Chapter 4: Japanese Women and Society

My research this week was ignited by Mr. Hosokawa talking about his wife and two daughters. Our novel reads, “His own daughters constantly presented him with a mathematical impossibility, one minute running around the house wearing pajamas covered in images of the blankly staring Hello Kitty, the next minute announcing they had dates who would be picking them up at seven…Mr. Hosokawa could not imagine his daughters anyplace but curled in their mother’s bed, crying for his return while they watched the news.” This sparked my interest particularly with the roles of women in Japan. Hollywood has made it seem that women in Japan have no rights and that the gender roles are clearly defined.

Before digging strictly into the particular demographic of women, I wanted to acquire a better understanding of Japanese society and their family life. Japan is the most rapidly aging society in the world. There is a projected thirty percent of elderly over sixty-five to make up Japans population in 2030. (Rebick, 5). This is an alarming statistic because it brings to light the question of longevity to the Japanese population. Not only the population but also issues of the economy and medical facilities. A large percentage of their society will be getting ill and dying within the same couple years. Much like in America we have this concern for the baby boomers generation. Another daunting fact is Japan’s decline in fertility rate over the past ten years. The current fertility rate is 1.4 and the level needed for maintenance of the population is 2.1 (Rebick, 7). When you put together a falling fertility rate with a very large demographic of elderly that seems like the economy is heading toward a digression in advancements. There will not be enough people to fill the many jobs available and the housing market as well as many other markets will subsequently crash.

Thinking of the workforce in Japan I didn’t believe women to be a big part of the economy. I thought them mainly as mainly being housewives, like Mr. Hosokawa’s wife is lead on to be. It states in An Introduction to Japanese Society, that the Japanese economy would not function without the female workers, in 2007, constituted 41.5 percent of the total paid workforce (Sugimoto, 163). Through further research I found that the census shows a steady upward trend. Approximately half of all women between fifteen and sixty-five years of age are engaged in waged labor (Sugimoto, 163). This really makes me question if there is a correlation between this rise employment for women and the decline of fertility. In America it is common to see professional women who hold successful positions. If Japan reflects our culture these women are commonly consumed with their career and are very focused on their professional life. Frequently, these women are unable to have a family because they are too busy to have time for children.

While “family” has remained a basic part of the Japanese culture, the roles of women has changed dramatically over the past ten years. The principles of the traditional Japanese culture are based on the Confusion ideals. These ideals say the man is the head of the household while the woman are dependent on their man. There was a great gender inequality throughout Japan until the twenty-first century. Women’s happiness is found only in marriage, according to tradition. Women marry between 22-27 years old. It was not uncommon for women to be socially outcast if she failed to marry by 27 (Kincaid). Ideals have slowly changed over the years for women of Japan though the help of globalization. The previously stated increase of women within the workforce has been a change of the culture. Women are able to make a difference in the economy and are seen as a contributing citizen rather than a dependent housewife. Despite the changes, Japanese TV still portrays traditional gender roles: men hold male jobs (police officer, soldier etc); women hold traditionally female jobs (housewife, nurse, etc). This is thought to slow role changes across most demographics (Shinichi, 2007). This is why I still have such a traditional way of thinking and viewing the Japanese culture. The media portrays societies as the dated, more shocking time period.

After this research, I have begun to question many parts of the Japanese culture. How is the large population of women joining the workforce going to effect the economy and culture in future years? What are some of the ideals Japanese parents teach their children? What are the differences between traditional and non-traditional households of Japan?

Kincaid, Chris. “Gender Roles of Women in Modern Japan.” Japan Powered. 22 June 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. <;.

Rebick, Marcus. “The Changing Japanese Family.” The Changing Japanese Family. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Sugimoto, Yoshio. “Gender Stratification and Th Family System.” An Introduction to Japanese Society. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.


4 thoughts on “Chapter 4: Japanese Women and Society

  1. dgromels says:

    Your blog post raises some very interesting questions about what it means to be a woman in 2015. As members of the sex that can bear children, do we have a responsibility to our societies to produce babies even if it infringes on our ability to live fulfilling, autonomous lives? Which is a more valuable contribution to society: our ability to bear children or the labor we bring to the economy?

