Why have women had so many struggles in Japan when it comes to the workplace? At this point in time, women have proven that they are capable of doing just as much as men can do in all different kinds of careers and job positions. From the 18th and 19th centuries until now, women have struggled to get where they are, and while there has been a lot of progress made they still have far to go to be viewed completely as equals. Men are still refusing to see women as equal to them, which is leading to men not hiring women into the higher positions that they deserve opportunities to have. Because of this, Japanese women aren’t seen as leaders in the different job industries, therefore making it very hard for other women to climb that high up the job ladder since there aren’t already a lot of women up there for them to join with. We need women to start advancing to these high places in the job world of Japan so that men will really start to see that they are needed and capable. Many countries have come far in the issue of equality between men and women in the workplace, but Japan has not come as far as they could have by now. It is proving difficult for women here to advance in their careers because of the lack of women in high-authority positions in their places of work and because people in Japan still have ideas in their heads that women aren’t capable of doing everything that men can do.

Compared to many other countries, Japan has not come very far in the world of women’s equality in the workplace. This graph shows different countries and how their women have increased in the work force from 1970 into the 2000s. As you can see, most of the countries shown here have had steady increases over the years about the amount of women in the work places in those countries. But Japan has not had that same increase. Their women’s labor force participation rate has barely changed from 1970 to the most recent count. Although it peaked at a few times over the years, from the start to the finish there has barely been any noticeable changes. This shows that the women in the work place is a bigger problem in Japan than it is in many other countries, because those countries have been making a lot more progress towards getting women to be equal in this area.


In 1980, right in the middle of the time period that was researched for the above graph, women were not holding very important jobs in Japan. They were still being held back in terms of the workplace so they were mainly doing housewife duties and only working here and there, not holding long careers like men do. Many places would not hire women for long-term positions or jobs that consist of working many hours if they were married or had children. The business owners thought that women should be at home tending to those responsibilities and that men were the ones who should be working jobs and getting money for families. Although it is important for women to take care of responsibilities at home, that does not mean they are not capable of also having careers at the same time (Newcomb).

It is 2014; by now women should be holding better jobs than they were in 1980 and should have the opportunities to hold just as many management positions as men do. But that is not the case in Japan. In 1985, Japan passed an equal opportunity law; this meant that women would be equal to men in the work place. But the lack of women who have obtained management positions since then has shown that most businesses and people are not taking this law very seriously. The amount of women who hold management jobs in Japan has only raised about three percent since the law was passed, and is only at about ten percent as of 2005. These numbers would be drastically higher if Japanese women were actually being treated equally.


We can also concentrate on specific fields within the whole Japanese workplace and see that women are not treated equally in many of those industries. One example of that is the medical field in the Japanese workplace. We see that women are treated differently here than men and are pushed to have more part-time jobs and let men handle more of the responsibilities, even though women are just as capable of doing the work men can do. Women in this area in Japan have seen gender-based obstacles while doing their jobs, but men haven’t. This isn’t a problem that should still be happening (Nomuro and Gohchi, 1612-1616).

Another industry in Japan that we can look at to identify this ongoing problem is the scientific industry. Japan is way behind many countries when it comes to the amounts of women working in this field. As shown in the table, only about 10% of the scientific industry in Japan consists of women; that number would be closer to 50% if men and women were equal in the workforce.


A big reason why women haven’t been advancing in their places of work is that citizens of Japan can’t change their viewpoints on how women are when it comes to working. Many of them continue to see women as people who shouldn’t have the same jobs as men, which is not even close to being accurate in this day and age. Mary Saso’s book Women in the Japanese Workplace does a good job of explaining people’s thoughts on this topic. A lot of the information centers around women’s working patterns in Japan currently and what they have become like today. But she does have parts in the book where she talks about the history of women working in Japan and includes factual information about how women got to where they are today in terms of the workplace. Women have definitely struggled to work their way up the ladder in Japan to obtain higher positions of work, especially because in Japan status is linked to gender (Saso).

