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Date of event : April 28 - May 1


On “Women in Japan”

(We asked your senpai to share their observations of women in Japan; many have responded with insights.)

Mick Churchman (2003, Japanese & Linguistics Majors)
I entered the graduate school at the University of Hawaii at Manoa last August and have been working my hardest to get closer to my goal of becoming a Japanese teacher. This semester I am teaching a Japanese 101 class with 5 other graduate students and it is very challenging but rewarding. I have been enjoying life at UH in Honolulu and love introducing Japanese culture in my classes to the language students. I have no doubt that I am in the right profession and I remain very grateful to the continued support of professors in the Japanese Program at WWU.
From what I have seen, Japan is striving to make the workplace and other social settings equal opportunity for both genders; however, the traditional cultural expectations of gender roles is not changing as quickly as the movement to equalize the sexes. We’re left with equal rights but different expectations for men and women.
From what I have seen of married couples in Japan, the women have an equal or often larger say than the men in decisions about family matters. But outside of the household, it seems that women tend to follow men’s lead and stay within the societal roles expected of them. There have been some notable cases of successful females who started their own companies, or women excelling in the fields of science, technology, or politics. Men in the profession of nursing or care-giving are also rare. The traditional gender roles are observed much more closely in Japan than in the West.
I do not want to hold Japan to my Western values and say that it is not yet fully “modern” in regards to gender, and nationality and ethnicity also for that matter, but it is definitely different. I would personally like to see a change in Japan regarding gender and race issues. For Japan’s own sake, I think it would be extremely beneficial to accept and welcome skilled workers of either gender and any nationality to its workforce to rebuild the economy and to support a huge generation of retired elders, who require better medicine and health care. Unless Japanese people accept a lower standard of living by having more children, or unless they find some way to get workers they need to do both “men’s work” and “women’s work,” they will probably find themselves in more trouble.

Matt Churchill (2003, Political Science Major)
Six months ago, I got a position with a Japanese software developer in Tokyo. My company primarily designs educational software for the Nintendo DS. Our most recent software was Kanji kentei study software. The crazy over-time myths aren't myths at all. While every company is different, be ready to work extra hard for every yen you earn!
I was selected to ride on the float of last year's Yamakasa festival (a famous festival held in the Hakata ward of Fukuoka City). I was extremely lucky, because out of several hundred men, only eight are chosen each year to ride on the wooden structure as it is pushed and carried through the city's narrow streets.    
From what I have experienced, Japan definitely still favors men in the business world. What is referred to as the "glass ceiling" in corporate America is more like a bullet-proof, industrial strength glass ceiling in Japan. I will just share a couple of experiences I have had concerning gender in the work place.
When I lived in a small town, I went to pay my rent at the realtor’s office. The staff was very small, 5 people in total including the manager. The two female employees sat in the front, directly behind them were two male employees, and behind them was the manager's desk. I was previously acquainted with one of the women who worked in the front of the office. Part-way through our conversation the manager shouted to one of the women. I saw my friend get up from her desk, go first to the manager's desk, and then the other male employee's desks one by one to empty out their cigarette butt filled ash trays. I was in shock. Later I asked her if that was a common occurrence. She said that she and the other female employee were called upon several times a day to empty her male co-workers’ ashtrays. She hated doing it, but it couldn't be helped because most realtor offices were similar and that it was considered a woman's duty to do many menial tasks despite sharing the same job title as the men sitting around them.
But a few months ago I met a business woman in her early fifties, who has been running her own company for two decades in Osaka. She admits that she is a rare example of women who have shattered Japan's glass ceiling. She is also married with children; I wish I had asked about her husband and how he feels about her position and success. She hires primarily women to work for her. Her company is on the cutting edge of its market and her success has been driven by a staff of nearly all women. After meeting and talking with her, there was a glimmer of hope that the ashtray dumping "OL's" (Office Ladies) might get out of their current situation sooner than later. Moreover, most companies in Japan are now adopting the non-smoking policy (like my current company).

