Land of the rising sister: Japan’s search for gender parity

Rui Matsukawa

TOKYO —

During my journeys in Japan, I’ve met a number of modern Japanese women who represent the nation’s face of gender empowerment in the 21st century.

These women are confident and career-oriented; some are married with children; and they are being recognized for their contributions to society.

Rui Matsukawa epitomizes this group. Matsukawa passed the examination for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA), and joined its ranks in April 1993. In 1997, she received a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.

Matsukawa, a wife and mother of two girls, is now the first director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, MOFA, a position newly established in 2014.

I first met Matsukawa just before she coordinated the kick-off World Assembly for Women in Tokyo (WAW! Tokyo 2014), an event held at the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with keynote speakers that included the Prime Minister himself, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.

The assembly’s motto, “Toward a Society Where Women Shine,” is from Abe’s words at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when he said that, “Creating an environment in which women find it comfortable to work, and enhancing opportunities for women to work and to be active in society is no longer a matter of choice for Japan.”

Abe’s presence and exceptionally long participation at WAW! Tokyo — he and his wife Akie were present for one and a half days — reinforced the belief, shared by attendees, that he is not just paying lip service to women’s issues. He is truly committed to women’s empowerment.

Matsukawa has her own tale of finding her voice in society. “Actually, I was a shy girl when I was little,” she says. “I never imagined that I would like to speak in front of many people.”

Because she didn’t like to raise her hand in class, her outgoing mother made a big black paper hat and arranged for Matsukawa to perform at a community center as a magician in order to help her overcome some of that shyness.

What changed her persona and allowed her to shine in public, however, was her best friend from a childhood spent in her hometown of Nara.

This girl was always putting up her hand and saying, “I think . . .” She had an opinion and was very bold and active. “I was so impressed by her that I thought, ‘This is also possible for me,’ ” Matsukawa recalls. “She was like a [role] model for me.”

Surprisingly, although the pair were in school together in Nara for just one year, the impact this friend had on Matsukawa serves as an example of how, even at a very young age, women can serve as role models for each other, sometimes without even knowing it.

When Matsukawa sat for the MOFA exam, out of a total of about 700 applicants, just one or two women passed out of 28 finalists. At that time, it was easy for women to feel discouraged or intimidated, Matsukawa says.

Fortunately, in her year, four women passed. “It was [a] historically high [number],” she says and laughs. Today, the pass ratio is two-thirds to one-third men to women, representing a significant improvement in women’s participation in MOFA.

Strong negative stereotypes about the gender gap in Japan persist outside the country, however, and women’s representation in political and business leadership in the nation remains poor.

But this is not just a numbers game; it is broader and deeper. That explains the upcoming WAW! Tokyo 2015 topic choices: “Work Life Management,” “Change with Men,” and “The Difficulties Shared by Women throughout the World,” to name only three.

With a family and a profession, Matsukawa, unlike many women in Japan and elsewhere, has enjoyed a relatively trouble-free career. “I never feel like I’m being mistreated [at MOFA] because I’m a woman,” she says.

Where the disadvantage comes is in the balance between the private and public space, which is a common experience for most Japanese women.

In Japan, women do the heavy lifting in family life, as they do in many parts of the world. The responsibilities related to childrearing fall almost exclusively into the woman’s lap. If you also have a full-time career, as Matsukawa does, that means having to do two jobs: one paid, one not.

In Matsukawa’s case, she never thought about the career–family life dichotomy. “You can do both, my mother did it,” she says. But this does not mean her life has been without challenges.

“The difficult part,” she confesses, “is whether or not you choose a ‘super career’—this means, are you aiming to be a director, or are you just going to continue in the job [without aiming for the top].”

Indeed, while 70 percent of Japanese women work in either full-time or part-time jobs (after just over a year of the Abe administration, around a million women newly entered the labor market), women in leadership roles account for a smaller ratio, especially when it comes to those seeking both full-time careers and a family life.

This is for a number of reasons, including inflexible employee contracts and the expectation that the women will work overtime.

