Office lady
An office lady, often abbreviated OL (Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

: オーエル Ōeru), is a female office worker in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 who performs generally pink collar
Pink Collar
Pink Collar is an ABC sitcom which just only pilot episode aired. It stars Alicia Silverstone, Charlotte Ross, Matt Malloy, and Ryan Michelle Bathe. TV-Pilot set in an accident insurance agency, Pink Collar talking about the lives of four woman as they juggle their ambitions, friendships, and...

 tasks such as serving tea
Tea is an aromatic beverage prepared by adding cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant to hot water. The term also refers to the plant itself. After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world...

 and secretarial
A secretary, or administrative assistant, is a person whose work consists of supporting management, including executives, using a variety of project management, communication & organizational skills. These functions may be entirely carried out to assist one other employee or may be for the benefit...

 or clerical work. Like many unmarried Japanese, OLs often live with their parents well into early adulthood. Office ladies are usually full-time
Full time
Full-time employment is employment in which the employee works the full number of hours defined as such by his/her employer. Full-time employment often comes with benefits that are not typically offered to part-time, temporary, or flexible workers, such as annual leave, sickleave, and health...

 permanent staff, although the jobs they do usually have little opportunity for promotion
Promotion (rank)
A promotion is the advancement of an employee's rank or position in an organizational hierarchy system. Promotion may be an employee's reward for good performance i.e. positive appraisal...

, and there is usually the tacit expectation that they leave their jobs once they get married
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...


Due to some Japanese pop culture influence in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

, the term is also in common usage there.

Often nicknamed shokuba no hana or "office flower", these women suffer discrimination due to the M-Curve. Office ladies are usually hired right after high school or junior high, with university graduates discouraged from pursuing this type of career. They are kept around the office for the youth they bring to it, hence the "flower" nickname. They are charged with routine, menial tasks meant to support the male workers. This type of career offers 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 often are advised to settle down as a subtle message to quit, as those years are considered the most suitable for marriage.


The rise in OLs began after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, as offices expanded. They were first known as "BGs" (for Business Girls), but it was later found that English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

-speakers used a similar acronym, B-girls, to refer to "bargirl
A bargirl is a woman who works as a hostess or dancer in bars to provide company or sexual services to patrons; the exact nature of services and varieties of bar varying by country/region. In most cases, these cater mostly to male clients, although in some cases women are also clients...

s". Josei Jishin, a women's magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

, ran a competition to find a better name for the business girls. OL was chosen in 1963 from the entries.

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.

According to Miyako Inoue, "The Equal Employment
Equal opportunity
Equal opportunity, or equality of opportunity, is a controversial political concept; and an important informal decision-making standard without a precise definition involving fair choices within the public sphere...

 Opportunity Law (EEOL) was enacted in 1986, and phased into implementation. Although the EEOL had virtually no effect in changing discriminatory
Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their membership in a certain group or category. It involves the actual behaviors towards groups such as excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group. The term began to be...

 business practices, it was promoted nationally by the government..."

In fiction

OL stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

s are frequently found in josei manga and anime
is the Japanese abbreviated pronunciation of "animation". The definition sometimes changes depending on the context. In English-speaking countries, the term most commonly refers to Japanese animated cartoons....

, often portrayed as attractive, clever, and wistful individuals bored with their jobs, over-pressured by their families, and facing psychological issues.
  • The Shomuni
    is a comedic TV drama serial based on the Japanese manga of the same name by , though much of the details have departed from the comic...

    franchise includes manga, television series and films about office ladies.
  • The manga and anime series Oruchuban Ebichu
    Oruchuban Ebichu
    is a manga series by Risa Itō that was published by Futabasha Publishers. It later became an anime produced by Gainax, but animated by Group TAC. It first aired as six eight-minute episodes in 1999 as one third of the show Modern Love's Silliness. Ebichu is very adult in nature, and its explicit...

    , for example, features an office lady character appropriately named OL.
  • The warrior characters Linna Yamazaki (Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
    Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
    is a Japanese anime series produced by Anime International Company and funded by ADV Films. A retelling of the 1987 original video animation Bubblegum Crisis, the series premiered on TV Tokyo on October 8, 1998 where it ran for 26 episodes until its conclusion on March 31, 1999...

    ) and Arisa and Kyouko (All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku
    All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku
    is a Japanese single-volume manga series written and illustrated by Yuzo Takada and serialized in Weekly Manga Action. The manga was released as a single volume in December 1997...

    ) have day jobs as office ladies.
  • Most major characters in OL Shinkaron
    OL Shinkaron
    is a yonkoma manga series by Akizuki Risu about OLs, or office ladies. It also had a short, spin-off series titled Okusama Shinkaron that focused on housewives. Several volumes of OL Shinkaron have been published by Kodansha in a Japanese/English bilingual edition titled Survival in the Office: The...

    are office ladies.
  • In Re: Cutie Honey
    Re: Cutie Honey
    is a three-episode OVA series based on the 2004 tokusatsu film Cutie Honey, both being adaptations of the 1970s manga written and illustrated by Go Nagai. The series was co-produced with Gainax and Toei Animation, directed by Hideaki Anno, and shown on the Animax satellite television network in...

    , the titular Honey uses her OL job as a way to disappear from work without being noticed.

Further reading

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