The role of female characters in anime – does it create or maintain inequality?

 This is a more in-depth look at ideas of womens inequality in Japanese society in relation to anime, partly based on my own research and studies. Also, this is a partial argument, the post is a condensed version of a longer article that I have recently written, and unfortunately I have left out a lot of material in order to make it work as a blog post. I will likely add more posts over time looking at other aspects of this topic.

There has been a significant amount of discussion on ideas surrounding whether or not anime is inherently sexist with its portrayals of female characters along with the whole notion of ecchi and fanservice. In general I don’t believe that anime is inherently sexist, however, this post will not be looking at this, rather it seeks to explore ideas of women’s inequality in Japanese society and how this relates to female characters in anime. Women in Japan either socially or in employment do not have true equality. We see this in social terms with reference to ideas of a woman’s place in society, associated with domestic work, cleaning, cooking, childcare and generally looking after the household.

Men, on the other hand, are traditionally viewed as the ‘bread winners’ who work long hours to keep the household going (Brinton, 1993). This attitude is not unique to Japan, but we see similar attitudes in Britain, America and many other countries. The proper role of women, which has been defined during Meiji period by the slogan ‘good wife, wise mother’ (ryosai kenbo), and is set in opposition to that of men, who are regarded as models for action and rational enlightenment (Goldstein-Gidoni, 1999; Uno, 1993). Female anime characters are often portrayed as weaker, whereas the male characters do the heavy lifting and general ‘manly’ jobs (there are of course exceptions). This representation of the sexes and the clear differentiations of their places in society is still strong and, while there has been equality legislation been introduced, such ideas continue to play a very influential role in how women and viewed and portrayed in Japanese society.

Now, with regards to anime, we see many (although not all) female characters portrayed as being excellent at domestic chores, with ideas that men are incapable of making their own lunches, whereas having a girl/woman bring you a handmade Bento box is a sign of deep affection. High school anime are the series where you are most likely to see such characters, and while there are variations, it is most common to see the female characters in domestic roles. Although there are variations on this, such as mecha series like Infinite Stratos where the female characters are the strongest, and yet such series still retain the notion that these characters should still be good at domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning. We often see in anime female characters that are not good at cooking however, with such characteristics being portrayed as negative, which often leads to these characters attempting to learn how to cook.

While women experience many inequalities in Japan, there have been significant inroads made in terms of employment, training, education and wages earned. Japanese women are ‘the most highly educated women in the world’, with a significant number of them attending university (Renshaw, 1999). By the late 90s there were over 300,000 (Renshaw, 1999:4) women in managerial roles, ranging from multi-national corporations to the civil service and governmental jobs (Kimito, 2003; Lo, 1990). There are a significant number of series with all female casts, or female characters in positions of considerable power, yet they are almost an anomaly, where the women become almost too masculine to be truly women.

Characters such as Yakushiji Ryoko, Najika Kisaragi and Mina Tepes however, demonstrate the ability of women to be in positions of power, and are more powerful and successful than many men; however, the amount of power and influence that these characters posses largely depends on the anime, setting and individual character. Such characters, and in particular those from all female casts nevertheless remain interesting since the exhibit the ability of women to maintain positions of considerable power without conforming to the social and cultural norms of Japanese society. Although, they still retain an element of femininity, with all characters being incredibly beautiful and sexy, and often within an implicit understanding of how to use such qualities to their advantage.

Okano (2009) suggests, a popular portrayal of Japanese women is that of ‘victims’, subordinated in a patriarchal society where women have, and continue to be, oppressed by ‘social and cultural norms’ and ‘institutions that deprive them of the pursuit of their aspirations’ (Okano, 2009:5). We are told that they face a significant number of barriers to recruitment, and find it far more difficult than men to find employment in desirable companies. And yet, in anime we continue to see many strong female characters that are far more forceful than the male leads, along with having strong ideals and personalities.

Women in Japanese society are denied high-paying jobs because of a significant number of practices with further institutionalizes discrimination against women. These practices naturalize the notion of women as housewives and domestic units. Under this system only men were expected to maintain long-term employment, and therefore their time intensive training made sense to the company. Women mostly perform routine tasks and sometimes served as ‘flowers of the workplace’ (shokuba no hana), there to brighten up the environment for male workers (Weathers, 2001:201).

