Asia

Breaking out of Japan's male-dominated workplace

When it comes to gender equality, Japan ranks 104th out of 142 nations, according to the World Economic Forum, significantly behind other advanced economies. The BBC's Mariko Oi set out to discover what working life is like for five women in Tokyo.


The diplomat: Mitsu Kimata

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Media captionMitsu Kimata thinks women are partly to blame for their position in Japanese society

After a career covering senior roles in the civil service and as head of Body Shop in Japan, Mitsu Kimata, 79, shows no sign of slowing down.

Throughout, she fought ingrained attitudes to women at work.

To win promotion, she had to work harder than male colleagues.

But her reward came in 1986, with a top post at Japan's mission to the United Nations.

Her determination to succeed was spurred by her mother's experience after World War Two.

Her father had been detained in Siberia. And though her mother was well educated, she had no means to earn a living and relied on the support of others.

"I thought, 'How pathetic,' and decided I didn't want to be like her," Ms Kimata says.

But her success required a great deal of skill and organisation to balance the demands of her family and her career.

Having the money to hire an au pair for her son, Naoki, also helped.

Ms Kimata says Japan is in a dangerous place, because there are so many women who want to be housewives and rely on their husbands.

"Japan also has a huge debt, and I think women are partly to blame because they are not returning the money that the country spent on their education," she says.


The stay-at-home mother: Haruka Hamada

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Media captionHaruka Hamada chose to stay at home with her children

In a country where the low birth rate is leading to a shrinking population, Haruka Hamada is proud to have three children, more than double the national average.

She had a job as a nursery school teacher but is now a stay-at-home mother.

"I learned the importance of early childhood, so I thought it is best for me to spend time with them when they are little," she says.

Her daily routine starts at 06:00 and ends at 23:00, with only the occasional hour or two to herself.

"Until I became a mother, I didn't know how difficult it was to raise kids and do all the housework," she says.

"I understand why Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe says that the economy needs more women to work - but I wonder if he is listening to the actual mothers," she says.


The cleaner: Mieko Nagata

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Media captionWorking beyond retirement age is rewarding says Mieko Nagata

When her three children were growing up, Mieko Nagata ran a business with her husband.

"Maybe my thinking is very traditional," she says. "But I didn't find it hard to juggle, because I felt that they were both my duties - to raise the kids and support my husband."

Now aged 71 and with seven grandchildren, she cleans toilets in an office building.

The extra money is useful, but "it is much more than that - I am very passionate about the job".

"To put it simply, cleaning something dirty is very satisfying," she says.

"My husband said I should retire because I have worked all my life - but I really wanted to do this. So as my last selfish request, I convinced him."


The club hostess: Emiri Aizawa

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Media captionHostess Emiri Aizawa can earn thousands of dollars in a single evening

A hostess at a club in Shinjuku Kabuki-cho, Emiri Aizawa, 27, pours drinks, lights cigarettes and listens to men.

"My main job is let them have fun," she says.

"Of course, there have been customers who asked for more, because we are men and women, but I politely say, 'No.'

"I don't think you can do this job for a long time if you do more [by sleeping with clients]."

In one night, on her 23rd birthday, she brought in 27 million yen ($250,000; £150,000) for the club, of which she received a sizeable chunk.

And as a model with her own fashion line, she earns more than $1m a year.

"My modelling career and the clothing brand only happened because I did well at the club," she says.

"Because I am a hostess, I have faced a lot of discrimination.

"People said that I wouldn't achieve anything, but that made me more determined.

"So I don't think there is anything that women cannot achieve."


The footballer: Saori Ariyoshi

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Media captionIn football, men and women are different says Japan national team member Saori Ariyoshi

A goal-scoring member of Japan's 2011 World Cup winning football squad, Saori Ariyoshi has experienced the adoration of a nation.

The team were also runners-up in the 2012 Olympics and this year's World Cup in Canada.

But Ms Ariyoshi still needs to work as a receptionist at a sports centre to make ends meet.

"Customers are usually surprised to see me there and ask why I have to work," she says.

"People say I am having to juggle - but I enjoy both, and I am very happy that I can prioritise football."

Asked if she thinks men and women should have equal rights, she says: "I don't really care.

"In football, men and women are different and I don't expect us to be treated the same.

"Men's football is more aggressive and dynamic.

"Ours is not as powerful, but people can enjoy more detailed techniques."

But she hopes that by playing well and making women's football more popular, one day female footballers will be able to earn a living just by playing the sport that they love.

"If I live life to the full, I think future me will be smiling, too," she says. "So I want to cherish every day."


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