Love in the Workplace on Japanese Television


DVD cover for “Around 40.”

Japanese Television Dramas and Women’s Life Courses in Flux: Viewing for the Generation Now Age Forty

Bright, independent young women came to Tokyo from the countryside in search of love in the workplace in several of the most popular, Japanese TV dramas of the 1990s. Employed as corporate secretaries and in service industry jobs, they almost always had marriage as their end goal. But a new kind of female romantic lead has appeared in recent years—the career woman who strives for success in both her job and personal life.

Although most dramas continue to depict temporary workers or full-time wives, the proliferation of these new characters is historically relevant, coming roughly 20 years after the 1985 Equal Employment Opportunity Law.  The shift reflects government concern over falling birthrates and an aging population. While TV programs reflect progressive changes in the Japanese corporate structures and general attitudes toward women working outside the home, these new characters do not subvert the belief that women should prioritize becoming wives and mothers. Just like characters from the 1990s, marriage is almost always their end goal.

In my talk, I survey television conventions and ask how fictional characters affect the lives of women who watch and possibly even emulate them. Do the new heroines show the possibility of larger social changes or are TV producers merely recasting stereotypes and stock characters? With a unique narrative style and visual conventions compared to programs produced in other nations, the Japanese dramas are more than mere entertainment—they are designed to educate viewers about real social issues.  Because Japanese television dramas attract a large and diverse audience at home and abroad, they are a good way to view social values and trends and assess the nation’s global image.


Alisa Freedman

Presenter Profile: Alisa Freedman, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures

Alisa Freedman, Associate Professor, UO Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, has taught Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon since 2005. Much of her work investigates how the urban experience has shaped human subjectivity and cultural production. She strives to show how literature and visual media can provide a deeper understanding of society, politics, and economics. Her book Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road, published by Stanford University Press in 2010, explores fictional and artistic depictions of the ways increased use of mass transportation changed Tokyo’s social fabric. Her edited volume Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan is due out soon from Stanford University Press. In addition, Alisa is engaged in many literary translation projects, especially experimental modernist prose and stories by contemporary women writers. Her annotated translation of Nobel Prize-winner Kawabata Yasunari’s The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (Asakusa kurenaidan) was published by the University of California Press in 2005 and was favorably reviewed in such mass-circulation periodicals as the New York Review of Books, Village Voice, and Japan Times newspaper and in major academic journals, including Japan Forum and Japanese Studies. The Library Journal gave the book a starred review.