Interview with Mrs. Asako Fukumoto – woman member of the Japanese Bar

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Interview with Mrs. Asako Fukumoto – woman member of the Japanese Bar

“My current goal is to become the oldest active female attorney!” – said Mrs. Fukumoto when presenting a perspective of the Japanese Bar viewed by a woman member.

Recently I had the great honor to interview Mrs. Asako Fukumoto. I had the pleasure of meeting with Asako in Tokyo during my cooperation with Kuribayashi Sogo Law Firm. Asako has always impressed everyone with her excellent time management and optimistic approach to life.

Asako is a mother of five children, a grandmother and partner at a significant law firm in Japan (www.okslaw.jp).

She presented us with her perspective of work as a woman member of the Japanese Bar and described her very non-stereotypical approach to life and work in Japan.

Aleksandra Czubak: Asako san, as I once told you, I find you an amazing woman. I admire your great work organization and time management, as well as your optimistic approach to life.

How do you manage to efficiently combine work as a lawyer with your private life? What is the biggest challenge? What does your day look like?

Asako Fukumoto: Ola san, thank you for the compliment.

My first child is married (I have a 10-month-old granddaughter!) and my fifth child is a senior in high school, so I am almost at the end of my parenting career.

In the process of doing the best I can with all the work I have taken on, there have been times when the balance has tipped toward work, but I have been able to do this successfully with the toleration of my family. There were times when it was hard for me to neglect my household chores, but I did my best at work and never overworked myself at home.

The Corona Disaster has allowed us to do more of our work online, which has been a blessing in terms of time management. I am no longer tied to the hours I go to the office and return home.

While working, I have also enjoyed serving on the PTA board at every school my five children have attended, including the current one.

A.C. Your lifestyle is probably far from the stereotypical Japanese family model. Is this traditional Japanese model of women (in which a woman primarily looks after the home) changing in contemporary Japan?

A.F. Many of my generation chose to be full-time housewives during their child-rearing years, and I was a full-time housewife until my fifth child turned three, partly because my husband’s job required him to relocate frequently… In the generation below mine, having a job after marriage seems to be the norm. I believe this is due to the recent enhancement of Japan’s childcare leave system and other factors that have created an environment in which people can work while raising children. The fact that husbands are now encouraged to take childcare leave as well is a sign of great change in the times.

Looking at the situation in my son’s generation, I feel that it is more natural for husbands to actively participate in child raising and housework, and that the notion of wives doing the housework and husbands doing remunerated work is already outdated.

A.C. Do many women in Japan pursue other legal professions?

A.F. Generally, those who are regarded as very talented by their instructors at the Legal Training and Research Institute become judges.

A.C. And does Japanese labor law support women’s activities?

A.F. In theory… there are provisions for menstrual leave, the Labor Standards Law includes provisions for the principle of equal pay for men and women, maternity leave before and after childbirth, and other maternity protection measures. However, the wage gap between men and women still exists when looking at the entire workforce on average, and this gap remains large when compared with other advanced countries.

Assumed factors contributing to the wage gap include the lack of promotion of women and an employment environment that makes it difficult for women with restrictions such as childbirth and child rearing to work as full-time employees.

A.C. Women made up only 9.9% of lawmakers in Japan’s parliament. How can women influence the shape of Japanese law?

A.F. To achieve a gender-equal society, it is important that women participate in the decision-making process that designs laws, institutions, and rules… I look forward to seeing thoughtful and competent female parliamentarians take leadership and push for important policies to protect women’s rights.

A.C. So, what are the main challenges facing a female attorney in Japan? Are there categories of cases in which clients prefer to use the services of a female rather than a male attorney?

A.F. I sometimes worry that female attorneys may be perceived as unreliable in negotiation matters. I have to show such clients our work and put them at ease.

In domestic relations cases, female clients may often prefer a female attorney.

A.C. Are divorce cases often initiated by women? Are they most often the subject of a settlement? (wakai)

A.F. It is not surprising that men are more often the plaintiffs in divorce proceedings.

In some divorce actions, there is no dispute that the parties are divorcing, but custody may be thoroughly contested. Whether the case ends in a settlement is decided on a case-by-case basis.

A.C. If you could turn back time and choose your professional career once again, would it be the same?

A.F. Yes. Being a lawyer is my calling, and helping others in any way I can is what makes my life worth living.

My current goal is to become the oldest active female attorney. I would be very happy if I could achieve that.

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