Asian Women - The Research Institute of Asian Women

Asian Women - Vol. 33, No. 3

History of Women’s Participation in STEM Fields in Japan

Mariko Ogawa : Mie National University, Japan

Journal Information
Journal ID (publisher-id): RIAW
Journal : Asian Women
ISSN: 1225-925X (Print)
Publisher: Research Institute of Asian Women
Article Information
Print publication date: Day: 30 Month: 09 Year: 2017
Volume: 33 Issue: 3
First Page: 65 Last Page: 85


This paper surveys female holders of bachelor’s and doctoral degrees of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and sometimes including medicine) from the modern period of the Meiji era to present day Japan. It discusses early women’s education in Japan, female doctorate holders in STEM, and statistical analysis about Japanese higher education. Female university students appeared for the first time in 1913. Tohoku Imperial University matriculated three women, all of whom majored in science. The first woman who gained a doctoral degree in science appeared in 1927. A few years later, women earned various doctoral degrees, such as medicine, agriculture, and pharmacology. However, it was not until 1959 that the first female doctorate in engineering appeared. Female scientists started to appear around 1930, but a certain number of female engineers did not appear until around 1960. This year may be regarded as the beginning of the history of female researchers in all STEM to have been systematically educated in Japan. I also discuss the statistical analysis from the 1960s up until today. Almost over a half century has passed since then; however, the proportion of female students in STEM has been small. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has been making efforts since 2006 to improve their numbers. However, these efforts have not been adequate. Lastly, considering what prevents women STEM researchers from becoming more active despite MEXT’s efforts, I identify the inadequacies in the collection and historical analysis of Japanese sex-disaggregated statistical data.


This paper aims to analyze the history as well as contemporary scenarios of women’s participation in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and sometimes including medicine) in Japan. It will discuss bachelor’s and doctoral degree levels in three periods from the beginning of the Meiji era (1868–1912) to 2016. The first period, which covered almost the whole of the Meiji era, did not involve any university education for women (section I). The second period, which ranged from the beginning of the Taisho era (1912–1926) until the end of WWII (1945), began from the time when the first female students appeared. The latter part of the second period refers to the term when women became doctorate holders (section II). The third period consists of the post WWII period and exhibits an increasing preference for humanities among female students (section III).

There is limited literature in English which focuses on the historical situation of Japanese women in STEM fields, with the first book written in English appearing in 2016 (Kameda, 2011; Kodate & Kodate, 2016; Kuwahara, 2001; Ogawa, 2005, 2006, 2012a). This paper will add the medical field and the first appearance of doctorate holders in engineering, which the book mentioned above does not discuss. In addition, the paper statistically elucidates some of the historical changes in Japan. A historical change in the number of women who majored in mathematics suggests to us that not just a few women enjoyed mathematics. Therefore, the refutation of math myths is attempted in section III.

Lastly, in section IV, to explain why there are so few female STEM researchers despite the country famously having a national commitment to STEM, the paper extends the scope to the social conditions in which female researchers live. The matriculation gap in both sexes, a gross underrepresentation of women in politics, few dual-career academic couples, and statistical insufficiency are discussed. To improve the gender gap in STEM fields, the historical research based on statistics that this paper provides is important, as well as the implementation of concrete measures.

Modernization in Japan
Origins of Women’s Higher Education in Japan

Japan’s modern period started in 1868 with the reign of Emperor Meiji, who commissioned an 18-month trip for the leading members of the early Meiji government to make on-site inspections of the advanced industrial countries of America and Europe from 1871 to 1873. Five girls also accompanied the mission along with male students sent abroad by the government. All of them, who were daughters of the Samurai, were the first Japanese females to travel abroad for study. They were Tei Ueda and Ryo Yosimasu, who were both 15 years old; Sutematsu Yamakawa, 11 years old; Shige Nagai, eight years old; and Ume Tsuda, only six years old (Nimura, 2015). While Ueda and Yoshimasu could not attain their aims because of illness, Yamakawa, Nagai, and Tsuda stayed in the U.S. for almost ten years. Yamakawa joined Vassar College in Poughkeepsie in 1878. She studied several languages, history, philosophy, chemistry, botany, and mathematics in the junior course and later specialized in physics, physiology, and zoology. She liked science and obtained top marks (Kuno, 1993). Nagai became a special-course student of Vassar College and majored in music. Tsuda was a high school student at that time. In 1881, the Japanese government ordered them to return to Japan. Nagai went back to Japan to comply with the order. However, Yamakawa and Tsuda wished to complete the bachelor’s degree and high school graduation, respectively. Therefore, they requested a postponement of their return from the U.S. for another year. In 1882 when they returned to Japan, Yamakawa was the first female bachelor’s degree holder in Japan.

