any
rate in order to combat the growing labour deficit.)

However, while the Japanese government has acknowledged the importance of
both increasing female economic contribution in general and making it easier for
working women to become mothers in order to assuage the effects of the
impending crisis, legislation and policy measures have yet to produce significant

Government initiatives

Since the passing in 1985 of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law (EEOL),
often referred to as a toothless lion, women have had the legal right to ascend to
top management positions. The last 25 years have seen the bill strengthened and
a series of Angel Plans, intended to ease the burden of childcare for working
mothers, adopted along with various other policies and numerical targets for
greater gender equality and work-life balance. Following the paper trail of
legislation and policy making, one would expect Japan to be a much more gender
equal society in 2012, but poor implementation and the tenacity of patriarchal

corporate culture have overwhelmed the seemingly good intentions of
government initiatives.

Robbi Louise Miller argues that the problem lies in the faade of good intention.
She argues that the impetus behind each piece of legislation has been to exploit
womens woikfoice paiticipation when it is economically necessaiy iathei than
to realise any genuine desire to achieve legitimate and lasting gender equality,
noting that the encouraging results [following the passage of the EEOL] lasted
only as long as the boom economy, and when Japan was hit in 1991 with a
iecessionwomen boie the brunt of the ensuing cutbacks (Miller, 2003, p172,

Culture or choice?

In addition to a lack of opportunities for training and responsibility for female
workers anu a lack of female role models, the WEF cites deeply ingrained
societal norms as a major barrier to increased female participation in leadership
roles (Zahidi and Ibarra, 2010, 67). However, Rosenbluth argues that economic
and political systems have stiongei influence ovei womens career choices than
longstanding cultural norms: women are more likely to work outside of the
home when pros such as salary and interest in the job outweigh cons such as
chilucaie costs anu the woiking motheis uouble buiuens (see pages 18 and 48)
(Rosenbluth, 2007, p6).

Furthermore, a 2011 study by the Center for Work-life Policy found pull factors
(cultural pressures such as those to care for elderly relatives or be a professional
homemaker) to be weaker than push factors (those that lead to reduced
personal satisfaction such as not being appreciated at work or not being
challenged at work) (Hewlett S. and Sherbin L., 2012).
Women make up almost half of those receiving tertiary education in Japan but
only about nine percent of those occupying senior leadership positions

(Hausmann et al., 2011, p26). A large percentage of university-educated
Japanese women are not applying their skills to paid work. In fact, according to
Keiko Hirao, the higher the education of a Japanese woman, the less likely she
will be working outside the home (Hirao, 2001, 3).
Could it be that women are not ascending to leadership positions in Japan
because they do not want them? In far less wealthy and liberal nations, Iran for
example, women have fewer rights but are better represented in politics and
leadership positions (Hausmann et al., 2011). Japan is a highly developed and
largely secular nation that grants equal rights to citizens of both genders. Mun
notes that while wage inequality is higher, Japan shows a level of sex segregation
no higher than that of othei inuustiializeu societies (Mun, 2010, p8). That
women should be all but absent from positions of power is counterintuitive. Why
are there not more Japanese women practicing their right to a political presence,
and involving themselves in the running of their country or their major

If culture is a contributory factor in the lack of females in top management
positions, where on the corporate ladder might we find Japanese women who
have had significant exposure to western culture, which tends to focus on
personal ambition and exhibits a greater number of women in positions of
power? Analyzing the experiences of bicultural women can help in assessing the
extent to which cultural factors are responsible for the absence of women from
leadership positions in Japan.

This study
This stuuy will examine the ieasons foi }apans caveinous coipoiate genuei gap
by analysing the experiences of professional women working in the countrys
economic centre. In order to discover why women are not climbing the corporate
ladder, it was important to speak to the women best placed to succeed.
Returnees have the advantage of being bilingual at a time when global business
and communication are expanding at a phenomenal rate. They also tend to come

from privileged backgrounds, with many (about half of the women interviewed
here) receiving private education. In these respects it can be said that returnees
tend to have considerably more options available to them than most
non-returnee women. Furthermore, they are likely to have had more exposure to
professional female role models through first-hand experience of Western
culture, and to have received at least some education centred on values of
individual ambition and achievement regardless of gender. Therefore, they are
more likely to pursue professional success as a matter of course. Studying the
experiences and ambitions of female returnees in the Japanese workplace offers
a rare insight into why Japanese women are underrepresented in executive

Initially, I had intended to investigate the extent to which returnee women were
able to reconcile their Western culturalisation with the patriarchal conventions
of the traditional Japanese workplace.
However, in collecting the data, I found
that most informants were fairly content with their current work environment
because they had either removed themselves from the traditional workplace or
avoided entering it altogether.
Other patterns that emerged in the data were:
1. a marked difference in attitudes to culture and work between kikokushijo
(childhood sojourners) and ryugakusei (study abroad students);
2. reports that while gender did not inhibit professional success,
motherhood made work very problematic; and
3. a lack of ambition or tapering off of ambition with motherhood and/or
increasing age.

The terms 'traditional Japanese company, or 'domestic work environment require some deIinition.
The informants used terms such as these to describe companies in which the Japanese hierarchal code
and corporate conventions were strictly adhered to. Some features of such workplaces are long
overtime hours, compulsory drinking sessions with colleagues, gendered tasks, promotion by seniority,
and a generally stiff and conservative atmosphere. The term was used in comparison with more flexible,
modern, (and usually multinational) companies.

After explaining the methodology, I will introduce the participants, and discuss
the relevance of their status as either kikokushijo or ryugakusei.
I will then work through the data in four sections according to the main themes
that emerged from the interviews: avoidance of the traditional Japanese working
environment; exposure to xenophobia and sexism; working mothers; and finally,
work-life balance and opting out

Finally, I will analyse and discuss findings, draw a number of conclusions,
evaluate the effectiveness of methods employed in this study and make
recommendations for furthering the research.

Contribution to the literature

This study will contribute to the literature by offering a new perspective on the
problem of female non-participation in leadership roles in Japan (see page 13 for
a review of the literature). Interviewing bicultural women provides a unique
vantage point from which to assess the role of culture in this phenomenon.
Talking to the Japanese women who are best equipped to succeed in business
(exposure to a culture more focused on personal professional ambition, and
obtaining a high level of English fluency offer easier entry into more flexible
working environments, such as multinational companies where women may be
more likely to be promoted and have access to childcare) and examining their
professional experiences and aspirations offers an unusual insight into the
reasons for the conspicuously capacious gender gap in corporate Japan.
Furthermore, where most of the literature on returnees is concerned with the
reassimilation of children into Japanese life, this study gives a voice to adult
returnees. Very few studies cover the issue of bicultural adults in Japanese
society Nachiko Natsuis papei examines the changing attituues toward
gender-based social issues of female Chinese and Japanese university students in
the 0niteu States anu Shunta Noiis stuuy considers the challenges facing
returnee graduates as they enter the job market back in Japan, but what happens

to these youths 10 or 20 years after their sojourn? How does biculturalism affect
their careers in the long term? This study attempts to answer these questions.
This study makes a further contribution to the literature when viewed in tandem
with Millie Cieightons Marriage, motherhood, and career management in a
Japanese counter culture, wiitten just aftei the passing of the EE0L Cieightons
study on non-returnee female department store workers states the importance
of work-life balance for both genders if women are to become more visible in the
Japanese workplace, citing an unreasonably demanding corporate culture as the
main barrier to rising female participation in management positions (Creighton,
1996). Twenty-five years later, this study - in line with Nilleis papei The Quiet
Revolution (see below) - finds that a focus on female issues in legislation has
distracted from the main barrier to equal economic participation that
traditional Japanese corporate culture is intrinsically hostile to the construction
of a balanced family unit, and to the work-life balance of the individual.
A 2011 study by the Center for Work-life Balance, Off-ramps and On-ramps Japan
analyses the reasons for the M-shapeu cuive of womens employment anu finus
that push factors, such as being unchallenged and undervalued at work are
greater than pull factors: social pressures such as caring for children or elderly
relatives. While this study is an in-uepth qualitative investigation into womens
experiences and motivations at work in Japan, and Off-ramps takes a much
broader quantitative approach, both studies reach the conclusion that women
generally want to work, but not at the expense of their social or family life, and
where incentives such as promotion or training opportunities, competitive
remuneration, or challenging responsibilities aie lacking they will begin to opt
out of corporate life.
Nilleis stuuy, The Quiet Revolution: Japanese Women Working Around the
Law, identifies various ways in which women have staiteu to opt out or
circumvent a corporate environment they find inhospitable. By delaying, or
foregoing marriage and children, making their own money, and prioritising
friends and leisure time, women are asserting control over their own lives
(Miller, 2003, p182, 186). Miller categorizes styles of protest: acquiieis are

women who work day jobs and attend evening or weekend classes with the
intention of becoming freelancers with more flexible work schedules in the
futuie absconueis are those who seek employment abroad or, like many of this
stuuys infoimants have left the iestiaints of a }apanese enviionment foi
multinational corporations in Japan, in the hope of finding equality and better
chances for promotion (Miller, 2003, p187).
This study looks specifically at the women Miller labels absconueis and
addresses the effectiveness anu iepeicussions of the quiet ievolution she says is
taking place. While Miller believes that the phenomenon of women working
around unwelcoming institutions amounts to a positive call foi change I would
argue that this passive-aggressive accidental movement is actually quite
damaging to women, who would benefit more from organising and consciously
bearing the responsibility of effecting change towards a more gender-equal
Japan. Many women in their thirties desire marriage and children but are
foregoing them in favour of freedom in their work and social lives (Miller 2003,
185.) By circumventing archaic systems instead of actively working to change
them, Japanese women are drawing out a process that could be much more
expeditious. They are also prolonging this period of clouded communication
between the genders that sees each group blaming the other for the impending
Iirms believe tbot womens true JeJicotion is to tbe fomily in orJer to
justify placing them in jobs with limited responsibilities, and subsequently
women display less commitment to their jobs, given the reality that the
content of the jobs is less than stimulating (Miller, 2003, 176).

The vicious cycle will continue as long as assessment of the situation and
attempts at problem solving are based on assumptions about gender and archaic
values, rather than audible communication and assertive, visible protest.


I would like to express my gratitude to the friends and colleagues who
contributed to this study by recommending participants, and of course to the
informants themselves for generously sharing with me their time and stories.
Thank you to Dr. Gurbakhsh Singh for his wise and motivating counsel. Jan Rod,
your techno know-how saved me weeks of stumbling in the dark: GNXML! Robert
Duckworth, John Konno, Rena Sasaki, and Wenson Tsai: thank you all for your
keen eyes and recommendations, and for listening and putting it all into context.
Finally, an enormous thank you to my advisor Dr. Beverley Yamamoto for her
suggestions, edits, questions, answers, resources and patience.


Review of Literature

Early female returnees

Reports of Japanese travelling abroad on elite fact-finding missions first
appeared during the Nara period (710-794). But from that time until the Meiji
Restoration in 1868, few Japanese left Japan, partly due to a ban on foreign travel
during the enforced isolation of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Mathews and White,
2004, 156).

The Meiji era brought a swift wave of social change, and with it the first female
returnees. Tsuda Umeko, then aged seven, was one of a group of young girls sent
to the United States in 1871 to receive an American education, in order that they
might return to Japan and use their experiences to help elevate Japanese women
to the educational and social level of American women. Unfortunately this
progressive wave did not last long, and by the time Tsuda returned to Japan a
focus on female subservience had settled back into the social consciousness
(Kelsky, 2001, 37, 39).

On Tsudas return to Japan, she was disappointed to find that far from being
encouiageu to mobilize on womens behalf she was incieasingly piessuieu by
family and friends to marry and conform to traditional expectations of womanly
duties, (Kelsky, 2001, 39). More than 100 years later, twenty-first-century
female returnees face a similar challenge to reconcile their experience of a more
gender-equal foreign society, with expectations to fulfill traditional gender roles

- many of which are in their essence little changeu since Tsuuas uay - in both the
public and private spheres of Japanese life.

