A HALF STEP BEHIND: Japanese Women of the the '80s by Jane Condon

A HALF STEP BEHIND: Japanese Women of the the '80s

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The women of Japan as seen through a camera with the shutter open--as they are and non-judgmentally. A former Fortune magazine reporter and currently a Time-Life stringer in Japan, Condon interviewed women of all ages and delved into Japanese history and statistics to place her subjects in the perspective of their culture and economy. Japanese women, she found, are indeed kept subservient to men when compared with those in Western societies; but most are content with their lot, which they think of as not inferior, but as fulfilling a different but equally important function. Most young gifts, even those with college degrees, aspire to marriage and motherhood. They usually work for several years in a corporate office, which they are forced to leave the moment they marry. It is actually illegal to fire a woman simply because she has married--but so much pressure is put on her to resign that most do. Furthermore, all married women--and that included Condon--must have written permission from their husbands in order to work outside the home. After marriage, the house, husband, and ultimately children are the entire focus of a woman's life. Japanese preschoolers--boys more so than girls--are adored and indulged to an extent that most Americans would consider them ""spoiled."" School, however, for both girls and boys is rigorous--five and a half days a week and 240 days a year (compared with 180 days in the US). After school there are private lessons in music, art, English and frequently (for some unexplained reason) swimming. Although high-level job opportunities are virtually nonexistent, a third of the young women go on to college. Most matriculate at two-year insitutions which prepare them for office work, nursery school teaching, sales clerking and, ""most importantly, marriage."" One girl who got into a university told Condon that she and most of her friends had gone there simply to get ""four years of free time."" She also met her boyfriend there. Many women return to the work force when their children are older. Throe jobs are usually with small companies and at the lower end of the pay scale. Sometimes they must leave work to take care of their husband's aging parents. It's a life of service and sacrifice, but for most, a rewarding one. As one old women expressed it, ""Women are the foundation of this country, like the foundation of a house, something you don't notice, but something you depend on."" Condon agrees, contending that Japan's economic miracle would not have been possible without the women taking over all domestic functions, thus freeing the men to put in long hours on the job. In sum, eye-opening and recommended.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Dodd, Mead