The Struggle For Japanese Wome Essay, Research Paper
It is impossible to judge a book off its cover. Japan is like a bad book with a good
cover. On the outside, Japan s cover looks like one in which other countries should envy.
When we take a look and see that their income gap between rich and poor is smaller than
that of the United States. Generally, the Japanese are known for their teamwork, and
equality. If anyone in Japan is making a outrageous salary they are looked down on
because that shows individuality, and it goes against teamwork. There is no need for
unions in Japan, equality seems to be each companies goal. But like a bad book with a
good cover, there is a far different story behind all of this. In all of the great things listed
above, Japanese women are not included in this dynamic. Throughout this report you will
see the inequality in the Japanese workplace, the struggle between the Sogoshoku and the
Ippanshoku, and how the Japanese women are starting to chose work over home.
Inequality in the Japanese Workplace
The socialization of men dominating women in Japan starts at a young age.
Japanese boys and girls are taught to use different expressions and words. As Japanese
girls reach their teenage years, the majority of them have no major goals. 52% of women
and 65% of men believe that men s job is to work and women s is to keep house (Family
Planning Perspectives,1999). They have grown up to believe that their first job is at
home. One of the only things that the Japanese girls have to dream about is their elegant
and elaborate wedding ceremony. Getting married though can hurt women from ever
getting hired with any company. Large Japanese companies often encourage women to
quit upon getting married, or at least when they have their first child (Newcomb, 1998).
If a Japanese woman aims for other goals such as education, she needs to be careful.
Most companies will not hire women with four year degrees because they are known to be
over-qualified. Usually the women get a two year degree in teaching. If they try for
anything more prestigious, most organizations will not hire them. Japanese women are
socialized from infancy to limit themselves and not be assertive when it comes to getting
If a Japanese woman does chose to work, it is usually a low-paying job, while the
men get positions that pay exceptionally better. Women s wages are only 62.5 percent of
those of men, and women start only 13.6 per cent of new businesses (AHRC,1999). In
these low-paying jobs, there is rarely any opportunity to get promoted. Due to the lack of
promotions, women usually switch jobs many times through their careers. They are usually
limited to clerical and sales positions. While Japanese men hold from 95 to 100 percent of
the managerial and official positions.
Japan created laws to stop this discrimination from continuing. In the Japanese
Constitution, Article 14 states that there should not be discrimination of gender in
economic relations. Articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant give Japanese women the right to
equal economic opportunities and equal protection. Obviously these laws are not helping.
The discrimination is imbedded in their society to believe that men should have the
prestigious, higher paying jobs and the women should not. It is hard for women to be
protected by these laws when this practice has been going on forever.
Sogoshoku vs. Ippanskoku
To fully understand the discrimination that Japanese women face each day in the
workplace, you must start at the beginning of their careers. Since the majority of women
that work in Japan work in clerical positions, this section focuses on clerical work. The
discrimination Japanese women face though is not limited to this particular field.
Discrimination in the workplace starts right when Japanese women enter the work
force. There is a process in which the men and women go through when they enter the
work field which is known as a two-track system. This system has only been around for
ten years, and was brought about by the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986.
Believe it or not, discrimination of Japanese women was worse before this two track
system started. This system involves two groups, the Sogoshoku which are the men that
are trained to be managerial staff, and the Ippanshoku which are their clerical assistants.
On average, 2.5 percent of Sogoshoku are women and there are no men working in the
Ippanshoku. According to a 1997 report covering all 2,413 listed companies and other
major organizations, there were only 84 women executives out of 44,925 (AHRC, 1999).
This showing that Japanese women rarely have a chance of being part of the Sogoshoku.
Not only are the Japanese women held at these low status positions, but they are
also labeled with demeaning names. The most popular being, girls. When the
managerial staff speaks of the Japanese women working for them they refer to them as
girls. Carole Pateman (1998) compares calling adult women girls to calling adult
male slaves boys, and argues that both usage s are a graphic illustration of a perpetual
nonage that women and slaves cannot cast off (Ogasawara, 31). The girl s duties
involve picking up the mail, faxing documents, making copies, and typing documents. A
major part of these women s jobs are to serve tea to the men. This sounds easy, but there
is a lot to it. The girls have to follow rigorous rules when serving tea at the manager
meetings. They must serve the tea in order from the highest ranking official to the lowest.
If this is done wrong it could cost them their jobs. This is the most demeaning and
frustrating part of many Japanese women s jobs.
The Sogoshoku and Ippanshoku are evaluated each quarter. Their evaluations are
graded from A to E. This depicts if they will receive bonuses and promotions. But almost
all of the Japanese women get Cs. This gives the companies a tool to justify why the
women never get promotions and why their salaries are much lower than the mens .
This process of putting women and men on separate tracks and different groups
creates inequality. Japanese men are given every opportunity to succeed in their careers,
and the women are not. The women s duties are to be servants for the men. They are
labeled girls, and must respond just as slaves responded to boys. This process goes
against every Japanese gender law. But this practice has gone on so long that it has
caused sedimentation of inequalities towards women. The longer this goes on the longer
it takes to reverse.
This sedimentation of gender inequality is much like the sedimentation of racial
inequality in the United States towards African-Americans discussed in Black Wealth
White Wealth (Oliver & Shapiro). The sedimentation of racial inequality was created by
many things such as Jim Crow laws. This racial sedimentation has kept
African-Americans from getting benefits equal to whites. The gender sedimentation seen
in Japan, works the same way. Women are not getting the same benefits as men. This has
been caused by centuries of belief that men are supreme and women must support their
Work or Home
The Japanese culture has had a very distinct idea of what the women s roles are
and what the men s roles are. This idea is almost an exact reflection of the Consumer Unit
Household in the Accord Era which was discussed in Shifts in the Social Contract
(Rubin). The woman s role is to stay at home, raise the children, and have dinner done
when the husband gets home. The Man s role is strictly to be the breadwinner. In Rubin s
book, it discusses how this was very much the cultural norm for the United States,
especially in the 1950s.
This view of the stay-at-home mom and breadwinning dad is shown
throughout the Japanese society, even today. For the past ten years the trend for women
has been to attend a two-year college, get married, and stay home. The trend for men has
been to go to a four-year college, get married, work and virtually be free to do what ever
It looks like things might start to change. As you can see from the Sogoshoku and
Ippanskoku system, women have been allowed to work the past ten years. It might be low
paying and demeaning, but it is a start. Just recently the trend has changed even more.
Women are starting to go against the norm, and they are attending and graduating from
four-year universities. After getting their degree, they are moving to other countries, such
as the United States, and entering well paid careers were they do not have to pour tea.
This is inspiring a new modern force that is trying to overcome the tradition views.
As you can see, there is inequality in the Japanese workplace, which starts with the
Sogoshoku and Ippanshoku system. Japanese women and men are raised two different
ways which oppresses the women and gives men every opportunity to do well. This
socialization process is expressed by the exact way the Sogoshoku and Ippanshoku system
works. Women go one way, men go the other. The Japanese men benefiting from this the
The Japanese women are expected to stay home. This has been Japan s cultural
norm forever. The Japanese women are starting to go against this norm though. They are
graduating from four-year universities and getting excellent careers in other countries.
Japan is losing great executives and managers by this new trend. In the future the Japanese
men might see what they are losing, and truly create an equal opportunity for women in
the workplace and in life. If this true equality comes about, Japan would be known as
more than a good book, but a best seller.