Gender Roles of Men and Women in Japan | Guidable

Gender Roles of Men and Women in Japan

By Aika Kaise Dec 6, 2018

1. Ever Thought About What the Gender Roles of Men and Women in Japan Are?




As it is in most other countries, Japan also has roles for men and women. These set roles are however changing in recent years; they are not all the same as in the 1950s. What are these roles and why are they changing recently?

There are many kinds of roles that people face in their daily lives, and it can be roughly divided into 2 categories: work and housework. When you divide it into further, work can be divided into working outside and inside, and housework can be also divided into cooking, cleaning, washing, doing dishes, etc.

Do people assume these roles without any relations to gender?
Or, do people assume it depending on gender? If so, what are the roles for men and women, and how are they separated in Japan?

First of all, there are physical differences between men and women, and this connects directly to the gender role. Let us look at an example of when a child is born to couples. When a woman gets pregnant, several kinds of changes happen to their body, and some might not be able to continue just as they left off before becoming pregnant. If they were working, they may have to consider reducing the amount of work they do in order to look after their babies. Once they give birth, they most likely might not have their own time because they need to nurse the baby.


While men often help with certain aspects of looking after the newly-born, and there are many options for feeding, they are not able to directly breastfeed a baby. Many men can go back to their previous job after the baby is born. They are able to keep working despite the fact the there is a new addition to the family.

Because of this physical difference between men and women, women are more naturally inclined to stay home especially when they become pregnant or after they give birth to the baby, and the men will most likely keep working instead of the women.
As a result, in many cases women will end up having to do the housework. In addition, some men tend to rely on the women and might not have time to participate in the housework.

The above description is the case that can be seen in Japan based on physical differences between men and women.

Is it, however, always the same?
Or, does it change as the time changes?

This article introduces how the roles are separated based on gender in Japan today and what are the differences from what it was 70 years ago.



2. History of Gender Role in Japan


If we look at the role of men and women in the 1950s, it seems to be very different from what it is now.

When we divide the roles into roughly 2 categories: work and housework, work as a role of men and housework as a role of women.
During the 1950s to 1970s, it was a time of high economic growth in Japan, and as a result, many married women quit their jobs because they could still have the same standard or even better standard with their husbands’ salary. Because of this, it was seen as common sense for people in Japan that women stay home and assume a role of homekeeper as well as taking care of the children, while the men worked.

In the 1980s, the high economic growth came to an end, and thus required that women go back to work in order to survive. By the 1990s, the wage at work became lower and lower, and more and more women went back to work to support their husbands.

Now in 2018 compared to the 1950s, the amount of women at work has more than doubled. The rate of women who had a job in 2007 was about 60%, and it is now 69.9% in 2018.

As you can see, women’s role has changed over the years. While the there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in the role of men over the years. Unlike women, in Japan, they generally keep working without much of a break for childrearing.

Now, let us take a more detailed look into the gender role of men and women.


3. Gender Role of Men


As mentioned above, the primary gender role of men is work.
The main reason is throughout their lives, they are rarely forced to remain at home for certain periods, even when they get married and have children. In many households, it is assumed the woman will take this role, and the men the role of bringing in the income.

During the agricultural era, most men had more physical strength than the women, as a result, they assumed the labor work. And during the time of war, the people who took part in the battle were the men, and women stayed home to protect their families and babies. Today woman are mostly exempted from military service, not only in Japan, but all over the world.


4. Gender Role of Women


On the contrary, gender role of women was housework. The main reason is that women have more necessity to stay at home than men especially when they become pregnant.

Men cannot breast-feed a baby, but women do. Because of this physical difference between men and women, women are more likely to stay home to nurse their babies. What is more, because they stay home, they assume take over the housework while they are home. This has become natural to do housework because they face it naturally if they stay at home with their babies.

For example, if the baby has a meal, they need to do dishes, if a baby drops a meal on his or her clothes, they need to the washing, and if a baby drops a meal on the floor, they need to clean. Because of this situation, men thought it was natural that women assume a role of housework.