After working as an English teacher at the Peeresses School in Tokyo, she decided to pursue further study. As no higher education system for women had been established in Japan, she obtained a leave of absence from the government and returned to the U.S. from 1889 to 1892 (for about three years). She studied biology at Bryn Mawr College and teaching methods at Oswego for the next half a year. Thereafter she carried out experimental research under T. H. Morgan, who would later in 1933 become a Nobel laureate, and published a joint paper with him in a British scientific journal in 1894 (Furukawa, 2010; Morgan & Tsuda, 1894; Takahashi, 2002). As she founded the Tsuda College in 1900, previous studies about her have exclusively emphasized Tsuda’s contribution to higher education for women (Hastings, 1991, 1993). Yamakawa, as a countess, contributed to good diplomatic relationships as a leading socialite with fluent English, French, and German conversation in the context of Europeanization. However, Yamakawa and Tsuda can also be included in the list of the first Japanese science students.

Women in Medical Education and Practice in Japan

Medicine is an important field for women because of its pragmatic nature. Especially in the early days when only a few female medical doctors practiced, women used to prefer consultations with female medical doctors over male, particularly for the venereal diseases that they often contracted from their husbands (Misaki, 2015; Watanabe, 2009). As shown in Table 2, female medical doctorate holders accounted for about 86% of all female doctorates at the end of WWII. Medicine is also an important field for female researchers. To compare it with STEM fields, the early social status of female medical doctors must be introduced.

Ine Kusumoto was the first female doctor who practiced Western medicine in Japan. Her father, Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), was a famous German physician and naturalist. When Ine was two years old, Siebold was expelled from Japan on suspicion of high treason. Despite such difficult circumstances, she managed to become a medical doctor and began to practice medicine in 1870 in Tokyo, 15 years before the first nationally licensed female doctor emerged.

Women who studied medicine were different from women in other fields, as the national licenses of the former guaranteed them jobs. In 1885, although five women attempted the national examination for their medical licenses, only Ginko Ogino passed (Misaki, 2015). She was the first female doctor to receive a Japanese national medical license in 1885. Ten years after Ogino, over 50 female doctors emerged. Because no university medical education was then available for women in Japan, they were trained at private medical schools.

Newly emerging female doctors were criticized for the incompatibility of their occupation with the roles of wife and mother. These critics were called Joi-Bokoku-Ron (female medical doctors-ruining Japan-theory). Soon after this criticism was raised, the two wars of Nisshin and Nichiro were fought. In Japan, women’s social participation was readily associated with women who did not have children, which was perceived as endangering the country’s future (Miyazaki, 2008). Such hasty conclusions often arose in Japan as late as the 1960s (For more information about Joshidaisei-Bokoku-Ron, see the part of Female Bachelor’s Degree Holders: Statistical Data in Contemporary Scenarios). However, women were specifically expected to work for the public good in wartime. Female doctors’ clinical contributions put a stop to the critics’ comments.

Sonoko Maezono, the 12th female licensed doctor, founded the Japan Medical Women’s Association in 1902, and Yayoi Yoshioka, the 27th female licensed doctor, founded the Tokyo Woman’s Medical School in 1900. The former was organized to promote further collaborative research by female doctors and to elevate their social position. The latter, Tokyo Woman’s Medical School (later Tokyo Woman’s Medical College), had a just cause for its existence during a time when few opportunities in medical education were offered to women. There were over 700 female licensed doctors in the early 1920s in Japan who formed a highly professional community (Ogawa, 2005; Patessio & Ogawa, 2005).

