The main trends in the economic and social transformation of Japan imply that Japanese women play a new role. The productive capacity of Japan is at stake as population of elders is more than 27% of the total. But, traditionally in the past, and still nowadays, women in Japan had a lower rate of employment than in other industrialised countries. They were mainly assigned to non-permanent positions and very few could reach a position of executives. The poverty rate of single working women is one of the highest among OECD countries. In the meantime, employed, and even unemployed women, have had less and less babies for several reasons. Now it seems urgent for Japan to stop or, at least, to slow the demographic decline and to reinforce the workforce with more women at work.
The focus of this contribution is on re-examining the so-called « traditional » roles of women in Japanese society and on some aspects of changes in progress or expected. The Japanese « traditional » employment system discourages women from working as regular employees. In addition to the usual discrimination and the rigid segmentation by gender remained at work, the norms and practices in Japanese society pressure and challenge Japanese working women. Such a situation is rooted in the past social protection system, and in a model of a male breadwinner imposing on women responsibility relating to domestic roles: maternity, childcare, care of the elderly.