With the days of the Asian Tigers long gone, and Japan Inc. now more of a pussy cat gone belly up, the talk is no longer about the world's second-biggest economy taking over the world, but about the profound structural changes that will be necessary just to keep it afloat.

But every cloud proverbially has a silver lining. Some changes that are already happening -- such as the expansion of the small business and self-employed sectors -- have greatly improved prospects for women wanting to start their own companies. These, in turn, will become one of the driving forces of a revitalized economy, says Yuri Konno, president and CEO of Dial Service Co.

"About 35 years ago, the business world in Japan was a male-dominated society, and women were not considered human resources," says Konno, a female entrepreneur who started an advice hotline service in 1969. "Back then, there were just no positions for a career-oriented woman."