The kikokushijo mondai

From the late 1960s, Japanese overseas expansion saw increasing numbers of
businessmen and their families move abroad for significant periods. The word
kikokushijo first started to appear in Japanese publications from the late 1970s,
(in English from the early 1980s) usually as part of the phrase kikokushijo
mondai (returnee problem) in the discourse on how to rescue and reeducate
children whose foreign sojourn had seen them fall behind on the Japanese school
syllabus (Podolsky, 2004, 73). However, by the mid 1980s, a new focus on
globalization in Japan elevated the status of kikokushijo, whose international
experience and assumed foreign language fluency began to afford them special
treatment. For example, some universities were said to have created softer
acceptance criteria for returnees, now regarded as the perfect symbol of a future
Japan was aspiring to (Podolsky, 2004, 73).

Since the introduction of their existence into the national consciousness, there
seems to have been a gradual improvement in attitudes towards returnees. In
2000 Yasuko Kanno wrote that, kikokushijo today do not seem to suffer such
severe readjustment problems as the kikokushijo of a decade ago (Kanno, 2000,
362). However, she notes that they were still subjected to bullying and exclusion
due to differences in behavior picked up during their foreign sojourn.

Like that of Kanno, the majority of studies on returnees focus on the experiences
of childhood and adolescent sojourners, usually at the point of their return to
Japan, and discuss the psychological and practical effects of reverse culture
shock. Enloe & Lewin (1987), Kidder (1992), White (1992), and Gaw (2000) are

good examples of academic studies on the reassimilation of returning children
and their struggles with issues such as behavior, language, culture, and
education. Although most of this studys informants also reported difficulties
with reassimilation, they tended to be related to psychological conflict born of a
fear of appearing different, rather than overt bullying by peers or colleagues.

A 2003 study by Yoshida et al., once again set in the classroom, offers an unusual
perspective on the returnee issue by looking at the perceptions of returnees by
their peers. According to the study, (non-returnee) female respondents were
more likely to perceive advantages to being a returnee (Yoshida et al., 2003, 656).
The multiple choice questionnaire methodology does not offer explicit reasons
for the trend; however, the authors suggest that the acquisition of extra skills,
such as foreign language ability, would be perceived as more of an asset for
women in Japan where companies and society continue to discriminate based on
sex (Yoshida et al., 2003, 656).

This paper differs from others in the literature in its study of returnees as adults,
after a significant period of reassimilation and entry into the Japanese workforce.
Furthermore, it specifically investigates the experience of female sojourners
returning to work in the patriarchal environment of corporate Japan. Not only
aie the infoimants otheieu in the laigei context of the nation-family as a iesult
of their significant exposure to non-Japanese cultuie they aie also otheieu
within the company-family by viitue of theii genuei This stuuy investigates
how biculturalism in female returnees informs career choices and the general
experience of corporate Japan.

Returnees at work

Machiko Matsuis papei on female Chinese anu }apanese university

As this study deals with workplace experiences, I have included some of the xenophobic
comments directed towards informants by their colleagues in the results, but have
omitted details of conversations about initial periods of reassimilation.

students in the United States investigates the extent to which paiticipants
opinions on issues such as gender, sexuality, marriage, motherhood and career
objectives are shaped by the context of the American university campus, focusing
on culturally-informed differences between the two response groups. Matsui
concludes that Japanese students were more heavily influenced by their
American sojourn especially in their concept of femininity and sexuality,
predicting that the study abroad period would ultimately serve a personal rather
than academic purpose:
The subject fields they chose for personal satisfaction will not promise any
bright career prospects in Japan. Nevertheless, the Japanese women regard
their American education as empowerment since it has restored
self-confidence, instilled a spirit of independence, and enhanced career
aspirations, all of which were weak or lacking in their socialization in Japan
(Matsui, 1995, 376).

Similar in terms of methodology, demography and subject matter, this study
continues the uialogue establisheu in Natsuis woik by investigating the effects
of attitudinal changes in female study abroad students after their return to Japan
and entry into the corporate workforce.

Another of the sparse English-language studies on returnees at work, Yoshitaka
Sokokiboros 1984 (pre-EEOL) research showed 90 percent of male returnees
interviewed to be content with their lives back in Japan, whereas 33 percent of
females expressed dissatisfaction, citing preferential treatment of male workers
as one of the main reasons (cited in Kelsky 2001, 206).
In her 1995 report on the changing discourse on gender since the EEOL was
passed, Barbara Molony writes that thousands of young female returnees in the
workforce at that time sought after for their intercultural and linguistic skills
were in staff positions with limited opportunities for advancement or
autonomy, and therefore were often looking to foreign companies in Japan. She
remarks in a footnote that a study of this group is beyond the scope of this
article but is an important area for further investigation (Molony 1995, 295).


Shunta Noiis stuuy baseu on uata gatheieu fiom ietuining }apanese as they
entered the workforce between 1988 and 1993, provides some insights into
changing attitudes towards returnees at that time. At once undesirable and
necessary for international business, returnees were regarded simultaneously in
conflicting lights; they had two contrasting images: catalysts of
internationalization and social deviants (Mathews and White, 2004, 167).

Mori compares the experience of returnees rejected by employers for their
perceived un-Japaneseness with those of the generation of non-returnee,
post-bubble economy youths struggling to procure work in a recession, and finds
that both groups felt increasingly disenfranchised and dissatisfied with the old
social system and inflexibility of archaic institutions (Mori, 1994, 167).

This study intends to build on the paiallel Noii uiaws between otheieu
returnees and non-returnee Japanese dissatisfied with rigid corporate practices.
It is a parallel that has renewed relevance in our current climate of global
recession, and perhaps also in light of the great displeasure felt by many
Japanese citizens towards their government since the triple disaster of 2011.

While Noiis stuuy incluues female infoimants it uoes not look explicitly at the
questions of gender in the returnee workplace experience. This study will
contribute to bridging the gap between studies on returnees and the literature
on gender and employment by investigating what the experiences of bicultural
women reflect about the general experience of women working in corporate
}apan Bow is a ietuinees experience of the workplace different to that of a
non-returnee? Are returnee women more ambitious and confident? Are they
more likely to eschew cultural norms and follow a more traditionally Western
career path?

Equal employment legislation and its impact

Since the passing of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law (EEOL) in 1985,
Japan has, in principle, had all of the necessary legislation in place for women to
assert their equal presence in business and politics. However, two main failings
of the 1985 law were that it addressed equality only for women without
discussing any changes required of men in the patriarchal workplace; and that
there were no set penalties for violators (Gelb, 2000, 387).

Furthermore, the clause that made it illegal to differentiate directly between
mens jobs anu womens jobs was ciicumventeu neatly by the wiuespieau
adoption of the dual employment track system -- a major loophole that split
career-track jobs, which imply a vertical promotion system and usually require
agreement to countrywide job transfers, and non-career track jobs (also known
as the clerical track), which do not offer promotion, and do not require
agreement to transfers (Fujimoto, 2010, 92). For women who envision starting a
family, the career track is rarely a viable option and was certainly even less so
for women in the mid-1980s. Other forms of discrimination include long hours
incompatible with running a household (the expectation that women should
perform the majority of domestic tasks regardless of paid labour is known as the
double burden)
(Weathers 2005 p.71).

Masquerading as free and equal choice, the dual employment track forces the
hand of most female employees to forfeit promotion opportunities. Although the
system still exists, it has weakened with the gradual rise of non-regular
employment (male and female) during the 1990s.
The emergence of a culture
of part-time and contract workers has allowed employers to cut costs while

Arlie Hochschild refers to this double burden as the 'second shift` in a 'stalled
gender revolution.` The revolution is that most mothers now undertake paid work
outside of the home, but real progress in gender equality is stalled because the
types of jobs and opportunities available to women, and the men they work with
and are married to, have not changed. Women end up doing one job outside of the
house, and then a 'second shift` when they get home (Hochschild and Machung,
All of the participants in this study who entered their companies through the
formal shshoku knfsud system (six of the thirteen) also entered through the
dual employment track system. All of them chose the career track, and were one
of very few females in their cohort.

avoiding long-term obligations to staff, which means lower wages and fewer
rights for the employee.

During the two decades since the passing of the EEOL a number of studies have
been published on attempts to move toward a gender-equal society. However,
few have been positive in their assessment of any significant progress. While no
one would argue the importance of additional measures, such as the anti-sexual
harassment policy included in the 1997 revision of the EEOL, it was not until the
2007 that penalties were set for violators of the EEOL. The strengthened 2007
version also made the significant step of including men in the bill. Furthermore,
it tackled indirect discrimination such as setting physical standards for certain
jobs and making nationwide transfers obligatory, and set imperatives to protect
pregnant women and mothers from demotion and wage cuts (Gross and Minot,

Despite such improvements, the number of women in management positions in
Japan remains conspicuously low. Can legislation be effective when it exists in
the context of a patriarchal social consciousness? The 1999 Basic Law for a
Gender Equal Society is another example of progressive ideas that suffered from
competing discourses of traditional values anu fiscal iectituue (Osawa, 2005,
157). While the government realised the necessity for improved gender equality
in order to deal with the pressing issues of limited labour supply in an aging
society with a fertility crisis, the core ideas of gender equality remained in direct
conflict with longstanding cultural values, which continued to hinder
implementation and therefore progress.
Allowing women to become female corporate warriors did nothing to
change the baseline standard of the requlor employee job, which requires
the counterpart of o professionol bousewife to make family life possible
(Roberts, 2000, 239).

For a detailed explanation of the evolving multi-track employment system see
KoIzor`s Non-Regular Employment in Japan: Continued and Renewed (Keizer,

Yukiko Abe (2011) and Joyce Gelb (2000) do not see dramatic improvements in
gender equality since the passing of the EEOL, nor does Molony (although she
uoes iuentify an impiovement in womens unueistanuing of theii own potential
(Molony, 1995, 272). Charles Weathers says that despite ostensible progress
indicated by increased university enrolment and the entrance of some women
into previously male-dominated career-track jobs, employment opportunities for
many women are actually in decline (Weathers, 2006, 1). Edwards and
Pasquales paper is slightly more positive, although most of their optimism
is based on findings of increased university attendance since the EEOL, and an
opinion that the strengthening of the EEOL and the 2002 Childcare Laws would
go a long way towards gender equality (Edwards and Pasquale, 2003, 36).
However, Eunmi Nuns stuuy sees any piogiess as negligible since the
gender wage gap and segregation index have not changed much between 1995
and 2005, and while the M-curve indicating female labour force participation has
flattened slightly, it has not changed significantly in this time period either (Mun,
2010, 4).

Motherhood and work

Japans birth rate has been declining since the mid-1970s (Kim, 2009, 138). The
goveinments attempts to address the issue have included legislation such as the
Angel Plans of anu anu the Plus One Proposal to End the Low
Biithiate in 2002 which introduced strategies to increase childcare facilities and
protect working mothers (Rosenbluth, 2007, 143). However, rather than
signifying any real ideological change, the impetus for these government
initiatives was to enable women to have children in addition to contributing to
the economy in the face of severe labour shortages and the imminent sharp
population decline (Roberts, 2000, 240).

While mothers are within their rights to claim lengthy maternity care and
flexitime hours on their return to work, they are often hit by another double
burden: the attitudes of colleagues not eligible for flexible hours who may accuse

the working mother of a lack of commitment and see their own workloads
increase to absorb the manpower deficit; and the guilt of being at work instead
of at home with their young child (enhanced by a deeply-ingrained Japanese
fixation with the cult of motherhood).

Many Japanese today including many young women believe that a
virtuous mother stays at home until her child is at least three years old, and
that pursuing career ambitions is as selfish and disgraceful for a woman as
it is self-sacrificing and noble for a man (Rosenbluth, 2007, 6).

This societal belief is reflected in the persistence of the M-shaped curve, which
expiesses a womans pattein of woikfoice paiticipation uuiing hei lifetime The
trend remains for a woman to leave her job to have children, re-entering the
workforce when they start school, usually to a part-time position of lower status
and pay than her pre-maternal employment (Holloway, 2010, 171; Rosenbluth,
2007, 13). This phenomenon is prominent in Japan and Korea, whereas most
developed countries see more consistent paiticipation uuiing a womans
productive working years (Sachs, 2005, 6).

