Japanese Woman Today
FOR CENTURIES the Japanese woman has been, to Western
observers, a model of graceful beauty and passive subjection. A picture of a
kimono-clad, modest, silent, servant-wife has gone out to foreign lands. Is
this model a complete picture? How is she faring in the modern world?
In Japan the traditional definition of woman is ryosai kembo (good wife, wise mother), and this is still the ideal today. By far the majority of Japanese women show they can find happiness and fulfillment within that role. However, especially since World War II, woman's status in Japanese society is changing.
Today, the kimono-clad, graceful woman still exists, but alongside her is the woman in blue jeans, or perhaps shorts, and high boots. The spirited young woman dressed in a pantsuit, hailing a taxi, may also be the sedate young woman in kimono that attends her ocha ( Japanese Tea Ceremony ) class once a week. This modern woman, for the most part, still displays admirable qualities of her ancestors, such as modesty and endurance. However, she is more apt to speak her mind and has a greater control over her future than her grandmother did. Although the match may be arranged for her, she will make the final decision as to whom she marries. The modern woman pursues education, enjoys reading, views self-improvement as important and develops her artistic inclinations. Her upbringing, which is more strict than that of her brothers, helps her to develop the personality and sense of duty that are expected of her as a future wife and mother.
She is also a factor in the economy. According to a report, more than 25 million women are part of the labor force, making up nearly 45 percent of the whole. They work at a variety of jobs, are particularly active in the field of education and comprise more than 50 percent of the agrarian work force.
A longtime resident of Japan writes: "I can remember very well that in the 1920's a wife was likely to follow, deferentially, a pace behind her husband on the street, encumbered with whatever babies or bundles needed to be carried, while he strode ahead in lordly grandeur. Over the years I have seen the wife catch up with her husband, until they now walk side by side and the babies and bundles are often in his arms."
However, women have not entered into big business and, with few exceptions, do not socialize with their husbands outside the home. Although this is changing in some modern families, the husband and wife often live almost separate lives, with little or no companionship.
Her Past-An Aid to Understanding Her
It is claimed that Japan was originally a matriarchy, but through the centuries various social changes drastically lowered the position of women. Interestingly, it was religion and philosophy imported from foreign lands that played a big role in lowering her position. The Buddhist sects that became popular in Japan taught that women were inherently evil, could not attain the five states of spiritual awareness and could gain salvation only by being born again as a man. Then, as Confucianism permeated society, it was taught that women were social parasites, intellectually and morally inferior to men. In the Onna Daigaku (Greater Learning for Women) that was written to instruct women, Confucianist scholar Kaibara Ekken writes, "Such is the stupidity of her character that it is incumbent on her, in every particular, to distrust herself and to obey her husband." Being conditioned by these tenets, the woman thought of herself as inferior. Therefore the self-effacing, shy bearing of the Japanese woman evolved. As feudalism took hold, her position grew steadily worse. She lost all legal rights and by the 17th century she was completely subjugated as the servant of men.
Marriage, not being based on conjugal love or a religious concept but rather on social and economic relationships, did not require that the wife be an object of love. She was merely a means to continuance of the family. Many times she was under the direct charge of a harsh mother-in-law and had no legal or personal rights. Her place was in the home, even to the forgoing of religious participation. She was a self-sacrificing mother who heaped all her overt affection on her children. She gained solace from the love she received from them in return.
With this background, women worked hard at home to be pleasing to the menfolk and did whatever was required of them without complaint. One woman produced by this training is thus described by her daughter: "She is intelligent, modest, unselfish, and always thoughtful of the other members of the family. She is particular about her manner and impresses everybody she meets with her graceful dignity. . . . She rises earlier and retires later than anybody else in the family. She has never allowed herself to enjoy a lazy Sunday morning in bed, and the sickbed is the only place for her to rest. . . . Endurance and repression are her greatest ideals. She says to me, 'Endurance a woman should cultivate more than anything else. If you endure well in any circumstance, you will achieve happiness.'"
In all of this, women did not hold a totally negative view of themselves but, rather, were proud of their ability to endure hardship. They learned to run a household efficiently, gained the ability to stand against heavy odds and developed a strength of character rarely equaled in the world today.
By the end of the 19th century the Industrial Revolution had acted to take the woman out of the home and put her to work in the world. Then later, as war came, women took over more and more duties of the absent male family head, until by 1941 many were regular wage earners in their own right. With the end of World War II, legal equality of women was established. The woman was suddenly declared to be man's equal in every way, and was given the right to vote, equal educational opportunities and all legal redress.
It is interesting to note that, with all the freedom available to her, the Japanese woman still preferred to stay in the background and be the "ideal" good wife and wise mother. Today, while she exercises her rights to obtain an education and to vote, often more than men do, for the most part she still prefers the backseat socially and does not compete with men. She is not apologetic about being a housewife but appreciates her different role. There has been no challenging of that role here as there has in the West. The good housewife in Japan is a respected person. A young woman looks forward to marriage and prepares for it by taking classes in cooking and flower arranging with a view to making herself a better, more attractive wife. Though she may work until she is married and again after her children are in school, her career is in the home.
Problems She Faces
The emotional burdens as well as the worries for the family's welfare are quite heavy on Japanese wives today. This is one of the chief complaints they are voicing. Also, the father who exercises authority in the family is a rare person in Japan today, and this contributes to development of delinquent children. Since, many times, all the discipline is left to a permissive or working mother, child training is an area where she often seeks aid.
Another thing that gives rise to problems is that although the axiom of the good wife and wise mother is still valid, the application of that principle has changed drastically. Whereas in the past the wise mother gave good counsel and loving companionship to her children, today's "good mother" is often the one who works to provide her family with more material things or pushes her children to attend the best schools so they can get ahead in the world. In her heart she wants to fulfill her role of "wise mother," but the realities of a materialistic society frustrate her efforts.
About the Author
Frankie Goh is a family counselor and researcher. He manage a website : Earn Money Online http://www.ezy-cash.com He is also the Internet Marketing Co-ordinator of Healthbuy.com Herbal Products & Dermitage Wrinkles-Free Program
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