April 18, 2018

Women's Policy in Japan

Democrats around the world are gathering in Tokyo in May for our DA 2018 Global meeting.

As we continue our series on women’s policy around the world, now is the perfect time to take a look at a country that is in the process of developing policy to address the issues of women in the workforce.

By Nancy Coleman, Ph. D.

The Japanese Government

Emperor Akihito and his family

Japan is a constitutional monarchy with the Emperor as the ceremonial head of state. The power of the Emperor is limited to duties such as appointing the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But it is the legislature that makes the actual decision as to who will be PM, and the Cabinet actually designates the Chief Justice. Like other democracies, the Japanese government is divided into three branches, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. The Cabinet, consisting of the Ministers of State and the Prime Minister, directs and controls the Government. The legislature is the National Diet, and it consists of two houses: the House of Councillors, the upper house, and the House of Representatives, the lower house.

Despite the fact that the royals have little actual power, their symbolic impact is considerable. The present Emperor and Empress are Akihito and Michiko. Michiko was born a commoner, the first to marry into the Japanese imperial family, but her family was prominent and well off, and Michiko received an excellent education, studying in Tokyo, as well as at Harvard and Oxford. Akihito's mother strongly opposed the marriage, but the match had broad popular support. As Empress, Michiko has become the symbol of the modernization and democratization of Japan. The Empress is expected to embody traditional values such as modesty and purity. She is supposed to be the personification of an ideal Japanese woman, the epitome of pure, feminine beauty, called yamato nadeshiko. Michiko has been a dutiful exponent of these qualities, adding to her popularity. Even so, she has challenged some parts of the traditional role of Empress, breastfeeding her children and being more visible and accessible in her official duties.

Despite the fact that the royals have little actual power, their symbolic impact is considerable. The present Emperor and Empress are Akihito and Michiko. Michiko was born a commoner, the first to marry into the Japanese imperial family, but her family was prominent and well off, and Michiko received an excellent education, studying in Tokyo, as well as at Harvard and Oxford. Akihito's mother strongly opposed the marriage, but the match had broad popular support. As Empress, Michiko has become the symbol of the modernization and democratization of Japan. The Empress is expected to embody traditional values such as modesty and purity. She is supposed to be the personification of an ideal Japanese woman, the epitome of pure, feminine beauty, called yamato nadeshiko. Michiko has been a dutiful exponent of these qualities, adding to her popularity. Even so, she has challenged some parts of the traditional role of Empress, breastfeeding her children and being more visible and accessible in her official duties.

Empress Michiko's son, Crown Prince Naruhito, also married an accomplished commoner, Masako Owada, who has become an influential female voice in the Imperial Household. As a child Masako lived in Moscow for three years and in New York City and Boston for a number of years. She graduated from Belmont High School outside Boston, and then attended Harvard-Radcliffe College, where she graduated in economics in 1985. She returned to Japan and studied law at the University of Tokyo for six months to prepare for a diplomatic career. She took the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affair's entrance examination together with 800 applicants, and was one of only 28 candidates to pass, including three women. She later started a master's program at Oxford, but she returned to Japan without finishing it. Masako met the Crown Prince in 1986, and he was immediately captivated by her. Masako refused his first two proposals, as she did not want to give up her promising diplomatic career. But she finally accepted his third proposal, on December 9, 1992. Masako had been persuaded that her diplomatic experience would be a great advantage as a royal, but her role as crown princess has taken its toll on her. She has felt negated and had a very difficult time adjusting to palace life, resulting in a number of health problems. The royal couple have only one child, a daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi, born December 1, 2001.

Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne is the oldest in the world, and the emperor's lineage is traced back 2,700 years. Women are presently not allowed to succeed to the throne, but this was not always the case. Japan has had eight women emperors. The last one was Empress Go-Sakuramachi, who reigned from 1740 to 1813. But none of the women rulers bore any children, and the throne was always passed to a male heir when they died. It was seen as crucial to prevent children fathered by men outside the imperial line from succeeding to the throne, so the women rulers did not enjoy the same rank as men in the imperial household. The Imperial Household Law issued in 1889, as well as the postwar imperial law passed in 1947, prohibited female succession. Princesses who marry a commoner are required to leave the imperial household. They lose their royal allowance and must pay taxes, but they also acquire the right to vote!

