I must say if anything this is a very interesting question. 54-year-old Akie Abe, the wife of Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe thinks that it is. According to Bloomberg, Akie states that:

“Men’s thinking has not changed,”

“Japanese men tend to prefer cute women over capable and hardworking women. So women try to appear to be the type that men like. Even very talented women put on cutesy ways.”

While many more women now continue working after marriage and children, “big companies are a man’s world. “Some things have changed and others haven’t.”

She has a point there that when women are held to the expectation of being “cute” it does highlight larger impacts of women expected to be “demure”, “sweet” and in some ways “compliant”. And where looking “cute” doesn’t necessarily mean these things, the “kawaii” culture can perpetrate these stereotypes and expectations – and I think this is what Akie was referring to. If this is the case, yes it does hold Japanese women back.

Yoko Ishikura, a professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University, does make valid points that many of the big companies are dominated by men and this is an issue:

“Working styles have been changing tremendously” in other countries, Ishikura said. “Japan is a little bit behind, because technology has not been recognized as driving fundamental change. If we can change the work style to fit with future needs, that’s more important than just talking about the ratio of women on the board.”

I think Akie has started a very important conversation in Japan and one which is needed. Personally, “Kawaii” culture is pretty cool in many ways, but I can also understand the other side, where the ultra “cuteness” holds women back and women are expected to live towards a particular label.

Anyways, let us know whether you agree or disagree with this.


Image of Akie Abe via Bloomberg

If you would like to read the full article, please click on: Cute ‘Kawaii’ Culture May Be Holding Back Japan’s Women


  1. I read the full article, and I liked the idea of different work styles being a step towards equality in the workforce.

    Its not that I don’t understand where you’re coming from with the kawaii culture to a perceived infantilization of these women, but I will say that I’m not entirely convinced of this connection to the extent that I feel that it’s ‘holding them back’.

    I understand that it’s not completely black and white, and that the cute aesthetic plays *some* part in how women in Japan are perceived in general, but I just don’t think putting blame onto a fashion style is the way to go about addressing issues in a male-dominated workplace. I’d rather see a woman on a board of executives or something, and then she can go out wearing whatever she wants on her time off, cute or otherwise.

    Maybe if kawaii culture was all about the maids, but I just look at the picture of the 3 girls outside and how they’re dress, and I think it’s just too innocuous to say that they’re being ‘held back’ by it.

    As an offhand remark, I must say of the Bloomberg article, the headliner throws me off a bit, seeing as Abe doesn’t spend as much time talking about ‘cuteness’ as she does about issues/solutions concerning women in the workforce.

    Thanks for the article