Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week held a ceremony to award certificates to seven Japanese companies that "lead the way in letting women shine." But the fanfare heralded the uncomfortable fact that Abe's promotion of "womenomics" — getting more women into leadership positions to boost Japan's economy — is failing.

Abe's own officials have conceded that the goal of women occupying 30 percent of management positions by 2020 is "not sufficiently shared by society as a whole," and lowered targets for women in section-chief positions in the national bureaucracy from 30 percent — unrealistically high — to a lowly 7 percent. The target for companies has been lowered to 15 percent. Surely Japan can do better.

There are 38 million stories (the number of females of working age) as to why women are not more prominent in Japan's workplace, all of them different. Encounters last week with a few bright Japanese women illustrates why womenomics is a much more complex struggle than politicians pretend.