Post-bubble Japan

A significant characteristic of post-bubble Japanese society is the struggle for a new identity. The collapse of the bubble economy dashed society’s hopes for continual progress towards a bright and rosy future for the nation. This has led many within Japan to to grapple with the issues of how their futures will change and how they fit into a society that is in a constant state of confusion.

The issue of identity is especially relevant to the women of Japan today, including both the generation in their prime during the collapse and those born in the years following. The stunning economic gains of the 1980s seemed to also promise advancements for the women of Japan. An economically thriving Japan offered the possibility that women would be able to contribute to the economy, and that growing economic equality between the sexes could perhaps change the traditional emphasis on marriage and children for Japanese women. Then the burst of the economic bubble prematurely ended plans for a rapid evolution in the position of women in Japanese society. Although the way that Japanese women perceive themselves and how they regard their role in society has continued to change, it is now a slow and uneven process in reaction to the uncertain future that Japan now faces.

The picture above features two women who are the face of the struggle for a new female identity in Japanese society: Crown Princess Masako and her daughter, Princess Aiko, of the Japanese Imperial Family. Princess Masako has faced pressure to conform to the traditional roles of wife and mother after marrying Crown Prince Naruhito, in spite of her education at Harvard and Oxford and her previous job at the Foreign Ministry. In particular, she has faced pressure to bear a son for the male-dominant Japanese imperial line. Her daughter Aiko then became the focus of a debate over whether women should be allowed to ascend the Japanese throne (this ended with the birth of Aiko’s male cousin who is now heir). Both generations of mother and daughter are caught up in the tide of the changing roles of women in Japan, although the outcome of their futures, much like the future of post-bubble Japan, is unclear.