The birth of Aiko, Princess Toshi, sparked debate about whether the Imperial Household Law of 1947 should be changed to allow female succession to the throne. An expert panel was appointed by the government, and they submitted a report recommending that the law be amended to permit absolute primogeniture. However, a proposed bill to that effect was never submitted to the Diet, and the discussion was tabled when Naruhito's brother produced a son in 2006.

The role of women in the imperial family is again under debate. The oldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito, Princess Mako, has recently announced her engagement to the commoner Kei Komuro. According to imperial law, the princess will become a commoner upon her marriage, and her children will not be counted in the pool of heirs to the throne. For many Japanese, the reason for questioning the succession of women is completely practical. There are only five male heirs to the throne, including the elderly emperor and his brother, and many see a looming succession crisis in the future. If Emperor Akihito is allowed to abdicate, as he has requested, his successor will be his son Prince Naruhito. But Prince Naruhito's only child is a daughter, so the throne would pass to Naruhito's brother, Prince Akishino. Prince Akishino has two daughters and one son, Prince Hisahito (11). Prince Hisahito is the only male heir of his generation. Whether it is primarily for practical purposes or not, a recent poll showed that 86 percent support changing the law to allow women to reign and 59 percent support both the prospect of women emperors and an emperor of female lineage. Many prominent politicians are not in line with public opinion, however, and conservative supporters of Prime Minister Abe are opposed to a woman on the throne; nor do they approve of allowing sons of women members of the imperial family succeed to the throne. They consider male succession to be sacrosanct, and have previously derailed the plan by Mr. Abe's predecessor to allow women to hold the throne. As for the royals, Emperor Akihito is reported to support reforming the imperial Household Law to admit women as rightful heirs to the throne.

Japanese Women and Political Power

Until the mid-1900s, Japan was a society where women were not empowered politically. In 1931, it suddenly looked as if a radical change might take place. Legislation granting limited suffrage for women had been passed in the lower house; however, it did not pass the upper house, so nothing became of it. These efforts were soon forgotten when Japan invaded China in 1937, initiating World War II in the Pacific. But when the Japanese men went off to fight, the war situation brought opportunities to women, as they were needed in the workforce and to keep society functioning. Women could now get more education, marriage could be postponed, and all kinds of jobs were now open to them.

After the war, women soon gained the right to vote, on December 17, 1945, and they voted in the elections in 1946. Instrumental in these changes was an American Information Officer, Lieutenant Ethel Weed. During the campaign prior to the election, Weed toured the country and encouraged women to exercise their right to vote, which 67% of them did. Thirty-nine women were elected to the Japanese House of Representatives. However, the 1946 election did not mark the beginning of a movement to empower women in politics, and the percentage of women representatives has remained low. Today, the House of Representatives has 44 women representatives, or only 9.3% of the members, and the House of Councillors has 50 members, or 20.7% women. Japan is ranked number 164 in the percentage of women in parliaments around the globe.

Shinzo Abe has been Prime Minister since 2012, and his government has had as many as five women Cabinet members. But the women ministers have run ministries that people interested in power do not want. They have never been appointed to foreign affairs or finance. Yuko Obuchi was Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for a short period, but she was not allowed to negotiate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Tomomi Inada was the Minister of Defense, but she was forced to resign in late July 2017 over allegations that her ministry had withheld information on dangers faced by Japanese soldiers on a peacekeeping mission to South Sudan. Prime Minister Abe has recently reshuffled his cabinet, naming Seiko Noda as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, as well as Women's Empowerment, and Yoko Kamikawa as Minister of Justice. They are presently the only women in the 19-member Cabinet.

Renho Murato

Renho Murato, a journalist turned politician, became the first female leader of the Democratic Party of Tokyo, the main opposition party in 2016. But the party made a poor showing in the next election, and she resigned in 2017. Renho has firsthand knowledge of the cultural bias against women in politics. As a journalist interviewing a member of the ruling party, she was told that wives should not discuss politics. As a politician, she found that her Wikipedia page listed her bra size. Renho has recently been admitted to the progressive new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party.

