Women in Japan: Menstruation Leave

Question from a reader: I remember learning about menstruation leave – as I recall you could take one day a month off with pay to accommodate – in Japan and thinking how great/dangerous that was. Does it still exist? I think it’s dangerous as it sort of says “poor weak woman, not as capable as a man” and great because sometimes it’s just so energy draining that it would be nice to stay home on the couch with a heating pad. What is/was the attitude of men in Japan about this?

Answer: It does exist. It’s not in my contract, but I know another city-employed foreign woman who does have it in her contract. I have actually never either seen a case of a woman taking the leave nor heard any man’s opinion on it, but I suspect it’s a non-issue. People don’t seem as creeped out by menstruation here: maxipad ads are all over TV, and people don’t hesitate to mention periods in conversation. Once, hanging out with my male best friend and some of his guy friends, I thought I had gotten myself into an embarrassment when somebody suggested going to the public bath. I couldn’t go because I was on my period, so I desperately whispered my problem to my best friend, only for him to announce it out loud without anyone blinking an eye: “Oh, it’s her woman’s day. Let’s go another time.”
So my guess is that menstruation is a benefit with no negative strings attached. For one thing, I doubt people ever really take it except in the most extreme cases (as Japanese employees have a tendency to avoid taking days off anyway to show loyalty to their employer), which would mean no resentment would arise over perceived overuse of menstruation leave, but having it there is still a nice gesture and a last resort.
Japan does, by the way, have paid maternity leave (like most developed countries but unlike the U.S.), even though as I’ve previously mentioned many women are pressured into a non-career track where maternity leave is not even an issue. The culture seems generally less anti-body than America. Toilet-related matters aren’t taboo; I’ve even heard people ask for advice on constipation in mixed company. Although I’ve got to say the obsession with skinny is even worse over here, I don’t see as much pure body-hating in Japan.
Crossposted at The Josei Thing

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  1. Chas
    Posted February 7, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    I had to take a couple of days off work recently because my period was so heavy and painful that I literally could not concentrate, I had to leave work and go straight home to bed. However, I felt really guilty about doing this and strangely, felt worse saying it to my female manager than I would have done a man – like I was ‘letting women down’ or something! Probably just my personal paranoia twinned with the fact she’s an insane workaholic who won’t take a day off unless she’s dying or something, but it’s interesting how periods have gone from being the excuse for everything (want to get out of swimming class at school? Done!) to being something you’re embarrassed to acknowledge as interrupting your life, in case you’re written off as a ‘weak woman’.
    Still, the idea that by taking time off for periods we’re making ourselves look not as up to the job as a man is redundant. Men don’t get periods, hence there’s nothing we can compare the situation with. There’s been plenty of humorous speculation about what would happen if men DID menstruate – pathetic specimens lying around on the sofa coughing ‘I think it might be…*spluttter*…fatal this time’. But there just isn’t anything men go through that’s likely to impinge on their lives the way menstruation does on ours. I’d say ‘yay’ to the menstruation paid leave, even though I’d try my best not to have to use it (I heard something similar used to exist in France?). It’d be nice to have employers acknowledge that periods can be damn debilitating. Mine are so bad I take the pill back-to-back to stop the bleeding, but have to give in every four months or so when I get breakthrough bleeding. I figure by doing this I’m doing all I can to stop periods interrupting my life, so employers can surely meet me halfway.

  2. Rob
    Posted July 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I am an American guy. My secretary (in Japan) was hit hard with cramps and malaise during her periods. This first came to my attention when I returned to the office one day and saw her with her head on her desk, looking like “death warmed over”.
    When I asked what was wrong, she gave me a one word answer — “Seiri” [Menstruation]. As I have three sisters and three daughters, these things are not unknown to me, and that one word was enough. I sent her home with orders to come back when she was OK — and her pay was not docked.
    Such a thing was not in the employment contract, but then again, neither were specifics on such things like using the bathroom, drinking tea, or breathing the air.
    Like commenter Chas remarked above, this is not a situation that can be compared to men, or find a parallel in any biologically induced suffering beyond an individuals control.
    The nearest thing I can think of is the poor company Boss who, while out drinking with members of the local Japanese Chamber of Commerce has been led on all night by some floozy, seductive, Japanese bar girl, and, just at the moment when he thinks he’s going to explode (as the testosterone floods his brain to the point of irreversible desire and blind lust), the girl suddenly tells him she was “only joking”, and kicks him out the door at closing time, leaving the poor, sick bastard with a severe case of DSB (Deadly Sperm Backup).
    In this case, when the sectary arrives in the morning, she will see the Boss with his head on his desk, looking like “death warmed over”. Of course, in such a case, his DSB is his ODF (Own Damn fault). On the other hand, women who suffer menstrual related problems are not to blame.
    And women get pregnant. We men don’t have a clue about that either — from morning sickness to contractions and delivery.
    I think there is nothing wrong with laws or bosses who understand that women are not men (and that men are not women), and that menstrual or pregnancy related issues do not make women any less valuable or reliable in the home, society, or the workplace — and further, that they should not be penalized by getting their pay docked for what is essentially an “Act of God”.
    Now, excuse me while I put my head on my desk, and try to figure out what went wrong last night over at the “Dippity Doo Love Love” Japanese Bar & Grill….
    PS : Menstruation and Fashion in Old Japan : http://www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2569213119/

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