Women’s Higher Education: Bachelor’s and Doctoral Degree Holders
First Female University Students

It is crucial to look at the general history of Japan during the first term when science and engineering were developing. Before the end of WWII, there were nine Imperial Universities in Japan, two of which were in Seoul and Taipei. The oldest and most prestigious, Tokyo Imperial University and Kyoto Imperial University, had no female students formally enrolled during this period. The Taisho era, which followed the Meiji era, seemed to enjoy a greater liberal atmosphere in Japanese society (Kuwahara, 2001).

Female university students appeared at Tohoku Imperial University for the first time in 1913. Several women applied for admission to the Science College of Tohoku Imperial University. The first president of the University, Masataro Sawayanagi, received a written question concerning women’s admission by the Ministry of Education in 1913. The Ministry urged him to reject women’s admission owing to the absence of any precedent. However, he refused to yield to the pressure from the Ministry of Education and admitted three women in 1913. These pioneering women, Raku Makita, Chika Kuroda, and Ume Tange, majored in science: Makita in mathematics, and Kuroda and Tange in chemistry. They became the first women to obtain bachelor’s degrees in Japan. These two chemists later earned doctorate degrees. Besides Tohoku Imperial University, four other Imperial Universities, in Hokkaido, Osaka, Kyushu, and Nagoya, allowed some women to join them before WWII.

All female students who majored in science between 1913-1945 are shown in Table 1 (Kodate & Kodate, 2016). Excluding the students in Table 1, Tohoku and Kyushu Imperial Universities admitted female matriculants to the College of Law and Literature in 1923, who numbered 107 (Tohoku) and 31 (Kyushu) between 1923-1945 (Yamamoto, 2011). The total number of female students in the five Imperial Universities, excluding Tokyo and Kyoto before WWII, was approximately 200, about one-third of whom acquired bachelor’s degrees in science and mathematics.

Table 1. 
Number of Women Granted the Bachelor’s Degree Between 1913 and 1945
Tohoku Hokkaido Osaka Kyushu Nagoya Total
Allowing year of matriculation 1913 1930 1931 1939 1942
Year of actual entry 1913 1930 1935 1942 1943
Mathematics 10 10 5 1 4 30
Chemistry 4 2 0 2 1 9
Physics 1 3 0 0 0 4
Biology 10 5 0 0 0 15
Geophysics 1 0 0 0 0 1
Geology 0 3 0 0 0 3
Total number of women 26 23 5 3 5 62
Note. The subject rows show the number of women to obtain bachelor’s degrees between 1913 and 1945. Source: Kodate & Kodate, 2016. The number of female university students is considered almost identical to the female bachelor’s degree holders.

Almost half of the science students majored in mathematics; in fact, their numbers were twice those of women majoring in biology. In comparison, the number of female students in science departments after WWII will be presented below (see Figure 4).

Besides the nine Imperial Universities, there were two national universities and three medical universities. They were Tokyo and Hiroshima Liberal Arts & Science Universities and Niigata, Chiba, and Kanazawa Medical Universities. These five universities informally permitted some female students but few formal admissions occurred. Therefore, I have excluded them from Table 1.

First Female Doctoral Degree Holders

The first doctoral degree in science was awarded to a woman, Kono Yasui, in 1927, and the second in 1929 to Chika Kuroda, who was one of the first university students in Japan. A few years later, women earned various doctoral degrees in specialized fields such as medicine, agriculture, and pharmacology as well (Nagashima, 1937; Tsugawa & Kanomi, 1996). The first female medical doctoral degree was awarded to Kanaeko Miyagawa in 1930, and the second to Hiro Ide in 1931 (Nagashima, 1937). Outside of Japan, Tada Urata, the 61st female licensed doctor, earned her medical Ph.D. at Marburg University in Germany in 1905 (Ishihara, 2012); Tsuruko Haraguchi and Tomi Kora earned their PhDs in psychology at Columbia University in 1912 and 1922 (Kodate & Kodate, 2016) and Ume Tange, a chemist, completed her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1927. Tange also earned a doctorate in agriculture from Tokyo Imperial University in 1940 (Arikawa & Miyazaki, 2011). Female doctorate holders of science began to appear around 1930, but it was not until 1959 that a woman acquired a doctoral degree in engineering, a 30-year gap since the first woman doctorate in science. Female doctorate holders of science, agriculture, pharmacology, and medicine have attracted significant interest from historians, but no researcher has mentioned the first female doctorate of engineering. I will discuss this further below.

