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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Women's voices

This story is part of a package on women in Japan. The introduction is here.



I really think women make good businesswomen

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Kahoko Tsunezawa, 32, is president of Trenders Inc., which runs workshops for aspiring women entrepreneurs.

I set up a company at the age of 26, and when I was looking for partnerships with outside people, for example, I considered myself a company owner but they didn't. So I've tried to show that I'm a professional, that I'm looking for certain qualities and have certain convictions. But I've enjoyed certain advantages because there are so few female businesswomen. I really think women make good businesswomen, if they learn how to make their right and left brains work together, so to speak.

I feel this every day when managing our staff, who are all women. They have great intuition and sensitivities, so when I teach them how to combine these qualities with logic, they do a great job.

Especially in developed nations, things are changing fast. The economy used to revolve around making and selling goods, but nowadays, new businesses that provide services or other intagibles can also attract money. Women have excellent skills at accommodating customers' needs, I think. Women's sensibilities can be harnessed to make a profit.

Many female entrepreneurs here look overwhelmed, as if facing huge adversities . . . I feel like, "Why can't you have more fun?" Working should be fun, because what you do will help others. (Tomoko Otake)




Being a girl was an advantage

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Shoko Egawa, 47, is a freelance journalist who focuses on youth issues. She is renowned for her reporting on the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult.

I have hardly ever experienced any discrimination as a reporter because I am a woman. Sure, when I was applying for a newspaper job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was not in place, and it was extremely difficult for women to break into the media. But once I got in, I didn't experience any discrimination. On the contrary, I feel I had a big advantage because I was a girl. When I met my contacts, like when I was covering the local police, they would remember my name quickly because I was the only woman reporter around. When I think about it now, I guess I was considered a "trial" product by the regional daily where I first worked; I guess I was a hitoyose-panda (a panda that attracts people). I was probably a PR tool for the company; they could show off the fact that they also had a woman reporter.

Now, a lot more women are working successfully in the media industry, and things are better for them. As for the impact of more female journalists on society, I don't know, and I'm not interested. I think young women especially lack the feeling that they are oppressed. (Tomoko Otake)




I employ both candy and the whip when I am fighting my battles

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Kaori Momoi, 53, is an award-winning actress who has worked with Japan's top directors, including Akira Kurosawa. She recently appeared in the Oscar-winning "Memoirs of a Geisha" (titled "Sayuri" in Japan).

In Japan, even with (purported) equality of the sexes, there are still men who can't stand the idea of a woman being superior to them in rank. They say things like, "As if a woman could do that," or "A woman must never disobey a man." That's why women who express themselves bluntly are scorned. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.

(But) no matter how much a man may loathe me, to do the best work possible I have refused to this day to compromise my principles. On the other hand, lately I've come to think a degree of femininity is also important in getting along with people. So I employ both candy and the whip when I am fighting my battles.

As for what Japanese women can share with the world, I'd say it is an awareness of beauty. And my advice to the next generation of young women? Don't consider age a demerit. I like the me of today more than the me of my 20s and 30s. The pattern on a snake's skin becomes more beautiful with the passing of time. (Eric Prideaux)




The important thing is to know yourself

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Chihiro Yamanaka, a jazz pianist, was voted Swing Journal magazine's best new artist for 2005.

I don't think I've struggled because I'm a woman. Gender discrimination does exist, but it's not my job to think about it. Nowadays, it is often less obvious but more cunning, like discrimination by women against women, which is caused by male-dominated society.

I hope that if more women succeed, social thinking, which is now is dominated by the principle of the survival of the fittest, will become more diversified.

I want young people to discover what they like, stick to it, and spend more time feeling happy. It takes intelligence to identify what you're interested in, and persistence and optimism to stick to it. The important thing is to know yourself and to use this knowledge to your advantage. In other words, to create your own niche. (Tomoko Otake)




Marking the soul

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Nagi Noda, the inventor of Hanpandas, furry half-panda animal characters, is a Tokyo-based artist and short-film director whose commercial clients include Coca-Cola, Sony and Nike.

