Internet-related Employment Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Japan


Kristen MJ Johnson


The Internet first arrived in Japan in 1984 as a research network between three Japanese universities. Non-academic use in private and commercial functions slowly began to emerge nine years later (Gottlieb & McLelland 2003). In little over twenty years, it has seen profound effects in not only Japan but also throughout the rest of the world. Much literature written about the Internet praises it as nothing short of an international panacea. The idea of instantaneous information, free means of international communication and convenient storage and sharing of data is what many may consider a modern-day technological “dream come true.” However, the social and ideological implications of the Internet’s effects various divisions of Japanese society are merely on the brink of realization. One division, which is of general focus in this study, is that of women’s employment opportunities. Women in Japan have historically been considered distinctly different from men regarding gender-based societal roles. Compared internationally to other developed countries which are progressing to provide equal employment opportunities for women, Japan is still making little progress. Jobs reliant on or reinforced by the Internet have the potential to help women overcome various gender and social barriers that are proven difficult to span in employment as well as in other aspects of life. “Working on the computer from my home is my dream,” wrote a 39 year old single other caring for her four year old daughter and struggling to make ends meet (Asahi Shimbun 2003). Many women in Japan feel similar sentiments as this mother’s statement, and recently the Internet has shown itself to be a viable alternative option for women who want to begin entrepreneurial ventures. Women in Japan are using information and computer technology through the Internet to advance their employment opportunities and to promote social and gender change both ideologically and realistically.

The focus of this study is twofold: current social barriers which slow progress towards changing ideologies of women’s status in Japan and the various advantages, as well as the disadvantages and barriers, the Internet has presented to the employment situation for women in Japan. Moving from the general to the specific, this interdisciplinary study first discusses the status quo of women and work in Japan, Japan’s educational system as it relates to societal change and the Japanese concept of tatemae and honne. By taking a lateral approach to clarify these topics, I hope to provide added depth to the implications that women using the Internet to advance their employment opportunities in Japan have socially, ideologically and in every day life. This study considers a very real and present phenomenon in Japan and is designed to accurately analyze the social biases and opportunities for change through the Internet that are now present in Japan.

This study presents the various concepts of what an Internet-based business is and defining the options it presents to women in Japan. Further, I observe the panoply of resources and options that women have available to them as tools for creating Internet-reliant businesses or finding Internet-reinforced work. I attempt to present a case that is based upon the current literature available both in English and Japanese regarding women in Japan working through the Internet. Beyond this, I incorporate the qualitative research findings that I have gathered through various interviews with individuals who are themselves working through the Internet. There are case studies of both successful and unsuccessful Internet businesses, a selection of which I consider in this paper.

The Internet has proven itself to be an effective tool in enabling international communications and presenting new opportunities for employment. “In the battle of the sexes, technology has become the great leveler, offering everyone access to information and communication tools that were once unimaginable. And in Asia, women are taking what the digital economy has to offer and running with it.” (CNN 2002). The concept of women who work through the Internet is not a passing trend; however it is new territory that can present challenges for women trying to enter the realm of information and computer technology for the first time. These challenges vary from the actual technology of the Internet to standing up against a group and doing something original which is not necessarily accepted by society. The successes and challenges that this study observes all contribute to concept of what women in Japan have faced and will possibly face if they do start their own Internet-reliant business.

Japan is internationally recognized as a country that has deeply engrained cultural specificities and traditional concepts of men and women that will take time to overcome. This study presents various challenges that women in Japan still face every day. The language, the culture, and the nearly stagnant government all are obstacles that slow the progress of change and equal employment opportunity for women. Fortunately, one factor which makes the Internet what it is today is the availability and convenience of published information and support communities. In a sense, the process of overcoming a challenge and the means to overcome that challenge are both achieved in part through utilization of the Internet. This study attempts to show how women are creating Internet-reliant and Internet-reinforced businesses, using real cases designed to present the successes and challenges of Internet businesses. It also presents a sampling of the resources available to women in Japan, showing the level of support that women can access. Working with the social presence of concepts such as tatemae and honne, as well as a challenging and apparently flawed educational system, Japanese women are indeed making progress towards greater social and economic freedom. They are using information and computer technology through the Internet to advance employment opportunities and to promote social and gender change both ideologically and in reality.


Asahi Shimbun (2003). Boshi Katei IT de Zaitaku Shuurou (Single Mothers Able to Work at Home Using Information Technology). Asahi Shimbun. Tokyo.

N (2002). New Economy Makes a More Level Playing Field; Women Find Business Success with Internet Technology; Did the Dog-Com Crash Affect the Sexes Equally? CNN International: Ebiz Asia, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.

Gottlieb, Nanette and Mark McLelland, Eds. (2003). Japanese Cybercultures. New York, Routledge.