Japan Today, What’s Hot
June 3, 2014

What’s become of the Japanese male?

He’s had every advantage. His culture, first as a warrior society and later as an economic superpower, resolutely denied women their due, confining them to the home or the occupational margins. On men the fate of the nation was held to rest. They were primed for success. For a long time they succeeded. The idea of men being outperformed and overshadowed by women would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

It’s thinkable now. In fact, it’s happening, says Shukan Post (June 6).

Personnel managers were reminded during this spring’s hiring season of an impression that has long been growing on them: female job applicants are brighter, sharper, more eager, more confident than males. They learn faster and communicate better. Men on the whole seem sluggish and dull in comparison, a state of affairs reflected, for the second consecutive year, in more female graduates than males finding jobs – 95.2% versus 93.8% this spring, say labor ministry figures.

That’s not the only statistical evidence. Additional confirmation dates as far back as 2009, when an internal affairs ministry survey, conducted every five years, found for the first time that female employees of five years’ standing were out-earning their male counterparts by some 2,600 yen a month – a step forward of historic proportions, given the unabashedly male workplace bias that Japan among developed countries has been most reluctant to slough off.

Personnel managers, their impressions still fresh from this spring’s just-concluded hiring season, seem to agree that, if it were a matter of people getting what they deserve, women would be running things. One personnel manager Shukan Post speaks to says, “On company tests the top 20 scorers were all women. If that was the only criterion, all our new hirees would be women.”

Why aren’t they? Why aren’t women running things? Very largely it’s the culturally ingrained notion that they’re not fit to, which helps explain why, ability aside, only some 8% of career-track employees at major Japanese companies are women. We could be on the cusp of a sea change here: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to see women occupying 30% of executive posts at large corporations by 2020 – up from 4.5% as of 2011. Abe’s priority is reviving the Japanese economy. Corporations seem moved to cooperate on other grounds – namely their desire to revive their sagging selves.

Another question arises: Are the gender scales tipping as they are because men are losing qualities they once had and women gaining qualities they formerly lacked? Or have men always been naturally spiritless and women naturally spirited, only no one noticed because the male-oriented culture in effect veiled the truth in myth?

Shukan Post notes a tendency among mothers to spoil their sons rotten, raising them not so much to succeed as, above all, not to fail. There’s some truth in that no doubt, but it’s rather a shopworn bit of wisdom, too old to explain a very new development. Another hypothesis the magazine advances concerns women’s biological clock, which imposes discipline, the need to plan, and an awareness that the future does not stretch out indefinitely. The biological clock, too, is nothing new, but it’s application to the workplace may be.

Whatever the explanation, the facts are plain enough, and signal that if men don’t want to get left utterly behind as Japan poises itself for a revival of vigor and prosperity (if that’s what it’s doing), they had better wake up.


Japan Today, June 3, 2014

henri daros

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