Motherhood continues to be a massive stumbling block for women attempting to
reach leadership positions. If they have delayed motherhood for their careers,
the }apanese system of senioiity ovei meiit means that a womans last chance to
have children approaches just as her career opportunities are maturing.
Rosenbluth argues that women are forgoing motherhood rather than choosing to
quit their job or deal with childcare burdens in an inhospitable workplace,
concluding that the harder it is for women to secure a grip on the career ladder,
the fewer children they will have (Rosenbluth, 2007, 4-5).
Writing in 1995, Molony says that women workers are still regarded as potential
mothers, a view held by many women themselves, female union officials,
employers and conservative politicians alike, and that the assumption is

Elvin Nowak`s 1999 study of Swedish women would indicate that, far from being unique to Japan,
the emotional burdens of guilt and shame are universally experienced by employed mothers - even in
Sweden, a country that allows maternity leave of up to 52 weeks and is widely recognized as one of the
most gender-equal societies in the world (ElvinNowak, 1999; Lopez-Claros et al., 2005, p7, 1).

incongruous with the established and accepted notion of separate spheres (home
and work) compounded by the EEOL and Angel Plans, which make little attempt
to address the central issues of male-female equality (Molony, 1995, 272).
This study aims to add to the literature on working mothers in Japan by
investigating the attitudes of women who may, through their exposure to
Western ideals, be influenced to a lesser degree by the intense emotional
bondage of the Good Wife, Wise Mother model and general apotheosis of the
mother role in Japanese culture.

Work-life balance

While this study includes only female respondents, the male returnee experience
of corporate Japan is also an area of interest, particularly in recent years as more
men are actively seeking an effective work-life balance, some to extent of
refusing promotion (Tabuchi, 2008). Roberts 2000 study observes that, in
general, Japanese workers are beginning to veer away from traditional
professional paths and adjust their priorities: Increasing numbers of college
graduates anu NBAs aie inteiesteu in having moie time in theii lives foi
self-development, family or community activities. (Roberts, 2000, 241).

One of the main failings of the EEOL and Angel Plans was that they suggested
changes for women only, rather than attempting to bring both genders into
alignment. While the 1999 Act for a Gender Equal Society did discuss some
strategies to increase equality for men, most of the clauses are geared towards
changes for women anu it wasnt until 2007 that men were included in the EEOL.
According to a 2009 study by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the
number of eligible men taking childcare leave grew from 0.12 percent in 1998 to
1.23 percent in 2008. It is an improvement, but hardly one that could be
described as significant (MHLW, 2009).

The movement towards work-life balance (WLB), which began to spread through
Western nations during the latter half of the 1980s and was officially adopted by
Japan in 2008, has widened the discussion on gender equality to broadly include
the welfare of men, attempting to modify corporate practices that inhibit the
welfare of all workers, regardless of gender, such as long working hours, and the
gendered division of labour. The discursive shift to WLB is also integral in
attempting to combat the increasing marginalization felt by growing numbers of
single workers, or couples without dependents, who may be denied access to
some of the concessions granted to families such as tax breaks and flexible
working hours (Lewis et al., 2007, 207).

Although the teim woik-life balance is ielatively new to }apan stuuies asseiting
the importance of equal working conditions for all workers are not. Creighton,
writing on the experience of female managers in department stores more than
two decades ago, just after the passing of the EEOL, noted that many Japanese
women felt the work ethic permeating Japan's life-time employment system was
too demanding for all employees (Creighton, 1996, 207).

She adds that the department store employees clearly suggested the need to
restore a balance between work and domestic roles for both sexes by decreasing
the workaholic emphasis on excessive overtime commitments for those with
careers, whether male or female, and concludes:
Any real change in attitudes towards female employment must be social and
not just legal. A law such as the EEOL cannot be truly effective without a
corresponding change in the underlying Japanese social values regarding
gender roles and the relationship between work and domestic life
(Creighton, 1996, 216; 215).

Cieightons iesearch is particularly useful as a contrast to this study because the
methodology is similar and, as the data was collected between 1985-87, it can be
used to make a good assessment of how much progress has been made in the
twenty-five years since the passing of the EEOL.

In her book The Kimono in the Boardroom, which details the history of women
managers in Japan, Jean Renshaw notes that Japan has been particularly
iesistant to change uue to a surplus of wealth: comfort is no catalyst for
revolution (Renshaw, 1999, 250). She stresses the importance of educators
towards a change in the national consciousness, and concludes that the
framework exists for a positive future for both men and women managers and
for Japan. Whether it will be achieved or not depends on national will and the
untiiing effoits of women anu men (Renshaw, 1999, 250).

It is my intention to contribute to recent studies on work-life balance in Japan by
shedding light on the thoughts of twenty-first-century working women who have
returnee or study abroad experience, and the reasons why they are failing to
reach corner offices despite the recent and fairly comprehensive initiatives by
the Japanese government to move towards a more gender-equal society. It is
expected that this will offer insights into the problems faced by professional
women in Japan generally.


Contact and ethics

From January 2011 to May 2011, I conducted 13 in-depth semi-structured
interviews each of about an hour in length with female Japanese nationals
between the ages of 27 and 43. Each informant had spent at least four years of
their education in a Western country, and had since entered the corporate
workforce in Japan.
After receiving approval from the university ethics review panel, I began to
locate suitable candidates. Participants were found using a snowballing method:
I contacted a handful of friends and colleagues, who then sent my proposal to
women they deemed appropriate and thought might be interested in the study.
Informants were provided with details of the study and my own credentials via
an information sheet provided by email well in advance of our meeting. They
received a hard copy of the information sheet when we met, and both of us
signed a consent form. Full transcripts, and abridged versions featuring themes
most pertinent to this study, are available.
I met each informant once and we talked in a caf over lunch or coffee. The
reason I decided to hold in-depth interviews in cafs was to create a relaxed
environment where the informants would feel comfortable telling their stories.
Rather than ask a series of prepared questions, I wanted to create free-flowing
conversation in order to document the opinions, emotions and individual
experiences of each informant. This would have been very difficult by any other
means (such as a questionnaire). I wanted to allow the informants to answer
questions as effortlessly as possible, and at length. I recorded the interviews, and
took as few notes as possible in order to divert attention away from the research
goal of the exercise and focus on the natural storytelling of each informant, in the
hopes that they would speak freely and offer as much detail as possible.

I started each interview by confirming the informants profile details (displayed
in the chart in the next chapter) and then asked her to tell me about her
experience overseas and subsequent period of reassimilation in Japan. I
generally let the conversation flow naturally, however I also posed these set
questions at some point during the course of each interview.

1. Have you ever felt limited by your gender at work?
2. Have you experienced any negativity at work due to your foreign sojourn, or
has it worked to your advantage?
3. How do you identify yourself? (Japanese, bicultural, or other?)
4. Have you ever experienced sexual harassment at work?
5. Would you like to be promoted to a senior position?

Disadvantages of a wide focus group

While the disparity between the two groups of returnees (kikokushijo and
ryugakusei) is interesting and would merit further study (see results), it made
managing the data for this report more difficult than anticipated. The wide range
in informants ages and family status presented additional gaps that would
certainly warrant narrowing if this study were to be repeated or further
developed. While the opinions of both younger and older informants, single and
married, with and without children were of great value and importance to the
area of investigation, this study would have benefited from a more streamlined
focus group. For example, in a country where promotion by seniority is the norm,
it is difficult to tell whether older women are now treated more respectfully by
their colleagues due to widely changing attitudes or simply by virtue of their
years in service.

Infoimants expeiiences also vaiieu uepenuing on whethei oi not they hau
children, and the size of the company they worked for. Again, this study would
have benefited from focusing on a more compact group --for example,
kikokushijo mothers aged 35-40 employed in large multinational corporations in

Japan. Regardless, the data can offer meaningful insight about the perspectives of
Japanese women at different stages of their lives and careers in early twenty-first
century corporate Japan.


Kikokushijo vs. ryugakusei
Call for informants

When I put out a call for participants, I was looking for Japanese women who had
spent at least four years of their education in a Western country before returning
to Japan and entering the workforce. This meant that along with the usual
classification of returnees as childhood sojourners (kikokushijo), I also accepted
informants that had studied abroad for university (ryugakusei). As I proceeded
with the interviews, patterns distinguishing the two groups began to emerge.


Participants that had spent four years of their adolescence or early adulthood
abroad tended to be less inclined to readjust to what they regarded as the stiff
conventions of typical Japanese life and reported more feelings of frustration and
conflict, had more foreign friends and/or dated foreign men, and communicated
a strong wish for change in Japanese society. Although they were more likely to
identify themselves as bicultural, the ryugakusei participants lacked the seamless
English language fluency of childhood sojourners (kikokushijo tended to have
native-level English ability, whereas the ryugakusei informants tended to speak
easily understandable but heavily accented English peppered with grammatical
errors); and tended not to have developed typical Western facial expressions and
mannerisms such as those found in the kikokushijo, some of whom seemed to
seamlessly dip in and out of different bodies depending on which language they
spoke. For example, one of the kikokushijo informants, Rena, said she was aware
that pitch of her voice was higher when she spoke Japanese, and that her posture
became more rigid.


Despite appearing completely Western in their speech and mannerisms when
speaking English, the kikokushijo informants tended to identify themselves
strongly as Japanese. Some of them described making a conscious choice to
pursue a Japanese identity upon returning to Japan. With this group there seems
to have been a wish to reassimilate to the point of overcompensation, and a
tendency to find traditional Japanese partners with no English ability.

Of course, these are generalizations. Other important factors to consider when
making these kinds of observations are the length of time since the sojouineis
return (reassimilation takes time), and their current stage of life (younger
participants without children tended to be less satisfied with the Japanese status
quo and more idealistic). The initial impetus for the sojourn is also important.
While kikokushijo usually tiavel with theii fatheis job anu theiefoie have no
choice in either the sojourn or the return, ryugakusei usually make a personal
choice to go abroad, often after years of interest in internationalism, and often
return only when their visa options expire.

Informant profiles

The table on the next page displays informant information. Absolute
categorisation was not necessary for this particular study; however, I generally
regarded four informants, Miwa, Rika, Norina and Aya, as ryugakusei (although
the length of Noiinas sojouin piobably puts hei into a uiffeient categoiy
perhaps expatriate returnee). Sumiko, Aiko anu Naiikos sojouins weie most
typical of kikokushijo classification. Kumiko, Lumi, Uiko, Fujiko, Rena and Mai
were more difficult to categorise as their sojourns overlapped childhood and

Unless specifically referring to ryugakusei or kikokushijo, I will use the term
ietuinee to refer to both groups collectively.


Case Pseudonym Age Industry Company Sojourn Family status

No1. Miwa 36 PR medium, Japanese 4 years USA
(aged 18-22)
married without children
No.2 Norina 32 travel; finance small, Japanese 10 years New Zealand;
Hong Kong
(aged 18-28)
single without children
No.3 Kumiko 36 PR medium, multinational 9 years Australia
(aged 6-8; 12-18)
without children
No.4 Lumi 43 print media large, multinational 14 years Canada
(aged 3-13; 18-22)
without children
No.5 Aya 33 PR medium, multinational 5 years US
(aged 18-23)
without children
No.6 Rika 27 e-commerce medium, Japanese,
international division
5 years US
(aged 20-25)
without children
No.7 Mariko 38 Finance large, multinational 2 years Austria; 5 years
(aged 6-11)
without children
No.8 Aiko 38 broadcast media large, Japanese,
international division
3 years UK; 3 years Egypt
(aged 13-16)
with one child
No.9 Uiko 33 Fashion medium, Japanese 5 years USA
(aged 13-18
single without children
No. 10 Sumiko 42 broadcast media large, Japanese,
international division
5 years UK
(aged 8-14)
with two children
No.11 Fujiko 39 broadcast media large, Japanese,
international division
7 years USA
(aged 7-13; 21-22)
without children
No.12 Mai 31 e-commerce medium, Japanese,
international division
15 years Australia
(aged 11-26)
without children
No. 13 Rena 38 Finance large, multinational 10 years US
(aged 7-15; 20-22)
with one child

Although the individual experiences of this very disparate group are also
predictably disparate, the fact that trends such as avoidance of the traditional
Japanese workplace, and exposure to xenophobia and sexism could be identified
within such a diverse group tells us much about the experience of the Japanese
workplace for women in general. In the next few chapters I will look at the
trends mentioned above, in addition to the effects of motherhood on work, and
the tendency to opt out of pushing towards senior positions.


