Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Women workers have long been considered Japan’s neglected resource as the country continues to grapple with both hard economic times and the dwindling pool of potential employees to take over for retiring baby boomers in many fields. Japan has always been very slow to change and despite some progress in opportunities for women workers, the country still is entrenched in a male-dominated corporate culture where men fill many of the career positions and women are used more for short-term work and as OLs (office ladies). And those who have made it into career jobs still may find themselves fired for getting married or becoming pregnant.

So I was heartened to read a recent article in The Japan Times reporting that Japanese women are finding success in a career path where women are still rare all over the world—as commercial airline pilots. Apparently demand is so high for pilots that Japanese airlines cannot afford to shut out women. And with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport adding a fourth runway in 2010, flights are expected to increase.

So sometimes a dismal economy can offer a silver lining. Machiko Osawa, a professor and expert in labor economics and gender at Japan Women’s University contends that if the Japanese labor force continues to decrease, “it will promote gender equality in the labor market in general.”

I’ve never yearned to be a pilot (I find flying a necessary evil) but I was intrigued by this bit of information in The Japan Times article. It seems that many pilots do not have scientific or engineering backgrounds, with leadership and management skills being of prime importance. In fact, one of the women interviewed, Japan Airlines’ co-pilot Madoka Tachikawa, who flies Boeing 767’s, has a degree in English literature. It’s good to know that my MFA might put me in the driver’s seat at United Airlines.

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