We further see this in regards to the highest achievers in anime, where they are considered perfect, not only because of their achievements, but also because they are beautiful, and are good at domestic chores – the super woman of the workplace. These characters may often be very intelligent, and with the right training would be capable of achieving great things, and yet for many, their only wish for the future is to be a wife and be there to care for their future husband once he finishes work. It is the romanticized notion of a women’s place in Japanese society, and very often, even those women who are working (Takahashi Maya from Amagami SS for example) still dream of marrying and ‘settling down’.

Women are usually expected to quit work by their mid- to late twenties, before they can start to earn ‘significant seniority-based pay increases (Weathers, 2001:201). Weathers (2001) further points out that, women re-entering the workforce (Yu, 2005) after marriage, tend to work as low-paid part-timers (pato) rather than as regular employees, which alienates them from promotion, benefits and creates an ‘age-based division of labor (Weathers, 2001:201)’. Pressures for greater equality for women in the Japanese labor market have only gained credibility during the mid to late 90s, and while there is more equality, it still remains quite common on the part of officials and employers to justify the system of working men and nonworking housewives as rational and efficient (Long, 1996; Pharr, 1998:217).

There are numerous female characters in anime that partly conform to the social and cultural norms of society, while maintaining a sense of their own independence, striving for their own goals and aspirations (Edwards, 1988). The classic example from anime is the female protagonist (usually in a high school anime) getting a job as a waitress in a café – very often involving dressing as a maid, thus conforming to certain stereotypes of women’s place in society – while the male characters tend to either get jobs in companies, or perhaps help out with manual labor, and general ‘manly’ tasks.

With the difficulties in finding full time, permanent work, there has also been an increasing concern in Japan that many women are spending far too much time working. In anime such as Hanasaku Iroha we see the power firmly in the hands of the women who run Kissuiso, with the women in that series fully devoted to their work and their careers. Ohana, Nako and Minko are almost oblivious to notions of love and romance, and while they may recognize their existence, they also take a backseat to their jobs.

Sui Shijima and her daughter Satsuki Matsumea (Ohana’s mother) are seen as forsaking their families in the pursuit of their careers, and in Sasuki’s case there is also her inability to care for herself and cook, skills that are considered essential for any women in Japan (and arguably the wider world). The socially and culturally imbedded notions of a women’s role in Japanese society make it significantly more difficult to have a family while maintaining their career. And while we see numerous anime with working women who have families, there is a certain detached quality to them, like they have not devoted themselves properly to the household.

Japanese women however do have agency and have the ability to make their own decisions, to ignore this would be to essentialise the place of women in Japanese society. Women will choose to get a job because it offers a greater sense of independence, and is often the first chance many Japanese women have to live by themselves. Tsukasa in Amagami SS for example talks about wanting to go to university with Junichi and we know that she eventually marries him, yet she also says that she will not lower her standards, and that if Junichi does not get the right grades then she will go university without him. While she does in a sense conform to classic ideas of women in Japan by eventually marrying her high school sweetheart, there is also an implicit understanding that she has her own ambitions and aspirations for life, and that no matter how much she may love Junichi, it will not get in the way of her dreams.

These decisions are consciously made in contrast with their ‘immediate circumstances, social conditions and the workings and constraints of society’ (Okano, 2009:274)’. Japanese women therefore exhibit agency in their own decisions, these decisions are however, made within a specific framework and set of social and cultural constraints (Ogasawara, 1998). This is further demonstrated through anime character choices, and while many female characters do remain within the constraints of these social and cultural norms, they are nevertheless making a conscious choice, they are exhibiting agency as a character. These problems have been further complicated by social images employed throughout the 60s through to the present day (although perhaps less so now than earlier periods) of women’s ‘natural place’ being the home. Working was considered to be secondary to taking care of the home, in fact marriage has often been described as ‘eikyu shushoku’ (lifelong employment) (Iwao, 1993:156).