Nowadays men are also able to nurse their babies from powdered milk, or from stores of mother’s milk, but the number of those who do are small in comparison.

Because women tend to stay home as shown from the explanation above, many people in Japan maintain the idea that working from home is more common in women.



5. Does the Gender Role still Exist in Modern Japan?


The situation is different in each period of history, and certain problems will occur if the way of thinking is always the same; the gender role of men is work and the role of women is housework.

As you can see from the above history more and more women are working these days.

Do you think people in Japan are able to think out of the box to adjust to the situation?

Otherwise, do you think they still keep the stereotype of men at work and women at home?

Actually, it is one of the big social issues in Japan nowadays because many people are not able to think out of the box. It is obvious that people should change their way of thinking depending on each situation, but this is easier said than done.

The matter often heard these days is a husband does not participate in housework although his wife is also holding a full-time job. Why does this happen, and what do you think of the reason?

It can be said because they still keep the stereotype and are not able to change their thinking patterns.

Although the situation is changing, it is not so easy to adjust their way of thinking. Because of this problem, it seems many women are facing the issue where they do not have enough free time for themselves, and many women assume a role of housework after they come back home from work. The situation is heightened if they have babies or children.
In such case, women have to take on both the housework and nursing after coming back home.

To symbolize this situation, the word “Iku-men” in Japanese is often heard recently.

“Iku” means to raise children, and “men” is pretty self explanatory.
The word “Iku-men” is used to praise and applaud men who assume a role of raising their babies or children and supporting their wives, and they are respected especially by women. It can be heard on some TV shows as well, and there are some celebrities who boast the title “Iku-men”.

In Japan, although about 90% of women take childcare leave from work when they give birth, only about 1% of men do in comparison.

This percentage shows a low level of awareness that many women are getting a job nowadays and the situation is changing.
In addition to that, it also shows that many people in Japan still keep the stereotype of men do the work and women do the housework.



6.  Conclusion on Japan and Gender Role for Men and Women


Was it interesting for you to get to know more about the gender roles of men and women in Japan?

As you can see from this article, they have received each role based on their physical differences historically which has slowly evolved overtime, but not enough to keep up with the changing values and ideas of today.

The roles of men was to work outside home because they are suited for physical labor especially prevalent when people lived a self-sufficient lifestyle engaging in agriculture in long time ago.

On the contrary, the role of women was housework and childcare because it was difficult to keep working when became pregnant and gave birth. Because they stayed home to nurse their babies, they naturally took on the housework and this made a stereotype; the gender role of men is work and the one of women is housework and child raising.

These roles, however, are not always appropriate in each occasion which changes based on the trend of the times. Notably, more and more women are getting jobs nowadays in Japan, and the situation is changing.

Therefore, people should change their way of thinking to adjust.
It is, however, not so easy, and many people in Japan still cannot think out of the box although the situation is changing. Are they really aware of it, maybe they don’t have the means to change, or just they don’t want to think about it? In my personal opinion, the answer is the latter one. They do not want to think about it and pretend as if they are not aware because it takes time to change the social systems.

This is shown in the percentage of taking childcare leave at work.
As mentioned above, the percentage of men who take childcare leave is only about 1%, whereas the one of women is about 90% in Japan.
Actually, I was also surprised to know the reality while writing this article! We can see how it is difficult to change a stereotype among people from this percentage.

However, it is shown that they are trying to think differently as the word “Iku-men” is becoming a popular keyword that everyone has their own opinion about. To support 69.9% of women who have a job, more and more “Iku-men” are needed in the recent years.

As you can see from this article, the gender roles between men and women need a balance, and it should not be a burden on the only one side. The social system should also be changed so that it supports and adjusts the balance.

How is the situation in your country?

Do you think it is working towards the gender roles of men and women being equal?

We should not forget to respect each gender, and we should act so that both men and women can share responsibilities equally.

Do you have a different experience to gender roles in Japan?
Let us know how the situation compares in your country. We would love to hear from you.

Aika Kaise / Japan


Curious for more controversial topics in japan about Genders? Read more:

What’s with the Rise of ‘Grass Eating Men’ in Japan?