What’s the solution? “We have to change this work–life balance,” Matsukawa says. “It’s not only harmful to women, but also men. [Indeed], more and more Japanese men are [often] faced with taking care of their elderly parents, which means that [some] men [may] require more reasonable, flexible work hours, as do [many] women. It’s probably Prime Minister Abe’s top priority,” she adds.

For positive change to occur, the whole population has to play its part, Matsukawa believes.

“We want to change the working style. Being more productive in a shorter time is not just about women. We have to leave behind the past model: the man working crazily until late at night to support the family.

“That was fine when we had an expanding economy. We have to change the model now, to [one in which] men and women work together more efficiently and with greater productivity. We’re talking about a quality of life for the elderly, disabled, [and] foreigners to feel safe and sustain their living. That’s Japan’s model for the next phase—[an improved quality of life].”

Indeed, “[Japan’s] changing already because men don’t earn as much money now as they used to,” Matsukawa explains. “Whether the government does something or not, the Japanese economy demands that more women enter the labor market in order to sustain it.

So change will occur inevitably.

The point is to bring about a ‘good’ change. More women should take roles in decision-making positions.” Like Matsukawa, my sense is that change is coming to Japan, one way or another.

The second year of WAW! Tokyo, which Matsukawa’s office is overseeing, will take place in late August.

While last year’s conference was career-oriented, this year’s themes are more inclusive, with such topics as the difficulties of single mothers, girl’s education, women’s roles in peace and security, and women and science—even a table with college students will be added.

And men will make up 30 percent of the participants. For Matsukawa and others, this year’s gathering really will be “WAW” for all.

Dr Nancy Snow is a speaker, university lecturer, and author who has been published in outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian. She is currently in Japan as a Social Science Research Council Abe Fellow, completing her next book, “Japan: The Super Nation Brand.”

  • 8

    Deborah Grant

    Exactly. We are not here to imitate a failing paradigm. Women must forge a new path--together with men--for a more compassionate work place and a more efficient work-life balance.

  • 9

    inshikoku

    This is a good read, about someone with some unpretentious good sense.

    A pity people like Matsukawa-san cannot so easily replace the ossan oligarchy parading around sometimes opening their mouths to utter stupid things.

  • 5

    CrazyJoe

    Japan needs to have bold leaders to take bold actions like empowering women. If Japan can get more women to participate in the workforce and let them have the opportunity to rise to position of leadership, it will help Japan greatly. Difficult and challenging times need boldness and unorthodox methods to overcome challenging problems. This is a no-brainer. It's time to emancipate Japanese women.

  • 9

    Moonraker

    “We have to change this work–life balance,”

    You know what? I have been hearing this for 28 years. By now it sounds like another empty slogan.

  • 2

    NathalieB

    Yes but HOW does she do it? That all important question is not answered in this article. Is she leaving the office at 5 every day? Doubt it! So if shes working overtime, who is picking up the girls, feeding them, helping them with their homework, getting them ready for bed? No criticism - just wondering how she does it, because Im betting she`s not doing it alone.

  • 12

    cleo

    Yes but HOW does she do it? That all important question is not answered in this article.

    Some of us would say it was the most important question. A person getting up at the crack of dawn to prepare packed lunches and breakfast, getting kids ready for daycare/kindy/school and dropping them off on the way to the rat race, rushing back to pick them up again, take them home, feed them, bathe them, listen to their day, help them with their homework, tuck them into bed then rushing round doing the housework, laundry (oops, forgot the shopping), and dropping exhausted into bed gone midnight only to do the whole thing over again next day, is not 'shining', no matter how much they're helping the national economy. Something, somewhere, has to give; either get help with the kids, or go part-time (no fancy executive position for you, then) or cut corners, at work or at home or both, drastically.

    “You can do both, my mother did it,” she says.

    No, you can't, and her mother didn't. No one, male or female, can do two full-time jobs at once - responsibly. It's physically impossible; you simply cannot be in two places at once. If you're a parent working full-time in a regular job, you are getting someone else to look after/raise your children. If you're the kind of person who goes stir-crazy stuck at home with infants, then getting someone else to care for them while you work is likely better for the kids, and for you; but that doesn't mean a person who has the desire and the wherewithal to look after and raise their own children themselves is not 'shining'. Far from it.

