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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #43: June 17, 2003

Gender Equality in Japanese Education: Part Two -
The Development of the Two-year Women's Junior College System

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


In Part One of this series the current gender imbalance in Japanese higher education was outlined and in this article the historical background behind the two-tiered system is examined in more detail. To fully understand the present day state of metamorphosis in Japanese education, it is helpful to know how the postwar system evolved.

The dynamics of the gendered two-year junior college versus the four-year university arrangement has its origins in the early postwar decades. In the years following the war, a growing number of parents expressed the hope of being able to give their daughters better educational opportunities than had been available in the prewar period. However, at the same time the concept of distinctive gender roles, which had been especially emphasized during the nationalistic interwar era, was still a powerful influence on the parental decision making process. A commonly held belief insisted that it was preferable for husbands to be better educated than their wives. This view meant that parents were concerned about daughters becoming what was termed "over-educated" as this might make them less attractive marriage prospects. At that time, marriage was considered to be the main life-course trajectory for women and parents had no desire to diminish their offspring's chances of walking down the aisle. Thus, there was a reluctance to educate women to the same degree as men for fear of damaging marriage prospects. Furthermore, parents believed that investing resources in male offspring gave a better return as men had a higher earning capacity compared to women. Only a limited amount of money could usually be allocated from family finances to fund a daughter's education.

The formation of the junior college system offered the perfect solution to these dilemmas as it enabled women to gain access to higher education while allowing them to maintain a lower educational status to men. Additionally, these colleges were economically attractive as tuition fees were half the cost of four-year universities and enabled parents to be able to afford higher education for their daughters.

The creation of the junior college system was considered a somewhat provisional measure and it was believed that they would eventually be reorganized into something else. However, the colleges eventually became a permanent fixture of the educational landscape. One of their original primary aims was to facilitate the entry of women into higher education in much greater numbers than had ever previously been envisaged. Thus, from their inception, the vast majority of junior college students were almost exclusively for women. Another key objective of these two-year colleges seems to have been to enhance a young woman's marriage prospects rather than prepare her for a professional career. In the sixties, this was reflected in the curriculum of many of these establishments which often focused heavily on domestic science related subjects. It was for this reason that women's junior colleges were given the nickname "bridal finishing schools" in Japanese (hanayome gakko).

During the fifties, the women's junior college system began to expand and flourish. This explains why a great many junior colleges trace their origins to this period. Because the duration of study was only two years, these establishments were automatically ascribed a lower status than the male-dominated four-year universities. As a result, the junior college system was generally associated with a second class type of education primarily for women. The system enabled prewar notions of gender to influence the development of education in the postwar decades and shaped the employment market for women. It was not until the eighties that these concepts began to be seriously challenged and women had to wait until the nineties before visible signs of change manifested themselves (see Part One).


Other Articles in the Gender Equality in Japanese Education Series

Gender Equality in Japanese Education Part One: Male and Female Participation Rates in Higher Education
Social Trends: Series #41, GLOCOM Platform, 17 June 2003


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