Rias Gemory is a fascinating character in this respect, she demonstrates agency in her decisions, refusing to accept her marriage to Raizer, even going so far as to initiate a fight in order to try and cancel the engagement. However, she is incapable of truly absolving the engagement due to the need for her to marry and produce an heir, thereby maintaining the household, something that is considered immensely important in Japan (Kondo, 1990). While she relies on Issei to help her out of a tough spot, and shows her love for him, she nevertheless remains an immensely strong female character, and there is no doubt that Rias is far superior in strength and character to Issei, regardless of her feelings for him.

It is however important not to over-generalize the notion that women will be housewives. There are now far more single women since many women marry late or stay single due to their jobs or simply not wishing to marry. We are seeing a significant number of ‘career women’, who climb up the ranks within companies, along with a greater number who do not want children and reject this notion of the Japanese family. Unfortunately the model of the classic Japanese family and the roll of women within society has become so strong, and so naturalized that women are essentially automatically perceived to be housewives with little say over their carrier and their future.

But, although many women are clearly deciding on their own future and what they wish to do with it, there is still a great deal in inequality, not only within the Japanese labor market, but also within society itself. Women are still very often pushed into the lower status bracket of part-time employment, the jobs that are often available to them often also of a lower status, and most importantly of all, the wage gap between men and women is immensely significant and is in fact the biggest among the developed nations (Kimiko, 2003:19).

Anime therefore not inherently unequal or sexist, rather it reflects the socially and culturally rooted values of the society within which it is created. Many female characters in anime conform to the stereotypes of women’s place in society, usually taking care of domestic chores while the male leads can take on the role of the salary man just getting home from a long day at work. But, it is also equally important not to overgeneralise, and recognize that there are a significant number of anime with strong willed female characters who refuse to conform, and instead push in order to obtain their own dreams and goals. So, while women do not have true equality in Japanese society, something that is mirrored in womens roles in anime, they are not subordinate, and continue to exhibit agency and an ability to choose their own future.

Sources (Bibliography):

Brinton, M. C. 1993, Women and the Economic Miracle: Gender and Work in Postwar Japan, University of California Press; Berkeley.

Edwards, L. N. 1988, Equal Employment Opportunity in Japan: A View From the West, Industrial and Labor Relations Review 41, pp. 240-250.

Goldstein-Gidoni, O. 1999, Kimono and the Construction of Gendered and Cultural Identities, Ethnology, Vol 38(4), pp. 351-370.

Iwao, S. 1993, The Japanese Woman: Traditional Image and Changing Reality, The Free Press/Macmillan; New York.

Kimito, K. 2003, translated by Teresa Castelvetere, 2005, Gender and Japanese Management, Trans Pacific Press; Melbourne.

Kondo, D. K. 1990, Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace, The University of Chicago Press; Chicago.

Lo, J. 1990, Office Ladies, Factory Women: Life and Work at a Japanese Company, An East Gate Book/M.E. Sharpe, Inc; New York.

Long, S. 1996, Nurturing and femininity: The ideal of caregiving in postwar Japan. In A. Imamura (ed.), Re-Imagining Japanese Women, pp. 156-176. University of California Press;q Berkeley

Okano, K. H. 2009, Young Women in Japan: Transitions to Adulthood, Routledge; Oxon.

Ogasawara, Y. 1998, Office Ladies and Salaried Men: Power, Gender, and Work in Japanese Companies, University of California Press; Berkeley.

Pharr, S. J. 1998, “Moralism” and the Gender Gap: Judgments of Political Ethics in Japan, Political Psychology, Vol 19(1), pp. 211-236.

Retherford, R. D. Ogawa, N. Matsukura, R. 2001, Late Marriage and Less Marriage in Japan, Population and Development Review, Vol 27(1), pp. 65-102.

Renshaw, J. R. 1999, Kimono in the Boardroom, Oxford University Press; Oxford.

Uno, S. K. 1993, The Death of Good Wife, Wise Mother. In Postwar Japan as History, ed. A. Gordon, pp. 293-321. Berkeley.

Weathers, C. 2001, White-Collar Workplaces and Female temporary Workers in Japan, Social Science Japan Journal, Vol 4(2) pp. 201-218.

Yu, W. H. 2002, Jobs for Mothers: Married Women’s Labor Force Reentry and Part-Time, Temporary Employment in Japan, Sociological Form, 17, pp. 493-523.