  • 7

    Nancy Snow

    Hi Cleo. You are right. I could not answer all the questions. I'm writing at the mercy of word length and editorial cuts. My original piece was twice this length, but that's what every writer must accept. Everyone's comments are greatly appreciated and I will try to better address them in a book I'm writing about Japan's image and reputation in the world. Work-life balance change is what I've heard for the last several years as well. Much work yet to be done.

  • -3

    jerseyboy

    Matsukawa, a wife and mother of two girls, is now the first director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, MOFA, a position newly established in 2014.

    Tha fact that MOFA, the equivalent of the U.S. State Department just started being at all intetested in gender equality in 2014 says all you need to know about this issue. At least four decades behind the times.

  • 4

    Yubaru

    It would be appreciated if you could answer the questions posed to you from Cleo here, no one is asking for an in depth blow-by-blow but many of us are aware of the realities of what it takes a career woman in Japan to raise children and your response is in a way a slap in the face.

    Simple questions you can answer here,

  • 1

    zobo

    Dr. Snow, thank you for covering this issue. When you are able to speak with some of your contacts in the government, particularly in MHLW or MoF, or people doing corporate lobbying here, could you ask how they intend to square the circle of making a society "in which women find it comfortable to work, and enhancing opportunities for women to work and to be active in society" while simultaneously shunting many of those same women, as well as many men, into dead-end contract positions with no chance for promotion or increased income?

  • 0

    Wc626

    Good read. Matsukawa sets a good example. Wonder what them old-fashioned thinking columnist over at sankei shimbun write about her career minded work ethic.

  • 3

    Wakarimasen

    Women rule in Japan. Way harder working and more efficient and cleverer than most of the blokes i work with.

  • -2

    Burning Bush

    Are woman really better off in so-called Gender Equal countries?

  • 2

    TrevorPeace

    A good read. And a respectful answer from Dr. Snow to Cleo's comments. As a writer I sympathize with the good doctor, too - editors will ask for a thousand words and you write twice that much because the topic requires depth, then the editors cut and chop; that's their job. So, you write a book. And they do it again!

    But this article is one of the best I've read in JT for a long time.

  • 2

    samuraitim22@gmail.com

    I wrote a book on this (women in Japan, gender equality, discrimination of women) 5 years ago. I attempted to get it translated then published--no luck. The male publisher (Japanese man) refused to talk to me once he learned the contents of the book. So it is in Japan. However, a lot of what I read now is old news for I have addressed many (if not all) of these already. CEST LA VIE!!!

  • -4

    Tessa

    A person getting up at the crack of dawn to prepare packed lunches and breakfast, getting kids ready for daycare/kindy/school and dropping them off on the way to the rat race, rushing back to pick them up again, take them home, feed them, bathe them, listen to their day, help them with their homework, tuck them into bed then rushing round doing the housework, laundry (oops, forgot the shopping), and dropping exhausted into bed gone midnight only to do the whole thing over again next day, is not 'shining', no matter how much they're helping the national economy.

    And just how long does this hectic routine last, in a woman's lifetime? Some people make it sound like decades.

  • -2

    Tessa

    My wife is on year 4, with another 13 to go.

    With all due respect, I've just spent a day with a bunch of happy housewives practicing their English and demonstrating their tea-making skills. I kept asking what those strange noises in the background were: they turned out to be the dishwasher and the tumble-dryer. Most middle-class Japanese housewives do very little housework at all. The care, feeding, and educating of their (one or two) children are largely outsourced to schools and cram schools. Their elders are shunted into old people's homes at first opportunity. However, they are skilled at doing the "taihen!" thing and making out that somehow their lives consist of carrying well water and washing clothes at the river. The ones who do work at real jobs are largely doing it as a hobby (and frankly I wish they'd not bother, they are more nuisance than they are worth).