Despite modest gains on the national level, there are signs that women are commanding more power and claiming their place in politics. Several women have recently been elected as mayors in Japanese cities. Fumiko Hayashi was elected as Mayor of Yokohama in 2009, and she won her third term in 2017. Before she entered politics, she was a successful businesswoman, having served as president of BMW Tokyo, then president of Tokyo Nissan Auto Sales, and she has also served as CEO of the Japanese supermarket chain Daiei. In 2006, Forbes named her the 39thmost powerful woman in the world, which was the highest rank given to a Japanese woman. She has also served on the Cabinet Office's Council on Gender Equality.

In 2010, Inamura Kazumi was elected Mayor of Amagasaki. She is a member of the political party Greens Japan, and served as its co-president 2008-10. The policies of this party focus on opposition to nuclear energy and address environmental issues. In 2014, Mikiko Shiroma became the mayor of Naha, the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture.

Yuriko Koike

In 2016, Yuriko Koike was elected Governor of Tokyo, a city of 14 million people and one of the most important economies in the world. Koike is a former news anchor, who speaks Arabic and served in the Japanese House of Representatives 1993-2016. She served briefly as Japan's first female defense minister but resigned after only 54 days. She has, however, held several other government posts. Koike has recently announced the formation of a new political party that will challenge Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The new Party of Hope (Kibo no To) will be a "tolerant centrist party", and Koike hopes the party will have an impact on national politics. In her role of Governor of Tokyo, she has promised to pursue women-friendly policies.

Women and the Workforce

Japan is still a patriarchal society where women are expected to be mothers and homemakers, while men work outside the home and pursue careers. There has not been much policy development to bring women into the workforce and provide a basis for them to play active roles in politics and society. It is common for women to enter the workforce when they are finished with their education, but they traditionally quit their jobs when they marry and have children. Women employees who become pregnant experience workplace bullying dubbed mata hara("maternity harassment"). When an employee becomes pregnant, she is often demoted or forced to quit. Even though the Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to discriminate against pregnant women, the practice is still common.

Surprisingly, Japan provides for one year of paid parental leave, usually at 60% of the salary, as an individual entitlement, and a couple will receive two bonus months if both parents take advantage of parental leave. However, even though the proportion of women who take parental leave is increasing, the proportion of women who are members of the workforce both before and after giving birth is not, and many women still quit their jobs when they give birth. Fathers are entitled to parental leave, but only 2% took advantage of it in 2015, and they only took a leave of a month or so. The government is hoping that by 2020, 13% of fathers will take out parental leave for at least part of the time they are entitled to it. However, the culture of the workplace does not encourage fathers to exercise this right. Men are expected to work long hours, and taking paternity leave ruins prospects for promotion and damages relationships with colleagues. Traditionally, men do little childcare or housework.

In 2014, 63% of women participated in the workforce, compared to 84% of men, but most women were in non-standard jobs with low pay, and there were and are few opportunities for advancement and a career. The culture of the workplace is simply not conducive to recruiting and retaining women employees. Employees are expected to put in long hours, are not paid for overtime, and they are expected to seldom take time off. There are no allowances for parents responsible for children or for caring for elderly family members. A woman might start out in a regular job, but if she has a child, the norm is that she will quit her job and not come back. The government does provide some help to families so that they can combine work and family life. But public spending on early childhood education was 0.5% of GDP in 2011, with high fees and long waiting lists for childcare facilities. Some effort is being made to improve the situation. There are plans to increase the number of childcare places by about 0.4 million by March 2018 and create 0.3 million places in after-school care by March 2020.

The gender gap in wages for similar work is significant. Women earn 30% less than men. The gender salary gap is especially great for part-time workers, and it is a general problem that the wage level for part-time employees is very low. Income tax laws penalize dual-income households, providing another incentive for married women to stay at home.

Kathy Matsui's Report on Economic Stagnation in Japan

Kathy Matsui

In the decades following World War II, Japan became an economic miracle and was soon the second largest economy after the United States. But by the 1990s, the workforce had stagnated, and the economy was lagging. Kathy Matsui is chief Japan strategist for Goldman Sachs. In 1999, she published a report that addressed the economic stagnation taking place in Japan. She argued that increasing the participation of women in the workforce would be a better way to reverse the downward trend than other solutions like increasing the birthrate or increasing immigration. At the time, 56.7% of working-age women participated in the workforce, and the status and opportunities for women ranked low compared to most other nations. There is no glass ceiling in Japan, she said, just a thick layer of men. Not a single Nikkei 225 company (companies on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) was or is run by a Japanese woman. If the percentage of women in the workforce could be increased to match that of men, Matsui predicted that Japan's gross domestic product would increase by 15 percentage points. Matsui coined the term "womenomics". Her report has been one of the main inspirations behind the efforts of the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to raise the status and opportunities for women.

