Depicting Women in Japan

Trends / Realness
Yuri Endo
Jul 1, 2021
Amidst an international push for gender equality, many brands still struggle to authentically tell stories around women in Japan, especially when it comes to their role in leadership positions. According to our Visual GPS data, 65% of women in Japan don’t feel represented in media and advertising—this is higher than the global average of 54%. Additionally, over 50% of women in Japan have encountered bias ‑ the top three reasons given are age, body, and lifestyle choices.

This struggle comes as no surprise, considering that misogynistic behavior keeps making headlines in the country: the Tokyo Olympics chiefs resigning over sexists comments, a female member of parliament casting doubt on violence against women, Japan’s LDP party deciding to invite women to attend key meetings as long as they do not speak, Japan’s gender equality minister (who is a woman) opposing to change on allowing separate spouse surnames, and the rigging of school admissions against female applicants through the manipulation of test scores and different entrance standards
65% of women in Japan don’t feel represented in media and advertising—this is higher than the global average of 54%.
According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, Japan’s gender gap is the largest among advanced economies. Japan was also placed second to last in The Economist's recent ranking of countries based on the quality of work environment for women. In private sectors, the number of female managers in Japan is just 15%, significantly below the global average of 23%. In politics, women make up just 9.9% of lawmakers in parliament’s more powerful lower house, ranking Japan 166 out of 193 countries for gender equality in government.

Looking at our top‑selling visuals from the past 12 months, we found that Japanese brands and businesses used images of women almost twice as much as images of men. However, women are more often visualized in lifestyle situations, and when they are shown in business settings, men are nearly twice as likely to be depicted in leadership roles. These visual biases align with real‑life biases in Japan: our Visual GPS data shows that women in Japan are visualized 1.3x more in family life than men, and, as the government’s latest national survey clearly showed, mothers do 3.6x more housework than fathers.
So, how do we truly begin addressing these findings in order to be more inclusive when visualizing women? How can we visually boost self‑affirmation for women, and support women's development as leaders? The key is to celebrate diverse lifestyle choices, be inclusive of women at every intersection of identity, and showcase a more comprehensive visual representation of "gender equality."

It is critical to always check back in with yourself about whether you are unconsciously choosing stereotypical representations of women, whether in a business or lifestyle context. When choosing visuals of women in Japan, ask yourself:
  • Are you depicting women as being the leader or having authority in the room?
  • Are you showing mature women with realistic body shape and styling?
  • Are you focusing on women’s skills?
  • Are you showing more than just mothers – different personalities and emotions, inside and outside of a family environment?
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