    I am not buying this oppressed Japanese woman thing at all! Anyone who does either doesn't live here, or is a complete fool.

  • 1

    misunderstood

    Its easy to talk but when it comes time to doing that's another hurdle people won't change because the majority of the women are use to accepting the roles they are in. My friends parents treat their boys different from their daughters, if their is going to be a change women have to start changing the mindset of their boys as they are being raised if not nothing will change.

  • 3

    Yubaru

    As for oppressed, I don't think my wife is oppressed, she enjoys keeping a good household. And I love having a good household, so it works for all of us.

    Is this an assumption? Many Japanese women will acquiesce to their spouse. Have you ever even thought to ask her if what she is doing is what SHE wants?

    I've been married for close to 30 years to a Japanese woman, she felt she was doing her "duty" taking care of our children and being a housewife, BUT she wanted to work, be a part of something other than just our home.

    She works full time, and I TOTALLY support her and we BOTH take care of our family and house, inclusive of everything, cleaning, shopping whatever....

    Dont underestimate or take for granted something, it ends up causing problems in the long run.

  • 2

    shallots

    I always find that the worst propaganda comes out of the Japan Foundation which sucks up huge amounts of our tax Yen. Here it is the case with this book title: “Japan: The Super Nation Brand.” The sycophancy in this article is just too rich. These are the kind of people who believe, by promoting a false idea of reality, that they are supporters of Japan. In reality, they really hurt regular Japanese people who are not seeing real improvement but are being squeezed. I don't buy into this hogwash that Abe "is truly committed to women’s empowerment" or that changing the work-life balance "is Prime Minister Abe’s top priority." Furthermore, the gender gap is not a stereotype. It's a reality that Japanese women live with every day. Talk is cheap.

  • 2

    ticaileana

    When the woman works on building a career, then can afford to have hired help to take care of the home...It is the way women around the world do it.. My mother did it, worked full time and always had a maid doing the hard house chores...when my Mom came home, the house was clean and the food made..She could relax with the 5 children and the husband..The weekends were free to all the family to share time and have fun.

    By the way, we were not rich...just a regular working class family...buy My mom reasoned that she made per hour enough to contribute to the house finances, including the help, and have the best of both worlds..

    Once the daughters were a bit older, we helped with the house chores and taking care of the younger siblings.

    It is all a matter of being organized and having your priorities straight..

    For me things are different, as I am lucky to have understanding husband that shares all the chores with me, so I can work outside the house and have my career. We both take care of the house and our kid and enjoy more free time together that way..

  • 0

    bruinfan

    Part of the problem is the extremes that the big corporations force people to choose between. Some woman are able to run their own businesses in a more flexible environment.

  • 2

    cleo

    First of all, a thank you to Dr. Snow for taking the time to read the comments here.

    Personally I don't see this as a particularly Japanese issue; women the world over have to make choices when it comes to raising a family and holding down a job, and I do not think there are any easy answers. Each woman, each family needs to make the choices that work for their particular situation.

    Tessa -

    And just how long does this hectic routine last, in a woman's lifetime?

    No time at all, if she has any sense. Either pay for hired help, look after the kids yourself, or don't have kids in the first place. (This raises problems of its own, of course, with a low birth rate and falling population; if Abe wants to raise the birthrate, he needs to stop suggesting that full-time mothers don't 'shine'). For the women who work because they need to and not because they want to, the hectic routine lasts from the birth of the first child to the time the youngest child untangles him/herself from her apron strings. Could be anything from 10 to 13 years for a single child, longer if there are multiple kids and depending on how they are spaced and how quickly or slowly they mature.

    Do you have a problem with your housewives being happy? A touch of jealousy, maybe?

    Most middle-class Japanese housewives do very little housework at all. The care, feeding, and educating of their (one or two) children are largely outsourced to schools and cram schools. Their elders are shunted into old people's homes at first opportunity.

