Office lady

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An office lady on the Tokyo subway

An office lady, often abbreviated OL, is a female office worker in Japan who performs generally pink collar tasks such as serving tea and secretarial or clerical work. Office ladies are usually full-time permanent staff, although the jobs they perform usually have little opportunity for promotion, and there is usually the tacit expectation that they leave their jobs once they get married.

Due to some Japanese pop culture influence in China mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the term is also in common usage there. However, the meaning of the word is slightly different.


The rise in OLs began after World War II, as offices expanded. They were first known as "BGs" (for Business Girls), but it was later found that English-speakers used a similar acronym, B-girls, to refer to "bargirls". Josei Jishin, a women's magazine, ran a competition to find a better name for the business girls. OL was chosen in 1963 from the entries.[1]

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.[1]

According to Miyako Inoue, "The Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) was enacted in 1986, and phased into implementation. Although the EEOL had virtually no effect in changing discriminatory business practices, it was promoted nationally by the government."[2]

In fiction[edit]

OL stock characters are frequently found in josei manga and anime, often portrayed as attractive, clever, and wistful individuals bored with their jobs, over-pressured by their families, and facing psychological issues.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cherry, Kittredge (1987). "Office Flowers Bloom: Work Outside the Home". Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women (paperback) (First mass market edition, 1991 ed.). Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd. p. 103. ISBN 4-7700-1655-7.
  2. ^ Miyako Inoue. Vicarious Language: Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan. University of California Press, 2006, pg 171.

Further reading[edit]