A lack of childcare makes returning to work difficult for many women; nursery places are at a premium and in any case only usually available during the day.
For some women, the problem is the incompatibility of family life and Japan’s famously long hours, where after-work socializing is almost compulsory.
There are pockets of change, says Hodaka Yamaguchi, 38, whose Tokyo-based IT employer is more sympathetic than many to the needs of its female workforce.
Yamaguchi gave birth to a girl in 2009 and came back to a promotion after a 15-month maternity leave. She said her productivity has not fallen even though she is now working six-hour days.
“In this company, working women are well protected,” she said.
Her company allows parents of either sex to take a total of up to six years parental leave — well beyond the 18 months of maternity leave allowed by law.
Although anything above the statutory period is unpaid, the employee’s job is guaranteed.
Ewoman’s Sasaki agrees that things are better than they were, but problems remain.
“Many young working women say they no longer feel the glass ceiling,” she said. “But I tell them it’s still there. It just moved up.”