“Three Women Equal One Man”: Tokyo Medical University Rejects Women Because They Get Married, Sparks Online Outcry

“Three Women Equal One Man”: Tokyo Medical University Rejects Women Because They Get Married, Sparks Online Outcry

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An investigation by Tokyo Medical University into its admission practices led to a startling discovery that has Japanese women up in arms.

It started off as a serious yet somewhat contained scandal. It was discovered last month that a student who had taken the entrance exams for Tokyo Medical University (東京医科大学) had had his scores bumped up so that he would gain admission. The student was the son of an official with Japan’s Ministry of Education, Sports, and Technology (MEXT), and an official at the school skewed the kid’s scores upwards in a tit-for-tat bribery deal.

But then the school launched a thorough investigation into its admission practices – and what it found was that the bribery incident was only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out administrators at the school have, as an unwritten rule, been uniformly lowering test scores for women to limit the number who get accepted at the university. The reason? One official quoted by Yomiuri Shinbun called it a “necessary evil” (必要悪) due to the fact that women get married and/or pregnant, and resign their positions midway through their careers.


According to a source, limiting of women who passed the exam began around 2011. It started because of the regular exam in 2010, when 69 of all total female applicants (181), or 38%, passed. The majority of those who pass the national doctor’s boards at the school work at the affiliated hospital. There are many emergency operations, and in the irregular work system of surgery, there’s a tendency to isolate female doctors, and it’s also whispered that “Three women are equal to one man”.

(JP) Link: In Medicine, a Tendency to Distance from Women – “Three Women are Equal to One Man”

[Note – link is 404 and has been removed.]

As reported by Mainichi Shinbun, the backlash against the announcement has been swift and loud. Some are taking their anger to the one place Japanese know they can speak freely: online. The hashtag #私達は女性差別に起こっていい (We Can Get Mad at Sexism) is being used by women not only to denounce the discriminatory policies but to publicize discrimination that they themselves are encountering on a daily basis. For example, the tweet below from user tsurusube_mochi, a new mom who recently returned to work, tells of an appalling conversation in her office place:


I was shocked when my manager asked a German man, “The head of Germany is a woman, aren’t you angry about that?” The German replieed, “No, no (laugh). In Germany boys ask, ‘We have a female Prime Minister, but can boys become Prime Minister too.'” Getting mad because your leader is a woman – what the hell?

Another comment from user Shirounmo, a mother of three, that’s received nearly 10K likes, reads:


Girls can’t go out for kids’ sumo because it’s dangerous, their pay is low because they’re not capable, there are places they can’t enter because it’ll anger the gods of women, their test scores are lowered because their attrition rate is high – there’s always a reason for people to keep saying, “It’s no discrimination.” But it’s discrimination.

And, while they didn’t attach the hash tag to it (I’m sure that would have been some sort of diplomatic faux pas), even the Danish Embassy in Japan got in a knock – while admitting its country’s own shortcomings in other areas:


In Denmark, at the majority of Medical Universities, women are surpassing men. Copenhagen University’s Medical University is 69% women. In other fields such as physics, astronomy and meteorology, there are more male students, and even in Denmark there are fields where equality between men and women is not thought to have been realized.

Many women in the medical profession are greeting this news with a wary “I told you so,” and are pointing out that this problem isn’t specific to Tokyo Medical University. Other women chiming into the hashtag report of hearing of similar policies at other schools going as far as 10 years back. And according to a researcher cited by Mainichi, the numbers seem to reinforce that Japanese women in medicine face high hurdles: researchers into the issue note that the number of women serving as doctors sits around 20.4% – well behind the average of 39.4% in other developed countries. And this in spite of the fact that some Medical Universities in the country are attended by at least half women. Tanabe Kyouko, head of the We!Toyama Women’s Clinic, reports seeing many women in clinical trial positions, but few ever actually working with patients in critical capacities.

Tokyo Medical University now faces a disastrous fallout from this incident, including a guaranteed wave of lawsuits that could cost it dearly. But as the Japan Times’ Mizuho Aoki notes (English link), the larger issue for Japan is: how will it convince Japanese women – particularly those in the medical profession – that they should work in their own country? For a nation facing a dwindling population and massive labor shortfalls across every industry](/tourism-power-assistant-suits-japan.html), a perception that Japan is a hostile work environment for women is the last thing the country needs.

(JP) Link: Women Doctors Angry Over “Glass Ceiling”

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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