Yu, W. H. 2005, Changes in Women’s Postmarital Employment in Japan and Taiwan, Demography, Vol 42(4), pp. 693-717.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

22 Responses to The role of female characters in anime – does it create or maintain inequality?

  1. Cytrus says:

    First, a good article.

    Second, I cannot help being amazed at research regarding gender equality in Japan based on employment rate and salary comparisons. I suppose the logic works like this “man and woman are equal” –> “they have comparable needs and ambitions” –> “they would make similar decisions in a truly equal society” –> “the number of employed man and woman should be comparable in an equal society”. Maybe this works in America, I don’t know.

    But it would honestly help to stop and think about what a Japanese woman wants. During one economics class in Kyoto I participated in, the teacher asked the females present how many of them would like to start their own careers. The raised hands did not amount to twenty percent. Asked why they aren’t interested in working, they most often answered that they want a husband who’ll be plenty capable of providing for them.

    Bringing up children is tough work. House chores don’t get done on their own. I know. But the average Japanese guy leaves home at 7-8 in the morning and comes back at 10 at night. That’s discounting those that only show up home on weekends. ‘Staying home’ is very much a tempting choice, one I would go for without thinking twice (and write a novel or two while my husband is busy working overtime).

    You could say the poor female in this setup is dependent on the male, so it’s still unequal. But if you’ve done research into this topic, you are probably aware that the average Japanese wife has access to her husband’s bank account and makes all important decisions about financial matters concerning the household. And when she sums up all the necessary expenses, she tells her husband how much he is allowed to spend that month… doesn’t really seem to me like the female is dominated here. With the new law guaranteeing the female retirement money even if she didn’t work on her own, it’s no wonder we see an outbreak of convenient divorces when the female gets fed up with her husbands.

    So when discussing ‘gender equality’ in Japan, we need to remember that the status quo remains largely unchanged because both sides find it advantageous. The minority of dissatisfied women face great obstacles in their career, but that’s no different from any other minority in Japan. Conformity remains an important value there.

    It’s a complicated issue. Japan isn’t the West, and imposing Western standards on them won’t ‘fix’ the country.

    Third, nice pics :D. And from series from both ends of the spectrum. Well, FS/N is a bundle of sexist, no doubt xD.

    • illogicalzen says:

      A lot of what you mention I have written about, and this post is based around one particular article that I have produced, unfortunately that article is about 6000-7000 words long, which isn’t really going to work for a blog post. So i had to be a bit selective with what I was going to add to this post and unfortunately missed out an awful lot that will probably find its way into other posts in the future. Unfortunately this has meant that this article is a little one sided, which my original piece was not, the inherent problem of trying to condense 7000 words into just over 2000 I suppose.

      In terms of equality I would still argue that Japan, like every other country still has gender inequality, but, that does not mean that women are being oppressed, far from it in fact. In terms of whether women want a job or not is another matter, but i think that its important to look at the social norms of Japanese society and how they impact upon women’s choices for the future. Obviously women make a conscious choice, that is undeniable, but what I am interested in here is how much the norms of society have affected their choices.

      One thing I didn’t mention so much are the numerous white papers that the Japanese government has produced targeting what they see as a flaw in Japanse society. There are hundreds of the things looking at how too many women are working instead of staying at home, which means more men are supposed to look after the children, or worse, that women aren’t even marrying. Again, a complicated issue that is wrapped up in socially and culturally constructed notions of peoples place in society, along with gender roles.

      I would argue though that the idea of women being the only ones to do house work is inherently flawed, and that both men and women should be capable of doing them. Also, this model of japanese men working silly hours and only being home at the weekends is actually one that centers on the Japanese salaryman, a group of people that make up about 15-20% of the japanese workforce. Unfortunately I seem to missed out a lot of my research on Japanese women and agency, which would have been useful to balance this post a little more.

      In terms of minorities you are correct and I have been researching and writing about the marginal groups of Japan for some time now, and will probably write a few more in-depth posts on the subject. But essentially, yes your points are valid and further shows how complicated these issues are, but it is still important to study it, since it realtes to western society as much as it does to Japanese society.

