Work and Lifecourse in Japan

By Samuel Coleman; Theodore F. Cook Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Office: Way Station or Blind Alley?

JAMES MCLENDON


Way Station or Blind Alley

Women make up about forty percent of Japan's labor force, a surprisingly large figure when compared with the minimal attention they receive in most studies of work organizations in Japan. On the other hand, the number of women whose careers fit the pattern of lifetime employment and promotion by seniority, usually offered as the standard wisdom on Japan, must be very small indeed. The majority of women leave the labor force after a few years -- though the pattern is changing, as Karen Holden shows in Chapter Two. 1 Athough long-term employment -- without, of course, any prospect of managerial responsibilities -- is a thinkable option in some cases, a women is usually under great pressure not to exercise that option. When a young woman gets a job she is encouraged to think of the workplace not as the first stage of a working career but rather as a way station on the route to marriage. 2 For the women who do not find a marriage partner but go on working, the office becomes a blind alley. Their continued presence there serves only to remind them that they have failed to achieve their proper goal in life -- marriage.

In this chapter I look at women's careers in a large general trading company (sōgō shōsha) -- GTC for short -- which I will call Yama Shōji. 3 While every organization has its unique features, I believe that the uncertainties and dilemmas female employees encounter in this company typify the career situation for women in most large Japanese organizations.

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