Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Written by: Abbey Kruska
Publish Date: December 13th, 2019
Shomuni (English Title: Power Office girls) first hit Japanese television screens in 1998, becoming wildly popular and well-received series, producing several films and specials, and also coming back for a spin-off in 2013.
Shomuni tells the story of 6 corporate women who, due to various reasons often beyond their control, were sent to GA-2, a department known as the "graveyard for office ladies" designed to force those in it to quit by giving them tedious and menial jobs. Through their own strength and unique personalities, the women of GA-2 are able to overcome gender roles and save the company.
Within the creative and colorful story of Shomuni, the office ladies are able to overcome the oppression placed on them by male colleagues, but the reality for women in the Japanese workplace still has a long way to go.
The #KuToo Movement
“Until my university entrance ceremony I had never worn heels or pumps, and I knew they probably hurt, but because business women wear them every day I thought they couldn’t be that bad. Once I put them on I really understood just how uncomfortable and painful they are. I thought, ‘This isn’t something humans should be wearing’.”
The #KuToo movement began when actress-turned-activist Yumi Ishikawa took to twitter to complain about the disparity in dress code between men and women at the funeral home where she worked part-time. To her surprise, the tweet garnered 67,000 likes and 33,000 shares. The name of the movement is a play on the words kutsu meaning shoes and kutsuu meaning pain, all while giving a nod to the Western #MeToo movement which seeks to abolish sexual harassment in the workplace. Ishikawa’s latest petition to the government about laxing workplace dress codes boasts 31,000 signatures.
The Glasses Ban
Though Japan has laws in place for discriminatory behavior in the workplace, these laws fail to acknowledge dress codes. The most recent topic under fire for sexual discrimination is the ban on glasses for women in many firms across Japan. According to the Japan Times, women have been told not to wear glasses because they give a “cold” or “firm” appearance, or simply because they are unsightly.
Again, Japanese women have turned to the internet to take a stand. Twitter continues to reign supreme in Japan, holding 64% of all social media users in Japan -- over 34 million people. Using this platform, people are crying out about the unfairness of the glasses ban, which affects only women. In particular, women with dry eye syndrome or other conditions that prevent them from wearing contacts speak out about the stress and pain of being forced to trade out their glasses.
The #KuToo movement has joined forces with those fighting against the glasses ban, finding comradery in the unfair expectations placed on working women.
“It’s about to be the year 2020 and yet women are being banned from wearing glasses. Japan is too abnormal, it’s crazy. Even Japan, which isn’t a developing country or anything, can't be called a first world country. It’s worse than developing countries.”
Asahi Inoue, a newscaster for NHK, chooses not to wear her glasses for broadcasts because they skew her appearance, but supports the movement against discrimination on female workers. According to an article by NHK, Inoue says, “it’s important for people to question the validity of workplace rules and discuss them. Some may want to avoid arguments, but a workplace where people can dress comfortably and feel positive would be better for everyone.”
Things Are Looking Up
Despite the controversy surrounding these movements, there are also a lot of positive changes happening for women in the Japanese work environment. For example, in 2016, Japan ranked highest in a UNICEF report on paid parental leave available to fathers, with a calculated 30.4 weeks. This is designed to ease the pain of child-rearing on women in Japan.
There is also evidence that show that Abe's so-called "Womenomics", aimed at encouraging women to join the work-force, is working. Since 2014, the employment rate of women in Japan has actually risen above that of the US and other OECD countries. Since the establishment of Womenomics, the number of women who return to the work force after having their first child has gone up by more than one-third.
Japan may be in an ongoing feminist battle, but there is progress happening every day. Japan's corporate women warriors are making waves in their society, and we're looking forward to see the future they make.