Japanese Women: A Step Behind?

2. Role Models for Women

Q: How does a woman begin to identify her role in society?
Women are realistic. Fathers probably work long hours far from home and return late. Women see fathers don't enjoys themselves. They spend less time with families than they want. Mothers are probably homemakers who might work part-time not far from home or, less likely, full time in offices or factories. They probably don't have careers, staying home while children are young and need care. After children go to school, mothers return to work either part or full time.

Q: How have marriage attitudes changed?
Women who believe marriage means happiness have decreased in the last 25 years. Almost 70% of women in their 20s and 30s support those who stay single. The stigma on divorce has mostly disappeared, yet once married with children, couples avoid divorce. Today the majority of women in their 20s and 30s think unhappy marriages should be resolved sooner, not later.

Q: Who do they see as role models?
Growing up, girls are closer to mothers than fathers. Mothers are the first role models. Usually mothers are homemakers. Young women might want careers, different from their mothers, or may realize how hard full-time careers are while bringing up children.

Q: How do the younger generation of women define their role in society?
Women have more options than in the past. Women know corporate success is difficult and a healthy economy determines employment. Talent or ability does not necessarily lead to success. Many women do not want to compete with or model themselves after men with corporate careers. Some set new goals. Others are confused: they know their options, can't choose, and fall back on tradition. A recent survey showed first grade boys wanted to be soccer or baseball players and toy shop owners, but girls chose bride, piano teacher, and florist.

Q: Who manages household accounts in Japanese families?
Multiple survey results show that in over 70% of Japanese families, whether the wife works or not, wives manage household accounts. Wives decide what to buy and how much to pay. Historically this can be traced to the early half of the 20th century when people moving from rural areas to urban centers did not have enough income to live comfortably. Urban wage earners could not easily manage family accounts, so wives took the responsibility. Even after the economy grew, incomes increased, and living standards rose, wives retained rights over household accounts.

Q: How do they train themselves for becoming homemakers and mothers?
Full-time homemaker-mothers are becoming rarer. Although many spend nearly 10 years in traditional roles, they are not trained as in the past. Some still learn flower arranging and tea ceremony at 'culture centers' but lately when they want a tea ceremony or flower arrangement, they simply hire someone. Another change is the boom in 'handmade' quilted bags for sale. Traditionally, mothers quilted and sewed a multitude a variously shaped bags for the children starting school every spring, but today they buy the bags for ¥4,000 ($35) per bag.

Life Cycles

Q: How has the life cycle of Japanese women changed?
Before World War II, women lived to only 50. Now, they live to 80. Today, young women often do not follow their mother's example. They spend a longer time getting educated, working before marriage and having children. They have fewer children. They live at least 30 years after their children have left home. Women spend a longer time caring for parents, spouses and siblings.