I attended this reception at the House of Lords overlooking the river Thames in glorious sunshine. A fitting setting for such a wonderful gathering of people from the Japanese and British worlds of politics, business and culture. It was lovely to see such love and respect between our two countries yet still such differences in culture and traditions. We were entertained with some traditional Japanese dancing by old and young Japanese ladies dressed as geisha and maikos. My Japanese friend, who has trained in traditional dance, explained how the dances represented the seasons and how difficult they were to perform. To my eyes, the younger girl’s dance conveyed fragile beauty, modesty and a hint of submissiveness whereas the older ladies dance was somehow more powerful. Some of the older Japanese men watched attentively, respectful of the traditions as well as its representation of Japanese femininity. I am not sure the same reaction came from the British audience, although it was greatly appreciated.
It led me to wonder about the difference in gender roles between our two countries. Japan knows it is losing out economically with such low labour participation of its highly educated female workforce. The Government is putting “female friendly” incentives into place and has prioritised “womenomics”. This is being discussed on various levels; by brave Japanese women, by Western women who have grown up in very different cultural contexts and by politicians and business leaders, who need to support it. The lack of flexible working practices and recruitment processes that will support women rising to decision making positions needs to be addressed. It won’t help that the responsibilities of caring for an ageing population traditionally fall on women. A major shift in corporate culture may happen out of economic necessity. However there is still a long way to go to adapt deeply ingrained gender roles and expectations of female behaviour (see following articles and read my previous blog for some examples). I will be watching with great interest and support.
Japanese Women and Work: Holding Back Half The Nation: The Economist