World Cup success a boost for women in Japanese society
By Takehiko Kambayashi (dpa) Jul 18, 2011, 11:43 GMT
Tokyo - The role of women in Japanese society is still marked by gender inequality where the common perception for many remains that it is in the country's best interests that they stay at home to devote themselves to their children and family.
A Japanese woman certainly shouldn't consider a career in football, which makes Sunday's shock penalty shootout victory over Olympic champions the United States in the women's World Cup final in Frankfurt all the more remarkable.
For years, the country's female footballers have lived in the shadow of their male counterparts, fighting prejudice and open hostility to what was in many quarters considered an 'untraditional' pastime for a woman.
Until just a couple of years ago, many players only managed to keep their heads above water thanks to part-time jobs, having to complete their training sessions in any available spare time, explains Saburo Kawabuchi from the Japanese Football Association (JFA).
The ambition and staying power of the newly-crowned world champions is seen now as an example for all, especially in the wake of this year's earthquake catastrophe.
'We were successful because we kept trying and never gave up,' said team captain Homare Sawa, who scored the late extra-time equalizer to make the score 2-2 and send the match into a penalty shootout.
It remains to be seen whether Japan's success in becoming the first Asian country to win a women's World Cup opens doors for others in a country where female athletes still find life difficult in a male-dominated society.
Feminist Mie Ueda, a leading activist against domestic violence, believes the victory in Germany is significant.
'These women have forced themselves into an area that was previously only reserved for men. The prejudicial belief that women can't play football has been completely destroyed.'
Atsuko Himeno, a councillor in Iwakuni, one of the most conservative regions in Japan agrees the victory could signal a sea change in attitudes.
'The World Cup victory shows that women can be successful, they just have to constantly work hard to achieve it,' she says.
Himeno has had to battle backward views towards women throughout her life, explaining how many men believe a woman's job is simply to have and raise children.
'Japan lags far behind when it comes to gender equality for women,' she believes.
This inequality is clear to see in business where many women give up work after the birth of their first child. Just 1.2 per cent of the senior managers in Japan's 3,600 stock exchange listed companies are women.
The percentage of women in parliament is 10.9 per cent, although there is not a single female government minister: Japan ranks 121st out of 186 countries, the lowest of any leading industrial nation.
Read more about Japan