Yuzuru Nagashima reported that the number of women who gained doctorates in Japan up to 1937 was 21; however, one of them was Chinese, so I will consider 20 to be the total of female Japanese doctorate holders. They consisted of 14 doctors of medicine, three of science, two of agriculture, and one of pharmacology (Table 2). As of 1937, the total number of male and female doctorate holders in all disciplines was 12,356. The percentage of female doctors was 0.16% (Nagashima, 1937). The ages in Table 2 represent the average age at which women gained their doctorates. The average age of women who acquired a medical doctorate in this period was 39. This was lower than any other average age of doctorate holders from other departments (Nagashima, 1937). Although a medical doctorate seems to be easier to acquire when looking at the age of those who acquire doctorates, it is a difficult career, as an examination of individual doctors’ lives reveals (Nagashima, 1937; Sato, 2012).

Table 2. 
Number of Women Granted the Doctoral Degrees Between 1927 and 1945
1927-1937 1938-1945 Until the end of WWII Percentage
Medicine 14 (age 39) +2* 79 95 86%
Science 3 (age 44) 7 10 9%
Agriculture 2 (age 45) +1* 1 4 4%
Pharmacology 1 (age 50) 0 1 1%
Total 20 +3* 87 110 100%
Note.* in 1937 after Nagashima’ s book was published. Age in each parenthesis presents the average at which women gained their doctorates.

Although the fields of doctoral degree distribution until 1937 can be quickly calculated (compiled by Nagashima, 1937), no such data existed for the period between 1938 and 1945. The list of doctorate holders assembled by Tsugiyoshi Yukawa was until 1940 (Yukawa, 2003), and Mihoko Yamamoto eventually completed a list until 1947 (the end of WWII) (Yamamoto, 2016).

In 1937, following the Rokokyo Bridge Incident (the Marco Polo Bridge Incident), Japanese society shifted to a war footing. During this time, female doctorate holders of medicine conspicuously increased in number but female doctorate holders of science did not.

Female Bachelor’s and Doctoral Degree Holders After WWII

After WWII, the Girls Education Reform Guidelines were approved by the Cabinet in December 1945. Female students were admitted to Tokyo Imperial University and Kyoto Imperial University for the first time. In the case of Tokyo Imperial University, 108 women took the entrance examination, and 19 were admitted in May 1946. The female student acceptance rate was only 2.1%. In September 1947, all Imperial Universities were abolished and re-created as national universities (except for those in Seoul and Taipei) via the School Education Law. The University of Tokyo produced the first 17 female graduates in 1949: nine in humanities, three in law, three in economics, one in science, and one in agriculture (Office of Gender Equality, n.d.). This distribution among departments suggests the subsequent tendency in women’s interests.

Earlier, I mentioned female students who were matriculated in the College of Law and Literature before WWII. (This did not include private universities. See Yukawa, 2003). Their total numbers were twice those of science students in that period. Therefore, there might not have been as overwhelming a difference between women’s interests before and after WWII (see Figure 1). However, there seems to be no female doctorate holders in the disciplines of law and literature. The difference may exist at the level of motivation toward their careers between science students and others. Female researchers who earned doctorates in science before WWII worked more actively in the new society under the new constitution. Yasui and Kuroda were employed as professors in Ochanomizu University (formerly the Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School). Tsujimura and Tange, the first and third female doctorates in agriculture, and Sechi Kato, the third female doctorate in science, conducted their research at RIKEN (Japan’s largest and most comprehensive research organization for basic and applied science). Hideru Suzuki, the first female doctorate in pharmacology, became a professor at Japan Women’s University. Yasu Honma, the second female doctorate in agriculture, became a professor at Nippon Veterinary and Zootechny University (Yamamoto, 2011).