Monte Faber (1992, East Asian Studies Major, Japanese Minor)
Work is going well despite the global downturn—just holding on, right? My hobbies continue to enrich my life as well.
I'm afraid that my perception on women in Japan is not current as I moved from Japan about 12 years ago. I found the rolls to be traditional—male goes out to work and female is a homemaker. It was a man's world in Japan and there was not much resistance to that. Even now, when female college graduates enter the workforce, they must decide either to go into OL (administrative assistance) or a life-long career. The OL path is limited to administrative work with the assumption that they will resign in the next 5 years and get married. The career path is for those who take on a higher level position and are expected to remain with the company for a longer period of time. This is a choice that only women have to make upon entering a company and it is quite challenging. To me, there is a glaring inequality between men and women in Japan. My hope is that the gap will narrow and we can strive for a more balanced society.
I hope that there is more progress made in this area, but certainly a gap exists. Even here in California, I see traditional roles being followed. When I lived in Japan (working) ’93-’97, I traveled to various companies around the Tokyo area and taught English classes. I taught both at the large firms, such as Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Marubeni, and Itochu, and at smaller to medium sized companies. The theme was common for men and women on the career path. I had a female student, an intellectual standout, whom I tutored one hour per week over a few years. Her goal was to work in the company’s Singapore Office. She would often share her stories and struggles that she would encounter in her work environment—simply because of her gender. Unfortunately, I heard similar stories of inequality in other companies. Also see web: http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/Gender_Equality_in_Japan

Konrad Mitchell Lawson (1998, East Asian Studies, Philosophy, History, Japanese Majors)
I haven't been able to give the topic much thought and fear I would not have anything particularly original to add.
I'm in Jinan, China, where I am working on my dissertation research. Here I am spending most of my time in the provincial archives, looking at mostly handwritten Communist party "treason elimination squad" reports, and reports on village level public trials from occupied wartime and early postwar Shandong province. This relates to my dissertation on political retribution against accused Japanese collaborators in China and Korea. I'll be in Korea and Taiwan from late April until late June to wrap up some research there on early postwar "pro-Japanese" police and the national level treason trials before moving on to Germany and my hometown in Norway for the summer. In fall I return to Harvard to write up my dissertation, learn German, and hopefully finally move back to Europe following graduation sometime around 2011.
My best wishes to everyone at Western.

Christine Watkins (2004, East Asian studies)
Most Westerners would agree that in Japan, it's better to be a man. Before I go into a huge tirade of sweeping generalizations, let me stop here. In Japan, as in America, every situation, every person is different. There are advantages and disadvantages to being either gender. I'll focus on my personal experience as a JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) girl in Japan. I worked in Kishiwada City, south of Osaka city about 30 minutes by train, as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). When I first arrived in my city in 2004, a fellow JET, who had been living in Kishiwada for two years, explained to me that it's much harder for women to stay in Japan for long periods of time than it is for men. A few months passed, and I found that I was doing all right. Unlike my female co-workers, I was never expected to fetch tea or make coffee. As a “gaijin” girl in Japan, I had my independence and freedom. In contrast, my closest friend, 33 years old, was unmarried, and lived with her parents. She would tell me, "I can't stay out too late. My mom's mad at me for never getting home early." She was under constant pressure to go to o-miai meetings in hopes of finding a husband.
In the inner JET circle, relationship-wise, I could see how it was easier for men to live in Japan for longer period of time. It's easy for gaijin men to form relationships—significant or not—with Japanese women. Japanese men are intimidated by foreign women and are self-conscious about their ability to speak English.
Personally, the three years I spent as a single girl in Japan was so far the best time of my life. I lived close to Osaka, which is a city that prides itself on its culinary delights and love of eating.
Currently I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. When I am in my village, I am to comport myself like a modest female Thai teacher. This means no drinking, no smoking, no sleeveless tops, no men visiting my house. True, I live in a much smaller village than the 200,000 population of Kishiwada. However, the contrast between these two experiences has me reflecting. When I look experiences has me reflecting. When I back at my time in Japan, I realize how much freedom I had. In terms of Japanese society, I was, as “gaijin,”an outsider. As such, I escaped the hard-and-fast gender roles that Japanese women have to conform to. At the end of the day, it was okay to be me. I was free to drink and smoke without having the entire town talking about my "loose" behavior. I could spend time with male friends without it being misconstrued as something more. It was definitely good to be a gaijin girl in Japan.

