This study is about the words used for women’s work within the home, in Japanese and English. The aim is to see whether there is something in the language used which undermines respect for the women who performer the tasks and whether this is specific to either language.
The study investigates key terms like 働くhataraku and 仕事shigoto for work; 家事kaji for housework; 料理ryôri, 掃除sôji and 洗濯sentaku for cooking, cleaning and laundry; and a number of terms for care: 育児ikuji and子供の世話kodomo no sewa for childcare; 介護kaigo, 看護kango andケア kea for care for elderly and disabled. Words for women who work at home are also included, as Japanese 主婦shufu is compared to a Western housewife or a stay-at-home-mom.
Analysing the semantic features of the terms reveal a considerable gap between work and housework as far as positive implications are concerned. Japanese, however, seem to have lesser expectations to hataraku and more respect for kaji, and the gap therefore is less pronounced. Implications of word class and syntax indicate that the point of view is important for the choice of terms in Japanese. Words for care in particular have a number of terms witnessing a need for expressing these activities at different points in time. Finally, several feminist scholars express the difference between a Japanese homemaker and a Western housewife. Japanese women are traditionally not regarded as a weaker sex, but seen to be in charge of family and social relations, education of the children and the welfare of elderly family members.
To conclude, with the exception of the encompassing term kaji, Japanese seems to contain a variety of terms adapted to a task and activities where monetary value is not the primary point of interest.