Before WWII, some women became researchers in medicine, science, agriculture, and pharmacology, but there were none in engineering. The tendency among women to prefer science to engineering has continued up to the present. The first female doctorate in engineering was conferred on Sawako Gohara in 1959. She joined Ritsumeikan University to major in electronics in the engineering department. She continued her study at the Graduate School of Osaka University, and received a doctoral degree from the university (Nihon de hajimete, 1959). A year after Gohara, Toshiko Uematsu earned a doctorate in engineering from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. In 1961, Ako Kusaka and Nobuko Sugano obtained their doctorates in engineering from the University of Tokyo; Yoko Nosaki did so from Kyoto University, Haruko Fukuda from Osaka Prefecture University, and Fukiko Yamazaki from Osaka University (CiNii Dissertation Index, n.d.). Only one woman in 1959, one in 1960, five in 1961, and at least seven in 1962 became doctorate holders in engineering. Five women, Haruko Takenaka, Masako Hayashi, Yuriko Kato, Sumiko Tamiya, and Chihoko Shimokawabe from the University of Tokyo; Kimiko Sato from the Tokyo Institute of Technology; and Fumiko Uenaka from Osaka University acquired doctorates in engineering. The number of female doctorates in engineering gradually began to increase.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology admitted a woman before WWII. In 1934, it awarded a bachelor’s degree in engineering to Sada Orihara, who joined because of her exceptional academic merit. After WWII, Michiko Togo cleared the formal entrance examination for the first time in the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1947. She graduated in 1950 (from a standard three-year course), but the institute did not have a graduate school then, so she went abroad for two years. Unfortunately, she could not acquire a Ph.D., and she married and stayed home thereafter (Katagiri, 2007; Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2013). Many of the women who earned doctorates after 1959 became researchers. The year 1959 can thus be regarded as the real beginning of the history of female researchers to be systematically educated in both science and engineering in Japan.

Contemporary Scenarios
Female Bachelor’s Degree Holders: Statistical Data

Some statistical records from the 1960s until the present day are shown in this section. The number of women granted bachelor’s degrees each year increased eightfold in a mere half century as shown in Figure 1. However, few STEM students have remained (two categories, left side).

Figure 1. 
Number of women granted bachelor’s degree each year. The author created this graph from the School Basic Survey FY 1968-2016. The category “Others,” includes Mercantile marine, Home economics, Art, and Other to retain the total number of bachelor’s degree holders for each year. Source. e-Stat.

The 18th Olympiad was held in Tokyo in 1964, a period of unprecedented economic growth for Japan. It is therefore understandable that female doctorate holders in engineering and female students in Colleges of Technology appeared in the 1960s. On the other hand, women were expected to support their ‘corporate warrior’ husbands and look after their children. As women were educated to become good wives and wise mothers, the higher education of women was a topic of controversy. Two influential professors, Yasutaka Teruoka of Waseda and Yasaburo Ikeda of Keio Universities, lamented in the early 1960s that female students were endangering the future of Japan (Ikeda, 1962; Teruoka, 1962). This was called “Joshidaisei-Bokoku-Ron” (Hongo, 2006; Kuwahara, 2001, p. 209), because more than half of the students in the School of Literature at famous private universities in Tokyo were occupied by female students who regarded their academic career as a bride’s accessory. Some thought that higher education was wasted on women, while others thought it to be useful.

Graduating from universities, women could not usually find jobs, making it very difficult for them to contribute to society. The few STEM students who seem to have been more strongly motivated to apply their learning to society than those of other departments would not become the target of such controversy because of their small numbers.