Although many of us think that women have always struggled with this problem, “women’s rights did not become severely constrained in Japan until the fifteenth century…wives [had] to be subservient to their husbands” (Saso). Once the people of Japan really got the idea in their heads that men were superior to women, that’s when the women in Japan really starting facing problems relating to work and getting jobs. Women were able to work, but they weren’t given many options as to what jobs they could have back then. As more and more types of jobs for men starting opening up, “83 percent of textile workers were women” (Saso) because this was one of the only things they were actually allowed to do. These opinions of women have stuck in the minds of everyone in Japan until today, and they are making it hard for women to completely move out of these stereotypes.

No matter the country, over time people have thought of women as lesser individuals when it comes to working jobs, especially alongside men. In an article by Wei-hsin Yu, he focuses specifically on how the feelings about this that the Japanese have, like how many “consider women as secondary workers, regardless of their employment status” (Yu).

Although women have come very far in many different aspects of life, including working, they still have far to go to be seen as equal in the eyes of men. In Japan, when there are women in the workplaces blended in with men, men think “having more female and nonstandard workers in the workplace…means having fewer coworkers with desirable traits to compete with” (Yu). They are starting to accept the fact that women are going to be working the same jobs as them, but that doesn’t mean they have fully accepted the idea that women can do everything that men can do. Yu also gives us the perspective of employers and shows us that they are also not accepting of the idea of making women equal to men in the workplace. In Japan, “employers…find it too risky to choose [women] over male standard workers for critical positions” (Yu). For some reason, the people in Japan can’t wrap their head around the fact that women can do anything men can do when it comes to jobs and positions held within those jobs.

We can clearly see that women in Japan are struggling to become equal in the workplace, but it is not all bad all the time. There are people in this country who truly believe that women should be equal, and are taking steps to prove that to everyone else and help women out. One of these people is the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Abe recently made a new cabinet that includes five women, which hasn’t happened since 2001. This is a big step for the women in Japan, since they do not make up much of the working population in Japan. The Prime Minister is attempting to raise the amount of women in the workplace, so he took the step of adding more women to his cabinet (Fackler).

In an article by Yuri Kageyama about this recent change in Japan’s leadership, we learn that the Prime Minister wants to “[make] greater use of women and [promote] them to leadership posts” (Kageyama). Shinzo Abe also announced to everyone his personal goal: to have “women in 30 percent of leadership positions in both the public and private sectors by 2020” (Kageyama). He is making an effort to change the roles of women in different work environments around Japan, and hopefully his efforts of adding women into the cabinet will encourage more changes for women and help them as they continue their growth in the workplace.

There is no good reason as to why Japanese women are as unequal as they are in this point of time in the work industries of Japan. Other countries have gotten their women to high places; so why can’t Japan do the same? If the people of Japan can get the stereotypes of working women out of their heads, and if women can manage to get more leadership positions in different fields, then eventually the workplace in Japan will be equally shared between men and women in all positions and careers.


A Long Way to Go, 04/22/2005, http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2005_04_22/nodoi.3871464362468006263

Five Women Named in Japan’s Cabinet, 03/09/2014, http://www.independent.ie/world-news/five-women-named-in-japans-cabinet-30558984.html

Japan Labor Force, 06/04/2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/06/working-women-are-japans-only-hope-for-avoiding-economic-catastrophe/276535/

Women in the Work Force, 08/06/2007, http://pmsol3.wordpress.com/2007/08/06/japan-boss-woman-rising/

Works Cited

Fackler, Martin. “Seeing Women as Key to Economy, Japan’s Leader Names 5 to Cabinet.” New York Times, September 3, 2014.

Kageyama, Yuri. “Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Selects 5 Women for New Cabinet.” The World Post, September 3, 2014.

Newcomb, Amelia S. “Japan: More Wives Work, More Young Women Seek ‘Male’ Jobs.” The Christian Science Monitor. July 9, 1980.

Nomuro, Kyoko and Kengo Gohchi. “Impact of Gender-Based Career Obstacles on the Working Status of Women Physicians in Japan.” Social Science and Medicine 75 (2012): 1612-1616

Saso, Mary. Women in the Japanese Workplace. London: Hilary Shipman Limited, 1990.

Yu, Wei-hsin. “It’s Who You Work With: Effects of Workplace Shares of Nonstandard Employees and Women in Japan.” Social Forces 92 (2013)