Avoiding indirect discrimination

Although some progress has been made over the last 25 years towards
impioving womens status and widening opportunities for women at work, the
patriarchal core of Japanese corporate culture still permeates the day-to-day
mechanism of many twenty-first century companies. It is not unusual for women
to be expecteu to assume motheiing ioles by making tea and coffee, greeting
guests, planning parties, cleaning, making photocopies, and attending to other
menial tasks in addition to their principal responsibilities. (The gendering of
tasks is not limited to the treatment of women but also extends to unequal
expectations applied to male workers. I will discuss this more in the next
When I embarked on this project, I anticipated hearing stories of frustration and
discontent from westernized women who felt undervalued at work and
oppressed by the sexist attitudes of their male superiors. What I found were
women who were mostly content in their current work environment, because
they had either removed themselves from, or avoided altogether, the rigidly
hierarchical and patriarchal traditional Japanese corporate workplace. Ten of the
thirteen women I interviewed were working for multinational corporations.
Four of them had never attempted to join a fully domestic company.

Sbusboku kotsuJo

Strict standards of procedure apply even before entrance to the Japanese
corporate domain. About half of the informants mentioned difficulties finding
employment due to the inflexibility of the sbusboku kotsuJo system (sbusboku
kotsuJo is the name given to the formal process whereby university students
preemptively apply to companies to secure employment following graduation).
Students who miss out on this annual activity forfeit the opportunity to be

viewed as fresh new recruits, which can result in difficulties and delays for the
job-hunter. The timing of the activity, generally the second semester of the third
year, in addition to the commencement of the academic year in April (as opposed
to October in the US and Europe) make it very difficult for overseas students to
participate. Two informants reported being so put off by the ritual that they
aborted entirely the idea of ever working for a Japanese company.

Aiko had only one interview before taking the decision to work as a freelancer:
Aiko: The whole systematic process of the sbusboku kotsuJo and my own
experience just didn't seem to click. I felt that if I was going to be asked all
the same sorts of questions as other Japanese kids, I wouldn't know what to
soy l JiJ it just once onJ tbouqbt Iorqet it lf tbots tbe opproocb tbeyre
going to take, without asking me what I want to do, or why I want to come
into the company, or bow l feel obout my iJentity or wbotever lt JiJnt
seem as if they were looking at me.

Mai was so put off by the overt sexism displayed in her only interview that she
also resolved not to enter a Japanese company:
Mai: Two managers, probably around the age of 50, were looking at my
resume onJ sow tbot l useJ to ploy qolf onJ were like 0b you con stort
ployinq qolf witb ber onJ teocb ber onJ l tbouqbt No Business golf!
Tryinq to moke tbe monoqers boppy by losinq No At oll tbe }oponese
companies I felt very uncomfortable so I thought I'd just not bother and look
for an international company instead.

Reasons for avoidance

Six informants began their careers in Japanese companies and quickly switched
to more international environments. All reported a host of negative reasons for
the move, including cultural conflict arising from their foreign sojourn, sexism,
sexual harassment, being undervalued or underutilized, and a lack of

opportunities for promotion. Most of these informants moved from large
Japanese corporations to their multinational equivalents.
Mariko cited long hours, low pay and the inability to specialise as reasons for her
decision to leave a large Japanese finance firm. Rena, who also works in finance,
decided to quit after a year when she found herself being used as a translator
and personal assistant on business trips, rather than being trained in the sales
position she was hired for.
Rena: I think that in domestic companies, instead of a person, they see you
as a woman first and then they decide your workload. Because you are a
woman, and the labour union is really strong, you'll probably have them
tellinq you to qo bome eorlier l probobly woulJnt go [back to a domestic
environment]. There are so many rules, and set ways to do things. If you do
anything differently, its wrong.

While Naiiko complains of oveiwoik Rena complains of the companys
unwillingness to allow women to work the long hours required to further their
caieeis Both complaints have at theii coie a lack of fieeuom to choose ones
own working conditions.

View of the Japanese Environment

I asked all of the informants currently employed in Western environments how
they would feel about working in a traditional Japanese company in the future.
Their answers were consistently negative:
Tomomi: No. I think I would have so much frustration and they would have
trouble dealing with someone like me. It would bring me so much
confrontation and difficulty that I wouldn't do it. I am Japanese, so the
expectations would be different than they are for a foreigner working in a
Japanese company.

Mai: I wouldn't apply for a Japanese company. I wouldn't even try to! I know
that they wouldn't accept me onJ l cont occept tbem

Nais sentiment of mutual iejection was echoeu by many of the informants. The
poweiful us anu them veibalisation inuicates the extieme iigiuity of coipoiate
Japan felt by the informants, most of whom identify strongly as Japanese, and
live in Japanese society, with Japanese families and friends, and is particularly
significant in the light of }apans wore wore nibonjin ideology, that claims
Japanese uniqueness as a non-negotiable attribute of the nation family.
Of the three informants currently working in traditional Japanese environments,
two of them, Norina and Uiko, were deeply unhappy with the high level of gender
inequality they felt in their respective companies. Only Miwa, a ryugakusei, was
satisfied with her position in a mainly Japanese environment. Acutely aware of
inequalities in the system, Miwa seemed to divert frustration by addressing
issues directly. She passionately attempted to effect change, regularly speaking
out against and suggesting solutions to gender inconsistencies she identified,
even when they worked to her benefit, such as the exemption of women from
obligation to work overnight shifts.

The number of informants choosing to work outside of the traditional Japanese
corporate model was unanticipated, as was the consistency of the motives
provided for doing so. Rather than a particular desire to use their foreign
language ability, even those identifying strongly as Japanese deemed themselves
incompatible with the rigidity of the Japanese system and decided to opt out on
that basis. Two of the three informants still working for Japanese companies
attributed their deep dissatisfaction to the same unappealing elements of the
system that pushed the others out: sexism, xenophobia and protectionism. These
elements of the infoimants expeiience will be uetaileu in the next chaptei

Xenophobia and Sexism


Conversations with informants revealed the widespread persistence of various
forms of inequality in the Japanese workplace, under which umbrella the
problem of xenophobia also falls. As returnees, informants had the additional
challenge of dealing with negative attitudes regarding their foreign sojourn (or
its perceived effects). Eight women out of thirteen were directly cautioned about
their behavior (often a propensity to speak out in meetings).

Niwas opinions were deemed too avante garde by her former boss (though this
did not discourage her from continuing to voice them) Saoiis boss a }apanese
at a multinational company) told her manager to be careful, because she is not
real Japanese; Norina was told to shut up at meetings because she was just a
staff member and a woman; Rena was advised to keep [her] mouth shut at
meetings, especially if senior members were present, and was told that the tone
of her voice and her body language were strong and arrogant. (She was scolded
by a manager for having her legs crossed while he was talking to her a
perceived insolence he attributed to her foreign sojourn.)
Even if not directly admonished, all of the informants felt they had to censor
their speech and behavior in Japanese companies or when dealing with Japanese
colleagues or customers in bicultural environments, describing this
self-censorship as trying to strike a balance between instinct and protocol.

The dual employment track

Of the six informants that entered the workforce through the sbusboku kotsuJo
system, all chose the career track. All six expressed that they did so as a matter of
course, and told of their surprise that so many of their female peers who had
completed four-year university degrees should choose the clerical track for
which they were overqualified.


Although the EEOL was passed with the official aim of ending gender-based
workplace discrimination, in practice, the creation of the dual employment track
system only served to reinforce the division of labour between men and women
in corporate culture. Career track, or soqosboku became synonymous with mens
woik, while the clerical track, or ippanshoku was womens woik. While the
EEOL did grant women access to jobs previously held exclusively by men, they
were not encouraged to exercise that right, and to do so was a very conspicuous
Mariko: I was one of 200 new starts, and there were only three females.
There were about 100 females hired but they were not professional. They
were there for copying and serving tea. But I was hired like a boy. It was
quite hard because I had to share the female locker room, but I was a bit
different because I got to wear a suit and the other women had to wear
Naiikos mention of unifoims illustiates anothei way in which men anu
womens ioles aie uiffeientiateu in woikplace. The phraseology Mariko uses
such as being hired like a boy, and having the same job as a man was echoed by
other informants, indicating the strength of the gender distinction between the
two employment tracks in the national consciousness.
After graduation in 1997, Kumiko entered an old and established Japanese
company in the male-dominated utilities industry.
Kumiko: Women usually do the clerical jobs: the professional track they
refer to as doing an equal job to the males. That's the job description. To
change their mind set, having women in the same level and treating them as
real colleagues; it was really hard. The year I entered there were 120 new
graduates. Only ten were girls, of which about five of us were professional

Mariko usos fho word 'gIrI` horo, rnfhor fhnn 'womnn`. WhIIo sho mny bo usIng it
horo bocnuso sho Is doscrIbIng unIvorsIfy grndunfos sho rofors fo mnIos ns 'boys`,
Uiko and Mai also use the term to refer to females in their 30s. It could be posited
fhnf fho uso of 'gIrI` rnfhor fhnn 'womnn` Is n rofIocfIon of fho convonfIonnI Iower)


The clerical track Catch 22
Mariko attributes her selection of the career path as a matter of course necessary
to fulfil her professional potential to attending European schools. She says that
about half of the women hired for the clerical track the year she entered her
company (1995) had attended four-year universities and therefore were
qualified for soqosboku, but says they probobly just JiJnt wont it remarking
that most young womens motivation foi enteiing a goou company was to finu a
husband rather than forge a successful career.
Mariko: Tbey oskeJ me Wby ore you opplyinq for tbis wben it is so tirinq
They couldn't understand why I would want to have the same job as a man
but I thought it was normal because my background is German. I wanted
to earn as much money as I can.

Fujiko agiees with Naiikos assessment of the extent of many female univeisity
giauuates piofessional ambitions
Fujiko Tbere is still tbe opinion tbot women Jont bove to work Tbeyre
just there until they find someone to marry and tben tbeyll quit l tbink
their parents encourage them in that direction. There is still an
environment wbere its sbomeful if your Jouqbter isnt morrieJ by tbe oqe
of thirty. If you are on the career track, you have to work the same hours as
a man, and over here salarymen practically work around the clock. And
men see those women as strong and not as womanly as the girls in the
clerical track. Also people get transferred a lot and when men get
transferred, men want their wives to go with them.

However, Miwa makes the point that it is not only young women waiting for
marriage that end up in the clerical track; women who have children often find it
the only option to have the flexible working hours necessary to supplement their

status of females in the Japanese workplace, as it would be unusual to refer to a
suorIor ns n 'gIrI`.

husbanus income while iaising the family. She illustrates the Mobius strip that is
commonplace corporate female employment.
Miwa: I would say that half of those women [clerical staff] already have kids
so they don't want to be employed as regular employees and choose to do
something more flexible, which is either a temp worker or clerical staff. I
think the other reason is that people think those clerical jobs should be done
by women.

Society believes that women should fulfill these auxiliary roles; and auxiliary
roles are often the only ones that women can fill (due to unpaid work and family
obligations rather than a lack of qualifications.) Non-regular, part-time, clerical
work is often the choice for women who have no choice.

Career-track limbo

Steering clear of the clerical track does not guarantee professional mobility. Uiko
has been working at a Japanese fashion company for about four years, and has
been uniformly disappointed by broken promises of overseas transfer, low
salary, lack of recognition, and the dearth of available opportunities for
Uiko: My salary is really low, but you only get a raise when you become a
manager, and it is hard for women to become managers there is only one
qirl tbe presiJents Jouqbter

It is routine for a new fiscal year to herald interdepartmental personnel changes
in Japanese firms. Last year, when the position of assistant manager became
vacant in 0ikos uepaitment a man fiom an unielateu uepaitment was biought
in, despite his lack of knowledge and experience. I asked her if she thought the
decision was justified.
Uiko: I don't know. He doesn't know about the brand so I am teaching him.
But I think that if I was a man, or the company wosnt sucb o Japanese
Japanese company, I think I could be a manager. There are so many things

in Japanese companies that you cont even imoqine Tbe 0ls (office ladies)
have to make tea etc. I don't do it -- its only tbe clericol stoff but tbere ore
no guys doing that job, so it comes down to women.