The OECD Japan Policy Brief

More recently, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a Japan Policy Brief, in April 2015. The brief pinpointed systemic gender inequality in Japan and provided a number of recommendations. The OECD found that young Japanese women have an educational advantage over men: in 2013 67% of women aged 25-34 had a college degree, compared with 56% of men. Even so, women were less likely to be employed, and the employment gap between men and women for the working-age population was 18 points, the third highest in the OECD countries, surpassed by Estonia and South Korea. The wage gap was also remarkable; women earned 27% less than men. As for leadership positions, they held only 2.1% of the seats on boards of directors, they filled only 3.3% of managerial positions in the central government and 7% in local governments, despite a government target established in 2003 of having women occupy 30% of leadership positions by 2020. (The government conceded in 2016 that this goal would not be reached.) No progress was being made in attaining gender equality.

The brief saw the tax system as a major hindrance to women participating in the workforce. The tax system provided strong financial incentives for spouses to limit their earnings by working part-time in non-standard jobs. Spouses who earned below 2.05 million yen were exempt from income tax, and if their earnings were below 1.3 million yen, about one quarter of the average earnings, they would be covered by pension, health, and long-term care insurance without having to contribute. These rules were significant deterrents for many women who might otherwise be full members of the workforce.

The OECD paper concluded that Japan needed to change the workplace culture and ensure that the tax and social security systems do not reduce work incentives for "second earners" in households. The following were recommended to policy makers:

  • Invest more in early childhood education and care and out-of-school-hours care over and above what is already planned whilst ensuring that such support reaches low-income families.
  • Reform aspects of the tax and social security system that reduce work incentives for spouses.
  • Intensify efforts to promote a change in workplace culture. In particular, encourage companies to reduce gender pay gaps to attract the best talent and make it easier for women to (re-)enter regular employment by facilitating the hiring of regular employees throughout the year and without age restrictions and by encouraging the take-up of leave by men and women (e.g. by having senior management leading by example and making middle managers accountable for staffers using their leave in full).


  • Reduce the divide between regular and non-regular employment through a comprehensive strategy that includes upgrading training programmes, increasing the social insurance coverage of non-regular workers, and reducing effective employment protection for regular workers, by increasing transparency.

Why does Gender Policy Matter in Japan?

More and more research is showing the importance of gender equality as a means to create sustainable societies. A country that has a sustainable fertility rate will have a workforce that constantly replenishes itself, and the population will be distributed among the age groups to provide the services needed at each stage of life. Gender equality means that both women and men can participate in the workforce and simultaneously have children and raise a family. For a population to be sustainable, the fertility rate must be 2.1, that is that the average number of children per woman is a little over 2. Japan has for many years had a very low fertility rate. In 2006, it fell to 1.26, and the present rate is 1.41. In Tokyo, the fertility rate is 1.09. Japan has been losing population for some time, and unless more children are born, Japan is projected to lose 15% of its population by 2050. Japan's population is aging rapidly, and the working-age population is declining by 1.5% per year. According to OECD, the labor force will decline by 6.4 million between 2012 and 2025 if male and female participation rates in the workforce remain at their 2012 levels.

The lack of women in the workforce is hurting most of the Asian countries. The United Nations estimates that failure to accommodate female talent costs Asia about $89 billion a year in squandered output. In an article in Japan Times, 24 November 2015, William Pesek claims that Tokyo "games the system". More women are entering the workforce, but they are also being held back. "[Shinzo] Abe’s pro-women rhetoric gives him a bell-curve advantage in this male-dominated region. The real problem, though, is a lack of political will in patriarchal Japan that holds lessons for the rest of Asia."

