Don’t really remember when I wrote this. Probably during my sophomore year in university… in other words, a long time ago. ^^ It was homework. I had to write an essay and there were a few topics to choose from. At that time, I happened to choose this one. Found it today while going through some old backup CDs. Anyone used to keep time capsules? I reckon old backup CDs are just like time capsules. Open them up many years later and you’ll be surprised with what you find in there. ^^
“Discuss the future of Japanese women”.
Yamatonadeshiko (graceful Japanese women) have been known as one of the most obedient and modest women in the world. They had been educated to walk 3 steps behind men. That has been an ideal of Japanese women, and even now many Japanese men wish to have such woman as their wife. However, one of my Japanese friends told me, ‘there are no more Yamatonadeshiko in Japan’. This essay will discuss the future of Japanese women in society. To be able to predict the future position of Japanese women, a comparison will be made between the differences of women in Japan during the post war period and today, with a brief reference to the distant past. This essay will attempt to set up a general trend in changes made to the status and thinking of women in Japan in the areas of marriage, employment and family life.
During the Tokugawa Period (1600-1868AD) and the Meiji Period, which lasted till 1912, subordination of women to men was greatly emphasized in Japanese society. This was largely due to the adaptation of the Chinese Neo-Confucian ideology in society at that time. In 1945, after WW2, the new Constitution granted individual rights and gender equality to the Japanese people. Therefore the men and women of the postwar generation grew up in an environment that preached equality between the sexes. The women born between 1946-1955 are in the vanguard of increasing affluence. They are much more convenience in accomplishing household chores and therefore have more time to pursue their own interest. Their experiences have been molded not by the old framework of obedience, self-sacrifice, passivity and resignation but by the framework of the postwar period, which stresses equality, freedom, self-fulfillment and optimism; they are educated and socially aware (Iwao, 93). Iwao mentions that it is important to examine the lives of this generation of women, as they are the socialization agents of young people today. The first postwar generation of women in Japan had greater economic freedom and independence because many of these women received a university education and took a job upon graduation. Their new gained economic independence provided them with more options and a greater diversity in lifestyle.
Therefore with marriage no longer essential for economic and social survival, the marriageable age extended considerably and marriage became a less pressing concern for women today. In 1990, the average age for a first marriage was 25.8 years for women and 28.5 years for men, one year later than the average marriageable age 10 years earlier (Iwao, 93). The reason behind this is with greater affluence and a better education; the women of the postwar period (born after 1946) are more active and thoughtful in choosing or not choosing a spouse. This is a major difference with their parents, whom had little say in choosing a marriage partner as marriage was arranged between families (Ishimoto, 63). According to Iwao (93), when they do get married, their expectations of marriage have changed in some aspects and while remaining stable in others. Financial security and similar ideas on how to raise children for example remain the same while being in love and keeping the romance alive after marriage became more significant to the generation of today.
Many Japanese women of all ages, whether they choose to work or not, consider family and home life as their first priorities. Iwao (93) states that home management and their children’s education require heavy demands on the energy and intellect of Japanese women. Even if they decide to work, they do so at the family’s convenience.
Let us now examine how workingwomen compare to workingmen in Japan. An Equal Employment Opportunity Act was established in 1985 by the government to ensure that companies provided equal employment among the sexes. Although this Act was enacted, there was no penalty for companies, which do not follow it. When the Act was revised in 1999, a penalty was incorporated which was the public humiliation of the defiant company. When coming out to work, women are hired under different conditions as men. Apart from their standard duties, they are also required to serve tea to their male colleagues and to guests. Japanese women do not get paid the same salary as their male counterparts. As of 1990, for every ¥100 a Japanese man earns, the women earn about ¥61, which makes up about 61% of the Japanese workingman’s pay. Iwao (pg161, 93) shows in a survey conducted by the Bureau of Statistics, that the number of women venturing into industries previously monopolized by men- such as medicine, civil service, engineering etc, is increasing. But the opportunities for women to be promoted are much less, 1% for women, than men, which makes up 16.3%; survey conducted in 1985 (Iwao, 93). One reason for women’s reduced chances at promotion to managerial posts is the tendency of their male colleagues to lock them in traditional female roles, at home providing support for their husbands. But women do get ahead and land in top executive positions. Even in the politics women do get ahead. An example would be Doi Takako. She was the Chairperson of the SDPJ (Socialist Party) for nearly 5 years.
Now in the area of family life, a survey that Imamura (87) conducted in 1987, 50 percent of women stopped work after marriage even before the first child was born. In the story of Akiko (Iwao, 93), Akiko stopped work after she was seven months pregnant. This is a widely held belief in Japan that mothers should devote full time to raising her children. Most Japanese women with a choice whether to work or not after having their first child will have the most tendency to choose the latter. Japanese husbands when they receive their pay, will give it fully to their wife to control. Because of this fact, Japanese women hold the purse strings of the family. Therefore Japanese housewives manage the household with great freedom and autonomy as compared to their western counterparts. In a 1987 survey (Iwao, 93), both Japanese men and women largely support the pattern that women should quit work when children are born but return to work when they are old enough to need less care (43% among men and 52% among women).
The amount of women who work for the same company for 10 years or more has increased over the past 10 years from 9 percent in 1980 to 26 percent in 1990. The average working age of women in 1990 was 36 years, 10 years older that the average for 1960 (Iwao. 93). Married women make up the majority of workingwomen, and the percentage of part time workers rose to 28 percent as of 1990 of all employed women. Many of these women, in the middle and older age groups, are returnees- those who left full-time jobs to raise families and came back to the work force once their children were grown.
So far, this essay has shown the general cycle that many Japanese women go through today, namely; work, stop work when raising a family and return to work when children are old enough to cater for themselves. With that this essay reports that women in the Japanese society are gaining more recognition than the past. As a result, Japan has seen her first female foreign minister, Tanaka Makiko. Even the tradition of the imperial family would be amended to accommodate the possibility that Crown Princess Owada Masako would give birth to a female heir to the Chrysanthemum throne. Japanese women have advanced in industries once dominated by men and proved that women can perform on par with men. But despite their many advances into the many streams of society, Japanese women will continue to consider the home extremely important and their family will continue to play an important part in lives. Although still bound by some aspects of Japanese tradition, the Japanese women have evolved from one of passivity to one whom has a more active role in the Japanese economy and society.
Iwao, S (1993) The Japanese Woman. The Free Press, New York
Imamura, A (1987) Urban Japanese Housewives. University of Hawaii Press
Kikue, Y (1992) Women of the Mito Domain. University of Tokyo Press
Ishimoto, S (1963) Facing Two Ways. Stanford University Press
After reading this, what do you think? How is the Japanese woman coping nowadays?