Uiko hangs in corporate limbo. Her status is elevated above women in clerical
roles, saving her the burden of some additional menial tasks, but she is passed
over for promotion opportunities despite being highly qualified. Her company
has an unwritten rule that excludes women from managerial roles, which
happens to be the only path to receiving a significant pay increase in that firm.

Gendered tasks

Deeply ingrained patriarchal attitudes are responsible for continuing
expectations in some professional environments for women to perform menial
tasks, usually associated with domesticity, in addition to their regular workload.
Most of the informants were exempt from being expected to carry out such tasks
by virtue of being on the professional track. In cases where such demands were
made, although some women spoke out directly against the inequality, they
usually conceded for the sake of their jobs.

Rena struggled to accept the demands made on her in the Japanese finance
company she worked for, and resolved to leave after only one year. She stayed
for two years at the behest of her parents before moving to a foreign
Rena: ReqorJinq mokinq tbe teo l went to my boss onJ soiJ l Jont
unJerstonJ wby its just tbe women wbo bove to Jo tbis tbe quys con Jo it
as well. I asked him for an explonotion onJ be soiJ becouse it tostes better

Kumiko had similar frustrations but conceded for the sake of her job. She also
moved to a multinational firm:
Kumiko: Even though I was on the professional track they asked me [to
perform menial tasks]. They couldn't tell. I didn't have a badge to say

whether I was clerical or not. My boss was okay but all the other executives,
they just see a girl and ask her to get them water or coffee or whatever. It's
not in my job Jescription but l coulJnt just say no. I resented it at the time
but I just figured that was one of the things I had to compromise on.

When Sumiko started in the foreign division of a large Japanese corporation, she
was subject to overt sexism:
Sumiko: A lot of people JiJ osk Can you go and get cigarettes for me? or
after 9 pm people would start drinking in the office and they would tell me
to go and get them a beer. I was like a waitress. But I was very naive from
sixteen onwards because I had become very Japanese. I just did what I was
told to, but I did cry sometimes.

More than 20 yeais latei Sumikos status anu theiefoie tieatment have
improved. It is difficult to tell whether this reflects a general improvement in
practices and attitudes, or whether young female employees at her company still
suffer similar mistreatment.

Norina, a ryugakusei, seems to have had the most difficult time reassimilating to
life in Japan. Unlike the women above, Norina assertively protested what she
viewed as sexist demands. As the newest member of her last company, and a
female, she was expected to wash the all the cups and plates in the office none
of which she had used. She sent an email asking everyone to clean up their own
mess because doing the dishes was not in her job description. In response, dirty
cups were put directly on her desk. A series of similar episodes made Norina
intensely unhappy and eventually she resolved to leave Japan permanently. At
the time of our interview she was looking for a job overseas.

Gendered institutions

Not only are women faced with the burden of gendered tasks within
corporations, distinctions are often made between suitable industries for male or

female workers. For example, the finance industry is globally regarded as a boys
Fujiko: l tbink its just very mole-JominoteJ perioJ so its borJ for women
to work there. We were working harder than the men to prove that we
could do the job.

Mariko was disappointed to learn that the chauvinism she witnessed at her old
Japanese finance company also existed in the European firm she moved to.
Mariko: The guys were always talking about the ladies. I thought it would
be different at the foreign banks but it was just the same. At one of the
companies, it is well known that they had mini-skirted, good looking, skinny
young women walking around the trading floor. The reason I left front
office is about things like this.

Other industries are regarded as more suitable for women than men.
Tomomi: I know that my company prefers hiring women. PR is thought to
be more suited to women because it is very detail-oriented and the whole
industry is female-dominated. My direct head is a woman but the person
above her, the CEO, is a man. I think I have more than 30 clients and there
are definitely more women than men that I work with.

It is worth noting that even at Tomomis female-dominated company in a
female-dominated industry, the person at the very top is a man. This setup is also
prevalent in the service industry, for example at department stores and banks
which are usually staffed by throngs of uniformed women at the windows and on
shop floors with one or two suited male managers supervising them from the
back office.


Although inequality is still perceptible in the workplace, there was a general
attitude among the informants that conditions are improving. Miwa notes some
changes at the Japanese company she work for.
Miwa: A few years ago people said that women had to make tea, and send
photocopies and stuff like that. There are some people who do that kind of
clerical work, but now there are some jobs that women don't have to do that
are considered men's jobs -- for example, facing very difficult clients or
overnight shifts.

While Miwa feels very positively about the progress being made toward equality,
she touches on an important point: the tasks that women uont have to uo This
kind of protectionism, by which the company extends an almost parental
authority, falls into the category of gendered tasks just like tea-making and

Men are expected to perform tasks that women are not expected to do, such as
working overnight hours and dealing with difficult clients. Not only is this unfair
because it forces men exclusively to carry out certain tasks regarded as
undesirable, it denies women the opportunity to perform tasks of substance and
responsibility that may be help them further their position in the company. Rena
touched on this matter when she complained that women were not allowed to do
long overtime houis without which a peisons chances for promotion were

Aikos story is another example of protectionism. In the very early stages of
pregnancy, she had a minor health issue that took her to hospital for one day. She
thought it best to tell her superiors about her pregnancy at that time and was
promptly removed from her position as anchor of her own television program
without consultation. She was subsequently asked to perform on-camera work in
the veiy late stages of hei piegnancy uue to seveie staff shoitages Aikos stoiy

illustrates both the lack of control many women experience in their jobs, and
frequent utilization of female employees as pinch hitters.

Sexual harassment

The continued existence of sexual harassment is a clear indicator of unequal
attitudes towards women. Even after the addition to the EEOL of an anti-sexual
harassment clause in 1999, six participants (almost half) experienced sexual
harassment in varying degrees (Uggen and Shinohara, 2009, 207). All of them
responded, either by formally reporting the incident or by speaking up to defend
themselves directly. In cases where the incident was formally reported,
complaints were upheld and action was taken. However, in at least three cases,
the punitive action was slow, leaving the informants to work with the
perpetrator (often their boss) for an extended period before he was moved to
another section. Rena resigned from her job rather than work with her harasser
for a further month.

The high occurrence of discrimination in the forms of sexism, sexual harassment,
xenophobia and protectionism in the stories of thirteen women, all of whom
entered the workforce after the EEOL was passed, shows the extent of the laws
failure. Uiko anu Noiinas stoiies of presently-occurring extreme discrimination
in traditional Japanese companies are perhaps the most shocking. This, albeit
compact, study indicates that in order to obtain any semblance of equality,
professional women must move out of domestic environments and into foreign
divisions or companies. However, even in more progressive work environments,
women run into barriers, the greatest of which this study identifies as


Despite encountering some xenophobia and sexism as described in the last
chapter, when I asked the informants if they ever felt limited by their gender at
work, those employed outside of traditional Japanese environments (10 of 13)
felt that they were not. However, the mothers (3) felt a significant change after
starting a family.
Aiko: I don't know if it's my gender or motherhood [that I feel limited by.] I
don't really know what my rights are. I don't know how much time I should
be spending at work, and how much time I should be spending at home.

Sumiko: If you are a woman with no kids, you are pretty much equal. I
wosnt JeqroJeJ or treoteJ Jifferently before l bad children. Now I have
different priorities. I'm not very interested in the corporate ladder now.

Sumikos comment is veiy inteiesting She says two things heie that she was
uegiaueu after having children; and that since becoming a mother she is no
longer interested in promotion. The explanation she gives is that her priorities
have changed, but her comments indicate having to have made a choice between
family life anu piofessional success If she uiunt feel uegiaueu at woik since
becoming a mother, and instead felt supported by her colleagues and superiors,
would she be more interested in pursuing promotion? Ambition will be
discussed further in the next chapter.

Falling off the ladder

For female corporate employees at Japanese companies, one of the main
drawbacks to having children is being indirectly penalised for taking childcare
leave. (The standard maternity leave for the mothers in this study was six weeks
before birth and eight weeks after. Any additional childcare leave was time
forfeited in terms of years of service therefore the path to promotion became

longer). Not only do women often find themselves in different departments and
with fewer responsibilities on returning to work after having a baby, they may
also have fallen behind their cohort on the corporate ladder.
Sumiko: Because promotion is usually based on the length of time in the
company and not on merit, it means that women are penalised on the
promotion track for taking time off to have kids You Jont qet juJqeJ for
your individual work. The one or two mothers who succeeded in my
company took a long time [to be promoted] and I think they had their
porents livinq witb tbem so tbey JiJnt Jo mucb cbilJ reorinq At that time,
tbey coulJnt soy no to overniqbts sbifts and there was no such thing as flexi
time. Those women who survived worked like men. They had to. They
werent motbers Tbey qove birtb to cbilJren but tbey werent reolly

Limited to one child?

Of the 12 informants over the age of 30 (with an average age of 36.5) only three
had children.
Sumiko has two children while Aiko and Rena each have one.
Although both Aiko and Rena expressed a wish to add to their families, they did
not consider it possible due to the immense pressures created by having even
one child while continuing to work.
Aiko: Overtime is still a very beautiful thing in this country and taking
holidays is still really difficult.
So I do feel that in the workplace. I'm
fighting a bit of the Japanese culture. It's getting better but it still isn't there
yet. I do want a second child but I don't know how or what to do to arrange

Rika was omitted from this calculation on the basis of her relative youth.
Aiko is referring to the importance and honour with which dedication to the
company (often demonstrated by extremely long hours) is imbued in corporate

Renas job in a majoi finance fiim means that she woiks until aftei pm eveiy
evening. She and her husband moved in with her parents when her baby was
born, calling on Renas mothei foi chilucaie As the main bieauwinnei in hei
family, Rena says that to have another child would be very difficult.
Rena: lJ like to bove onotber cbilJ but ot my oqe l Jont know lf l boJ to
quit my job our lives would change drastically. I want to give my daughter
the same opportunities I had, and that will cost money. If it was just me, I
could handle the downgrading, but I want to give her everything.

At her present multinational company, Rena has the option of leaving work each
day at 5pm, but would have her salary cut by twenty percent to account for the
lost hours. She considered moving back to a Japanese company, which would
offer her more flexible hours, but decided against it.
Rena: If I moved back to a domestic company, the contents of the work
woulJ be borinq lt woulJ probobly be very clericol onJ stuff tbot Joesnt
really use your brain. I would be able to go home at 5pm though.

Childless by choice?

The two older, single informants seemed resigned to the fact that they would not
have children. They did not express this directly, but refrained from making any
explicit personal statements about whether they were childless by choice.

Lumi is an executive at a large multinational corporation. She is 43 years old and
unmarried without children. The editor-in-chief at her company is also an
unmarried Japanese female without children. I asked her if she thought it was
necessary for women to forfeit their private lives to achieve success in corporate
Lumi: l Jont know. The editor and I talk about it. All the editors-in-chief of
the magazine worldwide are married and have families, but I think that
Western society is much more couple oriented. It is kind of sad. Many of my

friends or former colleagues have had families onJ tbe compony wont fire
you, but you will return to a different position.

Delayed motherhood

Of the four informants aged 30-35, all were single and none mentioned any plans
to get married or start a family in the near future. Omitting these four, the sole
informant in her twenties, the two older unmarried informants, and the three
mothers, three women are left: Mariko (38) told me that she wanted to start a
family with hei husbanu but uiunt have fixeu plans to uo so Niwa was also
happily married and talked about having a child in the future but did not seem to
have imminent plans to start a family; meanwhile Kumiko (36), single and very
aware of the significance of her increasing age, complained about what she
deemed the dearth of appropriate partners in the city and cited it as a main
reason for contemplating another move to the West.

The emotional double burden
The informants for this study did not describe significant frustration due to the
uouble buiuen of Ailie Bocschilus seconu shift. The five married participants
seemed to have chosen supportive husbands that contributed to the running of
the household. However, the three mothers described a significant emotional
double burden: simultaneous feelings of guilt at not spending more time with
their children, and not committing more time to work.
Aiko described feeling constant conflict when exercising her right to flexitime at
the Japanese corporation she works for.
Aiko: I've been doing the work for two years with basically the same team
onJ l finJ it very interestinq tbot lm still beinq oskeJ wbot time lm qoinq bome
each day. When I say I'm leaving to pick my son up from nursery school, they say,
0b okoy But l quess its becouse tbey bove to bose tbeir scbeJules orounJ me l

think it's really going to be tough for Japan to become a mother or family-oriented
society if people like me have to still feel this way.