Figure 2 shows the distributions of male (upper) and female (lower) bachelor’s degree holders on the same scale. The distribution of male bachelor’s degree holders is particularly concentrated in engineering and social sciences. Male graduates of these two departments rebuilt Japan’s society and economy after WWII. The former contributed to industrial progress and the latter to the administration of business and the government. In general, women were not expected to work outside the home. However, after the promulgation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985, women tried to build careers, especially in the social sciences. During the last 20 years, the number of female bachelor’s degree holders has increased, while that of their male counterparts has decreased.

Figure 2. 
Comparative distribution of men and women granted bachelor’s degree each year. Created by author. Source. e-Stat.

About 200,000 bachelor’s degrees were awarded to men around 1970, while it was not until around 2000 that the same number was awarded to women. They thus trail behind males by 30 years. The number of female bachelor’s degree holders recently caught up with that of males, and the gap is now only 50,000. The recent decrease in male students is linked to the decrease of the population of 18-year-olds (MEXT, 2016). However, the percentage of female students enrolling in universities is nevertheless promising because it is more than that of male students in many developed countries. The shortage of female students in STEM is conspicuous in comparison with their male counterparts. Next, I explore female doctoral degree holders (Figure 3).

Figure 3. 
Number of men and women granted doctoral degrees. Created by author using the School Basic Survey FY 1968-2015. The category “Others,” includes Mercantile marine, Home economics, Art, and Other. Source. e-Stat.

As shown in Figure 3, in both the male and female graphs, doctoral degree holders in health are the most common. The category of health includes medicine, pharmacology, and nursing. Most doctorates in this category are in medicine. As shown in Table 2, almost 86% of female doctorate holders before WWII were in medicine. In the last decade (Figure 3), female doctorates in health held more than one-third of the total degrees. The recent numbers of female doctorate holders in STEM are approximately one-third those of males in science and one-sixth of males in engineering. According to She Figures 2009 and She Figures 2012, Japan is ranked as almost the lowest among the EU27 countries, just above Malta in terms of the proportion of female Ph.D. graduates (Directorate-General for Research, 2009, 2012). These statistics show that the pool of future talent in Japan is very small and must be taken seriously.

“Math Myths” Revisited

This section explores women’s participation in natural sciences in more detail, especially in mathematics. Figure 4 shows the trends and changes in the percentage of women in each discipline within natural sciences over the last several decades. Interestingly, the women’s proportion in mathematics is constantly located between 20 and 25%. The proportion of female students majoring in mathematics is not as small as is often assumed. The high proportion in biology has led to the misperception that more women study biology than any other natural sciences discipline.

Figure 4. 
Percentage of women granted bachelor’s degrees by science departments. Created by the author using the School Basic Survey FY 1968-2014. Source. e-Stat.

Figure 5 shows the actual numbers of students of both sexes in natural sciences. For a long time after WWII, the number of women in both mathematics and chemistry was far greater than the number in biology. The number of female students of mathematics was usually nearly equivalent to that of chemistry. The number of male students majoring in mathematics rapidly increased in the 1990s in Japan. Both male and female students of mathematics gradually decreased in number after approximately 2000. This may have been the result of the diversification of disciplines and the appearance of new trans-field disciplines by the Deregulation of University Act (MEXT, 2014).

Figure 5. 
Number of men and women granted bachelor’s degrees by science departments. Created by the author using the School Basic Survey FY 1968-2014. Source. e-Stat.

In the post-war period, mathematics and chemistry competed for the most female students until recently. As Table 1 showed, there were many female students who majored in mathematics before WWII in Japan. If we turn our attention to other countries, women in England enjoyed solving mathematical problems as contests in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Ogawa & Frehill, 2015), and many black women were engaged in mathematical problems to launch rockets in NASA through the Cold War and the Space Race (Shetterly, 2016). However, a widespread misconception that women are by nature poor at mathematics is deeply entrenched worldwide. An interesting example of such a misconception concerns two famous dolls, Barbie from the U.S. and Licca from Japan. Both dolls were marketed as being poor at math around the early 1990s by their makers, and represent popular conveyors of one of the “math myths” about girls (Ogawa, 2012b, pp. 6-7; Schiebinger, 1999, p. 67). Recent historical research studies are unearthing several math myths’ preconceptions. The subject of math is considered fundamental for a career in STEM, although it is not necessarily essential to all STEM. It is time to debunk the myths.


