Gender Portrayal In Japanese Advertisements: [Essay Example], 1930 words GradesFixer

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Gender Portrayal in Japanese Advertisements

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Persistent gender ideas have roots in feudal Japan, which women should control the household, household budget, and household decisions, allowing men to devote themselves to their work. Frequently, we are finding modularity in gender identities in Japan and things are not as simple as the usual stereotypes. The definition of being a woman in Japan is changing and becoming more flexible. Brands and Japanese women are recognizing that one does not have to be super feminine and cute all the time. The modern Japanese women have started expressing a far greater choice in her life-style. This leads to a frequent change of jobs and delayed marriage as a corollary to the falling fertility rate and shrinking population. The aim of this study is to reveal gender portrayal types in Japanese advertisements which including broadcast and outdoor advertisements. Through content analysis, investigating how the Japanese mass media exercising an invisible, formative influence on the mind of Japanese.

Literature Review

According to a study done by Stacy Landreth Grau & Yorgos C. Zotos (2016), the phenomenon of changing female and male role structure in Western countries are reflected in the local advertising. Men are described in “sofer” roles and women are depicted to be more empowered which is called femvertising.

Actually the “gender role stereotyping” is a common communication strategy in advertisements to make identification with the consumers (Hovland et al., 2005). Consumers are more likely to be attracted by advertisements which features male or female characters. According to Kilbourne’s (1986) test among 101 respondents using two versions of advertisements (professional women and housewives), it was found that consumers who viewed advertisement with a female model in a professional role having higher advertising evaluations and purchase intentions than those who viewed the advertisements with the housewife female model.

Marshall and Zaiming(1998) pointed out that advertisements are not only used to reflect the changes and development of a social culture, but also to bring effect to the society. “Advertisements are designed to educate and lead consumers to the spread of new ideas and trends.” It is believed the spread of new message from the advertisements could change consumers recognition, attitude and belief towards a product or even an old idea. Hence, we are assuming that there may be effect on gender role by the influence of new style advertising in Japan.

Research Question

How the gender portrayal of advertisments affects actual gender role in recent Japan?



Observation is our basic method to collect the up-to-date data. When recording the samples of advertisements, we focus on both print and television advertisements.

For the print advertisements, outdoor billboards, train station, shopping malls and street banners are our channels to record. For the television advertisements, we choose to record the main commercial television station : FujiTV. On 22 July 2018, we record the product category, beauty type and occupation role of the female characters in all advertisements from 3 to 8 pm. By distinguish all advertisements in the above 3 criteria, we can then summarize the changing trend and characteristics of the gender portrayal in recent Japanese advertisements.


Interviews are conducted face to face in both our homestay families on 21 July 2018. In general, the overall sample size of the interview study is relatively small, as the depth and detail of the interview will generate a large amount of data. Through the in-depth interviews, the effects of advertisements to the change of the impression to the Japanese woman and how they influence the behaviours of women can be found out. By comparing the interview answers, the authenticity of the observation will also be verified.



A total of 40 print advertisements and 225 television advertisements are collected as samples.

Table 1 shows the product category of television advertisements. Women made up 44% of the total, while men made up 27% and both made up 29% respectively. For women, “clothing, retail, services, food and drink”(14%) and “cosmetics, skin care, and personal care”(12%) took the most among all categories, while “domestic products, home appliances, furniture” took only 6%.

Table 2 shows the setting of the advertisements (indoor/outdoor). For both women and men oriented ads, outdoor settings made up the most, which took 18% and 12% respectively.

Table 3 and table 4 shows how the images and roles of the heroine were shown in the ads. “Trendy” was the most presented image of women, which made up nearly half of the total(47%), while “classic/feminine” ranked the second(22%).

For the role presented, “celebrities”, “professional” and “recreational” were mostly shown, which took 30%, 27% and 23% respectively.


Two homestay families have been interviewed. The opinions of them are similar therefore the responses are concluded together. The image of the traditional Japanese women is deferential, they were considered as the center of household which take care the family members whereas men were responsible for work and earning money.

On the other hands, interviewees believe that modern Japanese women are independent and unique. Modern Japanese women are more capable in workplace due to the increase in education level. Men also participate more in housework. The interviewees hold the belief that family is important to Japanese women but there should be other meaningful parts in their life.


In the past, many researchers who investigate gender role in Japan TV commercials hold the belief that “men at work and women at home” were a major gender stereotype (Arima, 2003).