Sumiko feels similarly conflicted by professional and family duties.
Sumiko: At some points, like with the earthquake [3.11], I thought, ls this
really worth putting your whole life into? lsnt it better to stoy witb tbe kiJs
when there are all these aftershocks? I had to work a lot during the
eortbquoke onJ l wosnt witb tbe cbilJren onJ l felt very quilty l justified it,
but l Jont know if it wos tbe riqbt tbinq But tben eJucotion is expensive

Miwa (who does not have children) says the problem arises because there is no
policy for dealing with the labour shortage when women are on maternity leave.
A lack of effective administration means that the absentees colleagues are
burdened with the extra workload until her return.
Miwa: I suggested to HR that the government pays for maternity leave like
in many Nordic countries. With that money, companies can hire temp staff. I
think that kind of system is great. If that kind of system is in place, more
men could also take paternity leave without feeling guilty.

Paternity leave

Miwa brings up another important point. Although the government has been
attempting to encourage men to take parental leave, and a high percentage of
men admit a desire to make use of the allowance, very few actually do (1.23% in
2008) (Saint-Jacques, 2011, 67).

Even in the large multinational where Rena works, paternity leave remains a
largely unexercised right.
Rena: I know one guy took it for a week, a Japanese guy, but he got his
degree in the States so maybe he thinks differently.

As Sumiko points out, patriarchal cultural norms also discourage men from
making use of flexitime options. She says although her husband would like to
come home early sometimes, he feels strictly bound by social convention.
Sumiko: Componies Jont expect men to come bome eorly onJ cook meols
and because he is in a managerial position, and he has subordinates, he says
its bis responsibility to stoy onJ look ofter tbeir work insteoJ of lookinq
after the kids.

Although provisions have been made for the working mother, in practice, the
move is far from unconditional: companies are obliged to support her by offering
maternity leave and flexitime, but insufficient protocol to deal with the staff
shortage leaves her feeling that she is inconveniencing the team and is perceived
as uncommitted to her work.

The main problem seems to be a continued discursive focus on motheihoou
iathei than paienthoou which foices women to claim sole iesponsibility foi
bearing and raising children, in addition to contributing to the economy through
paid work. In light of such demands and a lack of practical support from the
workplace this stuuys motheis tenueu to see theii professional ambition abate
after having children. However, those informants approaching the age of 40
without children also expressed a decrease in professional ambition. This trend
will be discussed further in the next chapter.

Opting out

Apathy with age or rejection of an inhospitable environment?

Western culture imbues personal ambition with a higher value than Japanese
culture and the effects of exposure to Western perspectives on ambition can be
identified in the early professional choices made by this stuuys infoimants (all
of them chose careers over the clerical path pursued by many of their female
peers), however professional ambition appears to decrease with age and/or

Sumiko reported a loss of ambition, or readjustment of priorities, on becoming a
mother. It is difficult to say whether she would feel more ambitious if work were
more compatible with raising a family, however she talks about the provisions
made for working mothers, such as flexi-time as a card one can choose to play
if she is prepared to pay the ensuing consequences such as resentment from
colleagues and reduced agency concerning the contents of work and levels of
responsibility. Therefore when women utilize allowances introduced by the
government to support working mothers, they often must do at the expense of
the advancement of their careers.

Sumiko makes the further point that women also consciously opt out of what
they view as undesirable top-level jobs.
Sumiko: l just Jont know if women reolly ospire to monoqement positions
because, for me, being in media and being in management is just really
boring. If you want to go up the ladder, you have to say yes to everything,
make a lot of sacrifices l Jont know if women really want that. I think they
see more to life. That's what I really think. I mean, there is more to life than
beinq in o biqber position lts so stressful

Rena opts out by working for a foreign multinational and rejecting the traditional
breadwinner model. She feels exempt from expectations to be a peifect mother
and housewife because she makes the majority of the family income.

Rena: My mother and father wanted me to marry someone with a larger
income than me - I make more than my husband - and then to quit my job
and have babies and be a proper housewife. But I was always totally against
that. The reason is that I want to control my life. I knew that if I became a
housewife I would have to listen to my husband, cook and clean... and I
never wanted to do that.

However, even Rena who appears to have a significant level of control over her
family and work environments and who loves her job admits a decrease in
professional ambition since having a child.
Rena: I think I was more aggressive before I had my baby. I was always
studying for new certificates. But when I got pregnant it just stopped. Now
lm just boppy witb my boby onJ lm olwoys tryinq to run bome lts reolly
hard to find time for myself, so that's why I'm not studying.

Equally as significant in accounting for the corporate gender gap, in addition to
the difficulties of having children and continuing to work, is a rejection by
women of the extremes of Japanese corporate culture such as unpaid overtime,
long hours, obligatory socializing after work and the intense pressures put on
managers for little relative gain. With the option of marrying and embracing the
traditional breadwinner model, women are in a better position than men to
reject the pressures that come with professional work.

Mai notes that ambitious women are the exception in Japan, and not the rule. She
expressed having problems relating to Japanese women her own age.
Mai: I find sometimes it's difficult to get opinions from Japanese, especially
girls. And I found that a lot of the typical Japanese girls don't have aims or
objectives for their lifestyle. Even at the age of 30 or so a lot of women are
still staying at their parents' house and are happy with their contract, and
just cruise around, whereas it's quite difficult to find a person like that back

Men are also beginning to react against the extreme demands on their time
that come with mainstream Japanese corporate culture. I will look at this further
in the following chapters.

in Australia. So I find it quite difficult and uncomfortable sometimes to talk
with [Japanese women] because I can't really get interesting discussions out
of them. I find them very passive.

When I asked Lumi if she thought that Japanese women lacked ambition she said
she thought young people of both genders were going through a passive phase.
She also mentioneu the point that womens feelings of caieei inuiffeience weie
more perceptible because they had more available options for avoiding an
inhospitable work environment.
Lumi: The population has been dwindling so the mother and father really
coddle their child and the world has becomes a very competitive place and
people tbink wby Jo l bove to work so borJ We bove o lot of ossistonts
who come and then just leave right away. I think a lot of men too feel that
woy but its Jifferent for men becouse tbey cont just get out of the race by
just marrying someone. The work environment is hostile to men too thots
why they have high suicide rates, but companies are realizing that there
isnt tbe some loyolty onymore l tbink tbe situotion is sbiftinq

Miwa agreed that when faced with the prospect of long hours and little pay, the
breadwinner model was still very attractive to many young Japanese females.
She is even ambivalent about her own ambition.
Miwa: The company is actually trying to make more female managers, but
women turn the positions down, because if you have a husband and he can
give your income then why would you? I myself wonder if I want to go to the
managerial level. Because it doesn't seem like those managers are happy.
They have to work late and on vacation times so it seems like too much
responsibility. I wonder, if I can still earn a substantial amount of money
doing what I do now, do I want to be promoted? I don't know.

Sumiko, one of the older informants, reported observing highly-educated women
reject the prospect of over-demanding paid employment in favour of finding a
good husband to provide for them.

Sumiko: My university was very international with lots of returnees and
there were no gender issues. There were more women anyway, and lots of
strong women landing good jobs, but they quit after getting married
because the corporate environment forbids women to work like women and
demands we work like men. Maybe they decided not to be a man and to be a
good mother instead. Even with good degrees they quit. The working
environment is very hard in some companies. Anyway, in many cases people
find their partners at the company and if they get married one of them has
to quit anyway at least they used to onJ of course its olwoys tbe

Although she did not mention marriage as an alternative to employment, Rika,
the youngest informant at 27, seemed lacking in direction when I asked about
her career plans.
Rika: Tbots borJ lm not reolly lookinq for o monoqement position Hoybe
in tbe future but not now so its borJ to tbink

When I asked mother of one, Aiko, if she was interested in promotion, she was
confident that she would eventually be offered a senior position but doubted
whether she would accept it.
Aiko: Even if I were to become a bucbo [manager]... now you have a bunch
of bucbos to deal with. You might be 10 to 1 or 8 to 2, but you're not going
to be in the majority. They did offer one woman the position for the new
section she's very outspoken, also a returnee but she thought that they
woulJ qo over ber beoJ onywoy so sbe soiJ Iorqet obout it She felt that
as a woman she would be pushed around. She has a child and she has two
elderly parents to take care of, and she said it was just too much for her to
handle. She said that if she knew her decisions would be respected at work,
she would have taken it, even if it meant having to get someone else to
watch her kids and take care of her parents. But there was no advantage for
her to be pushed around at work and have to sacrifice her family too.

Mariko seemed contemplative and even wistful when we discussed her career
objectives at the foreign multinational finance firm where she works.
Mariko: There are certain things that only women can do, like having
children, and I do like to support my man. I suppose that is why I am
struggling with what I want to do in my life. It would be easy to just have
three children, to have a garden and make jam, and cook. I also like that
idea. I would even just like to toke Joys off l Jont reolly love my job, I just
do it becouse if l JiJnt l woulJ be very boreJ But l Jont octuolly bove biqb
ambitions. lm so lm cominq to o point wbere l neeJ to reJefine my potb
Until 35 it was very clear, but now l Jont know l neeJ to tbink obout my
last chance to have babies. l Jont tbink it woulJ be impossible to continue
workinq but it woulJ be very tirinq l Jont like to be tireJ onJ runninq
about all the time.

As she walked me to the elevator, Mariko told me she would like to cut some of
her work hours but was afraid she would have nothing to do. She said she
uoesnt have hobbies because theie was nevei hau any time to cultivate them
She said she always asks her husband for suggestions for hobbies to take up
because she had been so deprived of personal time that she has no idea what she
might enjoy.
The lack of ambition felt by informants was an unanticipated trend. As
pieviously uiscusseu the motheis woik aspiiations tenueu to lag when they
encountered a deficiency of practical support from the workplace. However,
informants without children, particularly those approaching the end of their
childbearing years, also expressed falling levels of ambition. Whether or not
there was a direct connection to a desire to start a family was not discerned.
Most informants attributed their ambivalence about pursing decision-making
positions to the unappealing nature of the Japanese corporate management
model. They perceived senior jobs to require longer hours and more
responsibility for incrementally improved pay: a situation they deemed
undesirable. Furthermore, some women believed that even on promotion they

would be unable to change the olu boys club atmospheie of a senioi cohoit anu
did not feel inclined to try.


The main aim of this study has been to investigate the reasons for the
perpetuation of the corporate gender gap in Japan despite two-and-a-half
uecaues of equal oppoitunities legislation If womens iights aie the same in
principal as those of other developed nations, why is Japan comparatively so
weak on work-life balance and corporate gender equality? Strong patriarchal
norms in Japan have long been offered as explanation for the disparity, however
recent studies show this excuse to be somewhat lacking. This chapter will
discuss the research results in the context of the existing literature. It will strive
to answer the central problem by addressing sub-questions posed throughout
the paper and examining the main themes in the order they appear in the review
of literature.

Returnees at work:
Are bicultural women more likely to ascend to top jobs?

Although the returnees interviewed for this study were more likely to select the
career path after attending university (very rare for a woman entering a
Japanese company 15 or 20 years ago), and less likely to consider the clerical
track or to become a professional housewife, they did not express specific intent
to pursue decision-making positions in their companies.

None of the informants communicated a desire to advance further than their
current position except for Norina and Ryoko, who were also the only two to be
currently (unhappily) employed in traditional Japanese environments. Norina
and Ryoko also spent substantial parts of their adolescence abroad. Whether
their desire to advance beyond their current position comes from significant
exposure as a young adult to ambition-based Western work ethics, or as a
reaction to the strict constraints of the Japanese workplace is difficult to
ascertain. It is clear, however, that this stuuys absconders (without children) at

once felt more confident of promotion opportunities than those in traditional
environments and were less likely to pursue them.

The informants as a whole showed negligible levels of professional ambition,
with most applying increasing value to social and family time as they approach
the age of forty and/ or had children. The exception was Lumi, an executive who
is unmarried and without children. Whether success came at the expense of a
family was not clearly discerned. Lumi answered hypothetically rather than
about her own life when I broached the subject.