    With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about. Maybe the thought has never struck you that the housewives who cannot afford all the handy electric gadgets, who are not outsourcing the care of their kids to the schools and who have not shoved the old folks into an institution, don't have time for your leisurely afternoon English lessons? If you go to a restaurant and it's full, do you assume that no one ever eats home-made meals at home? if you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, do you assume that no one ever travels by rail or air? So why assume that the small, filtered band of ladies you make your living off - the ones with a bit of free time and enough spare cash to pay you - are representative of the whole of Japanese society?

    ticaileana - Again with all due respect, if your mother could afford hired help, you were not, by definition, a 'regular working-class family'. :-) Working-class mothers don't work to have the best of both worlds, they work to put food on the table and shoes on their kids' feet.

    Still, what you say backs up my point that it's impossible to do two full-time jobs. Your mother paid someone else to do one of her jobs.

    Strangerland -

    expecting a woman to work is just as discriminatory as expecting her not to work.

    Hear, hear. (and running a home, raising kids, etc., isn't really work anyways, is it, Tessa?)

  • 0

    karlrb

    The Information Center in Sapporo at Hokkaido University has a very nice large sign in it that quotes an important gentleman, "Boys, be ambitious". I wondered if this university was a boys only school. I'm fairly sure that no one at the school had even considered the somewhat sexist nature of the quote. It was just another small indicator of deep rooted bias. I am sure they are changing, but the fact that the sign is still there, to me, indicates there is still room for improvement. This is just my personal opinion as an American expat who is happy to be living in Japan.

  • 5

    jonellepatrick

    First of all, why are these discussions always about the choices WOMEN have to make? Last time I checked, it took two to make a kid, so why aren't we talking about the things MEN ought to be doing so they are able to a) share the financial responsibility of supporting the family with their wife and b) have time to do more to help raise the kids than take them out in the stroller once a week on Sunday afternoons? Men have to push for change (and accept it) too, if women are going to "shine."

    And second, a few years ago, I noticed something interesting about the Japanese families that send their children to the American School, and (contrary to the optimism in this article) I think it's pretty telling about how little things are actually changing in Japan: the families at ASIJ all had a lot more daughters than sons. That's odd, I thought, until I began talking to them and discovered that of course they had sons too. But when they returned from living abroad, they slapped the boys straight back into the Japanese school system, so they could rise through the Japanese universities and get themselves plum jobs and be set for life. They put their girls into the American school, so they could keep up their English and head off to foreign universities. That way, if their daughters wanted a career, they'd be primed to work for foreign companies in which they actually had a chance of being promoted to positions of power. And if they chose to get married, chances were they'd marry a foreigner, who would pitch in like a partner when it came to running the household and raising the kids. These families had seen what it's like to live in a society where their daughters had nearly as much chance of succeeding at a career as their sons, and they were doing everything they could to make sure their girls didn't get stuck in Japan.

  • -1

    jcapan

    Spot on jonelle.

  • -3

    shallots

    But what about this:

    Abe’s presence and exceptionally long participation at WAW! Tokyo — he and his wife Akie were present for one and a half days — reinforced the belief, shared by attendees, that he is not just paying lip service to women’s issues. He is truly committed to women’s empowerment.

    Doesn't that convince you that Japan is selling a superior brand? I think Snow's idea, underwritten by the Japan Foundation and our tax Yen, is that if everyone gets on board and supports Japan inc., good times are on the way.

  • 0

    Yubaru

    Doesn't that convince you that Japan is selling a superior brand?

    Not no, but hell no! If you get taken in by this and think it's the rule, then you have been fooled.

  • 1

    souka

    the word "shine" is not the right one to use, it's a little discriminatory against women. but maybe it is inherent term in a place where "cute" "kawaii" things are quite expected and/or worshiped.

    of course, women are part of the economy, they consist maybe more than half the population. and that half of the population need to work to contribute, to drive the economy forward. women are intelligent and capable to get things done, just like men, they don't require themselves to "shine", do they?

  • 0

    cevin7

    So, how is comfortable 'work-life balance' going to be realized? It's possible only if giant companies and conglomerates stopped to seek extra profit, isn't it? In that way, the amount of jobs becomes less. Otherwise, the idea of work-life balance sounds unfeasible to me.