In 1999, a meta-analysis of 14 researches about gender stereotyping in commercials was conducted by Furnham and Mak. It was concluded that the commercials presenting gender stereotypes were portrayed with the following characteristics: “(1) Males were frequently shown as the authoritative central figures, with females frequently shown as product users ; (2) Males always played the roles as interviewers or professionals whereas females were confined as dependent roles ; (3) Females were more often portrayed at home while males were more often portrayed in outdoor settings ; (4) Males were shown selling automobiles and sports products while females were always related with home and personal care products products.” (Furnham and Mak ,1999)

However, we found that the patterns of commercial gender stereotyping in Japan has already changed. From the print advertisements we collected, we can see how the new images of Japanese women are shown. Modern women are no longer shown as a housewife which are being dependent and classic, but are mainly presented as “professional” and “confident”.

According to Table 1, Japanese commercials tend to use women to be the heroine promoting the products. It is believed that women’s images and characters shown in the ads must post influences to the audience to a certain extent. In modern television advertisements, women characters appear the most in promoting leisure and luxurious products, but not the domestic or home-oriented goods. This shows how Japanese society promotes women’s modern life, which are modernizing their daily life and enjoying the relaxing and leisure lifestyle. Moreover, men characters showing in the ads are also presented differently comparing to the traditional ads. More domestic products are associated with men characters with “considerate” and “tender” images.

Moreover, pattern of the ads’ settings have changed. Table 2 shows that women characters are no longer presented only in indoor or home settings. Unlike the traditional ads, majority of modern women-oriented ads are now in outdoor settings, such as the beach or streets. The traditional image of home-oriented role of women are now disappeared.

Besides, recent pattern of television ads are showing the trendy image and professional role of Japanese modern women(Table 3,4). More new features are added into the women characters and women no longer mainly associated with the housewife role. Acting as a career women or sporty women in the ads with charming and attractive look, the ideas of confidence and attitude among modern women are presented, which help lead women audiences to a new emotion, mindset and attitude towards the image and role of Japanese women.

According to the interview results, the “male at work and women at home” in TV commercials match the reality of Japan in the past. Although it was a stereotyped representation, the Japanese public expects the depiction of men and women to conform to traditional stereotypes and they respond positively to this description. A survey in the past (Arima, 2000) found that male are likely to be office workers or experts, and women prefer to be housewises.

There were more women commercials in “housework”, “swim/underwear”, and “Japanese kimono”, whereas there were more men in “suits”. Confucian is attributed to the persistently low status of women in the past, gender differences, and men predominating in these cultures. In Confucianism, there are clear differences between husband and wife. The husband is the main partner and expects to show responsibility and kindness to the wife, who is subordinate in the relationship and is expected to show obedience (Hyun, 2001).

To contrast, due to the education level of the woman increases, more and more woman go to the University. The number of women studying sciences at the university level has also been increasing. Increases in female education have been an important factor in the increased female labor force participation. According to Suzuki in 1997, in the field of employment, the ratio of the working women has been increasing by about 40%. Therefore there is a new style of femininity in japan which the image of the Japanese women have changed from kawaii girlish style to kakoii type ladies.

There are mutual influences between the commercials and behaviour of the Japanese women. Advertising is an effective way to deliver information about products to a large number of consumers. The message plays a key role in teaching people about the characteristics of different goods. Consumers tend to imitate the image of the heroines in the commercials as they are the fashion icon in Japan. Therefore, consumers who repeatedly exposed to the same type commercials will be convinced by them. Female audiences in Japan may accept the values contained in the advertisements that portray the “women can also be cool and independent ” and eventually begin to practice these values without notice.


Due to the limited time, only a small sample size interview and observation could be done. The data collected may not be accurate enough as this small size of interviewee might not represent the thoughts of the whole general Japanese. Moreover, a longitudinal study can also be conducted. It is crucial to collect advertisements displayed on various networks, because it is possible that different networks air may have a totally different advertisements.

Secondly, only two interviews have done by homestay family. Bias may come from the way we designed the interview questions and how they responded. And thus it may affect the accuracy of the results.


Through a series of fieldworks in Japan, we found out how the new content and format of Japanese advertisements influence gender role in Japan to a certain extent. In the recent advertisements, women are no longer only linked to the household products and classified as conservative, obedient and introverted. Modern women are expressed to be assertive, confident and attractive in the advertisements, which then influence the mindsets and attitudes of general women. After watching these kinds of advertisements, audiences change their ideas and thoughts among the traditional gender role in Japan and even try to change their behaviours, like modern women tend to participate in more outdoor activities and enjoy their own way of life. And for men, patient, gentle and observant images are more commonly shown on nowadays advertisements, modern men tend to devote more to the family besides of only devoting to their work. The mass media reveals the change of gender role in contemporary Japan.

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