Feb 10, 2018

On women, work, and tradition in Japan

I read an interesting article online recently titled "Why Japanese Girls Want To Be Bread Makers Rather Than Breadwinners" (you can check it out at the link here). It was all about the question we all seem to be asked as young people, and that we often seem to ask our own little ones -- "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

The results were interesting, and found that in first place for Japanese boys was a career in academia, and for girls, top spot was taken out by food-service careers like bakers. Not that there's anything wrong with that as a career, but the article questioned why boys seem to have the push in Japan to strive for higher education and (in society's eyes) more high powered careers than the girls do.

On women, work, and tradition in Japan photo

It reminded me of a true story that my husband told me about a lady he met while studying Japanese at a homestay program in Ishikawa Prefecture a few years ago. Before she started a family, she had a career as a TV reporter on a national news channel. She told my husband that she loved her job, but when her bosses at the TV station found out she was pregnant, it was essentially a one way ticket to unemployment.

It's not like I can say that back home is free of sin in this regard when it comes to women in the workforce and having families - a friend of ours back in the States was conveniently "downsized" when her bosses found out she was expecting too. However, it seems that in Japan it's more commonplace than what I would expect, and appears to get swept under the rug more. This article notes that one in six women faced maternity harassment while in the workforce in Japan, and this piece gives a woman's first hand account of the type of treatment she received while pregnant and working in Japan. 

I guess at the crux of this is a frustration from my own perspective, as a woman and as a mother living in Japan. I don't want my daughter to feel like she can't aspire to careers that might be traditionally seen as male-dominated industries. I don't want to feel like when I attempt to re-enter the workforce myself that being a mother makes me seem like a liability rather than an asset. If anything, I'd say that being a mother has made me more empathetic, more understanding, more patient -- which are all good elements for an employee in just about any industry, if you ask me.

Japan is incredibly forward thinking in so many ways, but possess a strong adherence to centuries of tradition. This is something which gives the country a unique beauty and charm-- but is it also a factor keeping the country behind the rest of the world when it comes to the idea of what a woman should be and do?

There's nothing wrong with aspiring to being a breadmaker, if that's where someone's passion is. But the idea that women should only take on certain careers, or even face harassment for starting a family absolutely is. 



After spending the last several years in the beating heart of Tokyo, I will be spending the next three in the countryside of Japan. I adore this country and all it has to offer - and I'm always learning more and more about life here as I go along!

1 Comment

  • Saitama

    on Feb 10

    Welcome back! We missed you. ;-) I love your style of writing. Great piece as always