    • illogicalzen says:

      A shorter comment, me writing this doesn’t mean I dont enjoy anime, but it has meant that I often look at some series a little differently later on. Acknowledging problems with a model does not have to mean that you dont enjoy it. I also deliberately chose those pictures because they do represent a broad spectrum of anime, Fate/Stay Night in particular has an interesting mix with strong female characters but also quite weak, housewife style characters as well.

  2. kaei says:

    Just wanted to say firstly thanks for addressing this – it’s not often I see anime blogs tackling sexism.

    I will say that in addition to anime reflecting the social and cultural norms of Japan, it’s by far mostly created and produced by middle-aged to old men – so really, anime is reflecting the social and cultural norms that those middle-aged to old men perceive as reality.

    Obviously this isn’t always true, though – there are female anime/manga creators out there that I believe perpetuate and reinforce the worst stereotypes about women, and there’s the occasional male director who believes in writing strong women roles and creating healthy female role models for female viewers (Hayao Miyazaki one of the few examples I have here, but apparently one of the PreCure series directors believed strongly in this as well).

    To the poster above – I strongly question your statement that “the status quo remains largely unchanged because both sides find it advantageous.” Just because a whole society believes something is good for them doesn’t make them the best judge of what is actually the best way forward.

    • kaei says:

      Just wanted to add – I don’t mean to criticise your choices and examples of strong female heroines in anime, since a lot of this is just objective opinions on what we personally feel – but I feel like a lot of the supposedly tough, self-sufficient, ass-kicking females in anime aren’t necessarily the best examples of GOOD female characters – often (I personally feel like) they are created with the male gaze in mind, to fulfill some vision or fantasy of what male viewers enjoy, rather than what would actually be a good role model for a female viewer. In a way it’s kind of a blessing that it’s socially accepted in Japan for guys to admire / fantasise about tough female characters (feels like it’s much less so in the USA, where I live, but hopefully that’s changing recently) so that there’s at least one medium for people who like watching tough female characters, but I feel like there’s still a long way to go in portrayals of such characters.

      • illogicalzen says:

        I didnt actually choose those examples to show ‘Good’ characters or role models, that was never my intention. I was looking at how it is possible to have ‘strong female characters’ in anime, with numerous series involving characters who are incredibly strong fighters. They may in part be created with the male gaze in mind, and for many that is clearly the case, but it is a little more complicated than that. For example, wives of Samurai during the Sengoku Era and later during the Tokugawa Shogunate were expected to carry around a small knives or ‘tanto’, and there was the expectation that they killed themselves along with their husbands if defeated. Also, Kyudo (Japanese archery), was a discipline open to both men and women, which was quite unusual at the time, with many women considered masters.

        My point is that strong women have a place in Japanese society (albeit their role was quite limited), and of course there are numerous famous films by directors such as Kurosawa Akira where strong women were prominently featured. To simply dismiss it as another male fantasy is in danger of essentialising the ability to have strong female characters. What most interests me about such characters in anime is that many of them take on what could be considered a ‘hyper-masculine’ role, where they are more masculine than the male characters, and in a sense lose certain elements of the femininity.

        • kaei says:

          Ah, gotcha – I conflated “strong female characters” with “role models” which I shouldn’t have done since there was no evidence that that was your point in your essay.

          I definitely don’t think that all strong female characters are created as male fantasy characters – just that lots of them, and the majority of them, are written that way. I totally believe in the ability to write – and the importance of – having strong female characters. And definitely there were tough female historical figures – but few and far between, unfortunately. (Though I do have to say, that your example of a strong Japanese female of the Sengoku/Tokugawa period is kinda ironic 😛 Is there a better example of male-focused, male-serving societal expectation for a woman than expecting her to KILL HERSELF if her husband died?? Literally her life is an extension of his – she CANNOT live without him!)

          I agree with your point about the existence of hypermasculine female characters. Not just anime, but you see female characters that some people would describe as “males with boobs” – where the writer basically wrote a “good male character” and made the character female. Which bugs me for many reasons, since it assumes that default human characteristics are “male” but other traits are “female” – I guess the genderising of personality traits is what annoys me! It’s just human.

          Anyway, I don’t know if I have much scholarly background or ability to discuss with you anything beyond my own personal opinion, so I’ll just leave it here. But I do want to repeat how much I appreciate that you’re studying this and wrote so many words on the topic.

