Marriage. In everything relating to marriage, the difference between East and West is still very strongly marked. Marriage among the Japanese is less of a personal and more of a family affair than it is in Western lands. Religion has no say in the matter, and the law regards it from a different point of view. An Englishman chooses his wife himself; but the English law, though perfectly neutral during this initial stage of the proceedings, steps in as soon as the knot is tied, and imperiously forbids its severance except in case of gross misconduct by one of the parties. Japanese marriages, on the contrary, are arranged by the two families, and the step is less solemn and not irrevocable, Japanese law remaining as neutral at the end as at the beginning. For though marriage is a legal contract while it lasts, it may, like other contracts, be terminated by the joint request and consent of the contracting parties.
The way things are managed is this. When their child—whether boy or girl—has reached a marriageable age, the duty of the parents is to secure a suitable partner. Custom, however, rules that the conduct of the affair must be entrusted to a middleman (nakōdō)—some discreet married friend, who not only negotiates the marriage, but remains through life a sort of godfather to the young couple, a referee to whom disputes and even arrangements for divorce may be submitted for arbitration. Having fixed on an eligible parti, the middleman arranges for what is termed the mi-ai, literally, the "mutual seeing," a meeting at which the lovers (if persons unknown to each other may be so styled) are allowed to see, sometimes even to speak to each other, and thus estimate each other's merits. In strict etiquette, the interview should take place either at the middleman's own residence, or at some other private house designated by the parents on both sides. But among the middle and lower classes, a picnic, a party to the theatre, or a visit to a temple often serves the purpose. If the man objects to the girl or the girl to the man after the "mutual seeing," there is an end of the matter, in theory at least. But in practice the young people are in their parents hands, to do as their parents may ordain. The girl, in particular, is a nobody in the matter. It is not for girls to have opinions.
If both parties are satisfied with what they have seen of each other, gifts consisting of clothes, or of money to purchase clothes, and of certain kinds of fish and edible seaweed, are exchanged between them. This exchange of presents is called yuinō. It corresponds to betrothal, and is binding—if not in actual law, at any rate in custom. The presents once exchanged, neither party can draw back. A lucky day is then chosen for the wedding. When it comes, the bride, dressed all in white, the colour of mourning to signify that she dies to her own family, and that she will never leave her husband's house but as a corpse—is borne away at nightfall to her new home, escorted by the middleman and his wife. The parental house is swept out on her departure, and in former days a bonfire was lighted at the gate,—ceremonies indicative of the purification necessary after the removal of a dead body.
The wedding, which takes place immediately on the bride's arrival at the house of her husband's parents, is of the nature of a dinner-party. The distinguishing feature of it is what is termed the san-san ku-do, that is, literally, "three three, nine times," because both the bridegroom and the bride drink three times out of each of three wine-cups of different sizes, making nine times in all, or rather they do not drink, but only lift the cup to their lips. Another essential part of the ceremony is the changing of garments. The bride, on reaching her new home, changes her white dress for one given to her by her husband. But immediately after the ceremonial drinking-bout, and while the guests are still assembled at the feast, she retires and puts on a coloured dress brought with her from her parents house. The bridegroom changes his dress at the same time in another apartment. At the conclusion of the feast, the newly married couple are led into the bridal chamber by the middleman and his wife, whereupon they pledge each other in nine more cups of wine. It is significant that the husband, as lord and master, now drinks first. At the earlier stage of the proceedings the bride drank first, in her quality of guest. This ends the wed ding ceremony.
A few days later—strictly speaking it should be on the third day—a visit is paid by the couple to the bride's parents. This is termed her sato-gaeri, or "return home." On this occasion, she wears a dress presented to her by her husband or his family. Meantime the necessary notice has been given to the authorities, which is the only legal form to be observed. It consists in a request to the district office by the head of the family to which the girl formerly belonged, that her registration may be transferred to the office within whose jurisdiction her husband, or the head of her husband's family, if the husband himself be not a house holder, has his domicile. An official intimation of the transfer follows this request, and all is then in order.
