Japan has been described as having two societies which are both private and public. Women in the homestead are dominant to their male conterpart.When looked through the western world mirror, women are usually seen as very much dedicated to their families to an extent which is perceived as strange to the other society. This dedication is often attributed to the cultural of the Samurai and Confucian old philosophies and culture. These influences are still active up to this date though not in the same extent as it was during those days. They are still influencing the woman’s role in the Japanese society despite the drastic changes that took place after the Second World War. (Neal, M and Lanchner, V 1999 66)
Japan is one of the countries in the Asia continent which has undergone some of the most radical changes in the last one hundred years. Almost every generation in this society has gone through a revolutionary episode in the period. These changes have seen Japan rise from its feudal background to become of the most powerful nations in the world.
In the course of this development the nation has copied the western style of doing things giving it a local solution. In the course of this period Japan has experienced very difficult period where the society was going through a hard time, war with the west and then a recovery period which was characterized with social problems which were affecting the population. (Darlington, P and Mulvaney, B 2003 44)
Japanese community has had so many influences which has helped shaping the society. The most fundamental was the influence from the systems which include the Budhism, samurai; these systems were based on the feudal system. Just kike the groups which were derived from the Confucian heritage of the China, Japanese society value group over individual position. The group is usually more important and larger than individual when it comes to making choices, for a Japanese group choices and roles come first then individual preferences follow. For a Japanese to be described as successful he or she is looked through the mirror of the group, his or her position in the group determines the way society is going to view him or her. A person is usually supposed to match with the group which he or she prescribed to. Failure to conform to the group values or standards usually leads to personal stress. A woman has to behave like the other women in the society for her to be considered as a member of the group. This partly explains why men and women commit suicide after failing to achieve group expectation. They can not face the other members where they are seen as failure, they would rather die than be ridiculed. An individual effort is weighed by the attempts made to match with the group values. Group is an important element coupled with the male position in the society where he is perceived as the dominant person in the society. (Darlington, P and Mulvaney, B 2003 47)
Samurai class was formed as a combination of Confucian and Buddhism philosophies. The rise of the Samurai philosophy and code of living completely transformed the role of the woman and her place in the society. This class was highly discriminative against the woman. Woman position in the society was compromised and lowered. Before its rise Japanese society was based along matrilineal lines. Confucians prescribed for a situation where men became the dominant force in the society. The philosophy stated that a woman had to obey her father as a daughter, respect her husband and be subordinate to her.Budhisim on the other hand did not make the matters any better for the woman. It stated that a woman cannot be saved rather she should get the salvation through the man. In the sixteenth century women did not have any legal status, they were not recognized by the law. They were viewed as subordinate to men and could not make any decisions. Women were not allowed to learn how to read or write, if they did so it was only enough to learn Hiragaya.They were prevented from reading so that they could not know what was happening in the political and business fields, areas which were dominated by men. These areas were only left to men who were perceived by the society to be superior being than women. (Napier, S 2001 29)
At this time foreigners were not allowed to enter Japan and on the other hand Japanese were not allowed to travel outside their country. This ensured that outside influence did not impact on this society. There was minimal influence from outside making the society to be described as one of the society which was very hostile to the foreigners. This trend has dominated this society up to this day where foreigners are usually viewed with a lot of suspicion. The society has been described as one of the most conservative when it comes to adoption of foreign values and traditions. During this period they did not easily embrace the changes from the outside world, perhaps this explains why the role of the women remained subdued for the entire period of the Samurai class.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Japan started to open up to the outside world. The nation signed agreements with the western powers; these treaties were largely tilted towards the western interests. They gave the foreigners more ground than the Japanese government. Japan was viewed by the western powers as backward and a weak society. Due to its subordinate position as far as foreigners were concerned it could not resist changes that took place during this period. In this century a revolution occurred where Shogun system was replaced and a serious modernization process began. Drastic changes occurred where feudal clans were eliminated and class restrictions were done away with. The most dominant and oppressive class as far as women position in the society was concerned was also eliminated and replaced by the new form of leadership which adopted the emperorship system of governance. (Napier, S 2001 31)