Although foieign sojouin uiu not appeai to have a stiong connection to womens
aspiration to managerial positions, returnee-ship did have some clear
advantages for women entering the corporate world. The first was the
aforementioned seemingly automatic choice of the professional track (where
most of the infoimants female peeis opteu foi cleiical ioles which inuicates
self-confidence and acknowledgement of earning potential. The second was the
ease with which bilinguals, unhappy with the workings of the traditional
Japanese work environment, were able to extricate themselves from it.

Despite the fact that returnees have become valuable human capital, some still
face difficulties readjusting to Japanese life. An article published in the New York
Times in 2000 describes the U-turn phenomenon of sojourners unable to
reassimilate to life and work in Japan choosing to emigrate permanently. The
article repoits ietuinees fiustiation at feeling unable to expiess themselves anu
being perceived as tainted by their sojourn. One man described being confined to
the back office in his company until he could be trusted to have fully reintegrated
to the Japanese hierarchy (French, 2000).

Norina, Tomoko and Emiko all expressed a desire to U-tuin While Tomokos
main ieason foi leaving was to join hei boyfiienu in Euiope Nais piincipal
complaint was an inability to relate to Japanese women whom she described as
passive. At the time of our interview she was thinking of returning to Australia to
seek more stimulating and challenging compeers than those she found in Japan.


Norina was adamant to leave Japan as soon as possible after ten years of
unsuccessful attempts to readjust to her home country. She identified her main
difficulties as the sexist attitudes of Japanese employers and, similar to Mai, a
feeling of dislocation from her old friends whom she saw as passive and
preoccupied with fulfilling the traditional breadwinner model. The unassertive
attitudes of Japanese females seem to be equally as unappealing as male
chauvinistic attitudes to the U-turners of this study.

Childhood sojourners were much less likely to U-turn, tending instead to work
hard to reassimilate to Japanese culture and identify strongly as Japanese.
However, the data show many kikokushijo to be uncomfortable on entering the
strict gendered hierarchy of corporate Japan, even after a significant period of
time has passed following their return.

Miller (2003) and Kelsky (2001) describe the different methods Japanese
women employ to defect from traditional roles at work and in society in a bid to
take control of their lives and avoid situations where they feel marginalized.
by turninq owoy from (what they label) traditional lifestyles, resisting
the expectations of (what they label) traditional Japanese men, refraining
from having children, and traveling, studying, and working abroad more
and more Japanese women are exploiting their position on the margins of
corporate and family systems to engage in a form of defection from
expected life sources (Kelsky, 2001, p 2).

Ten of this stuuys thiiteen informants are what Miller labels absconders:
women quietly revolting against archaic Japanese corporate convention by
seeking employment in international environments, which they anticipate will
be more progressive. This figure alone speaks volumes about the undesirability
of the traditional Japanese environment for women workers. Ogasawara noted
the beginning of the trend:
tbe foct remoins tbot few embroce OLhood as a lifetime career.
Therefore, many high-spirited OLs venture into new jobs, perhaps in

gaishikei (foreign-affiliated companies) where opportunities are believed
to be more egalitarian (Ogasawara, 1998, 63).

More than ten years later, a new study reports that 68 percent of respondents
view European or US-owned firms to be more woman friendly than Japanese
companies. It also finds that women employed at multinationals are more likely
to aim for positions of power while being less likely to take significant periods of
leave (Hewlett S. and Sherbin L., 9). Although this study cannot support the claim
that women at multinationals are more likely to seek powerful roles, this may be
the result of having a small focus group. This paper does agree that a woman is
less likely to take prolonged leave if she is properly engaged and supported at

The EEOL and its impact:
To what extent are cultural norms responsible for the corporate gender gap?
In 1994 Mary Brinton made the following predictions:
tbe impoct of tbe Fquol Fmployment 0pportunity low will not be
significant because many Japanese women do not aspire to bring their
working lives into conformity with what they see as the harsh working
conditions of men, and because women's indirect role in the economy
through their support of men is a time-honored one. Furthermore, the way
employers implement the law will be critical to its impact (Brinton, 1994,
Biintons asseition that the tiauition of womens suppoiting iole in the economy
would limit the significance of the EEOL holds true to a certain extent. Abes
2011 study finds that married women of recent cohorts were no more likely to
keep working in regular employment than pievious cohoits, however there was
an increase in the number of single women in regular employment (Abe, 2011,
33). It is not established whether this increase is due to women prioritizing their
careers and finding family life incompatible with regular employment, or
whether single women work out of the necessity of having to provide for

themselves. What we know is that theie is a startlingly low labor participation
rate of Japanese females with higher levels of euucation which would indicate
that either companies are not hiring enough female graduates, or that female
graduates are not seeking employment (Sachs, 2005, 6).
This stuuys infoimants claim not to have alloweu societys expectations of
female roles to inform their own employment decisions but reported perceiving
the stiong influence of cultuial noims in othei womens caieei choices While
the tenacity of the breadwinner model and legacy of ryosoikenbo (the idealized
role of good wife, wise mother) clearly still contribute to the corporate gender
gap to some extent, (and in fact, the economic downturns has made the role of
piofessional housewife even more appealing to women who long to be liberated
from dull and poorly paid employment) (Taga, Futoshi 2006, 144 cited in North,
2010, 5), difficult working conditions resulting from poor implementation of the
EEOL and subsequent equal opportunities legislation seem more likely to keep
motivated women from managerial positions.

This stuuys finuings agiee with both Rosenbluths position that economic and
political systems have stiongei influence ovei womens woik choices than
cultural norms, and research by the Center for Work-life Policy that finds pull
factors such as unpaid domestic work and societal expectations to be weaker
than push factors such as low salary and lack of opportunities for training and

The intiinsic impotence of }apans gender equality legislation, passed at the
convenience of the government, is at the root of its failure. Rather than in answer
to demands of women hungry for emancipation from traditional gender roles, or
as the result of transforming societal attitudes, the impetus behind the series of
bills passed under the umbrella of gender equality since 1986 seems to have
been adherence to international guidelines in order to secure an equal footing
with Western economies, to make use of cheap labour in times of economic
necessity, and more recently, to combat the low birthrate.

Huen notes that the semantics of the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society
(1999) reveal the disparity between perceived and actual intentions.
Instead of uanjo byouo (gender equality), uanjo kyouo sankaku (joint
participation by men and women) was adopted. Once again, just like the
case of EEOL, the Japanese government opted for equality of opportunity,
instead of equality of outcomes. Since the pursuit of gender equality is a
means to boost the birth rate, when there is a contradiction between these
two goals, the former will be conceded (Huen, 2007, 13).

The inexistence of equality as a legitimate objective in addition to the absence,
until relatively recently, of penalties for violators of the EEOL have resulted in
the widespread persistence of sexism, sexual harassment, and protectionism in
corporate Japan. Furthermore, despite the passing of bills intended to support
working mothers, women continue to be indirectly penalised for taking childcare
leave and exercising their rights to provisions such as flexible hours by having
leave deducted from their promotion track and often being transferred to
different departments in roles of reduced responsibility on return to work.
0ver time os }oponese women encounter numerous rooJblocks onJ reolize
that their competence and commitment will not be recognized or rewarded, a
down-sizinq cycle emerqes o womons confiJence onJ ombition stolls sbe is
perceiveJ os less committeJ6iven tbese circumstonces its borJ for o
well-qualified Japanese woman to see any prospect for advancement. As she is
being passed over for a plum assignment, seeing a less-qualified male peer
promoted too soon, or watching the credit for her work go to someone else,
she becomes discouraged. The decision to [take time off] to focus on family for
a period of time becomes a no-brainer (Hewlett S. and Sherbin L., 2012, 19,

Rather than uncommonly deep and enduring patriarchal traditions, the
perpetuation of the corporate gender gap in Japan can be in attributed to the
hollow centre of ostensibly progressive legislation.

Motherhood and work:
Motherhood as push rather than pull

While the majoiity of this stuuys infoimants the absconders) did not feel
limited by their gender at work, the three mothers felt significantly
disadvantaged after having children. Mothers in foreign departments of Japanese
companies (2) felt a loss of agency after giving birth. Rena, the one mother
working for a foreign multinational in Japan, had to move in with her parents in
order to receive the childcare necessary to work the hours required to maintain
her salary. Although she reported enthusiasm for her work, Rena admitted losing
motivation to study for new certificates for promotion, choosing instead to hurry
home to her baby.

All three mothers interviewed for this study felt significantly conflicted by
emotional pressures and demands on their time from both home and work
environments. The fact that only three informants out of 12 with an average age
of 36.5 had children may be attributed to the incompatibility of raising a family
while continuing to work.

While sexism inarguably still exists in the workplace, motherhood proved much
more damaging to the absconders of this study. It is not possible to ascertain
whether a greater number of informants would have had children if their
companies more actively endorsed and practically supported working parents.
Women who have a deep desire to become a mother may not be discouraged to
the point of forgoing motherhood for their career. However, this stuuys uata
indicates that many women may limit themselves to only one child due to the
extreme incompatibility of parenthood and work, particularly in respect to time
and finances. If all women limiting themselves to one child out of necessity were
given sufficient support and resources to have the number of offspring they
uesiieu }apans uwinuling population might enjoy consiueiably bettei piospects

Of further note is that while all three mothers reported a, perhaps predictably
pronounced, shift in priorities after having children, the majority of those

without children also reacted to the prospect of promotion to senior
management with ambivalence or negativity. Informants who had opted out by
absconding to international working environments, thus avoiding many of the
trappings of a vicious cycle of female employment, opt out a second time in their
apathetic attitudes to professional success.

Opting out:
Are women failing to ascend to leadership positions out of choice?

The perpetuation of sexist practices in addition to the vicious cycle of female
employment in Japan (women fail to be granted challenging assignments and
promotion opportunities because they are perceived to lack dedication to their
jobs; the lack of challenging assignments and promotion opportunities result in
womens lack of ueuication to their work) have not only led to the loss of
domestic talent, a general feeling of malaise appears to descend upon women
just as they should be approaching the peak of their professional success.
In the passage above, Brintons most acute pieuiction is that which directly
auuiesses womens own aspiiations without which no volume of legislation will
prove effective. She points to a Japanese corporate environment inhospitable to
both men and women as iesponsible foi womens ieluctance to ascenu to
positions of authority.
The data strongly support this theory. Thirteen interviews with highly educated,
progressive and ostensibly ambitious women generally ended with impressions
of dissatisfaction, and apathy or ambivalence about the future. Even Miwa, the
most outwardly positive informant who enjoys her work and ebulliently
explained at length how she tries to level the inequalities she identifies in her
company, concluded her story by saying that managerial positions are so
unappealing that she may well decline a promotion if offered.

Many of the informants complained of being expected to work like a man, while
also being subject to protectionist moves, both of which contradictory factors
contiibute to a peisons lack of agency in his oi hei expeiience of woik. Rather
than exhibiting a lack of confidence at the prospect of filling managerial roles or
uisplaying an aveision to iesponsibility this stuuys infoimants tenueu to feel
that the idea of longer hours and increased undertakings for a marginal pay
increase was simply not attractive.

The language that many informants used, equating long-overtime hours and
frequent compulsory post-work drinking sessions with mens woik is
particularly interesting and increasingly relevant as more men begin to reject
promotion - and the longer hours and increased responsibility for often
incrementally increased pay that come with it - in favour of greater work-life
balance. The last decade has seen the steady rise of non-standard lifestyle
subcultures such as freeters (serial part-timers), NEETS (Not in Eduction,
Employment, or Training), and the hodo-hodo zoku, (so-so people in standard
employment but resisting the customary ascent up the corporate ladder).

Sumiko actually goes as far as to say that women are more intelligent than
men because they are able to clearly perceive the actual (low) value of managerial
roles and reject them in favour of greater work-life balance. Her position is
romInIsconf of Ayn !nnd`s nssorfIon fhnf, uroIy ouf of good sonso rnfhor fhnn
lack of ability, no rational woman would ever want to be president (of the United
States) (Rand and Branden, 1968).
There is some overlap between these labels (which can apply to both males and
fomnIos nnd fho ofIng ouf of womon dIscussod In fhIs nor. Tho foIIowIng
articles would be a good starting point of investigation into the phenomena:
Slacker Nation? Young Japanese Shun Promotions (Tabuchi, 2008); Why Freeter
and NEET are Misunderstood: Recognizing the New Precarious Conditions of
Japanese Youth (Inui, 2005); The Problems of Freeters and "NEETs" under the
Recovering Economy (Reiko, 2005).


