Gives critical attention to the issue of Japan’s low level of gender equality and the conflicting information from surveys of women reporting a high sense of well-being

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Why do Japanese women enjoy a high sense of well-being in a context of high inequality? Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan brings together researchers from across the social sciences to investigate this question. The authors analyze women’s values and the lived experiences at home, in the family, at work, in their leisure time, as volunteers, and in politics and policy-making. Their research shows that the state and firms have blurred “the public” and “the private” in postwar Japan, constraining individuals’ lives, and reveals the uneven pace of change in women’s representation in politics. Yet, despite these constraints, the increasing diversification in how people live and how they manage their lives demonstrates that some people are crafting a variety of individual solutions to structural problems. Covering a significant breadth of material, the book presents comprehensive findings that use a variety of research methods—public opinion surveys, in-depth interviews, a life history, and participant observation—and, in doing so, look beyond Japan’s perennially low rankings in gender equality indices to demonstrate the diversity underneath, questioning some of the stereotypical assumptions about women in Japan.

Gill Steel is Professor at the Institute for the Liberal Arts, Doshisha University.

In this data-rich and engrossing book, Gill Steel and her co-authors describe the lived experiences, hopes and dreams, and prospects of Japanese women as compared to those in other rich democracies.  With statistics, ethnography, focus groups, and case studies, these authors depict women who are, on average, happier than their male counterparts but who remain in the shadows of professional and public life on account of cultural norms and the labor market structures that keep the norms in place.  This book is essential material for anyone interested in Japan or in gender studies.”
— Frances McCall Rosenbluth, Yale University

The chapters in this volume promise to investigate the many ways in which Japanese women “exercise ‘agency’ and ‘voice,’ contributing to their well-being.”  In fact, the diverse scholars writing here do just that, reaching from examinations of women who buck social expectations by refusing to wed to women of conservative political action groups who work to preserve the traditional Japanese family. Chapters on women in the Liberal Democratic Party, on Tokyo’s first female governor, and on the dynamics of the distribution of household labor in homes where wives work all help to offer a rich, well-written entry into the complex reality of gender in Japan today. This book is an essential antidote to the stereotyped presentation of Japanese women as mere victims that we often see in Western media.”
— Robin M. LeBlanc, Washington and Lee University

A superb collection of essays on women and politics in contemporary Japan. This volume depicts how the blurring of the ‘public’ and the ‘private’ has constrained individuals’ lives, and how women exercised ‘agency’ and ‘voice’ in various ways despite such constraints. It enhances our understanding of the persistent male dominance, as it also sheds light on the complexity of dynamic changes. This is a must-read for anyone who is puzzled why Japan continues to lag behind on gender equality.”
— Mari Miura, Sophia University

Gill Steel in this edited volume Beyond the Gender Gap in Japan skillfully brings together leading scholarship from around the world, including many Japanese voices. Studies of Japanese politics that address gender or incorporate a gendered understanding remain too few to illuminate the subject. This book fills a critical gap in the literature, and does so with verve and insight. The authors tackle tough subjects from political representation to choices in personal life such as marriage and parenting, as well as exploring the intersection of these in how public policy tries to influence private behavior. This volume is required reading for those seeking to know more about gender and politics in Japan.”
— Robert J. Pekkanen, University of Washington

"This book offers an excellent collection of essays that show the complex and diverse life choices that Japanese women make within their gender-based constraints. Steel argues that changes in corporate customs and structure, the introduction of the national gender quota, and electoral system reforms are necessary for women’s advancement into national politics and higher positions in the corporate world." 
—Akiko Yasuike, Pacific Affairs 

- Akiko Yasuike

"As a reader, I found the analysis of formal political participation—elected and appointed—to be particularly insightful. The Japanese political system can be difficult to grasp, but these articles were clearly written and accessible. On the whole, this was a fascinating volume to explore."
—Winifred Lewis Shiraishi, The GALE Journal

- Winifred Lewis Shiraishi

"This collection of 14 essays, edited by Steel (Doshisha Univ., Japan), expands the understanding of contemporary gender expectations in Japan, particularly those impacting women. Relying on direct interviews with Japanese women, the contributing authors add complexity and depth to a wide range of issues." —CHOICE

- L.A. Makela

"I give potential readers a very high recommendation as the volume is accessible and clarifying, and it will be useful to researchers and students alike, both in college and graduate classrooms. As such, the volume makes a significant contribution to the field of Japan studies and women’s and gender studies."
—Anne Aronsson, Journal of Japanese Studies

- Anne Aronsson

Read: Reviewed in the Journal of Japanese Studies | March 2021