Experts say that some men of this generation believe that women should stay home or attend meetings but keep silent.
Momoko Nojo, a Tokyo-based economics student, says these views sparked a generational wedge between political gerontocracy and young people born in the 1990s, an era of economic stagnation dubbed a “lost decade.”
As a 23 year old woman willing to embrace change, Nojo runs “No Youth, No Japan”, a student-led social media initiative founded in 2019 with more than 60,000 followers on Instagram that promotes political literacy and aims to convince largely disappointed youth to use their voices to influence the future.
“We share information on online platforms like Instagram because we want young people to hear their voices and count their voices,” said Nojo.
From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, Japan turned its economy around. Powered by male employees, the country became the second largest economy in the world after the United States.
Older politicians like former Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori and an official with Japan’s ruling party Toshihiro Nikkai, who recently sparked international condemnation for their sexist remarks about women, come from a generation known as “dankai sedai” on baby boomers English. According to Kukhee Choo, an independent Japanese media scholar, they are known as the generation who brought Japan to the global stage after its defeat in World War II.
During the economic miracle, women were for the most part exiled into the home or held office and secretarial functions in offices, mainly because of the attitudes at the time.
“(Dankai sedai) thought at the time that society worked better and the economy was better – there is this arrogance,” said Choo.
Mori and Nikkai both said women should be silent. Choo says her derogatory remarks towards women are examples of traditional and outdated views about women’s place in society, suggesting that men should remain the main breadwinners and women should stay at home.
But Nojo, the student activist, says that young people in Japan face a different reality than what the boomers went through.
While employees were guaranteed lifelong employment during the lifetime of Japan’s economy, many working adults today face an unstable labor market, rapid payroll growth, and the prospect of never being a homeowner.
“It’s been almost 20 years since the bubble burst but it’s getting harder for us to see a bright future where we can chase our dreams,” said Nojo.
For example, in Japan the number of part-time and temporary workers has increased dramatically over the past few decades – in part due to the partial legalization of temporary and contract work in 1986 and full legalization in 1999.
Japan had 22 million part-time and temporary workers in 2019, compared to 17 million in 2011, according to the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
In the same year, 39% of women worked part-time compared with 14% of men. As a result, women are unfairly disadvantaged as non-regular workers earn around 40% as much as regular workers on an hourly basis and receive less training in their jobs, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“We worry about the future and wonder if we can get a stable job that will pay us enough to raise children. Will we get the same salaries that our parents had? Will we even get pensions? We are a generation with all of these. ” Kinds of worries, “added Nojo.
Traditions die hard
Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister, says the malevolent attitude of the male old guard towards women symbolizes problems with the Japanese power structure, in which women and minorities are still poorly represented.
The government’s plans to have women in 30% of leadership positions by 2020 were tacitly postponed to 2030 last year after proving too ambitious.
And in Japan, only one in seven lawmakers is a woman – that’s less than 14%, compared to a global average of 25% and an average of 20% in Asia as of January 2021, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Organization’s data collects through national parliaments.
The problem, says Inada, is the widespread belief that politics is still a man’s world. “The idea that good women understand how to behave and not push forward still exists today,” she said.
Inada has supported enforced voting quotas that provide for 30% of candidates for elections in Japan’s ruling party to be female. She argues that increasing participation by women increases responses to policies related to women and also benefits men.
However, changing the mindset that binds people to traditional gender roles in Japan is not always easy, according to Nobuko Kobayashi, a partner at EY-Parthenon, a strategic advisory group within E&Y Transaction Advisory Services.
“If the idea of standing one step behind a man is ingrained in your brain from the beginning, it’s difficult to break when you grow up,” Kobayashi said.
Last month, a poll by Kyodo News found that more than 60% of active women lawmakers felt it would be difficult to get the number of women in parliament to 35% by 2025.
From clickivism to activism
Last month, Japanese broadcaster Asahi sparked outrage with an ad in which an actress said, “Gender equality is out of date.” The network later apologized and shut down the commercial after a Twitter storm. Twitter has long been the dominant social network in Japan with over 51 million active users. It is the second largest social media site market in the world after the US, according to a 2020 report by Hootsuite, a social media marketing company.
The large user base has resulted in a generation of younger Japanese people like Nojo, the student activist, spreading their complaints online and holding those in power accountable for their actions and words.
“The political dinosaurs were pretty clueless about all of this, but they suddenly realize it,” said Jeffrey Kingston, a Japan expert at Temple University.
Kingston gives the example of the backlash that emerged on social media when Mori, the former Tokyo 2020 boss, tried to pick another eighty-year-old to replace him. That move ultimately failed when he was replaced by 56-year-old Olympic champion Seiko Hashimoto.
Kathy Matsui, a former vice chairwoman and chief strategist of Japan at global investment bank Goldman Sachs, said while sexist comments were swept under the carpet 10 years ago, “foot-in-the-mouth” comments are now inexcusable. “It’s not that easy to get away with because of social media,” she said.
In recent years, campaigns like #MeToo and #KuToo, where women petitions against wearing high heels to work, have brought Japan’s gender inequality and human rights issues to the fore, although the movements haven’t found as much support in the country as they did in the West.
Changing of the guard
Matsui, the former banking strategist, says many young men in Japan who do not share the traditional values of their fathers and grandfathers also use social media to amplify women’s voices.
Additionally, young people dislike male public figures who make derogatory comments because they see it as a symbol of what happens a lot in the workplace, said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University. “You think I know this guy and he shouldn’t just get away with it,” he added.
But Nakano argues that not all controversial comments from above lead to dismissal. For example, Mori’s resignation came earlier this year as public skepticism about the Olympics increased. “Ministers in Japan often make ill-advised, insulting comments, but they often get off the hook. But people understand that protesting on Twitter can be effective when the conditions are right,” he said.
Although Mori’s fall marked a turning point, the struggle for a more diverse and equal society in Japan is far from over.
In 2015, a new Japanese law lowered the minimum voting age from 20 to 18 years. This was the first such change in over 70 years when the age was lowered from 25 years. This new legislation allowed around 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds to exercise their democratic rights in the 2016 national elections for the first time. However, the turnout was lower than expected. Only 46.8% of the 18 and 19 year olds took part. In the general election the following year, the number fell to 41.5%. According to Nojo, Japanese teenagers are less involved in politics than their counterparts in the US and Europe because they feel disappointed with the status quo and don’t bother to vote, while those who tend to lean to the right.
“In Japan a lot of people are conservative. If you take America, young people support Biden and in Europe young people are liberal, while in Japan people in their twenties don’t vote. They are suspicious of politics and politics politicians,” she said.
Kaname Nakama, a fourth-year student at Meiji University in Japan who claims to be conservative and runs a political YouTube channel, said young people in the country think politics are too complicated.
During Joe Biden’s presidency, he will discuss political issues ranging from the role of the media in Japan to geopolitics. He said younger conservatives find outdated remarks by older men in positions of power “embarrassing” and his colleagues do not believe women should stay home.
For Nojo, Mori’s fall was a precedent. However, she wants older men of the ruling elite to think more about their behavior and the need for greater representation of women in positions of power. She added that it is never about an outdated man at the top, but rather the need to reform the behaviors and systems that support them.
“It’s really about problems at the heart of organizations – and Japanese society too,” Nojo said.