Comment: Japanese Women Excluded from Top Medical School

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I wonder if in todays societies across the globe, whether discrimination against women, and their exclusion from various professions has simply become a way of life. I was sent this article from the UK Guardian newspaper by a Life Fusion 101 reader. It was of particular interest as I had recently returned from a short trip to Japan – see Frenetic Japan.

I, for one had this cosy kind of image of Japanese culture as a peaceful and painfully polite society, where there was lots of bowing, and an orderliness that some countries perhaps lack. Of course, in Japan’s youth you will see some outrageous dress codes and probably attitudes (mainly in the cities), but to some extent that’s tolerated because, as they mature into adulthood, they’ll grow out of it and conform!


Thoughts of orderliness may not be the operative term, especially if you stand still for too many minutes at Shinjuku station in the heart of Tokyo. It is chaotic and a total free for all. Negotiating a pathway from one entrance to an further exit without being run over, stabbed numerous times by many umbrellas or jostled in a direction you know you just don’t want to go. In fact, there is nothing peaceful or orderly about the centre of Tokyo – perhaps with the exception of the many ginseng trees lining the roads, standing tall and silent while the hubbub of activity persists!

Japan is certainly a mixed bag of cultural traditions from time gone by, of modernity with its colours, noise and technology. And, yet one this that the Guardian article showed, was underneath all the glitz and pizazz that is Tokyo and the major cities, lies a deep-seated conservatism and array of patriarchal attitudes that discriminate against women, in often blatant ways.

I am sure that Japan isn’t alone in this, but I have to admit to being shocked to see such institutionalised sexism and wondered really how deep it goes.

So, for a moment just close your eyes and picture this!

You are a young woman who has dreamed of becoming a doctor, or a surgeon, or a medical researcher. You have spent months, maybe years prepping and studying and cramming, determined to take the entrance exam that could provide you access to the most amazing medical career. But no!  Your results come back as a fail! All that effort came to naught. Now forward quickly 10 years, when you find out that the directors of that esteemed establishment, had for more than a decade, been deliberately manipulating the results to ensure that few women were able to enter? And worse, such action was based on a premise that female doctors didn’t quite make the mark as they were likely to ‘shorten or halt their careers after having children. (

One can only imagine how many of these women could have become great doctors and medical practitioners, contributing to a world of health and healing. How different their lives might have been, with dreams and ambitions fulfilled!


On first reading, I was simply taken aback that such practices had been going on, and for so long. I wondered how many young women had been disappointed by failing an entrance test that they had studied so hard for.Underneath that lovely polite culture there is indeed a very clear and deeply engrained gender inequality that is revealed by the exam tampering that has been exposed.

The practice of finding ways of excluding women from professions has been going on so long now, it is no longer really a topic for discussion. It seems to have become more of an accepted norm that women must work harder, put up with all manner of obstacles and negative attitudes if they dare to step too far outside of their male-defined roles. In the case of manipulating medical school and other university entrance exam results in favour of males, there is speculation as to how widespread this practice is, and that it may have been going on for more than 20 years!

While an apology by the director and others concerned is now a matter of public record and can be found on YouTube (, it should not detract from the fact that this persistent patriarchal attitude has robbed many females of great careers.


And in doing so it also robs Japan of its own homegrown talent. Who knows how many of those women could have become great names in the medical field, in research, in innovation and endless other opportunities that might have been.

And, of course, great careers more often than not begin with great academic study. Here again we find that women are not so much excluded but discouraged by parents and family. Four years or more of education is not seen as beneficial for women as they will give up any employment or career in favour of building a family. It would seem then that family and work cannot – for women – be integrated.

Some young women however, persist in the face of such sexism, and fight for the right to pursue their dreams.

They thought it was a waste of time for me to work so hard, because I’m a girl,” she said. In her family, only boys went to university, but she applied anyway. The first time she took the entrance exam she failed, but the next year she took it again and passed. Interestingly enough, it was her father who encouraged her to keep trying.

Without a doubt there are many young women taking courses in higher education in Japan. However, the ratio of men to women is dismal reading. For example, about 5 years ago the University of Tokyo ratios of males to females was approximately 20 – 28% in favour of males ( How this fares today in 2018 remains to be seen but it is a case in point.

What happens in education, shapes a future career. For women in Japan the glass ceiling is often far lower when compared to other countries. As long as women continue to be defined solely as care-givers and home-makers, there will be role restrictions based upon such a short-sighted and archaic premise. Women will continue to be passed over for promotion, regardless of how many Masters degrees, or even PhDs they may finally possess!

There are so many variables and nothing is black and white, but it is interesting how such a seemingly modern and dynamic society can be what to me is very ‘backward’. It somehow feels totally out of sync with the incredible technological innovations and advances that Japan exports, to then hold such antiquated beliefs and attitudes about women.


So, my final question is, why do such attitudes persist? And is there a right, or a wrong here? Of course, manipulating exam results to explicitly exclude certain groups from entering a profession is naturally a big, big wrong. But, one must ask whether Japanese women overall are accepting of this situation and if so, is it by choice, or by the need to ‘maintain face’ and avoid the discomfort of swimming against a tide of opinion.

What about our own societies? How free are women to define themselves and to make their own choices? As women are we free from any fetters, or restrictions, other than the ones that we ourselves set?


What are your thoughts? Write in and let us know.



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