Women Advancing in Japanese Society:
Part One - New Gains Made in Early 2003
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
A variety of recent global surveys and reports have highlighted the fact that Japan still has a long way to travel on its journey towards a more gender-equal society. For example, in terms of gender empowerment in the economy, the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 69th out of its 75 member nations. However, despite poor international ratings, it would be unfair to deny that over the last decade tremendous progress has been made. While regrettably the pace of change has been frustratingly slow, substantive progress has nevertheless been achieved.
A wide spectrum of indicators reveal that in 2003 women are gradually increasing their representation in almost every area of Japanese society. Today's pioneering women are building the foundations from which a more gender equal Japan will eventually emerge. By providing role models, today's trailblazers are inspiring the next generation of women and accelerating the rate of change.
The news media regularly carries reports on women who break into previously male dominated professions. This kind of coverage is having an impact on the way young women are thinking about their future careers and is encouraging many to contemplate entering previously all male domains. Almost daily, the newspapers and TV channels carry some item on women who are the first in their particular profession or specialization. A brief examination of just a few national news items from the first half of 2003 illustrates this point.
In March, it was announced that the previously all-male bastion of the Ministry of Justice's elite bureaucracy had finally been breached. Kazumi Okamura was appointed director of the International Affairs Division, the Ministry's first-ever female divisional head. It appears that the isolation of the ministry's top bureaucrats from the opposite sex is finally ending as the Justice Minister, Mayumi Moriyama, is also a woman.
In April, Yoshie Taira became the Japan's first ever female airport administrator, taking charge of Kitakyushu airport in Fukuoka Prefecture. The airport is one of 31 similar government regulated institutions.
In May, Capt. Kazue Kashiji became the Air Self-Defense Force's first ever female flight instructor. She had first hit the headlines in 1997 as the ASDF's very first female pilot and subsequently flew several missions abroad.
In June, the press and TV news covered the first four women to debut as bullet train drivers on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. Although three women had already become drivers on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line back in 2000, the Tokaido Line debut still got extensive coverage on the national NHK evening news. The four new drivers were Yasuko Umeda and Azusa Sakaguchi along with the sisters Mika Yamamoto and Mami Yamamoto. The quartet had undergone nine month's of intensive training to qualify for Ministry of Transport licenses to drive the high-speed trains.
These trend-setting women are just a very few examples from national news stories in the first half of 2003. The Unified Local Elections in April also brought numerous firsts for female politicians, further creating new horizons. While there is still a huge distance to cover, many women now feel that Japan is finally moving in the right direction. As more young women are attending four-year universities than ever before, in coming years Japan is poised to make still further advances on the road to gender equality.
Related Series and References
Women in Japanese Politics
Gender Equality in Japanese Education
Changing Attitudes towards Gender Roles in Japan: 2002 Snapshot
J. Sean Curtin, Social Trends: Series #8, GLOCOM Platform, 24 September 2002