Opting out: Repercussions of the quiet revolution

The passing of ineffective genuei equality legislation togethei with womens
failure to organize and demand equal treatment have created the current
anomalous situation that 25 years after being granted equal employment rights,
women have yet to achieve equal status.

Goethe said, None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe
they are free. The Equal Opportunities Law allows a woman to believe that she is
already emancipated, however, the false version of equality she encounters
requires her to work twice as hard as a man to get promoted while earning less
than male colleagues in the same job, and then come home to a second shift of
unpaid domestic service and child rearing. It is easy to see how women equate
the evolution of equality with conflicting undesirable and unmanageable
professional and domestic demands.

Karen Kelsky writes
Tbe Jefence of inJiviJuolism onJ womens personbooJ poireJ witb o
rejection of feminist activism, has remained the most persistent
characteristic of womens internotionolism since TsuJos Joy (Kelsky, 2001,
The individualistic rebellion of women opting out by working around
inhospitable systems fails to manifest positively. Women conducting a quiet,
personal revolution could end up forfeiting other parts of life they may desire,
such as marriage and having children, because family obligations are
incompatible with the standard corporate working model. Not only is abstention
from motherhood leading to a population crisis, those who work at the expense

of having a family are not ascending to decision-making roles, and therefore have
little chance of being in a position to challenge the corporate status quo.

Women are not only opting out of gendered expectations of traditional Japanese
work environments, they are also opting out of the equal opportunities made
available to them through the, albeit tenuous, laws of the last few decades: some
women opt out of the demanding Japanese corporate paradigm by resisting
promotion while others who have the option may reject work and the long
(often unpaid) overtime and negligible fringe benefits that are commonly
required - entirely in favour of pursuing the traditional breadwinner model.

This passive-aggressive reaction of opting out of undesirable lifestyles and
employment situations rather than attempting to change them appears to be
working against women rather than to their benefit. Womens unueistanuing of
theii enu goals is pivotal Although the majoiity of this stuuys infoimants weie
exposed to sexist attitudes and expected to perform gendered tasks, none but
Norina took action above a single ineffectual verbal protest despite being aware
that they were not contractually obliged to carry out the discriminatory tasks; all
of those who reported sexual harassment had their complaints upheld; mothers
who requested flexible hours have had them granted; and most believed that
they would be promoted if they actively sought a senior role or stayed at their
company long enough. Working against gender stereotypes is not without its
challenges, but no volume of equal opportunities legislation will result in a
gender equal society unless specific efforts are made to enforce the laws by those
who are being discriminated against.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to Japan. According to an article in the Daily
Mail, generation X women in the UK who forwent motherhood to pursue
high-flying careers have failed to achieve the corporate success they envisioned
duo fo fho InsurmounfnbIo 'mncho cuIfuro` of gIobnI busInoss IursgIovo, 20ll.
As previously mentioned, men are also beginning to opt out of this inhospitable
environment, but doing so is decidedly more difficult as men rarely have the
option of finding a spouse to support them in lieu of earning their own salary.

What can be done?

Despite being in an on-going state of recession for the last few decades and
accruing substantial national debt, Japan has remained a wealthy country with a
generally high standard of living. Women appear to have become increasingly
dissatisfied with the options available to them, but, as Rosenbluth remarks,
wealth anu comfoit aie not catalysts foi change Since neithei womens safety
nor health has been acutely threatened, the dissatisfaction has manifested in
apathetic avoidance instead of assertive action. Now, as the Japanese
government looks to women to assist the economy in the face of the impending
national double crisis of low fertility rate and labour deficit (against a
background of global financial collapse), an opportune moment to voice
complaints, make demands and implement change has presented itself. Japanese
women are currently in a position of unprecedented leverage that if used to full
advantage could significantly narrow the corporate gender gap, if not close it

Young girls must be encouraged to aim towards managerial positions as part of a
basic education that sees professions as genderless. In addition to family income
anu piivate school euucation whethei oi not a female high school giauuates
mother attended university was identified as a factor in whether she would enter
university (Edwards and Pasquale, 2003, 34). Weathers says that Japan lacks the
institutions associated with assertive equal opportunity policy-making such as
womens movements anu female politicians Weathers, 2005). Female role
mouels aie absolutely essential foi a meaningful shift to take place in womens
expectations of themselves and one another.

.fho Inck of oqunIIfy ncfunIly docronsos n womnn`s mofIvnfIon fo work.nn
'oxocfnfIon fhoory` Is In Inco whoro womon`s work-related aspirations are
largely defined by the expectations of companies, their families and society at
large. Generally women rise to the expectations put on them. But, in an
atmosphere where families expect little of their daughters, and corporations
expect less of women than of men, it is understandable that women conform to
fhoso mInImnI oxocfnfIons (Miller, 2003, 209).

By failing to invest in women employees through training and promotion
opportunities and implementing effective procedures for working mothers,
Japanese corporations are forfeiting their female experts to the overseas market.
In order to realise its best opportunities for economic improvement, Japan, in
which only 8 percent of management positions are held by women (in contrast
to 45 percent in Thailand and 23 percent in the UK) (Hausmann, 2011), would
benefit by firstly securing a hold on domestic talent. Quotas are an effective way
to make this happen, as can be seen in Rwanda where the implementation of a
minimum 30 percent quota for women lawmakers raised the percentage of
female MPs from 12 to more than 50 percent in just over a decade (Hausmann,

In order to achieve gender equality and close the corporate gender gap there
must be open discussion between the sexes. Men are no less bound by the
demands of corporate culture than women, in fact they may be even more tightly
fettered by cultural norms as they have access to fewer options for avoidance if
they also desire a family and financial security. Finding a woman who earns
enough to be the main breadwinner is unlikely in a corporate system where men
are routinely paid more than women for the same job. Furthermore, occurrences
of reverse breadwinner-model families are so few that becoming a professional
househusband is still widely viewed as highly deviant behaviour.

According to the 2009 White Paper on Gender Equality published by the
Japanese Cabinet Office, more than 30 percent of men would like to make use of
the paternity leave entitlement introduced in the Child-care Leave Law of 1992
allowing unpaid leave for either parent, but only about one percent actually do.
The main reasons given for failure to utilise the allowance are apprehension
about judgement from peers and clients, and that it might negatively affect their

Rwanda is the only country where female MPs are the majority (Hausmann,
The comedy-drama At Home Dad (Fuji TV, 2004) intends to challenge gender
stereotypes but fails bitterly, compounding them instead by reinforcing the power
imbalance between the breadwinner and the homemaker, and the (perceived)
inherent masculinity/ femininity of these roles, through a comedy format heavily
reliant on slapstick and pantomime.

position upon return to work. These concerns are similar to those of women
exercising their right to flexitime on returning to work after giving birth.

Although the government has directed some efforts specifically toward men,
such as the ikumen initiative which includes a website to assist fathers
embarking on a more active role in childrearing, cultural convention tends to
preclude otherwise willing men from taking leaves of absence to attend to
domestic matters.

Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave
in 1974. However, almost twenty years later only six percent of fathers used the
entitlement, partly due to cultural expectations of masculinity and partly because
the gender wage disparity meant that it didn't make economic sense. However,
the introduction of daddy leave in 1995, which saw the family forfeit one
months subsiuies if the fathei uiu not stay at home hau an almost immeuiate
effect, with more than eight in ten fathers deciding to exercise their right to
Laws [in Sweden] reserving at least two months of the generously paid,
13-montb porentol leove exclusively for fotbers bove set off profounJ
social change. Companies have come to expect employees to take leave
irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time.
Womens poycbecks ore benefitinq onJ tbe sbift in fotbers roles is perceiveJ
as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of
children (Bennhold K., 2010).

The implementation of legislation like daddy leave to force change in long-held
perceptions of appropriate gender roles seems not only necessary in Japan but
would apparently be welcome. The vast discrepancy between the number of men
who would like to take parental leave and those who actually do indicates a
society whose citizens are individually much more progressive than they are
collectively. Lawmakers need to aid citizens through affirmative action.

Two high-profile ikumen nro HIronobu nrIsnwn, mnyor of Tokyo`s Iunkyo
ward, and actor Takeshi Tsuruno.


Making these basic changes could have a swift domino effect that would
neutralize heavily gendered institutions, most vitally politics. If equality can be
achieved and become a matter of course in the domestic sphere, it will not only
recalibrate perceptions of male and female capabilities, the working
environment will also become much more appealing to women as their status

Encouraging both men and women to utilize flexitime allowances for child
rearing and implementing curfews at offices would simultaneously improve
productivity and work-life balance. Two of the most limiting, and/or off-putting
aspects of Japanese corporate culture for women and particularly mothers, are
the extremely long working hours and mandatory post-work drinking sessions.
As Kathy Matsui, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, remarked in November
2010 at a presentation in Tokyo by the Center for Work Life Study, eighteen
hours at work do not necessarily translate to eighteen hours of productivity.
This is especially true of a corporate culture that pays employees in accordance
with seniority rather than productivity.

Paikinsons law says that a task expanus to fill the time allotteu anu companies
that have implemented suggested curfews, such as Daiwa Securities, have indeed
seen their productivity improve (Daiwa Securities Group Inc., 2011). Improving
work-life balance by limiting hours spent at the office for both men and women
would benefit the economy through increased productivity in addition to
boosting the population by making it easier for people to have children and
continue to work.

In addition to narrowing the informant demographic (as discussed in the
methodology section) this study would benefit greatly from a second round of
interviews. As some of the results were contrary to those anticipated, analysing

the data led to even more question to which answers had to be inferred, such as
the reason why so few of informants aged over the age of 35 had children. A
second round of interviews would help to clarify some of these points and
provide opportunity to deepen the data on the main themes that emerged.
This study would be complimented by an investigation into the experiences of
male returnees in the traditional workplace. Japanese men are usually subject to
significant pressure from parents, employers, and partners to adhere to the
traditional role of breadwinner, with little opportunity to opt out. It would be
interesting to see how bicultural men react to these pressures in the context of
coipoiate }apans stiict hieiaichy which contiaiy to Western models, awards
longevity rather than individual merit. It will also be interesting to watch the
effects of the ikumen government initiative and growing hodo hodo zoku
mentality on the general workforce and society.
The lasting sociological effects of the 3/11 triple disaster are also yet to be fully
understood, but shifts appear to be taking place in the national consciousness
away from company loyalty and materialism to a focus on family and
community: farmers in Tohoku starting their business from scratch are turning
to slow agriculture and organic produce as people become acutely concerned
about the quality and cleanliness of foodstuffs they and their families consume in
post-Fukushima Japan; a major Yokohama department store reported a 20
percent rise in engagement rings and wedding kimono in the six months since
the earthquake; and kizuna, which means bonus with loveu ones has become
the new buzz word (Zakoda, E. & Kakuda, K., 2011).
Furthermore the disaster led to transformation in the political and social
awareness of young Japanese, widely regarded as a detached and complacent
generation pre-3/11, who began to question their government and turn to one
another for post-disaster information through social media sites such as
Facebook and Twitter. Many young people also went to Tohoku to take part in or
lead volunteer initiatives for cleaning and restoration.

Over the last few decades, dissatisfaction in young Japanese has quietly
percolated, manifesting in rejection of traditional work and lifestyle models, and
seeping into the social structure as a damaging population decrease. 2011 was a
year when young people mobilised to effect revolutions around the world. The
Arab Spring was a movement steered by youth and heavily reliant on social
media. In that same atmosphere, a year on from 3/11, there are signs that
}apans tiiple uisastei may have awakeneu the nations young people to the
efficacy and necessity for change, and their own potential to be agents of that
change. Will we see a significant shift in corporate culture as people continue to
prioritize family life over the demands of the corporation? Only time will tell but
communication between individuals and groups has inarguably started to
improve, and that is certainly the first step in effecting any kind of meaningful



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