I think the fact that men can't have babies means that they often want to leave something for posterity, something that will be remembered for generations to come. But for women, or at least for me, it's about leaving a strong mark on the soul for a single, fleeting moment. (Martin Webb)




My advice is, 'Put those worries aside and just take a step forward'

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Fumiko Hayashi, 59, was a top automobile salesperson before she became CEO of major supermarket chain operator Daiei Inc.

I worked in a male-dominated industry for many years, and sure, it was quite challenging for me to deal with the perception held by many people that women could not succeed in that industry. Some of my male co-workers were prejudiced and so were harsh toward me, but I tried not to take their attitudes to heart. I've never shouted "gender discrimination" in my life, because I think it's natural for humans to have feelings of prejudice, bewilderment, jealousy and envy toward people they don't understand. So I've tried hard to take the initiative in communicating to others what kind of person I am.

A lot of young women are worried whether they will be able to manage kids and a job at the same time, and so they hesitate to take full advantage of advances that have been made. My advice is, "Put those worries aside and just take a step forward." At Daiei, we have a great maternity/child-care-leave policy (of up to 3 years), but women are reluctant to take advantage of it. I urge them to do what they should do (and exercise their rights). It is only through such stimulus that both management and workers can change.

When I started working, women were not allowed to play an important role in business, work close to management or even become middle managers. These days, businesses welcome women. So what is important now is for us to think about how to make it easier for women to stay in the workforce (even if they marry and have children). (Tomoko Otake)




Sparking curiosity

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Kanako Otsuji, 31, is a member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly who caused a stir last August by revealing that she is a lesbian.

In the assembly, of 109 members a mere seven are women, and their average age is just below 60. This gender and age imbalance is pretty much the same in all (Japanese) regional politics, and so I think it is difficult to achieve an accurate reflection of the people's will.

Most of my male colleagues have never worked on an equal footing alongside a young woman, and they seem bewildered how to communicate (with me). In addition, last year I announced my homosexuality, so . . . I must be something like a space alien to such guys. Well, I guess I just have to let them get used to it.

I think that by showing young women that I as a young woman am achieving results in the political world, that should spark curiosity in politics among the next generation. Also, I hope my presence as a lesbian speaks for a diversity of social values and provides hope for minorities.

I want to urge young women not to fear their own ambition, to single-mindedly pursue their goals. Going here and there, ever lightly on your feet, you build networks as you go. And that's power. Don't hesitate! (Eric Prideaux)




Forward through work

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Kaori Sasaki, 46, is president and CEO of e-woman, a marketing/training/human resource development company

Because men have long dominated management decisions, they unfortunately underestimate women's capability. But regardless of what kind of job you've got before you, work hard and try to get something out of it. Such efforts will pave the way to your next step. (Kaho Shimizu)




Learn from failures

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Yoko Mizukoshi, 52, is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Japanese edition of The Big Issue magazine.

It's natural for women to be as successful as men, as there are the same number in the world. I think anyone in their 20s can learn from failures -- all mistakes can prove meaningful. You just need to realize when you make a choice, it's you making it. (Tomoko Otake)




Overcoming difficulty

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Kuniko Inoguchi, 53, a political science professor at Sophia University, Tokyo, and a former diplomat, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2005 and appointed minister for population issues and gender equality.

I have pursued political science ever since I was an undergraduate, and after earning my Ph.D at Yale I became engaged in democracy and security research and education. Back then, there were few woman scholars of law or political science . . . Yet, with time, their numbers have grown. By overcoming difficulty and persisting with professional life, I feel I can encourage women who follow that path.

The social environment around Japanese women has been dramatically improved, yet they still face many hardships. Their struggle for equality in the Asian social environment . . . demonstrates to the world that democracy and egalitarianism can guide potent, universal political development regardless of cultural context.

I urge the young generation of women today to remember that most women (around the world) born at the same time as them fall victim to hunger, poverty or civil war. So, continue your journey undefeated by whatever misfortune you encounter. (Eric Prideaux)

For other stories in our package on women in Japan, please click the following links:

Girls' job stereotypes persist in face of continuing 'concrete ceiling'

Pointers to progress and inertia

Times of change



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