    I think if you choose to pursue this topic for your paper, it would be interesting to look into the factors that prevent some women from being able to have successful careers while being mothers. Recently, I have read quite a few articles advocating for longer periods of paid maternity leave for mothers and fathers in the United States, as many other countries already offer this option to their workers. You could look at the data and see if women with careers are more likely to have children if they are allowed several months of paid maternity leave. I could see where requiring longer periods of maternity leave for women might also discourage companies from hiring and promoting women, as they would be losing productivity if women chose to take that time off. It would also be interesting to see if women who have children make less money in corporate situations. It seems that women who are not mothers would be able to devote more time and energy to their jobs, increasing their chances of getting a raise or promotion. I don’t think women should have to choose between having a career and raising children, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to the issue.


  2. hcelemen says:

    It is very interesting to learn about Japanese demographics and how women’s role has changed over time in Japan, much like it has here in America. It is good to know that Japan is also gaining more gender equality. The traditional gender role for women seems to put more value in the family as the women are forced to serve the needs of their family before they can pursue their own dreams and desires. On the other hand, the male is obviously given the more dominating role as he is designated to be the provider. Mr. Hosokawa’s duties to his family seems to be limited to going to work and bringing home the money because I observed that he has limited interaction with his family. As you quoted, his description of his daughters show a lack of knowledge for their age and a lack of involvement in their lives. He is also usually found in his study after work relaxing and listening to opera music so I don’t think he is involved in the household chores.

    Originally, there seems to be a lot of expectations and responsibilities placed on women that not only restricts their freedom as they are kept confined in their house, but can also result in a lot of stress what with handling the children, making meals and other household chores. This makes me wonder about the non-traditional households where there may be an equal division of labor in the house or where the husband or children takes on the tasks the woman leaves behind to become the provider. I would be very interested to find demographics that may or may not support the idea that as part of the growing gender equality in different societies, there is an obvious shift in roles within the household because there is obviously going to be a need for compromise now that women are becoming more liberated.


  3. sariegel says:

    It’s great that you already have developed various research questions that could continue this topic if you so desire when it comes time for our final project. Your last two questions I think could really work together well to form a more holistic picture of how the definition of family is evolving for the Japanese culture. A lot of the population and fertility trends you described in your post are similar to those in America and other industrialized nations. You might find it interesting to compare demographic transition curves of developing versus developed nations to inform your research.

    While I don’t doubt that traditional gender roles are generally adhered to in Japanese media, this really isn’t all that surprising compared to American media. Many Disney princess movies arguably teach girls that they need to rely on men and that being married constitutes “happily ever after.” In addition, a lot of sitcoms still cast women as housewives or in jobs traditionally held by women or portrays them in an over-sexualized light. As such, I probably wouldn’t consider Japan a traditional society just because of how women are depicted in media, at least in light of American media. You might just need to substantiate this with specific examples. It would be interesting to narrow your focus to Japanese manga or Korean Pop (K-Pop), which has gained popularity in Japanese culture as well.
    It’s interesting that traditional views of marriage in Japan come from Confucius teachings. Similarly, in America, traditional views of women in marriage generally come from Christian beliefs that remain prevalent even though fewer people strictly believe or practice Christianity. I wonder if the same is true for Japan, or other developed nations. What about compared to developing nations?


  4. slaudeman says:

    Your analysis of Japanese culture is very interesting. I think it is interesting the way you focused on the gender inequality of women in their culture, or perhaps the dominance of women in the workforce. The imbalance in the workforce has, as you note, led to a decrease in family focus – but is Mr. Hosokawa’s family not an exception? Are we not told that he expects his family to do nothing but await his return? It is also interesting to me, after reading your post, that Patchett has chosen to give Hosokawa and his wife two daughters, again perpetuating the stereotype that women should wait, as he expects his daughters and wife to do.
    I find it curious that his expectation of his family is so different from that cultural standard. It could be a comment on gender roles, that once again his family occupies a different sphere than the rest of the culture. He seems to place himself on a pedestal above the rest of the world – it could also be interesting to research the sense of self-entitlement across cultures. We see Roxane and Hosokawa both placing themselves above the needs of others, as well as the President. In contrast, Kato, Gen, and the Vice President have both offered their services and time to satisfy others. The dynamic within the group alone is quite intriguing, perhaps modeling the reality of our local, national, and global cultures. Perhaps Patchett is attempting to portray a parody or satire of our societies?

    -Sara Laudeman


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