Prime Minister Abe's "Womenomics": Toward a Society in Which All Women Shine

On September 26, 2013, Prime Minister Abe addressed the United Nations' General Assembly on his government's plan to empower women and reduce the gender gap. A major concern was Japan's leadership role and economic growth, both of which needed to be revitalized. "Everything will begin with refortifying Japan's true abilities and its economy once more," he stated. Mr. Abe hopes that Japan eventually can become a model and inspire other countries to empower women in the workforce. "The growth of Japan will benefit the world. Japan's decline would be a loss for people everywhere." And the key to the growth of Japan lies in mobilizing the power of women. He declared his intention to create a society in which all women shine. "There is a theory called 'womenomics'," he said, borrowing Kathy Matsui's term, "which asserts that the more the advance of women in society is promoted, the higher the growth rate becomes." To achieve this new society, Japan would cooperate with the UN and other international organizations working to promote a society where women can participate to the full. In addition, Japan would provide assistance to developing countries in empowering women and achieving gender equality.

To reach these goals, Japan is in the process of developing policies to facilitate the empowerment of women and encourage active roles and participation in society; to improve women's healthcare, to get more women in the workplace and increase the number of women in managerial positions.

The Impact of "Womenomics"

"Womenomics" is quite new, and since policies are just now being developed and implemented, it is too early to assess the impact. But many, particularly women, question whether these policies will do anything to actually help women. There seems little in them to benefit women. The policies aim to improve the sluggish Japanese economy, but they do nothing to address the ingrained patriarchal culture that keeps women out of the workforce.

Many women think that Prime Minister Abe's womenomics suffers from tokenism. Goals are set, businesses are begged to hire women, but until percentages of women are mandatory and quotas are put in place, with penalties for companies that fall short, there will be little improvement in the participation of women in the workforce. Some see it as essential to replace finance minister Taro Aso with a woman, and assert that women should "lean in", as Sheryl Sandberg says, and take leadership positions that create role models for Japanese women. But it seems clear that women will not lean in until they see clear advantages for themselves in Japanese workplaces.

Maiko Kissaka, a media personality, thinks that Womenomics has nothing to do with gender equality. She says: “This entire Womenomics movement may actually be a harbinger of karoshi(death by overwork) for the female half of the population. To be blunt, when the government says they want to ‘create a society in which all women shine’ what they’re really saying is ‘we need you to work more.” (Quartz Media, September 15, 2016) In order for Womenomics to make an impact, the culture of the workplace itself needs to be radically changed so that working parents can combine childrearing with work and career development. Policies must put an end to the gender gap in salaries, and there must be enough daycare facilities available that will provide quality childcare to working parents. Businesses where maternity harassment and other sex-based discrimination take place must be taught that there are dire consequences if the practice is not dealt with and eliminated. Companies need to retain women in good jobs, and make it possible for them to resume careers after giving birth. There need to be more women in management positions, and they must be appointed to serve as board members. Research shows that companies with high percentages of female board members are more productive, profitable, and bring about more innovation.

Men should lean in, too, and be willing to change the culture of the workplace. Men need to step up on the home front and do their part in raising their children.

The #MeToo Movement in Japan

Shiori Ito

The ongoing #MeToo campaign may provide some perspective on how women are regarded in the Japanese workplace. An article in the New York Timesby Motoko Rich (December 30, 2017) tells of Shiori Ito, a young woman journalist who had inquired about an internship at a Japanese network in 2015. The high-profile television journalist with close ties to Prime Minister Abe, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, invited Shiori out for a drink to discuss opportunities. She had met him a couple of times in New York, where she was studying journalism. The two went on to dinner, and during the dinner, Shiori felt dizzy and then passed out. When she woke up, Shiori says she was naked and in pain and found herself underneath Mr. Yamaguchi. When she demanded to know what had happened, she says he offered to buy her a morning after pill. She left the hotel and rushed home to wash, rather than going to the police. It is typical for Japanese women who have been assaulted to blame themselves and keep quiet. Shiori Ito felt ashamed, too, but five days later, she nevertheless decided to report the assault to the police. "If I don't face the truth," she told herself, "I think I won't be able to work as a journalist."

Following Shiori Ito's complaint, a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Yamaguchi was issued, but the warrant was reportedly pulled by Itara Nakamura, a high official in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and a friend of Prime Minister Abe. Allegations have been made that the PM has personally tried to quash the investigation of his good friend.

The case had been closed by the police, but Shiori went public with her allegations of rape in 2017, holding a news conference in May and publishing a book in October, Black Box (a term used by police to describe situations that will never be clarified),on her experience, in hopes of encouraging other women to come forward.

