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  • coming to Japan

    Hello everyone!
    I just spent the last two hours reading the previous messages trying to find anything relevant to my situation.
    Well, I am moving to Japan for about 6-9 months, starting in November. I am currently working for a international company based in London,UK, as an project engineer. My employers are moving me to Japan for a new project. From what I have gathered women are not treated as equals in the work place, is this true?
    Do you have any idea of what to expect? Things are not easy working in a male dominated enviroment anyway, is it even worse in Japan?
    Where can I get informtion about japan customs and tradition? I know I am a visitor and a novelty but I would prefer to try and integrate more in the japanise life.
    I have the 'lonely planet' books but I need better info.


  • #2
    Re: coming to Japan

    It's true for Japanese women. There is a definite glass ceiling for promotions and salaries, despite what recent laws have been enacted. Japanese women "have their place", even in 2002. But, the country is slowly changing.

    Back in 1985, I worked as a biotech specialist for a US company with a branch in Tokyo. One of my co-workers was an American woman in her 20's. One day, the Japanese manager was holding a meeting with Japanese clients, and he didn't even think twice about telling (not asking) her to make tea for the meeting. This created quite a furor. I hope other readers can lend more current examples for or against this type of thinking.

    Expect a fair amount of chauvinism in the work place, but don't be afraid to exert your intelligence and savvy regarding your daily duties. You will be respected for them, even if you are also used as a "show piece" sometimes. (Male foreigners are, too, but since Japan dotes on women as images of beauty more than men, women should expect this more often, even if it's meant only to cheer up a client or treat him to a night out in the company's business bar.) Hold your ground and remain professional at all times.

    For what it's worth, that same woman started as my co-worker (hired at the same time as 7 other people for the same position), but she later became my boss while still working in Japan.

    One snippet of information can be found here:


    • #3
      Re: coming to Japan

      You are being sent out from HO, which makes a difference, and are not permanent so you are no threat to the local males, and some females. You are part of an international company, so it will depend on their local corporate culture. Remember male-dominated can work for and against them, and whilst we may not have as much authority as the men, it can also mean that we do not have the responsibility, or work the long hours.

      Be sensitive, and from just asking such a question, you obviously are; Japan has changed a lot, though Osaka still lags behind Tokyo in chauvinism. As a titled project engineer, your status will be different to the local women who make tea and copy, as mentioned above, so your daily treatment will be OK, but at meetings with the older men in charge where your advice may be asked, then diplomacy 101 may be handy. Do your "nemawashii", or pre-meeting chats, to lubricate the wheels of business, and play down your role, you are part of the team now, and you will be surprised just how much you can do from behind the scenes.

      Concentrate on your job, brush off any small comments, and if you do have a big problem, talk to your boss, here or in the UK. Remember, you are HO staff.
      In reality, most countries, despite their lip-service to equal opportunity, are male-dominated, and you might even be surprised how many of us are in hgh positions in Asian companies, especially Thailand and China, and of course the bottom-line for you, is you are not here for ever.

      Foyles and Amazon have a good range of books on Japan, WomensWord by Cherry Kitteridge is specifically on women in Japan, Four Steps Behind, Kaisha, Butterflies of the Night all have interesting insights, don't bother with Geisha, though Lesley Downer is an excellent writer.

      Good luck

      Trip Hop (Ms.)


      • #4
        Re: coming to Japan


        Here is some friendly advice. Please remember that it, along with whatever else you may hear or read is simply that. You may come here and find that your experiences are completely different than any you have heard so far. Or you may find everything exactly as portrayed on this and other web forums.

        Advice #1. Keep an open mind. At one time I felt I had seen more discrimination in my few years in Japan, than I had in the rest of my life combined. However, having reflected on it a bit recently, I can recall some pretty nasty examples from my home in "the land of diversity". Yes, sexism, racism, religeous persecution all are alive and well here as they are all over the world. Just don't give up before you even get on the plane. Just as there are many bad examples, more and more we are seeing positive examples coming forth. The number of women executives in Japan is going up. We have a generation of Japanese that have been raised on American media (singlehandedly the most corrupting, decadent form of mind control ever conceived). Heck, In my office half of the women watch "freinds" religeously, the other half watch "Sex in the City". (and don't think for a second that doesn't concern me).