          • illogicalzen says:

            Very true, there is a certain irony in using Sengoku era characters, there many other examples from anime such as Infinite Stratos, Eureka Seven, Black Lagoon and so on, unfortunately that would have probably added another 1000 words to what is already an incredibly long post. I actually find such masculine female characters incredibly interesting, considering they are often far stronger and more masculine than the majority of male characters you see in anime. It’s an interesting switching of gender roles, while still maintaining certain elements of being a women.

            One point I would make is that I still watch and often enjoy many of these series, and just because im writing about this topic doesn’t necessarily mean that I reject half the anime in existence. To me its about acknowledging that such things exist in the first place, and that is often more important than rejecting everything that may be considered sexist or unequal.

    • illogicalzen says:

      This is very true, but of course, having mostly middle-aged men directing and producing shows isn’t unique to Japan, you just have to look at the American film and TV industries, along with TV industries around the world to see who has the power.

      I do love my romance anime and manga, and while the stories may be enjoyable it is clear that the creators are working within a cultural framework which is why particular stereotypes consistently appear. There are plenty of strong characters around, but it depends on what kind of ‘strength’ you are looking for, with many physically strong female characters in anime, but at the same time there are numerous female characters who are mentally and morally stronger than their male counterparts.

      The status quo does often need to be addressed, since it is the status quo that helps to create and reinforce gender roles in society. But again as my previous comment, due to the length of my previous work I unfortunately cut out a lot of stuff about women in Japan demonstrating agency and making their own choices. This is something that I will likely bring up again in another post, since while women do not have true equality in japanese society, which has made it way in part into anime, its not like they are oppressed. The problem with this matter in particular (well, all matters to do with gender and equality) is that they can often go to far in either direction, essentialising the arguments on both sides. While I may not think that women in Japan have true equality, neither do I think that they are being completely oppressed, rather the overall argument is far more complicated, which might sound like a copout in one respect, but its something that I believe is true.

      • kaei says:

        Definitely it’s not unique to Japan – just look at Hollywood =) It’s true Japan has a long way to go compared to go, but it’s true that there are worse countries out there.

        When you say Japanese women aren’t oppressed, what exactly do you mean? How are you defining “oppression?” You mentioned it in your post too, so I’m interested in why you say that. I’m guessing (though I don’t want to assume) you define oppression as something on the level that many Middle-Eastern and African women experience? (Physical violence, no agency over their own bodies, stripping away of rights, etc.)

        Obviously women in Japan don’t outright experience horrific oppression of that nature, but I’m curious about whether or not you would consider oppression of a non-violent nature as a form of oppression, as well.

        I haven’t done any research into studies like you have, all I have is anecdotal evidence from sample size 1 – my mother-in-law is Japanese, was upper-middle class and attended at a very selective, prestigious female university, majored in French. She married a salaryman, who, because his wife was fluent in French, got sent overseas to their Paris, France division. (he didn’t speak a word of it) even though she was not a paid employee by the company (or even a formal employee at all) and thus you’d expect her not to be factored into the decisions made by her husband’s HR. After they left France and returned to Japan, though she went back to being a regular housewife, partly because she’d had a son (my husband) and partly because no one would be interested in hiring someone of her age with zero effective job experience. Given the choice, I think she would have liked to work, but she did what societal norms expected of her instead – forego her own career for the sake of her husband’s, and then for her child. So I guess my question is, is this societal expectation, and the lack of interest by those with power to change this status quo, also some form of covert, sly oppression as well?

        • illogicalzen says:

          Ouch, a tough one – I was not actually thinking of physical oppression here, although it does happen in most societies (domestic abuse). I was actually thinking more in terms of being denied certain important things in society, such as good education and jobs, along with many other basic rights such as the right to vote and so on. If Japanese women did not have all of these then I would probably argue that there is an element of oppression there, but perhaps using a different word. Actually, I think using the word ‘oppression’ probably gave the wrong idea and I should have probably thought of a better way to describe the idea of lacking rights in society. What I think happens in Japanese society is what could perhaps be termed cultural or social oppression, where conforming to social norms is often far more important than going against them. Especially when going against social norms may label you as an outcast and get you into trouble with the family and wider relatives (this depends on what part of society you are looking at of course).

