Japanese Language Blog

Japan’s Unchanging Gender Gap Posted by on Mar 5, 2021 in Culture, Vocabulary

March is Women’s History Month (女性史月間 joseishi gekkan).  The equality issue was widely discussed when Yoshiro Mori, the former Chair of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, made discriminatory (差別的 sabetsuteki) remarks about women (see my blog “How Not to Apologize – Mori of Tokyo Olympics.) Every newspaper and every TV news talked how outdated (時代遅れ jidaiokure) our society was.  Japan ranked 121stout of 153 countries (IMF 3/2020) as far as the gender gap is concerned.

So what should I start with?

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

Japan is the only country that requires a married couple to have the same last name – either husband or wife’s last name.  This has been a problem for women who have established themselves professionally.   I know many in academia who use two last names combined.  But legally, they cannot do so. Tamayo Marukawa, the Minister of State for Gender Equality as well as the Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, along with 50 other members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP 自由民主党  jiyuminshutou), sent a letter asking members of the local assemblies not to support a policy change (Tokyo Shimbun 2/27/2021) approving of a married couple having different family names.  Ironically (皮肉なことにhinikunakotoni), Marukawa is her maiden name (旧姓kyusei).  She has used her maiden name for 13 years although she changed her last name legally upon marriage.  And why do these 50 disapprove (不賛成であるfusanseidearu) of a married couple using separate last names (called 夫婦別姓fufu bessei) enough to pressure their local assemblies members?

Reasons Cited by these 50 LDP Members

  • Japan has 戸籍 (koseki) a family registry, categorized by a family name.The group fears that a family-centered social unit may be jeopardized.
  • The stability of a child’s last name may be lost.

Controversy in the Media

Some women choose not to get married to keep their last name. A TV station interviewed one of those couples who decided not to get married and invited a former LPD member of the House of Representatives (衆議院議員shuigin giin), Shizuka Kamei for rebuttal. Kamei told the male partner that he was not truly loved.

One of the 50 LPD members is Mio Sugita, an outspoken denier of the existence of gender inequality in Japan, and an anti-LBGT supporter.  During the Diet (国会kokkai) about a married couple having a different family name, she was believed to have yelled “then don’t get married!” LPD refused to investigate and identify who yelled.

Most recently, she was on the news again when she said “Women can tell a lie as many times as they want” in the LPD meeting on sexual violence on September 25, 2020.  She initially denied having made such comments, but after she was called by the LPD Policy Research Council Chairman (政調会長seichou kaichou), she admitted, on her blog, that she had made the comments, apologizing that she had no intention to disparage women.

A group that supports women who have been sexually assaulted submitted 136,000 signatures to the LPD office asking Sugita to apologize, rescind her comments, and resign. LPD refused to accept the signatures brought to the LPD office by the group because the group had no appointment to visit the office.

It is easy to recognize childish (幼稚な youchina) explicit discriminatory comments like those made by Sugita. I believe it is necessary for Japanese to learn to recognize implicit bias (無意識的なバイアスmuishikitekina baiasu) in order to change society from the root.  I wrote “A Restaurant that is Gentle to Women” before.  It is an implicit bias to say that women do not eat big meals. But nobody has raised an issue as far as I know.  When the media was heating up its pressure to push Mori to resign, they talked about gender equality.  But they keep on broadcasting gourmet shows saying “popular among women because they offer salad.”  Hello?? Until we recognize implicit bias, the status of women in Japan will not be able to change.


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  1. Jess:

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am always interested in knowing about women’s rights in Japan. This was very eye opening.

    • eriko1:

      @Jess Everyday, there is an interesting, unbelievable, sad news. It will take a long time for Japan to progress… Thank you for your comment!

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