A revealing peek inside working women’s purses


Let me confess my weakness: women’s briefcases. I don’t mean buying them; I mean peeking into those belonging to my friends, and begging them to take out the contents so I can look them over and go “Heeeee, soonandaaa (Oooh, so THAT’s what it’s all about).”

You’d never guess the sheer number and variety of small items, the little personal touches that speak more about a woman’s true personality than anything she may reveal to a boyfriend in privacy. Men’s briefcases are vastly boring in comparison: Take it from me, those things may look big and heavy but they often don’t carry anything more than a laptop, a Palm Pilot and the occasional packet of Xylitol gum. What are they going to do in the event of an immediate evac situation or alien invasion — send e-mail?

The hataraku onna (working woman), however, packs an entire universe into the space of a single Gucci or Biton (Louis Vuitton), often just large enough to store an A4 file holder. My friend Yumi (34 years old, editor at a woman’s fashion magazine) says that anything big is dasai (uncool), but it will not do for the briefcase to be too small, either: “Shigoto ga dekinai youni mieruno wa dame (I don’t want to look like I’m not good at my job).”

Yumi was nice enough to let me ransack the interior of her tres chic Courre^ges bag, the second one she bought this year — since she is very particular about looking hip and oshare (fashionable) 24-7. Her bag included:

* One Gucci wallet.

* One packet of ukon ( a mustard root said to have medicinal and energizing effects) tablets.

* One packet of dried natto (soy beans) because scientists now claim natto contains more isoflavons which are said to nurture female hormones, than any other soy bean product).

* One handkerchief from Donna Karan, the working woman’s guardian angel label.

* One Lanco^me compact.

* One MAC lipstick (cherry red).

* One Dior lipgloss.

* One Maybelline eyeliner/mascara.

* One orange leather-bound Hermes notebook (a Christmas gift from an ex-boyfriend).

* One Apple iPod.

* One Vodafone cell phone with a decorative strap from Hugo Boss.

* One box of Calorie Mate (fruit flavored), for when she has no time to eat.

* One small bottle of vitamin C, for her skin.

But Yumi says her briefcase contents are nothing. One of her kohai (underling) at work shows up at the office with a Coach bag that holds everything from Dr. Scholl’s foot-care goods and a French-Japanese dictionary to kinkyu-yo shitagi (emergency lingerie) and a plastic case containing four different pairs of tsukematsuge (false eyelashes).

This woman Kano (28) is smart and hardworking, but she doesn’t let the work overtake her shiseikatsu (private life) as it has so many other hataraku onna. Kano loves gokon (matchmaking drinking parties) and ibento (events); she revels at the sight of a fully booked schedule extending as far as a couple of months. She networks and attends functions tirelessly in the belief that “deai ga subete (it’s all about meeting people).”

Her briefcase motto: “Totsuzen, kakeochi shitemo daijyobuna yoni (Ready for sudden elopement).” Needless to say, there’s a small cloth case in there with two condoms. Kano says coolly that they should be in all women’s briefcases. Heeeeee, sonandaaaa.

Kano and others of her generation seem to have achieved that perfect balance between work and personal life, at least according to the contents of their briefcases.

All this causes a sense of wonderment: In the space of just two decades (since the Equal Employment Law kicked in in the mid-1980s) the Japanese woman has evolved from a repressed, demure and obedient wife-to-be, into a strong-minded individual defined by awe-inducing pragmatism and breathtaking social skills. “Otoko yori onna no hoga 100 bai tsukaeru (Women are a hundred times more useful than men),” said an executive at Dentsu Inc., and he’s probably voicing the honne (heart-felt opinion) of many managers in the nation.

Ah, to be a Japanese working woman toting one of those incredible purses, free to work and also free to enjoy the fruits of her labor to the hilt!