  • 2

    kohakuebisu

    I think it's important to note that the work-life balance of parents is affected not only by workplaces but also by schools and extracurricular activities that place too many demands on parents' time and energy.

    We are in inaka, and many schools and extracurricular activities are fanatically run on the assumption that one parent does not work and is available for volunteering and/or taking the kids (who may have brothers and sisters doing other things) along to as many extra practices and shiai and recitals as the club can arrange. For sports clubs, this flies in the face of evidence that it is better for young people to play multiple sports, even for the sport they are specializing in.

  • 0

    shallots

    So, how is comfortable 'work-life balance' going to be realized? It's possible only if giant companies and conglomerates stopped to seek extra profit, isn't it? In that way, the amount of jobs becomes less. Otherwise, the idea of work-life balance sounds unfeasible to me.

    How do Germans manage to have such a successful economy taking long vacations and working 35 or 40 hours a week? I don't think the problem is profit. I think the problem is institutional. University students are just as inefficient as salarymen - they take 15 classes in Japan and often ride the train for 3 hours-a-day, plus part-time jobs and circles. No, I think it's very difficult to ask Japanese bureaucrats, managers, elites to have people do less. I'm guessing, though someone here might have experience to the contrary, that if you try asking Japanese elites to have people, people in any institution, do less of anything they'll look at you like you're crazy. Plus, if men (and women) start coming home at 6pm and weekends and taking vacations with their family...well, that'll change relationships, won't it? Do people really want that change? Do husbands and wives really want to be best friends like they are (or try to be) in many western countries? I don't know the answer to this question but people are pretty well habituated to be busy and inefficient in Japan and asking them to change is no small matter.

  • -1

    Tessa

    I live with a housewife who wakes up at 6 am to start the day, and finishes at around 10pm.

    Wow, that sounds eerily like the daily structure of the average salaryman! Except as far as I know, the average salaryman doesn't get to retire after 20 or so years, and spend the rest of his life taking hula and eikaiwa lessons. And to add insult to injury, he has to pay taxes to support the people who don't.

    Maybe the thought has never struck you that the housewives who cannot afford all the handy electric gadgets, who are not outsourcing the care of their kids to the schools and who have not shoved the old folks into an institution, don't have time for your leisurely afternoon English lessons?

    In light of the fact that 90% of Japanese people regard themselves as middle-class, I find it difficult to believe that so many of them do not have access to all these handy gadgets (like smartphones? They all seem to have those!) or social services.

    If you go to a restaurant and it's full, do you assume that no one ever eats home-made meals at home?

    No, when I go to a restaurant and it's full, I usually marvel at the fact that 99% of the patrons are women!

  • 2

    Nancy Snow

    Hi again and thank all for reading this piece and filling in much needed gaps. "Japan: The Super Nation Brand" is just a working title for a book. It came from a talk I gave at Temple University Japan. It's not necessarily what the final book title will be. This type of article is not an opinion piece and it is more positive in tone. I've written many critical opinion pieces, such as "Branding Japan Beyond Abe" or "Uncool Japan." I would invite anyone to read my work beyond just judging me based on this one article. I'm known as a critical political communications writer and I cover propaganda and public diplomacy studies. I've been told that the funding for the Abe Fellowship is a private family donation from what Japan's longest serving foreign minister, Shintaro Abe, left to Japan Foundation, so it is not coming directly from the Japanese taxpayers. I'm very committed to producing work that generates dialogue, debate, dissent, and most important, contributes to the betterment of Japanese society. I'm not just passing through Japan to get another book published. I live here too.

  • 0

    shallots

    @Nancy Snow Thanks for clarifying that the Abe fellowship comes solely from the Abe family administered through the Japan Foundation. I'm not sure if that gives you more or less of an appearance of independence. BTW: The Japan Foundation did receive 12,495,049,000 in tax-payer support in 2013 (just FYI). I can't understand how, as an academic, you can be so sanguine about changes in work style given that these things have been discussed for years with questionable substantive change in working people's lives. It is not negative to be realistic about the problems people face or critical of the present government's record. In fact, it might give you more credibility to stay away from the cheerleading. But I have to admit I've no interest in "Japan branding" or the bureaucrats who come up with this fluff.