          I have read quite a few similar stories to yours, and know a few people who have had similar experiences. Now, many of these women say that they do have a comfortable life and in a sense, are happy, yet there are also many who suggest that they want to do something more with their life, perhaps work. I think I shall write a more detailed piece about the work Japanese women tend to do, although this is only from my own research, and many other academics have found things to be different depending on the time they were in Japan, and also which part of Japan they were studying. Also, in your particular case of coming from an upper-middle class family, there are many other ideas to do with continuing the family line/name, along with other social and cultural customs that would have fed into the decision in the end, be it consciously, or unconsciously.

          Japan is an interesting case because of how it has been modernised, whereas european countries such as England, France, Germany and so on went through their industrial revolution of the course of several hundred years, Japan managed that in about 70. Also, a lot of the medieval systems of governing were only destroyed during the american occupation of the 1950s, so in a sense Japan has been a ‘modernised’ country (a loaded term, but I cant think of a better or more accurate one at the moment), for a short period of time.

          I think that in part this has meant that these commonly held beliefs of the role and place of Japanese women in society have not quite had enough time to change, although there is a strong feminist movement in Japan. But, to be clear here, I dont think that Japanese women are powerless, far from it, and there are many examples where women have considerably more power over things such as the house finances (although there are other reasons for women handling money that I might look at another time).

          You do have a completely different perspective on this of course being (I assume) Japanese, while I am from the west, although I have been to Japan before, so obviously the way we view things will be different.

          • kaei says:

            Thanks for taking the time to respond. It’s interesting to see an academic view on the topic. I look forward to reading more of your posts on this!

            On the topic of background and how it informs our views – I’m not Japanese, though I am East Asian (Chinese) and have spent the last 10+ years in the US, and have only been to Japan a couple of times or so myself. So definitely I’m looking at the issue of the role of women in Japanese society from an outsider’s perspective as well.

            • illogicalzen says:

              Ah, my mistake, I made an assumption there based around your story. In terms of how your background informs your views of a society, I often think that those outside of the society can see it in a much clearer light than those that grew up within the society. So there are times when a ‘outsiders perspective’ is actually far more helpful than you might think.

  3. Myst says:

    That was a very well-written and informative read. There was a lot of interesting information contained in the post and it got me thinking about the topic itself. Looking forward to additional exploration of this topic!

  4. tsurugiarashix says:

    Well-written and nice good job on the research. Saying that only because I planed to publish something similar, lol. Although, I would like to clarify something that I do not think you mentioned.

    For example, the only reason why women kept to domestic roles in the Meji era was because their was legal code that made them second to their male counterparts. However, during the later half, women gain “some” lead way, but not much. Only after the WWII Japanese women were encourage to be educated and obtain jobs to join the workforce. As of now, their are more women in Japan that make more or about the same (if not slightly lesser) than their male counterparts due 1) Their responsibilities to care for children and elderly and 2.) Their are not many males, educated at least, able to fill positions women could originally not (AKA: The office, IT, etc). With that said, that is one of the reason why most women start families late in life due to the responsible imposed. Of course this is one factor of many that count for the low birth rates and the amount of elderly.

    With regards to anime directly, most of the norms reflected in society do rub into them, but most are sometimes skewered or distorted slightly. Although, to save myself five paragraphs, as you stated, yes, most of it is socially constructed

    Again, nice article ^^

    • illogicalzen says:

      I didn’t mentioned the Meiji period because it wasn’t really necessary for my research, or more accurately, I didn’t have the time or space to go into it mostly because I have been exploring women in modern Japan from the 1980s onwards.

      Also, this is only a partial piece of work, I have take only a small bit of my overall research and turned it into this post. I couldn’t add any more because the post would probably be about 7000 words or more long which is far to long for a simple blog post. I will be adding more posts later, and have far more research to do with the kinds of jobs women have, but again, this is more of an overview due to the limits of blog posts.

      Basically, blog posts dont really allow me to fully explore the entire topic n a single post, and will likely be a small series of posts to do with women’s roles in anime, along with other marginal groups.

