During Spring Quarter at UW, I took a history class on postwar Japan. My term paper focused on the evolution of the Japanese Economy from 1945-present. A main reason for the massive growth of the economy into the third largest in the world was that, for the first time, women were participating in the Japanese Workforce in massive numbers. However, they did so in temporary or low-skilled positions, and never reached equality in the corporate workplace. Now that the growth of the Japanese economy has slowed, Prime Minister Abe has stated that women are the key to Japan’s future prosperity. This caused me to become curious as to how feminism has played a role in Japanese culture, especially in the mid-twentieth century to the present.
While the second wave of feminism was rising in The United States and elsewhere in the West, a similar movement was not seen in Japan. Why? While Japan has some of the best higher education in the world, why are only 1 in 5 students at its leading university female while Harvard has over 50 percent female enrollment? Japan has the highest amount of workplace gender inequality of any other leading developed nation, and I seek to find out why. In addition to this, I want to know what people in Japan think of this gender gap, and what people are doing about it. Finally, I want to know what the future of the gender gap in Japan is, as the current drop in population is unsustainable for the future of the Japanese workforce. Accessibility of childcare and maternity benefits are essential in raising the birthrate, but employers are reluctant to provide them or to accommodate mothers who wish to work a corporate job. The role of the woman in Japanese society has been dynamic over time, and I wish to explore it.