The above is the usual form of marriage. In some cases, however, the bridegroom is adopted into the bride's family, instead of the bride into the bridegroom's. This takes place mostly when a parent has only a daughter or daughters, but no son. In order to preserve the family intact—due regard being had to the circumstance that no female can be its legal head—it is then necessary to adopt a son-in-law, who, literally becoming a son in the eyes of the law, drops his own surname and takes that of his wife. None but poor men are generally willing to place themselves in such a false position.
Amongst the lower classes, ceremonies and considerations of all kinds are often honoured only in the breach, many of the so-called marriages of plebeians being mere cohabitation founded on mutual convenience. This accounts for the "boy" and the cook—to their foreign master's increasing astonishment being found to bring home a new wife almost as often as they bring home a new saucepan. Such laxity would never be tolerated in well-bred circles.
When it is added that a Japanese bride has no bridesmaids, that the young couple go off on no honeymoon, that a Japanese wife is not only supposed to obey her husband, but actually does so, that the husband, if well enough off, probably has a concubine besides and makes no secret of it, and that the mother-in-law, with us a terror to the man, is not only a terror but a daily and hourly cross to the girl for in nine cases out of ten, the girl has to live with her husband's family and be at the beck and call of his relations when due consideration is given to all these circumstances, it will be seen that marriage in Japan is a vastly different thing, socially as well as legally, from marriage in Anglo-Saxon countries. The reader will be still more firmly persuaded of this truth, if he will take the trouble to glance at the Article on Woman. He will see that in this part of the world it is a case, not of place aux dames, but place aux messieurs.
The men, having everything their own way, naturally marry young. Speaking broadly, there are no bachelors in Japan. For an exactly contrary reason, there are no old maids. The girls are married off without being consulted, and they accept their fate as a matter of course, because their mothers and grandmothers, ever since the beginning of the world, accepted a like fate before them. One love marriage we have heard of,—one in thirty years. But then both the young people had been brought up in America. Accordingly they took the reins into their own hands, to the great scandal of all their friends and relations.
It would be interesting, were it possible, to ascertain statistically the effect on morality of early marriage as practised in this part of the world. Our impression is that the good results anticipated from such a system by certain European reformers do not show themselves here in fact. Not that wider intercourse with the people bears out the casual observer's harsh judgment on the standard of Japanese female morality. Japanese ladies are every whit as chaste as their Western sisters. But so far as we have been able to observe, the only effect of early marriage on the men is to change the date of their wild-oats sowing, making it come after wedlock instead of before. Divorce is common. During the earlier part of the period covered by statistics, the proportion of divorces to marriages was nearly as 1 to 3; but since 1901 matters have improved, and the figures are now about 1 to 5. The immense majority of cases occur among the lower classes. The upper classes rarely resort to divorce. Why, indeed, should a man take the trouble to get separated from an uncongenial wife, when any wife occupies too inferior a position to be able to make herself a serious nuisance, and when society has no objection to his keeping any number of mistresses?
The student of anthropology may like to know that neither ancient nor modern Japanese custom shows any trace of exogamy,—a fact the more remarkable when one considers the immense influence exerted on Japan by China, where it has been forbidden from time immemorial for a man to marry a girl bearing the same surname as his own.
Books recommended. Japanese Girls and Women, by Miss Bacon.—The Japanese Bride, by N. Tamura. The publication of this latter little book, in 1893, raised such a storm of indignation among the author's countrymen that he was forced to resign his position of pastor of one of the native Christian Churches.
- Some men are now married in European evening dress, in which case no change takes place.
- May the writer be permitted here to record a little experience of his own? In his Introduction to the Kojiki, he had drawn attention to the inferior place held by women in ancient as in modern Japan. Some years afterwards, six of the chief literati of the old school did him the honour to translate this Introduction into Japanese, with a running commentary. They patted him on the back for many things; but when they reached the observation anent the subjection of women, their wrath exploded. "The subordination of women to men," so runs this commentary, "is an extremely correct custom. To think the contrary is to harbour European prejudice … For the man to take precedence over the woman, is the grand law of heaven and earth. To ignore this, and to talk of the contrary as barbarous, is absurd."—It does not fall to every one's lot to be anathematised by half-a-dozen Japanese literary popes—and that, too, merely for taking the part of the ladies!