Young Women in Japan

Transitions to Adulthood

By Kaori H. Okano

© 2009 – Routledge

308 pages | 14 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9780415590518
pub: 2010-06-30
US Dollars$54.95
Hardback: 9780415469418
pub: 2009-02-20
US Dollars$168.00

About the Book

Young women in Japan: Transitions to adulthood received a CHOICE "Outstanding Academic Title of the Year 2010" award from the American Library Association.

This book examines young women in Japan, focusing in particular on their transitions to adulthood, their conceptions of adulthood and relations with Japanese society more generally. Drawing on detailed primary research including a year-long observation of high schools and subsequent interviews over a 12 year period, it traces the experiences of a group of working class women from their last year of high-schooling in 1989 through to 2001 as they approached their thirties. It considers important aspects of the transition to adulthood including employment, marriage, divorce, childbirth and custody. It shows how the role and identities of young women changed over the course of the 1990s, exploring the impact of changes within Japanese society and global forces, and explains fully the implications for ordinary young people and their everyday lives. It considers to what extent young women’s perceptions of themselves and society are shifting, and how far this can be explained by external constraints and their own experiences and decisions.


'Okano, a Japanese scholar transplanted to Australia, has conducted a long-range study of a cohort of working-class young women originally from Kobe, extracting the specific and exemplary stories of eight of them. Her intriguing study, divided into two parts ("life stories" and "themes"), is remarkably accessible and appealing on a number of levels. In recounting the eight subjects' life stories over a 12-year period, Okano (Latrobe Univ.) makes each of them come so vividly alive that the book will be highly usable and appealing even to undergraduates or neophyte readers. The range of "transitions" is remarkably wide, from transcendence to failure, giving the strong impression of general coverage of a whole category from this small sample. As an interviewer, the author is compassionate, forthright, nonjudgmental, kindly, and altogether appealing. Her analytic second part continues to reference the eight individuals in detail, thus taking what could have been a ponderous assessment and welding it into an accessible and altogether delightful book that is simultaneously rigorous and analytical while reading as charmingly as a novel. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries.' - R. B. Lyman Jr., emeritus, Simmons College, CHOICE, February 2010

"Okano’s book provides a fresh and contemporary perspective on the lives of young working-class Japanese women. Whereas previous works have examined women’s lives through social roles they occupy such as housewives, office ladies and international interlopers, Okano’s work puts the evolving lives of the young women themselves on centre stage…The diversity of experiences revealed through this extended intertemporal portrait of their lives makes an important understanding of the lives of women at the turn of the millennium in Japan." - Dawn Grimes MacLellan, Pacific Affairs: Volume 83, No. 4 – December 2010

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Transitions to Adulthood Part 1 3. A Longitudinal Ethnography 4. Portraits of Selected Women Part 2 5. Initial Entry into the Wider Adult World 6. Paid Employment: From Permanent to Non-Standard Jobs 7. Forming Relationships 8. Marriage and Divorce in their 20s 9. Decisions and their Consequences in Paths to Adulthood: Seeking ‘Comfort’ (Igokochi). Conclusions

About the Author

Kaori H. Okano is Associate Professor/Reader in the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Australia. Her publications include Education in contemporary Japan: Diversity and inequality (1999, with M. Tsuchiya), School to work transition in Japan: An ethnographic study (1993), and various articles in leading scholarly journals.

About the Series

ASAA Women in Asia Series

The primary aim of this important series is to publish original, high quality work on all aspects of women in Asia. Submissions are welcomed from prospective authors, both new and established scholars, working in any appropriate discipline, and should in the first instance be sent to the series editor. Email:

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Women's Studies