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IWD2019: the women behind Japan’s real “womenomics”

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we will be publishing content on women, their experiences and the need to balance for better. We hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been in Japan for more than a couple of decades now and it has always frustrated me the way Japanese women are perceived by foreigners coming to Japan. 

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Pic: Misa Matsushima

Too many people fall back on stereotypes of Japanese women in the workplace and the home, stereotypes that are outdated and unhelpful. Yet every day, as a long-time resident and businesswoman in Tokyo, I meet and work with many talented, brave and hard-working Japanese women. Prime Minister Abe may talk of “womenomics” but these women are the real deal.

"[The project] has empowered the women involved to speak up about their experiences."

They are just not recognised for their achievements.

So just on a year ago I decided to start a project: Celebrating Women in Japan.

Every day since I’ve posted a profile in English and Japanese celebrating a woman in Japan. These women are not just successful in business; the project is a genuine celebration of women from all walks to life with so many lessons to offer.

We have profiled women living in Japan as well as overseas; from the city and the regions; the young and the old; and from industries ranging from cyber security to medicine and wedding planning.

I’m clearly not alone in wishing to celebrate women in Japan: since the project started it has gained over 3000 followers on Twitter. It has started a conversation on social media in English and Japanese about recognising and celebrating women’s achievements. The community following the project - which includes a good chunk of foreign corporates - has had its eyes opened about the breadth of engagement Japanese women already have in the workplace.

Importantly, it has also empowered the women involved to speak up about their experiences and network with other women profiled as part of the project.

I believe breaking down stereotypes about Japanese women requires a fundamental and Japan-driven change. But by profiling one woman a day - changing hearts and minds bit by bit – I hope “from little things, big things grow”.

Today for International Women’s Day, I chose just four of the hundreds of stories of women involved in the Celebrating Women in Japan project. Each woman was asked to share their story, their advice for other women and what they think Japanese companies or the Japanese government could do to help women in Japan. 

Profile #146 - Misa Matsushima: First female F15 Fighter Jet Pilot 

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In 2018, Matsushima, then only 26 years old, became Japan’s first woman to qualify as an F-15 fighter jet pilot.

“My longtime dream has come true. I want to become a fully-fledged pilot, no different from men, as soon as possible”, she says.

Profile #59 - Chika Narukawa: Head of Strategic Delivery for Japan and Korea, ANZ 

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Narukawa supports the CEOs of Japan and Korea at ANZ in all areas of work including strategy building, initiative management, business performance analysis and execution of mid-term plan to align with global strategy.

Narukawa is adamant firms should not say there are no qualified female candidates but instead entrust a job to female candidates, trusting the person’s ability and potential. Regardless of age and gender, she would like to see a society where people who would like to do more are able to do more.

She thinks it is important for women to have a growth mindset. “If you have passion, it’s better to use your energy wisely to solve issues rather than simply to complain. Then, you can build your career by having autonomy”, she says.

Profile #32 - Naoko Tada: Site Engineer at Lendlease, Shikoku, Japan 

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Naoko Tada has been working for Lendlease since October 2005. She works in Shikoku and leads a strong and committed team where everyone is encouraged to be open and offer opinions freely.

“It is my hope that the government and Japanese companies develop opportunities for people in regional Japan as well as in the major cities,” she says. “Business that builds on the features and special characteristics of a particular area will be good for women who live and work in regional Japan.”

Tada’s advice to the next generation is to emphasise your strengths and qualities. “Sometimes, to other people, those strengths are even more valuable and appealing than how these might appear to you!”

Profile #159 - Miyako Takebe: Owner of Bar Miyako in Akasaka, Tokyo

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Takebe spent the first ten years of her career as a financial journalist and the next ten years in financial public relations. She opened Bar Miyako in Akasaka last year and runs the bar and mixes drinks herself.

When asked about what the Japanese government or businesses can do to improve gender equality in Japan, Takebe says “change tends to take time in Japan but it does happen and I believe things are changing for the better for many working women. We should all continue challenging the status quo to achieve greater acceptance of diversity in the workplace and in society”.

Her advice for women is “where there’s will, there’s always a way. Even if things don’t work out as planned right away, be patient and enjoy life as it happens. Cherish the good relationships you build with people you meet along the way, as they might be able to help you in unexpected ways”.

Melanie Brock is a consultant and long-term Australian resident of Tokyo.

#CelebratingWomeninJapan is a project of Melanie Brock Advisory. You can follow the project on Twitter at @womenofjapan , Instagram at @celebratingwomeninjapan or on Facebook

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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