Mike Snow (1992, Japanese & East Asian Studies Majors)
This is my take on woman in Japan. I lived there for 5 years, but that was over 10 years ago. My guess is things continue to rapidly change, so my perception might change if I were to be reintroduced into their society now.
Overall I found Japanese woman to be very friendly, extremely polite, and very beautiful—the first two being a product of their culture, and the third the luck of nature. While these are great qualities of any woman, I did have trouble on one particular front. I found Japanese woman are more likely to tell you what you want to hear, rather than what is actually the truth. I prefer people who are strongly opinionated and self-confident because I have more to learn from them. When dating, I found it extremely hard to perceive what they were actually thinking. Also, they tended to only want to do what I wanted to do, and did not interject much of an opinion. I don’t want a relationship that I control; I want it to be a two way partnership. I found this difficult with Japanese women.
I clearly saw that Japanese women were discriminated against by men in all facets of life. Also, beauty and youth in woman are overemphasized and over idolized by the Japanese society. This is true in my culture, but more so in Japan. Let’s
just say that woman seem to be valued more for their outer beauty than their inner beauty, knowledge, and intellect. This has an impact on their careers, marriage prospects, and more.
What I love about Japanese women is that they are very dedicated to their families. They are carrying, nurturing, and loving. You rarely hear of a case where a mom neglects her child like you do in the States. Also, while they carry a subservient image in the media, they can actually be quite domineering in the home. I did a home stay with a family for a year and I saw that, behind the scenes, women actual ran the show.
All that said, of any country, Japan has probably progressed the most in the past 100 years. There have been huge, radical transformations for women’s rights, which are great to see.

Vicky Campbell (1992, Music Major, Japanese Minor)
For many reasons, especially our freedom to choose and define our roles, women are very lucky to be living in the U.S. . I loved living in Japan, but I know my experience probably did not have many parallels with Japanese women working and running family homes.
There was a woman working in the same office as me when I lived in Japan. She had an important work role just like everyone else in the office, but in addition to her normal duties, she was the designated "tea lady." Upon arriving at work, she heated the water for tea and coffee. When everyone had arrived, she would serve us tea or coffee to start our day. When that was finished, she would collect all the cups and wash them down the hall and bring them back, ready for the next round. The tea service would happen again at lunch time and then again in the afternoon. Each time she would collect and wash all the cups. Our office had at least 10 people in it, and if there were ever a visitor, she would stop her work, jump up and provide tea or coffee for the guest. This happened every day, and no one seemed to think anything of it. I noticed it though. I wondered how it had been decided that she alone would do all of this, while all the men in the office drank tea and coffee and contributed nothing. Clearly it was expected because she was female and that's what females are supposed to do. It was irksome to my American sensibilities.
One day I had a chance to talk privately with her. She went over her day starting in the morning. She made breakfast, cleaned up, packed lunches for her kids for school and for her husband, went to work all day, did all the tea services at the office, shopped for groceries, went home, made dinner, cleaned up, did the housework, and did laundry. Everyday it was the same. I asked her if she didn't tire of all this work. Tears welled up in her eyes and she started to sob uncontrollably. She said no one had ever asked her about her days or what she wanted. After our conversation, she knew that someone in her office understood her life. She had an ally. I'm sure this woman's life was not atypical of Japanese women at the time I was living in Japan (1992-93), and possibly even today. Many Western women have similar lives at home, but having to do a lot of gendered tasks at work is certainly unacceptable these days.
I recall a government campaign while living in Japan, which attempted to increase the tax base for an aging population, and encouraged young Japanese to
marry young. Apparently the birthrate had dropped off, as had marriages, because young women enjoyed better lives by remaining single. They could stay out late with their friends having drinks in roof top jacuzzis, had more money to spend, had no household chores to tie them down, and did not have to run their lives around a husband's breakfast, lunch and dinner, or his parents' needs. I wonder how the campaign went. From what I observe of young Japanese women co-workers on our airplanes, I suspect the campaign may not have been very persuasive!
I've noticed that Japanese women tend to stay in the U.S. after graduating from college or university, marrying or obtaining jobs here. I notice fewer Japanese males staying. No doubt they have a better deal back in Japan, where they are served by their mothers and wives. The women on the other hand have a better deal in the U.S., with more choices all around. My airline company employs hundreds of Japanese women, and although there are some Japanese men, there are far fewer. This is no different from any population that leaves their native country to find a better or more suitable life elsewhere. The U.S. has always benefited from these types of people and will no doubt continue to, as long as we uphold individual freedoms. Frankly, I'm surprised we don't have a full-fledged exodus of women coming to the U.S. from all over the world, considering how the majority of women are treated in so many parts of the world.