Despite the subdued position in the society women were very crucial in the progressive period when Japan was turning into an industrialized nation. Women were very key to the success of Japan as a nation during this period. Women were looked upon to offer moral guidance at a time when the society was going through some turmoil. The government was trying very hard to encourage the increase in birth rates so that the nation can compete at the same level with the other nations. The government strongly urged women to get more children so that the population can increase to a level where the country can be self sustenance in terms of labor and military forces. Women contribution towards economy prosperity can not be underestimated, without their effort the drastic and miraculous economic growth in this country would not have achieved. When the need arose to finance modernization process, women came in handy. Close to a quarter million women worked in the textile industry, this is one of the sectors which played a very big role as far as Japan industrialization process was concerned.(Soroka,M 1992 73) As per this period women accounted for sixty three percent of the entire workforce in the industries. The economic conditions forced the women to work, they had to contribute towards development and also provide for their families. Despite the women role in the economic growth their pay was low in comparison with the men. The working conditions were not also good for them. The preceding years a recorded great change as far as women position in the society was concerned.(Soroka,M 1992 75)
The period before the Second World War was marked with calls for equality for different classes including men and women. As at this time women were still subordinate to men, they were not supposed to vote due to a law that was passed in 1887, women were not allowed to divorce their husband despite the same society granting the husband a free will to get rid of their wives at any moment. This was rather one of the most unequal societies in the times. The press was very vocal in calling for the uplifting of the women’s position in the society. One of the newspapers by the name Mainichi usually commented about woman position in the society where it described the mistreatment and insults she went through. The paper described this treatment as the worst in the whole of the world putting Japan as one of the societies where women were subjected to the worst form life comparable to the slaves who lived under very harsh conditions.(Soroka,M 1992 82)
World war has been described as a blessing in disguise for the women fraternity. Their roles in the society changed where they started to be seen as an important part of the society. Most men were serving in the armed forces at around this time, it is estimated that close to seven million men were serving in the army at the time the war was coming to an end. Since majority of men were busy engaged in the war women had to work in the areas which were previously dominated by men. Wives took over as the head of the households since their husbands were away inn the battlefield. (Lupin, E 1983 56)
Women had to work extra hours to cover for the shortage created when the war broke out; there are some who worked for three shifts just to make the ends meet. These were very difficult times for a woman; she was working very hard to raise the family at her own while the men were busy fighting for their country. Though women did not participate directly in the war they somehow helped in the course since they played a man’s role very well while he was a way in the battle field. Perhaps this was a god sent opportunity for the women to show the society that they were not lesser being, they were capable of doing what men thought they could not do all along. The society continued to exist courtesy of the women who did not want to see their children burdened by the effects of the war which were taking a heavy toll on this nation. (Lupin E 1983 67)
By the time the war was ending the Japanese society was very different, the nation had been ravaged by the war, the society was wounded, and their spirits were down due to the humiliation they suffered as a result of the war. They were very disillusioned by the events that took place towards the end of the war. The war had only bad memories to every Japanese. The society was at the brink of disintegration due to the aftermath of the war. The defeat suffered by this nation in the course of this war changed the country for good. This was a defining moment for the woman. She clearly appreciates the role played by the war in liberating her from the chains of a patriarchy society. A society which had no respect for her, a people who treated her as a second class citizen. Though they could not say it loudly women were happy lot since the war made them have equal right with their male counterpart.(Lupin E 1983 70)
The economic and social problems that preceded the war made everyone to start life and pick up a living as an individual. This desperate condition has been described as the one which helped democratic tenets to flourish in this country. This brought to an end the feudalistic system which had dominated this society for a long time. The system which had put the woman in very disadvantaged position.Perhaps women celebrated the death of this system since their salvation was coming.
