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The Japanese Gender Gap in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2032 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Japan, a country that is at the forefront of modern business and technology, still holds onto ideas that are unbeneficial to women. Specifically, women in Japan lack involvement in areas such as “economic participation” and “political empowerment” (Okoshi et. al. 225). What might be some reasons women are not more involved in these fields? Well the main reasons are reflected in preplaced cultural ideas, which are reflected into their treatment in the workplace, all of which seem to place a higher regard and respect for men in general.

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 Japanese culture plays into this whole idea of preventing women from advancing further by the fact that it reinforces many stereotypical gender roles. These roles of a mother that stays in the home do not allow women to have more access to be able to not just be a housewife, while her husband is working extremely long hours (Nemoto 523). As long as this idea is upheld in this culture, women are unlikely to be encouraged to try things outside the stereotyped wife should do, like working a job at an office and so on, but there is often times a great divide in the family, from the father and children (Nemoto 523). Like, I said before men tend to have long working hours in Japan, so children tend not to really know there fathers well and he is so tried that the wife of the household have to do most of the housework (Okoshi and Nomura et. al. 225). Thus, creating another problem for women who might want to try venturing out of the house for a career, since they are accepted to do more in the household than the man is. Sometimes women try to combat this problem by having careers in their early twenties and then stopping to have kids in their thirties raising them until they reach college age and then returning to the workforce when they are almost in their fifties (Nomura et. al. 2). This is system, described as the “M” curve, works in some respect since women are able to return to the workforce, but it often gives the ability of advancement in their field pause as well, which of course creates a greater divide between female and male workers (Nomura et. al. 2).

 Problems with promotion also comes with Japan’s insane work hours. Even though laws are in place in Japan saying that work weeks should be about forty hours a week, this does not stop companies from encouraging workers to work longer than that (Nomura et. al. 3). During a doctor shortage in Japan in 2011, doctors were working about seventy hours a week (Nomura et. al. 3). Meaning if split evenly those doctors would have been working ten hour shifts back to back Sunday to Saturday. This only increased for surgeons in 2013, when they now were about ninety-eight-hour work weeks (Okoshi and Nomura et. al. 225). Although this data mostly comes from the medical field similar ideas are reflected for office workers, who often face serious issues that are related to stress (Nemoto 515). Outside of the “M” curve, idea women who wish to work, without facing the daunting hours, women will switch from full-time work to part-time work in order to meet the demands that family life (Nomura and Gohchi 1614).

 This decision also helps with women with health concerns. Women who are pregnant tend to make this switch in order to ensure the safety of their health, since long working hours often caused them to have near miscarriages (Nomura et. al. 3). Outside of pregnant working women there is also the concern of women developing depression due to these long hours, since women are more likely to develop depression than men (Nomura et. al. 3). In fact, one woman in a study reported that she had been suffering for five years due to the demand of her work making her feel overworked (Nomura et. al. 3). Stress is a major factor in working in the Japanese worker’s life, in fact it has a high chance in taking one’s life. Death by over work, karoshi, and suicide by overwork, karo-jisatsu, claim a great portion of Japanese worker’s lives (Nemoto 515). In fact, estimations predict that more than ten-thousand workers will pass away due to cerebral or caradiac disease that has been induced by stress (Nemoto 515). Although issues such as health are hard to blame women for wishing not to work, it still creates issues when it comes to women that are trying to promote themselves in their selected fields.

 Without women not working, due to various concerns that they have whether for health reasons or for family reasons, the gap between men and women widens greatly. This lack of women mean that hardly hold any senior positions, such is the case in the medical field (Okoshi and Nomura et. al. 223). The adverse effect that comes about with this is the fact that women when they cannot see a woman working a position higher than themselves worry about, whether or not there is any possibility for them to be promoted at all in higher positions (Okoshi and Nomura et. al. 223).  Many lack a belief in themselves to try to exceed further. Women who become disheartened in this way tend to drop out of their careers early (Taka et. al. 486). Often times opting just to get married and in turn pushing the progress of women back down to the very bottom once again. Although, there are women who decide to remain in their fields, but they face the long work hours; which often times cut people’s lives off (Nomura and Gohchi 1614). They often do not have time to date or even spend time with their friends (Nomura and Gohchi 1614). In one study one woman reported that here schedule was so overloaded that she would often times spend her weekends at home, her work schedule often times cut into her sleep schedule as well making her only get about five hours a day (Nemoto 521). A few of those she would get when she was taking the train to and from work, which is clearly a dangerous situation for anyone (Nemoto 521). Another woman reported that her work often times runs into the evenings with overtime, so she often times has to cancel plans with her friends in order to keep her job (Nemoto 522). One woman was so worried about losing her job that she delayed marriage to her boyfriend for ten years, fearing that marriage and her demanding job might be in the way of each other too often (Nemoto 520).

