Good Wife, Wise Mother – Women in Japan

Japan 2011 – 2016

Women’s opportunity to participate more in society has to a large degree been affected by the higher life expectancy, lower birth rates, better educational possibilities and extensive urbanization in Japan. The economic growth the last few decades has to a large extent influenced these socio-economic changes.
 On the other hand, the still old-fashioned work marked, the school system, the media and inefficient equality laws reinforce a society where women have limited options, a choice that too often has to be made between family life or a career. 
Prime minister Shinzo Abe has is recent years said he wants to build a society where women can “shine” as part of his “Abenomics’ and growth strategy for Japan. But a report for 2016 records a significant widening of the gender gap for certain professions. Seemingly the old mindset and gender patterns are reproducing themselves within the Japanese society.


Mai Yano (25) is marrying Ken Yoshida (27). One of the staff at the Shinto shrine in Kobe explains the ceremony. Her mother, Chie (53), her sister Yuki (27) and her brother in law Kosuke (27) are preparing.

According to the patriarchal Ie-system a couple has to decide upon one sir name after marriage. I most cases the husband’s family name is used in the Koseki, the family register.


Yuki (8) looks out from the balcony and down on the sports stadium below their apartment building in Tokyo. Sometimes, when the sky is clear, they can even see Fuji-san in the distance. Some argue that the genesis of the mountains name comes from the language of the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido and means “fire-woman-god”.


Mai Yano (21) lives at home in Kobe with her mother, Chie (48) and sister, Yuki (22). It’s rare to move out before marriage in Japan, unless you move due to career decisions. Her father, Masaaki (50) lives and works in the real estate business in Tokyo and spends most of his time there. One weekend a month his job pays for his ticket home to see his family.


Kanako Satosaki (35) put Yuki (3) and Mizuki (3 months) first at all times. The translation company she works at has introduced maternity leave for women. Many women choose to leave their jobs when they get married and have children and 60% leave their job permanently after having their first child.


Kazuyo Inui (42) “I don’t think men and women are equal in Japan. However, I think we must not forget about the age-old “Yamato-nadeshiko” (which symbolizes traditional Japanese women with humble and modest behavior).”


Manami (28) is running the dance company Tokyo Party Time, instructing, choreographing, as well as managing thirty female go-go-dancers.

To remember the night at the club XEX Nihonbashi Manami makes sure the girls pose for a picture in the backstage area. They like to refer to themselves as show girls that preform “sexy dance”.


A pedestrian crossing in Shibya, Tokyo.
The phrase ryosai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) refers to the traditional Japanese ideal women who tends to the home, cooking and fostering of children. She makes sure the hard working husband has a comfortable workweek. The old phrase is still relevant today as many women put great pride in being a good wife and a wise mother.


Mai (21) has officially been dating Ken Yoshida (22) for about a week. He attends a different university, and they both have part time jobs, so it’s hard to find time to meet. A lot of the dating time is spent on the phone or on Skype. Though it’s rare to show affection in public, the new couple can’t help themselves giving each other a good night kiss outside Mai’s apartment block.


On a normal day Kanako Satozaki usually gets up at 4 am in the morning to make breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next day, before she brings Mizuki to the kindergarten and commute to work. Her husband, Shin works in the sports industry, and after starting his own company he has had even less time with the family.