        Advice #2. Stay positive. As foreigners in this country, we have a tendency to sit and dwell on the negative and different. It's human nature. You constantly hear "how can they do/think/allow that". While I can't spend every day in a Capra-esque fantasy world, I have found it much less stressful to focus as much as possible on what I love about being here. (Japanese convenience stores always taking a top slot on my list). The first time I lived here It only took about a year before I could't wait to get off this rock. Now I try to find something to focus on that I can't do anywhere else. This country has unbelivable amounts of cultural and spiritual wealth that is hardly tapped, even by native Japanese. Plenty to keep me busy for few weekends at least.

        Advice #3. Your difference is an asset. This is a lesson all foreigners who stay here long enough learn all too well. In fact I have met some who use it very effectivle as a weapon. You are not Japanese, and you never will be. You will never be "one of us", you are always one of "them". If you accept this fact, you will find it quite easy to live here. Sure you get looks and you always feel like you are being treated differently, but in most cases, I LIKE being treated differently. I like going out to lunch with the other Americans in the office because we always get the best tables in the restraunt. Trust me I have never envied Japanese businessmen. The fact that I am treated differently is of great comfort to me. And it is fun to abuse too (but don't do it too much,) I had a salesman show up at my apartment a few weeks back selling home security systems who I had great fun playing with. As soon as he explained what he was selling, I acted shocked that crime was so prevalent in Japan and told him I came here because I was told "Japan is such a safe country". The look on the poor guys face as his national pride kicked in was priceless. He sacrifices his own sale just to reassure me that Japan was not some wild, dangerous country like America. (Don't ever use this trick on people. It's mean and manipulative. Course I don't consider door to door salesmen people so...)

        Advice #4. Pick you battles. I still find that from time to time I have to stick up for what I believe in. Guest in this country or not I have my own values that sometimes cannot be compromised. Still if you constantly bump heads with every injustice you see, eventually no one will care to listen to you. And if noone is listening to you, what are you changing? By Asian tradition, as a guest you are afforded certain privaleges, but to abuse them is to marginalize yourself and your influence.

        If Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto are your destinations within Japan, you will find an abundance of information about Japan and what it has to offer in convenient English. The various webpage links on this site are a great place to start. Also call up the nearest Japanese Consulate or embassy and see if they have any materials Japan they can send you. I know the Japanese National Tourist Organization will send you brochures and maps on request (

        Another great source of info on Japan are large Universities. If there is one near by with a Japanese language dept, just stop by and see if anyone will talk with you. I think you will find this to be a great way to meet Japanese students in an informal setting Be honest about what you goind to see if anyone has any advice or information that can help you. Who knows, you might even make a friend, and this is a country where every friend you have is like gold.

        I know this was a bit long winded, and you may find a lot of what was said irrelavent or just plain silly, but trust me about Japanese convenience stores, they are the best thing the Japanese have come up with since sliced bread (another Japanese invention).

        Congratulations on this opportunity. I hope all goes well



        • #5
          Re: coming to Japan


          One organisation you might want to get in touch with is FEW or ForeignExecutiveWomen, which helps and supports foreign business women and exceutives doing business in japan- they hold regular meetings and have invited guest speakers, usually high powered business woman or captainesses of industry types. the webpage to go to is

          I also knew of a book written a few years ago for women doing business in Japan and rules of etiquette what to do eg. when you are the female CEO and the Japanese treat you like the secretary or personal assistant , how to handle sexist and lewd remarks, pawing and the obligatory after work socialising. Lots of useful info for foreign women doing business in Japan. I will see what I can dig up.


          • #6
            Re: coming to Japan

            Women's words on doing business in Japan...

            When I held my first meeting with the Japanese, I knew I had to establish my credibility immediately. I asked my team members to enter the room first, introduce themselves and be seated. I told them not to start the meeting until I joined them and to leave the center seat at the negotiating table open for me. Better than any verbal introduction or business card, these very visible actions clearly established my position and authority. Equally important, they showed the Japanese that our negotiating team was unified and organized.
            A female executive, New York City, NY
            (Source: Doing Business With Japanese Men, A Woman's Handbook,
            Christalyn Brannen and Tracey Wilen, ISBN 1-880656-04-3)


            • #7
              Re: coming to Japan

              Thank you very much for giving such valuable information, You personal views and experiences are extremely welcome and I will keep an open mind as you adviced.

              Thanks again for the web-links and book titles you send me.