top of page

What Has Changed Japanese Women’s Education?

July 2, 2022

Ayaka Bando

In Japan, during the Meiji period from 1868 to 1912, almost all women were not able to get enough education. However, now there are many women who can access to the higher education. What have changed in women’s education in Japan?

There are many turning points that is related to change. During Meiji period, because there was no university that women were able to enter. In 1872, Gakusei (official education system) was promulgated. This document clearly announced that it was necessary for everyone to be able to access to the education, regardless of social status or gender. Despite of this policy, no Imperial Universities allowed women to enter. In 1879, Gakusei changed to the Kyouikurei (official education order). Under this order, education system for separate-sex education was formally adopted. That was the start of “gender discrimination” against Japanese women’s education and such practice continued until the end of World War II in 1945.

In 1947, under the US occupation after the World War II, the School Basic Law (Gakko kihonnho) and School Education Law (Gakko kyouikuho) were enacted. According to them, required period of study were changed to six grades for elementary school, three grades for junior high, three grades of high school, and four grades of university educations. At the same time, co-education was strongly encouraged and most of the separate schools became, almost for the first time in Japan, turned to co-education. In other words, Japanese women finally became able to go to universities.

Until late-1980s, female students’ enrollment to four-year universities have been fairly low with about 10 to 13%, which was less than one-third of men who went to four-year university. Around 20% female students went to two-year college after high school.

In 1985, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was inacted in Japan. Under this trend, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law for Men and Women was enacted to eliminate gender inequality in any employment opportunities. After that, a lot of women began to enter four-year universities. The law gave an go-sign for women to behave equal to men.

However, at that time, because educational expectations for women were to be a “good wife, good mother,” so that female education meant, in many cases, to provide the “common-sense education” before marriage. There were many students majoring in the Faculty of Letters and the Faculty of Home Economics at the university. From 1950 to 1990, the faculty structure of women’s colleges has changed little. The main ones were the Faculty of Letters and the Faculty of Home Economics, which account for more than 70% of all faculties. Until 1990, the area of nursing, medicine, society, and other areas was small, and the academic area of the faculty was extremely limited.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, faculty composition has changed. The number of literary faculties among all faculties decreased from 55 (50.5% of all faculties) in 1990 to 40 (22.2%) in 2015. During the same period, the number of faculties of home economics increased from 29 (26.6%) to 37 faculties with 20.6%. In addition, the areas of nursing, medicine, social science have increased. Backed up by these practical leanings, the number of women who continue to work has also increased.

Now there are many women’s university students in Japan. The number has increased from about 25,000 in 1950 to 1.29 million in 2019. In addition, the gender gap in enrollment narrowed sharply; men are about 1.2 times more than women in 2019.

Thanks to Equal Employment Opportunity Law for Men and Women, many university-grad women began to enter workforce. Behind this, there are the change of university, as well. Recently, various faculties and departments are increased and many women can learn various practical studies at the four-year university, which encourage many woman to be active in the practical business world.






bottom of page