The alien occupation ensured that revolution which had started transforming the Japanese society continued. This led to adoption of the western ideologies which came to shape the Japanese society as a modern entity. The Japanese easily adopted the new principles since they had learned that the authoritarian and militarism had made them to be in a grave condition. They quickly embraced the American democracy coupled with the western socialism.(Soroka,M 1983 78)
Americans brought many changes to the society, the constitution was changed, war was outlawed, unity was strengthened and the emperor power were trimmed greatly, the emperor was a very powerful position which heavily borrowed from the Samurai class doctrines which contributed to women subordinate position in the past. The institution was regarded as very supreme and its occupier was regarded as a superhuman being. This situation led to further degrading of the woman position in the Japanese society. The reduction of its influence by the Americans had a significance role in the uplifting of the woman position in the society. (Napier, S 2001 29)
Women rights were endorsed where great recognition for this group followed; it is during this period that the women citizens of Japan were allowed to participate in the election. Prior to this period women were only voices which could not be heard but with these changes they know could decide the fate of their country since they had been granted the rights to vote in an election. This was a big step as far as Japanese politics were concerned, men had been granted the full rights to decide who could lead the society but with women voting things were bound to change, politicians had to take this voting block seriously. On the other hand women being the majority were to have a very solid bargaining position. (Napier, S 2001 34)
Women education was introduced where university and other learning institution specifically for women were established in different parts of the country. There were approximately twenty six universities which were opened up nation wide, this was a very positive step towards women empowerment, it meant that for now a woman could acquire education up to the highest level and compete with men at the same level. It was a big achievement for the women in Japan taking into the consideration that just some one hundred years ago a woman could not be allowed to learn how to read or write so that she does not upstage a man in the fields that were considered very crucial in shaping the society destiny. (Darlington, P and Mulvaney, B 2003)
Women were also recruited to serve in the armed forces and police department. They were accorded the same opportunity as men as far as the disciplined forces were concerned. This was something which could not have happened some few years back as women were seen by the society as weak people who could not be given such a challenging role as provision of security. Labor laws were changed to incorporate women’s need, they were allowed to get an equal pay with their male counterpart who were working on the same level. Many other benefits which could have only been imagined were introduce to cater for the woman biological nature, she was allowed some time to recover once she had delivered as well as a menstruation leave which was only a few days every month.(Neal M,M and Lechner,V 1999)
By this time women were drifting away from the group thinking to amore personalized approach to life. Group values did not play as a big role as they had done before; woman was becoming independent to this kind of thinking. The age at first marriage had risen due to the time they were spending gaining education and also establishing their bases in the employment field. Once they got married they did not have to stop working, they continued with their duties up to the retirement age, this was contrary to the years before where a woman was expected to stop working and take care of the family once she was married off. (Soroka, M 1992 78)
Her role in the family was also undergoing some drastic changes; she had become a force to reckon with in the household circles. She dominated most of the activities where man was usually in the sideline as far as decision making process in this field was concerned. Concerning her sex life woman was seeking self satisfaction, something which is totally different from what was happening some years back. Despite this sexual freedom a woman could only follow the moral standards dictated by the society. The society still expects them to conform to the standards laid down, they are expected to be married at some point in their lives ,when a woman reaches a certain age and she has not be married she will be subject to society ridicule(Napier,S 2001)
The house is perhaps one of the areas that saw some very radical transformation. They are the dominant figures in this sector controlling most aspects of the family life. They are the people who make most of the decision concerning rising of the children and domestic finances.Sociologist have explained that this change has been as a result of men being absent from their families due to work related commitments. This has given the woman authority to govern a small government called the family, the pillar of the society. This explains why the Japanese society slowly transformed itself from patriarchal to maternal leaning. The husband is usually taken as the eldest son in the family, one who should be respected but not mature enough to make important decision concerning household affairs. It is in the record one wife of a former prime minister retorting in public that her husband could not wash his face properly. This was not ridicule but she was stating the role of woman in taking care of all the aspects of her household. For a woman to make such a comment in public it shows the power they have gained over time, just some years back such remarks would have been meet with a thorough punishment for a woman. It shows that the society has changed to a point where women are recognized as important part of the society which can shape its destiny therefore their roles should be respected. (Soroka, M 1992 89)
The inferiority complex which greeted the womanhood some years back has slowly died giving rise to a confident figure which is ready to meet challenges that the world throws her way. Women position in the society will continue to change to a point where both sexes will be treated as equal and perhaps their representation in the political field will be proportion to their population.
Neal, M and Lechner, V.Work and Caring for the Elderly: International Perspectives, Routledge (1999)
Darlington, P and Mulvaney, B.Women, Power and Ethnicity, Haworth Press (2003)
Napier, S.Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke, Palgrave (2001)
Soroka, M.Sociology: Cultural Diversity in a Changing World, Cornell University Press (1992)
Lupri, E.The Changing Position of Women in the Family and Society, rill Archive (1983)