Just to prove that I’m not the only person bashing the rampant gender inequality here in Japan, I’ll quote from the editorial ("Gender equality a worthy goal") of Friday’s edition of The Daily Yomiuri, itself a translation from the previous day’s Yomiuri Shimbun (emphasis mine):

According to the 2001-02 report on international competitiveness released by the World Economic Forum earlier this year, Japan ranks 69th out of the 75 member nations of the international forum in terms of gender empowerment in the economy.

The 30 percent target is an international yardstick adopted at a U.N. conference held in Nairobi in 1990. While it was almost impossible for Japan to aim at that goal back then, it has finally become a realistic target thanks to developments including the enactment of a basic law concerning the creation of a society with gender equality.

The “30 percent target” is explained earlier in the piece as “the number of women occupying senior positions in various areas of society, such as in public administration and private companies.”

I tracked down the law mentioned in the quote. It’s The Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society and dates from 1999. It’s good to see that there is some progress, but its tardiness gives the impression that it hasn’t been much of a priority, whilst the wording of the “Basic” law makes it clear that it is only a starting point. I don’t think that anyone who has spent any length of time here would dispute that.

I also think that it’s going to be really difficult to make progress. Gender roles seem to be far more pronounced than in European countries. It’s also interesting—and paradoxical—that a language that is fairly nonspecific in terms of gender is used so differently by men and women. But I don’t think that that is the biggest problem.

Ultimately, I wonder whether, even if the horse can be brought to the water, it can be persuaded to drink. After all, some of the discrepancies can be seen as beneficial to women. For example, the Japanese “salaryman” work culture of very long hours can’t be particularly enticing to anyone. At present, a woman can avoid this, so if she fails to jump at the opportunity to turn into a “salarywoman”, one ought not to be surprised. A more holistic approach is necessary. One could say that Japan needs to feminise the workplace; I’d say that it needs to humanise it. Sensible working hours, decent holidays, and an end to sneaky tactics such as paying low salaries but supplementing them with huge (25 to 33 percent of annual salary) bonuses which are conditional upon the employee not using their entitled sick days; that would be a start. Oh, and male employees would have to get used to making their own tea.