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  • Lillian Liu

Woman on the Island of Cherry Blossom

From Lady Fujitsubo in “the Tale of Genji” to Noriko in Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”, Japanese women are the embodiment of self-effacing love. They are the casualties, the long-suffering martyrs, and the second class citizens in the patriarchy. These are far from the truth.

Gender issues and discriminations are well analyzed. Japan has the largest gender pay gap among the OECD countries (IMF). Only 14.7% of the department heads are women (IMF). It is deceptively easy to buy into the belief that the Japanese men are living a hedonistic reality. There is much more beyond the mainstream narrative. If women are the preys of social construct, men too are molded into the socially desired salarymen (LeBlanc, 2013). They are trapped by incessant work, after-work engagements, office politics and the daily commute in one of the most crowded trains in our world.

Both working life and home life come with its own strings of blessings and complications. Many Japanese women do not “want to change society” (Pilling, 2014). Becoming a housewife in Japan is a sought-after path to gain social recognition, security and wealth (LeBlanc, 2013). Women take control of the family finance and are often the power behind the throne (Pilling, 2014). Even In America, comedian Ali Wong lashes about against feminism and her own desire to be a housewife. She is sick of paying her husband’s gigantic student loan at Harvard while juggling her career. Gender equality increasingly morphs women into men, rewarding everyone with the same prize, regardless of individual preferences.

Some point to women’s perpetual attention towards makeup and appearance as remnants of backward patriarchy. Cosmetics, high heels and laces are not ornament to appeal men, but a means for self-expression. Dresses, rather than pants, convey competence according to one article from “the Wall Street Journal”. True equality means women can be comfortable in their own elements, no longer trying to “look like men” in order “to be taken seriously” (WSJ). Power dress is not an oxymoron but the paragon for authenticity. Likewise, the cute artifacts filled the streets of Japan actually revolved out of rebellion against traditions and social obligations (Kinsella, 2013).

The Glass Ceiling

The scarcity of women in management positions could be attributed to a lack of female candidates to begin with. Many Japanese women actively seek career paths that do not involve advancements. Therefore, women who agree to climb the corporate ladder are more likely to raise to key positions because of the lack of same sex competition. This trend is especially prominent during the current climate. Many companies promote women to senior management simply for good publicity. Increasing the number of women in c-suites, without evaluating their competence, is not gender equality.

The idea that all men want a beautiful housewife who lives on their pay is outdated. After the crash of the bubble economy, more workers suffer a decline in salary. Life-time employment is no longer the norm. Even at one of Japan’s most coveted the general trading company, where employees earn the industry leading benchmark, one manager reveals that his colleagues and himself seek wives who also have high earning jobs. Many successful Japanese men nowadays want double income over obedient housewives in marriage.

Likewise, the government is increasingly advertising for ikumen, the family oriented men, to dissipate the negative image between men and housework (Brigitte. S., Koch. A., 2017). Nevertheless, many women reject the idea of househusbands. One survey put forth by Ishii-Kuntz suggests that almost 80% of the female respondents don’t want a househusband ( as cited in Brigitte. S., Koch. A., 2017). Stay-at-home dads are often marginalized by other housewives in the park (Brigitte. S., Koch. A., 2017). These women who reject househusbands are collaborators in fostering the patriarchy and gender stereotypes that plagued them. They complain about men’s lack of participation in family matters while looking down on those men who do take part. In such a hostile environment against diversity, how would society change?

One explanation for women’s intolerance for house husbands may be their silent approval to the current social setup. Many are guarding their positions as caretakers zealously. The same gender norm that is seen as the deterrent for female empowerment is the one supported by some Japanese women.

Society is a coexistence of differences. To deem the life of housewives as miserable is a flawed argument. The problem with gender equality in Japanese society lies in the allergy for diversity. Behind the singular cultural expectations is a sea of paradox. No one but the protagonist herself has the privilege to evaluate her life.

Work Cited Pilling, D. (2014). ​Bending adversity: Japan and the art of survival.​ London: Penguin Books. Steger, B., & Koch, A. (2017). ​Cool Japanese men: Studying new masculinities at Cambridge​. Zurich: Lit. Kinsella, S. (2013). ​Cuties in Japan.​ In Brian Moeran & Lise Scov eds. Women, media and consumption in Japan (pp. 230-264). London: Routledge.

Leblanc, Robin M. (2013). ​The politics of gender in Japan​. In V.L. Bestor, T.C. Bestor & A. Yamagata (Eds.), Routledge handbook of Japanese culture and society (pp. 116-128). London: Routledge. Yamaguchi, K. (n.d.). Japan's Gender Gap – IMF Finance & Development Magazine: March 2019. Retrieved from Zarrella, K. K. (2019, August 29). The Most Powerful Women in Business Wear Dresses, Not Suits. Retrieved from 106879


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