Kurt Hammond (1995, Psychology Major, Japanese Minor)
I’m in Seoul, Korea on business at the moment. I always enjoy visiting Korea and noticing the many similarities between Japan and Korea culture. There are more similarities than citizens of either country would probably ever admit! On the theme of this year, I have a writer’s block. Sorry.
The difficult state of the economy is making front page news every day, but I’m happy to report I still have my job and I actually got a promotion this year to Asia Regional IT Manager. I started my career doing computer technical support for a company, founded by foreigners in Japan, that catered to expatriate companies. I ended up being hired by one of the client companies and have worked my way up through the ranks ever since. I’m now the most senior IT employee in Asia. My responsibility is to manage the information technology team personnel and assets so that the IT operations of the company run smoothly in Asia. Every day, I interact with people from all over Asia. I feel lucky to have a job with such incredible diversity, and I doubt I would be in this position today if I had not done my one year exchange program with Asia University.
I also am a Japanese-to-English freelance translator. I started this side business once I was comfortable with my Japanese ability (passed level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test). Working in my free time on nights and weekends, I can make up to 25% of my normal weekly income. As a freelancer, I get to choose which jobs I want to do and which jobs I’d rather pass over. Having this second income stream has not only made a difference financially, but also gives me a sense of personal accomplishment in knowing that people need me.    
Business is a little slower but things are still basically OK. I’m hopeful that the economy will recover soon.

Connor Clark-Lindh (2005, Environmental Journalism Major, Japanese & Math Minors)
Things are going alright over here in Singapore. Still busy as ever and the economic situation isn't helping much. But all the same I am trying my best to live my life to the fullest, practicing Japanese when I can and trying to start picking up Mandarin.
Japan is developed and cutting-edge, but still far behind many developed nations in the fair treatment of women. Many professions including politics, mid and upper management, sales, sciences, and engineering are still very much closed to women. The Japanese women who dream for something more than a secretarial, administrative, human resources, or customer service role often don't stay in Japan. The more independent and career focused women seem to find more respect and success outside the confines of Japan.
Things are improving slowly. We see more career women in Japan, more directors and business owners. Things in Japan always change very slowly. More and more women are marrying later, trying to build a career. Double income families are increasing. More women are open about sexual harassment and the police are slowly learning to respond. Yet things are in no way fair. Women deserve equal treatment in Japan, and Japan needs more women in professional fields. In the years to come, Japan will invest more in women and equality as there is no other choice. Without women working, Japan lacks the people needed to run the economy.

Matt Topping (2007, Linguistics Major, Japanese Minor)
I live on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture under the JET Program as Coordinator for International Relations in the Public Relations Division of the City Hall. Certain aspects of culture, language, climate and cuisine here are very different from mainland Japan.
From my perspective there are two sides to gender relations in Japan: a traditional side and a progressive side. First I'd like to discuss the former. I am a member of a seinenkai (青年会), a youth organization which performs traditional dances and folk music on holidays. For these holidays and festivals, men and women have very clearly defined roles and perform distinctly different dances. The women perform dances which emphasize companionship and child rearing, and the men's performances feature boujutsu (棒術 staff-based martial arts) and hatagashira (旗頭 the bearing of large flag poles with decorative tops). For a woman to perform the man's part in the festival, or vice versa, is apparently unheard of.
However, there is the modern and progressive side to Japanese society, in which women are seen more and more often in positions of power. I have several female coworkers at city hall, and many are in positions of seniority. In my division, which is public relations, there is a "gender equality section" which coordinates meetings of women's associations, and works to draw public attention to women's issues.
Thus gender relations in Japan bear two sides, with an historic, traditional system and a modern, progressive one. As an American living in Japan, I notice how assertive women are in the office environment (contrary to the stereotypes I held of subservient Japanese women), and I often wonder if the rigidity of the gender roles in the local festivals has ever been challenged!




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