An office lady, often abbreviated OL (Japanese: オーエル Ōeru), is a female office worker in Japan who performs generally pink collar tasks such as serving tea and secretarial or clerical work. Like many unmarried Japanese, OLs often live with their parents well into early adulthood. Office ladies are usually full-time permanent staff, although the jobs they do usually have little opportunity for promotion, and there is usually the tacit expectation that they leave their jobs once they get married.

Due to some Japanese pop culture influence in Hong Kong, the term is also in common usage there.

Often nicknamed shokuba no hana or "office flower," these women suffered discrimination due to the M-Curve. Office ladies were usually hired right after high school or junior high, with university graduates discouraged from pursuing this type of career. They were kept around the office for the youth they brought to it, hence the "flower" nickname. They were charged with routine, menial tasks meant to support the male workers. This type of career offered very little chance of advancement and was specifically designed so that women would leave for marriage before their thirties. Women between the ages of twenty four and twenty eight would often be advised to settle down as a subtle message to quit, as those years were considered the most suitable for marriage.[1]


The rise in OLs began after World War II, as offices expanded. They were first known as "BGs" (for Business Girls), but it was later found that English-speakers used a similar acronym, B-girls, to refer to "Bargirls". Josei Jishin, a women's magazine, ran a competition to find a better name for the business girls. OL was chosen in 1963 from the entries.[2]

In the 1980s, being an OL was the most common job for Japanese women, and OLs made up approximately one-third of the female work force.[2]

According to Miyako Inoue, 'The Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) was enacted in 1986, and phased into implementation. Although the EEOL had virtually no effect in changing discriminatory business practices, it was promoted nationally by the government...'[3]

In fiction

OL stock characters are frequently found in josei manga and anime, often portrayed as attractive, clever, and wistful individuals bored with their jobs, over-pressured by their families, and facing psychological issues.

See also


  1. Imamura, Anne; Allison, Anne; Awaya, Nobuko; Lee Bernstein, Gail; R. Creighton, Millie; Ann Hastings, Sally; Lock, Margaret; Orpett Long, Susan; J. Marra, Robert; Mock, John; Lynne Rowland Mori, Barbara; A. Painter, Andrew; P. Phillips, David; S. Roberts, Glenda; R. Rosenberger, Nancy; G. Steinhoff, Patricia (1996). Re-imaging Japanese Women. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-520-20263-5. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cherry, Kittredge. "Office Flowers Bloom: Work Outside the Home". Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women (paperback) (First mass market edition, 1991 ed.). 17-14 Otowa 1-chrome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112: Kodansha International Ltd. p. 103. ISBN 4-7700-1655-7. 
  3. Miyako Inoue Vicarious Language: Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan University of California Press 2006 pg 171

Further reading

id:Office lady it:Office ladyzh:辦公室女郎

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