This paper undertook a historical analysis of women’s participation in STEM over about 150 years. Before WWII, the few Japanese women who could access higher education did not hesitate to major in science and medicine. Since WWII, most female students majored in humanities and later social sciences, and a few majored in STEM. In more recent periods, although Japan has been one of the leading countries after the U.S., the U.K., and Germany for winning Nobel Prizes, all of Japan’s laureates are men. Thus, I will explore the major causes of the gap between Japanese men and women in terms of their lives as researchers in broad social contexts (Ogawa, 2014).

Japan’s rank on the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) has been over one hundred recently (World Economic Forum, 2016). The GGGI is measured in four categories: economy, education, health, and politics. Japan is proud of its high level of education, but wide gender gaps still exist in higher education. Although men and women have been almost equal at the high school level for the last decade, their enrollment in universities differs significantly. Women’s matriculation rate was 47.4% in comparison to men’s, which was 55.4% in 2015 (Gender Equality Bureau, 2016). Japan has problems in other categories, such as politics. The proportion of female parliamentarians in Japan is less than 10%. Those of Sweden, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. are 43.6%, 37.0%, 32.0%, and 19.4%, respectively (Women in National Parliaments, 2017). In Japan, more than half of the male researchers have unemployed wives at home; this proportion is nearly the highest in the world (EPMEWSE, 2013). Female researchers’ male colleagues― researchers who have “invisible assistants” at home―seem to have difficulty in understanding female researchers’ dilemma―spouses who mostly work full-time. In Japan, dual-career academic couples are still a minority group (Ogawa, 2014).

To change researchers’ consciousness about gender roles in Japan, it is necessary to extend the statistical indexes not only to the social conditions mentioned above, but also to many aspects of research lives, e.g., the gender pay gap, international mobility, having or not having children, kinds of employment (full-time or part-time), funding success rate, women to men ratio of authorship, etc. (Directorate-General for Research, 2015). An analysis of the historical changes in such indexes is needed with regard to their important numbers. It is also important to refer to historical changes in actual numbers, although gender researchers are apt to refer only to women’s proportion of the totals.

Systematic data is also required to make comparisons with the E.U., the U.S., and other Asian countries. The results of a comparative study that was undertaken with the cooperation of Korean and Taiwanese researchers revealed that Japanese gender statistics are far behind the other two countries (Peng et al., 2017). Some comparative graphs about students and graduate students could be made, but not about researchers because of the lack of Japanese data. In Japan, there are no data on researchers that satisfies all three indexes of sex (male or female), field (natural science, engineering, health and so on), and position (professor, associate professor, or lecturer) simultaneously (Ogawa et al., 2015).

The general introduction of She Figures 2003 quotes historian, Hilary Rose’s remarks: No statistics, no problem, no policy (Directorate-General for Research, 2003). The lack of historical data and indicators can also obstruct the monitoring and making of policies aimed at successfully tackling the issue of gender inequality in STEM. Gathering and analyzing gender statistics is the first step in promoting women to be active in STEM. Complete sex-disaggregated statistics are an important tool for gender analysis that should be prepared at the earliest opportunity (Ogawa et al., 2014).

MEXT has been making concrete efforts since 2006 to improve the proportion of female researchers (Kodate & Kodate, 2016; Yokoyama et al., 2016). However, Japan is always at the bottom of rankings of the E.U. and some OECD countries (Directorate-General for Research, 2012). With the provision of statistics in addition to the implementation of concrete measures, Japan’s sluggish augmentation of female researchers in STEM should improve.

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Biographical Note: Mariko Ogawa is a professor emeritus, a historian whose field of study is history of science in the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. She is also interested in gender in science. She has translated four important books written by Londa Schiebinger into Japanese. She has written several books in Japanese such as Feminism and Science/Technology, Darwin Redux, and Germs and the State. E-mail: (

Keywords: women in STEM fields in Japan, women in engineering, women’s higher education in STEM.