• Japan Tips
  • Life & Culture

Being Female In Japan: Tips for Foreign Women Working Abroad 

Woman in Japan crossing the street

Being Female In Japan: Tips for Foreign Women Working Abroad 


In today’s climate, most businesses run international, meaning employees are able to travel for work purposes. Being an ALT means travelling from a foreign country to work in Japanese schools. Similar to most workplaces in the world. Lots of women travel for both leisure and business, with a large portion of Interac workers being female. 


However, it wasn’t always this way for women in Japan. It wasn’t until after the mid 1980s that most women were seen exclusively as ‘office ladies’ who would make tea, make paper copies and paper filing. 


Although there is nothing wrong with these activities, it was only the women who were given such duties as they were seen as ‘women’s work’. 

History of Being Female In Japan


History of Female Workers in Japan


As previously mentioned, it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that women were taken more seriously in the workspace. Foreign managers reported that they’d be told to give females in Japan certain roles to fulfil, rather than equal ‘tea making’ for both men and women. Even today, it’s less likely to see women in Japan in higher positions, although the Equal Employment Opportunities Law in 1991 were introduced to combat this.


History of Non-Working Women in Japan


Women in Japan often find it difficult to balance work and parenting. This is not a reflection on the women of Japan at all, it’s usually down to childcare and work hours alongside pay inequality for women. Lots of Japanese women are typically forced to choose, either parenting or working. However, the same isn’t said for the males working in Japan, which is typically why women in Japan end up being the main caregiver for their children. Maternity leave in Japan is also not seen as adequate, with only 6 weeks prior to the birth and 8 weeks after childbirth being guaranteed.


Many women in Japan decide to become a housewife for financial reasons, yet there are still plenty of women who have wanted to be a home-maker from the start. These are often the same as Western reasons, such as watching your child grow, seeing important milestones and also keeping the home running whilst partners are working full time. 


Female Culture in Japan


For females in Japan, it’s seen as tradition to get married and be a housewife. This leads to no work or part-time work for most women who choose this path. However, the part-time work is often low hours and working around their husband’s schedule. These part-time jobs also often pay very little, which makes it hard for women in Japan to make it on their own as single mothers. 


Within the household, many Japanese women still call their husbands ‘Shujin’ which means ‘master’. Japanese women who have daughters are also expected to send their daughters to ‘Charm School’ to learn how to be a good wife. Women in Japan are still to be seen as a good wife and mother, regarding child bearing as a primary role for them.


However, even though this is seen as a traditional Japanese woman’s role, women in Japan have always had control of the home’s finances. Wives often give out ‘allowances’ to their husbands, depending on their income. Bills are paid by women using the household income, then can give their husbands a part of this to use for leisure. This is regularly still seen as outdated to many, with women having to ‘look after’ their husband’s finances alongside the household and children. 


Foreign Working Women in Japan


Adjusting to working in a foreign country can be difficult, especially if you’re moving from a Western country to Japan, as the cultures and language is very different. There are lots of differences in small details when it comes to working in Japan, including dress codes. Foreign women in Japan are typically seen as dressing less conservatively than their Japanese counterparts, which can cause problems. This is largely due to the social constructs of Japan and the Japanese workforce culture. In certain industries in Japan, such as creative roles, self-expression is more freely encouraged than traditional office working environments.


Common Problems Working Women Face in Japan


As discussed above, one of the prominent issues with foreign women working in Japan that hinders their experience is varying dress codes between Western and Japanese cultures. There are more ways to make sure that foreign women in Japan can fit into the workforce easily without issues. Here are some common issues that working women face in Japan and how to work around them. 


Dress Code for Women in Japan


Women working in Japanese offices should try to dress conservatively. Colours such as navy, black and dark grey are safe choices, alongside neutral coloured blouses or shirts. Skirts can be worn by women in Japan, yet they’re actively encouraged to make sure the skirt is longer than knee-length. Pants are also seen as a conservative choice. As most women from foreign countries are taller than their Japanese male colleagues, including their superiors. It’s encouraged to not wear high heels due to being taller than people in higher positions. Although this may seem outdated, it’s a sure fire way to make sure your dress code isn’t scrutinized.

Read our blog on how to dress to impress in Japan for more information on dress codes. 


Working Attitudes for Women in Japan


According to some foreign women working in Japan, their colleagues struggled with the dominance and assertiveness of their working manners. This is an area of Japanese customs that lots of foreign women struggle with, especially if they’ve come from high position roles previously. It’s customary to complete activities that subordinates would regularly do, such as ‘tea-making’. Again, this may cause friction between foreign women workers and people in higher positions. The way to combat this would be to show your expertise and work ethic alongside completing such tasks.


” The secret to having a successful career as a foreign woman in Japan is being proactive and flexible. This is why when you first join a company, you need to actively seek for responsibilities and tasks and show that you are willing to work hard and progress. Secondly, in as much as companies in Japan do have a job description for their open positions, you find that you probably will be asked to do other tasks that are not stated on the job description or you might be assigned to a different department to take on tasks that are not covered in the initial job description.”  – Michelle


Although it might seem that there are lots of customs and rules to being a foreign female worker in Japan, yet there is a mix of modern outlooks and traditions that make up the workplace. However, if you’re looking for tips on clothing and traditions outside of work, visit our blog on Japanese Fashion and Clothing.


Top Teach Abroad Providers: Safety


Did you know Interac are winners in the 2023 Go Overseas Community Choice Awards? We won 2nd place in the Safety category, so if you’re a woman teaching with us, you know you’re in safe hands.


Safety is one of the most important factors we ask reviewers to rate; almost every program on Go Overseas (even those that aren’t in the teach abroad category) is rated on safety. In particular, we want to know how teachers felt about the safety of their school and the local community.”