Although, politicians have acknowledged that a new social system is required in which women can maximize their full potential, Japan still shows one of the world’s worst records for women in managerial positions or in politics and seems very reluctant to change workplace and tradition. Traditionally, the Japanese society had clearly defined gender roles which had strongly been influenced by Confucianism until World War II. Based on the Confucian hierarchical structures, the social dominance of men created a patriarchal system: men were expected to only be loyal to their lords, whereas women were expected to be loyal to their families and husbands. While being responsible for all the household duties, including the rather important task of controlling the budget, restraint, respect, chastity and modesty were the qualities deemed as appropriate for a woman. Except for unpaid labor on family farms, women were generally not supposed to have jobs after the marriage.
However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, gender roles began to shift when Japanese men were away serving in the army and women suddenly in full control of their families’ lives, household income and food supply. Even though initially restrained by cultural conventions, the government was - in the absence and loss of men - eventually forced to encourage women to work in industrial jobs, such as aircraft manufacturing, munitions, electrical factories, pharmaceuticals and textiles. After the war, with the economy bankrupt, Japanese people had lost their faith in social traditions and values, leaving a social, mental and economic vacuum which created an openness for new ideas. The U.S. American occupiers introduced many reforms to the Japanese society and women were granted rights that were equivalent to those in Western societies. Yet, the post-war years were only a starting point: social change has since been a slow, gradual movement and by no means has Japan reached an equal society.
Many Japanese women still feel the social pressure of being a good house wife while struggling to develop their full potential in other spheres of life, such as hobbies or work. But with rising levels of education, an increasing number of scholars and activists concerned with feminism, as well as an actual need for strong women in the Japanese society, the concept of equality is highly likely to be pushed further forwards.