Japan’s modern history started during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Under Emperor Meiji, Japan set out to achieve in only a few decades what had taken centuries to develop in the West--the creation of a modern nation with modern industries, modern political institutions, and a modern pattern of society. In the first years of his reign, Emperor Meiji transferred the imperial capital from Kyoto to Edo, the seat of the former feudal government. The city was renamed Tokyo, meaning "eastern capital." A constitution was promulgated, establishing a cabinet and bicameral legislature.
One of the most immediate tasks in the postwar years was economic rehabilitation. With the sympathetic support of the United States and other nations, Japan was admitted to various international organizations, which enabled the country to participate in free multilateral international trade. By the mid-1960s Japan had become economically strong enough to compete successfully in the open markets of the world.
Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) have helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and third largest economy in the world after the US and China. One notable characteristic of the economy is the working together of manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors in closely-knit groups called keiretsu. A second basic feature has been the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features are now eroding. Industry, the most important sector of the economy, is heavily dependent on imported raw materials and fuels. The much smaller agricultural sector is highly subsidized and protected, with crop yields among the highest in the world. Japan maintains one of the world's largest fishing fleets and accounts for nearly 15% of the global catch.
For three decades overall real economic growth had been spectacular: a 10% average in the 1960s, a 5% average in the 1970s, and a 4% average in the 1980s. Growth slowed markedly in the 1990s largely because of the aftereffects of over-investment during the late 1980s and contractionary domestic policies intended to wring speculative excesses from the stock and real estate markets. Government efforts to revive economic growth have met little success and were further hampered in late 2000 by the slowing of the US and Asian economies. The crowding of habitable land area and the aging of the population are two major long-run problems. Robotics constitutes a key long-term economic strength, with Japan possessing 410,000 of the world's 720,000 "working robots".
Since 1945 Japan has enjoyed a remarkable degree of domestic political stability. Except for a brief period of socialist government in 1947 and 1948, the conservatives have maintained a constant majority in the Diet.
Under the serious economic recession where women faces difficulties due to the worsening living conditions such as the retreated social security including medical and pension systems they are becoming more critical about politics. This growing political awareness has made them active participants in political processes such as elections. For instance, during the simultaneous local elections held in April 1999, women's vote rate exceeded that of men in most of the constituencies, which had a great influence on the election results. In fact, there has been an increase, albeit slow, in the number of women holding public office in recent years.
At present, the number of women candidates running for the elections and that of the elected recorded an all-time high; a total of 2,400 women candidates were elected all over the country. As of December 2000, women held 36 seats in the 480-member lower house of the Diet (7.5 percent), and 43 of the 252 seats in the upper house (17.1 percent), the highest number since 1946. There are 2 women in the 19-member Cabinet. Two of the country's 47 governors are women (in Osaka prefecture and in Kumamoto); both were elected during the year.
The Government and ruling parties railroaded through the present Diet session a bill to reduce the House of Representatives proportional representation constituency seats by 20. The cut in the proportional representation constituency seats will result in women's voices and people's will further less reflected in politics. The "Liaison Group for the Implementation of Resolutions for the International Women's Year Conference of Japan" formed by Japan's major women organizations comprising 26 million women, unanimously opposed the single-seat constituency system, calling for a electoral system centered on the proportional representation, one that can reflect the people's will more proper and facilitate women's participation in politics. 49 women organizations have expressed their opposition to the reduction in the proportional representation constituency seats pushed through this time.
Women make up 40 percent of the labor force, and women between the ages of 15 and 64 have a labor force participation rate of 51 percent. Although the Labor Standards and the EEO law prohibit wage discrimination against women, in 1999 female workers on average earned only 62 percent of average male earnings. Women age 20 to 24 earned 91 percent of men's wages for this age group, but average earnings of women age 50 to 54 were only 54 percent of the earnings of men in this age cohort. Much of this disparity results from the "two-track" personnel administration system found in most larger companies, under which new hires are put into one of two categories: Managerial track (those engaged in planning and decision-making jobs and with the potential to become top executives), or general track (those engaged in general office work).
According to a 1998 survey by the Management and Coordination Agency, women held 9.2 percent of managerial positions. Other surveys revealed that the ratio of female managers in Japan is less than 10 percent, the lowest among the developed countries and lower than in many developing countries including the Philippines. A 1998 Labor Ministry survey found that over half of the companies with a two-track personnel system did not even consider women for managerial track positions. According to the Home Ministry, as of April 1999, women constituted 32 percent of all local government workers but held only 4 percent of top local government positions. Female workers have suffered disproportionately from the continued sluggishness of the economy. A 1999 Rengo labor union study reported that the number of nonworking women grew by 420,000 as many gave up looking for jobs due to the tight employment market.
Read more about the human rights situation of women in Japan in this report.