  • -1

    presto345

    The Information Center in Sapporo at Hokkaido University has a very nice large sign in it that quotes an important gentleman, "Boys, be ambitious". I wondered if this university was a boys only school. I'm fairly sure that no one at the school had even considered the somewhat sexist nature of the quote. It was just another small indicator of deep rooted bias. I am sure they are changing, but the fact that the sign is still there, to me, indicates there is still room for improvement. This is just my personal opinion as an American expat who is happy to be living in Japan.

    The quote is from William Clark who helped found SAC, Sapporo Agricultural College in 1876. The students were all male. I detect nothing sexist in 'Boys be ambitious', his departing words when leaving the next year. Deep rooted bias seems rather irrelevant in this instance.

  • 1

    Nancy Snow

    @shallots, I'm not so sanguine about government-sponsored nation branding programs. I worked for the U.S. Government and my first book is a critical take on the U.S. Information Agency. In the case of Cool Japan, it's best if the government doesn't take the lead there. I'd rather see funding of literature, the arts, indie films. Whether or not we like it, the Abe government has stepped up global public relations' initiatives and it is these initiatives that I'm examining in my book. I'm not writing as a cheerleader but as a public scholar who has interviewed hundreds of Japanese, many of whom are very critical and express a hope for a people-centered, decentralized approach to telling Japan's story to the world. Japan's people are the greatest underutilized asset to nation branding. Branding is also a term that I'm not altogether comfortable with but it is used in the literature to describe a country's reputation. It's not just products that get "branded" these days, but also people, policies, regions, cities (Tokyo), etc.

  • 0

    shallots

    @NancySnow Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. I very much appreciate your willingness to engage with anonymous commenters. I'm not sure I would do it because it can be such a minefield but I think it really is generous and helpful. You are aware that the Japanese government has a new policy of getting universities to drop humanities programs? I am interested if you have evidence of significant change in work-schedules and personal vacation allotments. I don't believe gender equality can be achieved without increased efficiency and increased free time. I mean, "finish your work and go home." Also, I'm not seeing a willingness to take even small steps toward change in my industry: education. University education in Japan is basically old-style "salaryman" training. In other words, fulfill many obligations; little freedom or responsibility. This worked well when someone could enter a manufacturing company and work their way up a ladder for 30 years. But this might still work as far as some people are concerned. I don't have a lot of fancy company president friends. I know people who are professors, but I also have many friends who work in shops or low-salaried workers. I'm not seeing much change there in the work concept. But I hope I'm wrong. That would be nice. To digress a little, I tend to think the incompetence of the DPJ ruined an opportunity for Japan to siphon power away from bureaucrats and the old guard. Finally, will Abe's policies result in more freedoms and a better quality of life for individuals? That is more important to me than the fate of Japanese branding. How are categories of women, say single mothers, faring under this administration?

  • 0

    Nancy Snow

    @shallots, I'd like to follow up sometime with you because these are such good issues you are bringing up, among all the other comments here. I'm just thankful that I was able to write about gender empowerment and get this much interest in the topic. Thanks to The Journal, Japan Today and to all the readers here.

  • 1

    Frank Newell

    I can't tell you from a mother's perspective but after my father's death she continued to work full time in the medical field. A lot of how she managed it was we got through it together. I had to learn to be very independent as a child. I was taught to cook for myself when I was 10 and still enjoy cooking to this day. Learning to occupy myself quietly was a struggle but once a child learns to be patient, self sufficient and proactive it not only makes their life better for years to come, it takes a huge load off of a single parent. Believe me when I say it's not neglect. Learning the mentality needed to do things for myself was a great gift.

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Continuing Education: Seminars and Workshops in April

Continuing Education: Seminars and Workshops in April

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Undergraduate: Information session (April 9)

Undergraduate: Information session (April 9)

Temple University, Japan CampusContinuing Education / MBA

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