Narratives on Women’s Irregular Employment and Work-Family Balance in Japan

Professor Kaori Okano2

2LaTrobe, , Australia

The proportion of women in paid employment reached a record high of almost 70 percent in 2018.  The infamous M-curve relating women’s paid employment to age has flattened considerably in the last decade. But many more women than men are in so called irregular employment (hiseiki) which has poor working conditions. This paper examines narratives of individual choice for flexibility and family-work balance in relation to irregular paid employment, and considers how they contribute to maintaining the institutional structure of unequal power in employment. These narratives advance the interests of the dominant group (men in power) while simultaneously disadvantaging the minoritized group (women), although they are often cited by middle class married women with children and the general public. The study draws on the researchers’ interviews with 20 women who have been irregular workers, and regular workers who worked with irregular workers during their careers.


Kaori Okano, PhD, is a Professor in Japanese/Asian Studies in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University. She researches social inequality (minoritized social groups) and education, multicultural and antiracist education, the politics of eating at school, and the longitudinal study of life course. Her recent publications include: Discourse, gender and shifting identities in Japan (2018, with Maree), Rethinking Japanese Studies: Eurocentrism and the Asia-Pacific region (2018, with Sugimoto), and Nonformal education and civil society in Japan (2016).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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