Ms. Watanabe’s Profession

While productivity in Japanese factories is the highest in the world, owing to robots and other types of automation, the productivity of Japan’s white-collar workers is the lowest among OECD countries. This disparity, rooted in deep-seated inequality of employment opportunity for women, may now finally receive the attention it needs.

TOKYO – Ms. Watanabe, age 40, is hesitant. Her mother, Mrs. Watanabe, is known for moving the world’s markets with the financial trading that occupies her breaks from housework.

Mrs. Watanabe is the generic name for Japan’s housewife speculators, who have wielded significant influence on foreign exchange and other markets through their trading. After graduating from university, Mrs. Watanabe quit her job when she married Mr. Watanabe (who worked in the same office), became a housewife, and raised one daughter. She did this because, in Mrs. Watanabe’s day, marriage was the final workplace.

Times are different for her daughter, Ms. Watanabe, who majored in economics at a famous university and was hired by a well-known trading firm. But, though she outperformed the men in her recruitment class academically, she was unable to compete for promotion. She could not even have an official business card (which is more important than a passport in Japan); she had no choice but to make one on her computer.

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