Japanese boardrooms are almost exclusively male, but there are some important exceptions. Some of Japan's best-known women in business:

SAWAKO NOMA: President and CEO of Kodansha Ltd., Japan's largest publishing house. She had no business or editorial experience until 1987, when she took over her husband's job after his death. Under her, the company expanded overseas business by financing literary awards and publishing Japanese literature.

NAOE WAKITA: President of the product planning firm Dentsu Eye, a subsidiary of the Dentsu advertising giant, whose 30 employees are mostly women. Though not limited to women's products, its ads target women, who are Japan's biggest consumption force. A copywriter for a dairy product company, Wakita moved to Dentsu in 1964. She was promoted to executive of Dentsu Eye in 1984 and became president four years later.

HANAE MORI: Fashion designer known worldwide, Mori also has run fashion businesses in Europe and the United States. Once a full-time housewife, Mori attended a dressmaking school and opened a small shop in Tokyo in 1951 before receiving critical acclaim for a 1965 New York collection. Mori is the only Japanese accepted by the Chambre Syndicale, the ruling body of haute couture.

SONOKO SUZUKI: Owner of a diet-food and cosmetics mail-order empire with 200,000 clients across Japan. Her first retail shop features skin-care products that triggered Japan's newest beauty rage: pale skin. Suzuki also writes best sellers on health and beauty.

ETSUKO TAKANO: General manager of Iwanami Hall theater, an affiliate of a publishing giant Iwanami. Since accepting the job from her brother-in-law, Takano has introduced less-publicized masterpieces from around the world, mainly from Europe and Asia, to the general Japanese audience.