Eric Ellefsen
Mar 9, 2020

'A woman’s happiness': Confronting a limiting concept in Japan

The Japanese phrase 'onna no shiawase' centres a woman's happiness first and foremost around being a loving homemaker. It's time for brand communicators to move beyond this constricting definition, according to a language expert with TBWA Hakuhodo.


We believe in gender equality. We want it in Japan, as we do anywhere in the world. There’s no two ways about it.

Women do have more economic and social power than before. Women are able to pursue whatever dreams they wish to, but we can’t forget that there is still a long way to go before full equality is realized.

So, what can we do to help pave the way for a society that is more gender-equal?

It’s about time that we break some conventions.

Let’s analyze the age-old stereotypes we may be perpetuating, inadvertently. 

Onna no shiawase or 'A woman’s happiness' is a phrase we are used to hearing in this culture. The meanings denoted/implied are that what makes a woman happiest is to be first and foremost a loving homemaker, or to be loved by a man in general (as an age-old saying, this phraseology is purely hetero-centric). She may possibly have a job of course, but first and foremost is her role as domestic nurturer.

We should ask ourselves some questions at this point in time. How deeply embedded is this message in our minds, still? How narrowly have we been defining this happiness? Are we perpetuating this myth in communication, or even in our everyday lives? If so, when and where?

Isn’t this what we call a stereotype?

Conventions must be broken down from within our own minds and the codes that we think in.

So let’s turn it around! We are in the profession of changing perception and behaviour, so let’s put that to good use and help drive the changes for social good that culture is initiating.

It’s time to be as bold and brave as we can be, and to tell the stories of all the paths and roles that women can lead, and all different forms of happiness, in all its diversities. As communication professionals, together with brands, we hold the key to drive this perception forward.

What does the future of the female voice sound like in our communication landscape? We imagine a future that is like a rainbow of voices, all ringing true with individual aspirations and hopes. Voices of women that are authentic, and that accurately depict the diversity of our human experiences.

Helped along by creative professionals who know exactly what to listen for, of course!

With more and more consumers choosing brands that align with their personal values, (tolerance, diversity, equality, ecological responsibility…) brands that are better able to represent these voices will be more successful.

More and more brands are weaving socially conscious messages into their stories, and if more brand voices and communication can speak from this perspective, the better the chance we can change the world's perceptions and behaviours.

The latest research from Google and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (analyzing YouTube ads uploaded and viewed between 2015 and 2019 across 51 markets) shows us that the average percentage of female character screen-time was only 44% (with retail, consumer packaged goods and health-care being the most gender balanced areas).

Our goal is in sight! Just that little bit more to make it 50/50!

Ensuring that the balance is achieved lies with us.

Eric Ellefsen is director of interpreting, languages and transcreation at TBWA Hakuhodo.


If you're interested in new ideas and strategies to promote diversity and inclusion, we will be hosting Campaign Leading Change 2020 Conference & Awards (formerly Women Leading Change) on May 28 at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Campaign Asia

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