 Women are also not only a disadvantage when it comes promotion, there is also the concern with the benefits that they may receive from their work. Childcare in Japan is massively under staffed and is in high demand, with around fifty thousand children on waiting lists to enter into a daycare or nursery (Nomura et. al. 5). Meaning even if even Japanese company was willing to supply women with childcare with the lack of centers that are free to take care of children, means that women would have to take off time anyways to take care of their children, creating a whole new problem for those mothers. Another problem happens when those children get sick, since a great number of daycare centers cannot provide medical attention to these children, causing mothers to have to continually having to take time off work to pick up their children early, as what to one mother (Nomura et. al. 3). Then there also is a difference in pay, that women who often times get paid less than men, such was the concern of one woman who had to worry about paying for childcare with a salary that totaled less than one thousand dollars a month (Nemoto 523).  Without childcare women often, times worry what will happen to their positions with constant time off, worrying about if they will be able to keep their jobs or not. Similar concerns arise with women when it comes to taking maternity leave, since women are taking long amounts of time off, that could be spent working; which is sadly the way of how many Japanese male bosses view women taking maternity leave to be in fact many women get a “motherhood wage penalty” (Okoshi et. al. 1255) (Nomura et. al. 4). This is why women in Japan are willing to risk things like depression and miscarriage in order to continue their carreers, since they want to have a job in order to provide for the child (Nomura et. al. 5). One woman decided to keep her job and pushed herself while pregnant with seventy-hours of overtime every month (Nemoto 520). Meanwhile, men are often times are rewarded for taking paternal leave as said by one man that took such leave “If one man takes childcare leave in a firm, the Japanese government approves the firm as being family-friendly and adds it to the list of family-friendly companies” (Nemoto 522). Men are encouraged, while women are discouraged, when does not make sense at all, because clearly who is having the baby here? 

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 I have written a paper that is very similar to this one before,but I feel that I can now express ways that could change the situation in Japan. So, what can be done to change the situation in Japan? Well, I believe we can start in a shift in the attitudes in Japan culturally. What I mean by this is that the Japanese Government should try to implement some new polices into the workplaces, like tolerance ideas so that women feel safe taking maternity leave without facing repercussions like getting fired. A possible addition would be implementing these ideas through the Human Resources department, since they often times deal with human relations and making sure the flow of the workspace is working well for everyone. Another idea would be to do more thorough analysis when it comes to promoting people into boss or manger positions since it is through these people that women are often times fired. What would also be beneficial to Japan, would be the government opening some more childcare centers, since there is vast number of children that need to get into them. Or if they are not run by the government, maybe they could offer to tax benefits for privately opened childcare centers, which might be a catalyst for people some more, so mothers can at least have the option to enter their child into one. These are just a few ideas that I have when it comes to addressing the ever-growing issue in Japan. All, I can hope for is that the future, that the Japanese government will remove the blinders off their issues, and figure out how to fix them, so that their people’s happiness can thrive. 

Works Cited

  • Nemoto, Kumiko. “Long Working Hours and the Corporate Gender Divide in Japan.” Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 20, no. 5, Sept. 2013, pp. 512–527. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0432.2012.00599.x. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018. 
  • Nomura, Kyoko, et al. “The Difficulty of Professional Continuation among Female Doctors in Japan: A Qualitative Study of Alumnae of 13 Medical Schools in Japan.” BMJ Open, vol. 5, no. 3, 2015, pp. 1 -7.
  • Nomura Kyoko, and Kengo Gohchi. “Impact of Gender-Based Career Obstacles on the Working Status of Women Physicians in Japan.” Social Science &Amp; Medicine, vol. 75, no. 9, 2012, pp. 1612–1616. ScienceDirect, 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.014. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
  • Okoshi, Kae, et al. “Suturing the Gender Gap: Income, Marriage, and Parenthood among Japanese Surgeons.” Surgery, vol. 159, no. 5, 2016, pp. 1249–1259. ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/j.surg.2015.12.020. Accessed 9 Oct. 2018.
  • Okoshi, Kae, Kyoko Nomura, et al. “Gender Inequality in Career Advancement for Females in Japanese Academic Surgery.” Tohoku Journal Of Experimental Medicine, vol. 234, no. 3, 2014 Nov., pp. 221–227. J-Stage, www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tjem/234/3/234_221/_article/-char/en. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.
  • Taka, Fumiaki, et al. “Organizational Climate with Gender Equity and Burnout among University Academics in Japan.” Industrial Health, vol. 54, no. 6, 2016, pp. 480–487. J-Stage, www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/54/6/54_2016-0126/_article. Accessed 8 Oct. 2018.


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