Sexual assault in the workplace is seldom reported in Japan, and few women go to the police when they have been raped. If they do, the assailant is rarely arrested or prosecuted. As a result, Japan can boast of low rates of sexual assault; in a 2014 government survey, only one in 15 women reported experiencing rape, compared with one in 5 women in the US. Comics and pornography are important channels for sex education in Japanese society, and they portray rape as a way to get sexual gratification.

There is no real consciousness in Japanese society about the meaning of consent in a sexual act, date rape is a foreign concept, and there is little awareness of sexual violence. Shiori Ito says that Japan is a country permeated by sexual images, sleaze and pornography. But the question of consent is off limits, and there is no discussion of sexual assault.“We talk about what or how people can be sexually pleased. Japan’s known for its adult entertainment. Fine. But then we need to be able to talk about sex. But we don’t. We treat all of it like a taboo. We put all of it in a black box," she said in a recent interview by The Daily Beast(April 25, 2017). Japan's newscaster NHK did a survey on what people think constitutes sexual consent and found that eating dinner alone as a couple was considered equivalent to sexual consent by 11 percent, wearing skimpy clothes by 23 percent, drinking together as a couple alone by 27 percent, and getting drunk by 35 percent. Rape laws in Japan do not view rape as nonconsensual sex, and the courts generally pursue rape cases only when there are signs of physical force and self-defense. The system does not support filing complaints if the assailant or victim has been drinking. Japanese law describes sexual intercourse with a woman who has lost consciousness or is unable to resist as "quasi rape". If rapists are prosecuted and convicted, they often receive a suspended sentence and serve no prison time.

Shiori Ito has come to symbolize Japan's #MeToo moment. Last summer, the Japanese Parliament passed some changes to Japan's sex crime laws. The definition of rape now includes oral and anal sex, men are included as potential victims, and minimum sentences have been lengthened, even though judges can still suspend sentences. And there is still no mention of consent as a criterion for defining rape.

Some see the response to Shiori Ito's case and sexual harassment and assault in the workplace as symptomatic of the status women in Japanese. Tomoe Yatagawa, a lecturer in gender law at Waseda University, sees sexual assault in the context of deep-seated prejudice against women in Japan: "Prejudice against women is deep-rooted and severe, and people don't consider the damage from sexual crimes seriously at all." (NYT, 10.30.17)

It is an open question as to what impact the #MeTwo Movement may have in eliminating sexual harassment and assault in Japanese society. Prime Minister Abe himself is entangled in the aftermath of the complaint against Mr. Yamaguchi, and this may have an impact on the credibility of his "womenomics" initiatives. Even so, "womenomics" and the Ito case have brought a new awareness of discriminatory processes and the prejudices against women innate in Japanese society, and instigated discussions of issues that were previously taboo. Jenise Treuting, a member of Democrats Abroad who has lived in Japan for 28 years, has observed some significant changes during her years in Japan. "Fathers are much more hands on – out and about alone with their children – than would have been thinkable when I first got here," she says. "And the narrowly defined roles of mothers are much broader now." These are encouraging signs. But the low participation of women in leadership continues to be a problem. Renho went into politics to make change, but there are too few women who do. "We don't have enough women to raise their hands," Renho Murata said in an interview with NPR (January 13, 2017), "It all began for me when I was raising two children. In a society that complains about not having enough children, the government wasn't offering any support. That made me want to become a politician."

It will take time to bring significant numbers of Japanese women into leadership positions – and keep them there. It will also require cultural change in the way women are brought up and socialized. Nancy Snow, professor of diplomacy at Kyoto University, said to NPR, "Women have not really been coached or mentored or encouraged to take on leadership roles. Also, women aren't allowed [culturally] to often show ambition, to sort of telegraph that." (January 13, 2017)

When women do achieve a leadership position, it often doesn't take long to oust them. Several of the women mentioned in this article have been scuttled out of leadership positions in short order, based on scandals that are not clear or necessarily their fault. Renho Murata's tenure as leader of the Democratic Party was short-lived, and her impact in the new Constitutional Democratic Party remains to be seen. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada had to resign after less than a year in office.

The kind of fundamental changes that are necessary in Japanese society take time, and it will be interesting to see whether new awareness of prejudices against women, the culture and mechanisms that perpetuate it, and sexual harassment in the workplace will lead to any policies that will actually improve the situation of Japanese women and bring more of them into positions of leadership and power.

Nancy L. Coleman, Ph. D.