This series explores topics surrounding women who began their careers in Japan following the implementation of equal opportunities employment legislation in the mid-1980s. With many now reaching the age of retirement, it is hoped their stories can provide insight and lessons for women in Japan’s professional world today.

In the modern professional world, there is an infinite array of career choices: which industry to join, which company (or whether to start one), which location, which function — the list goes on. We may open a door full of hope, only to close it with a sigh after a few years. This soul-searching iteration can continue until late in our lives — even in Japan, where lifetime employment is now an almost arcane concept.

For the chosen few, however, the choice is nonexistent from the beginning. There is in fact only one door, with a neon sign flashing the word “Enter.” The driving force could be innate — you have a singular talent for something — or it could be that you are born into a family-run business and never question that destiny. In the latter case, your success hinges on the level of your emotional and intellectual alignment to the business.