      • tsurugiarashix says:

        Ah, I see. Although, in my opinion most of the Meji era (up to the restoration period) is quite important to take into account for a more holistic view. Yet, I do see why you did not speak much of it though.

        Oh, so you plan to add more onto this? Would be best and if it is a simple post, I would agree 7000 might be a tad much, lol. Although for the most part, this one kept my attention. Also, I was not aware that wordpress had a word limit in post, lol.

        I am looking forward to the rest of it then. Again, very nice job ^^

  5. Pingback: Aniblog Stuff Day 11

  6. 8thSin says:

    I was pretty skeptical about using anime of all forms of media to tackle the gender issues, but well, proper research was done, and it’s a good read.

    I have to say though, most of those studies are written 10 years ago (and who knows how long it took them to research?), making them pretty obsolete by now. The classic gender roles are slowly disappearing, and it’s creating new social issues like increasing first-marriage age and declining birth rates in Japan.

    btw, “Danshi Koukou no Nichijou” may be an interesting show to see both traditional a bit more modern gender roles in anime.

    Didn’t vote in this round, but I’ll vote for you in the next stage of Aniblog tourney ^^

    • illogicalzen says:

      Thank you for the comment and such, its nice to get a discussion about these ideas whether people agree or not, and that was largely the purpose of this post.

      I think anime is perfect for exploring elements of Japanese society – all elements of culture reflect commonly held beliefs and ideals of society, anime is no different in this respect.

      While the sources for this particular piece of work may be 10 years old, that does not mean that they are out of date, I have many other articles that were published in the last five or so years and they all say similar things, albeit with a slightly different approach to the subject. More importantly, they are far from obsolete, all of these sources have been used by more recent studies, and many of them have found similar attitudes and ideas. I just had to limit what I could write since this is based off of my own research, and that piece of research is about 7000 words long at the moment, which is hardly going to make a good blog post.

      In terms of genders roles, they are not disappearing, however, they are changing, but slowly. The declining birth rate problem is actually a far more complex issue that involves both men and women, along with the attitude towards work that has been cultivated in Japan since the post war recovery effort. Furthermore, the number of women who are marrying later is only a small percentage of a particular group of women who are usually middle, upper-middle or occasionally aristocracy, this makes up only about 20% of the Japanese population. Of course, attitudes towards women’s place in Japan are changing, with far more women in recent years choosing to further their studies and carrier than before, which has only exacerbated the issue of declining birthrate, which the Japanese government gets very, very upset about. I have seen their white papers on the subject, sometimes feels like they publish one a week.

      My problem here once again is the space and time, so I could not fit all of my own research and findings into this post. i will likely turn this into a short series of essays/posts of women and marginal groups in Japan. I will have a look at the series, but would still suggest that it is dangerous to simply say that such research and ideas are obsolete, because it is clear that they are not, unfortunately i couldn’t explore them further in this post. This has meant that I havent really been able to give as balanced an opinion on this issue as I could have unfortunately, and having read this piece again it does look as if i am simply saying that women have no rights, which is untrue, and my own research has found as much as many other academics research in the area.

      I also have other texts, some that I have found more recently that do explore issues of gender, work, education and such in anime and manga, so it is viewed as a proper area for academic research.

  7. Pingback: Building an anime harem. « A Certain Judgment-al Anime Review

  8. Scott Goertzen says:

    I read your article and I thought it very informing about the role of women in Japanese society and their place in the world. I had no idea what a Bento Box was until I read this article. I think I may get a fancy version soon. I read this article because I am pursuing a PhD in Gender Studies. There was a part in your article where you talked about the anime show “Infinite Stratos.” I do appreciate you telling me about this television show, however, as concerning the character Ichika Orimura, it almost seems that he is the primary focus of the show taking away the attention from the women who star in it. Do you agree? Is a strong male figure in the show attempting to illustrate true feminism when the premise of the show displays women as the only ones able to wear the powerful exoskeletons? In the article you explained that this article is only a piece of the whole story. I would love to read the other pieces of this story that were not present. Would you be willing to email me the rest of this document? I did rather enjoying reading about the increases in triumphs and success for women in Japanese society. Thank you for educating me about aspects of Japanese society and culture. My email: (

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