Things Japanese/Woman (Status of)
Woman (Status of). Japanese women are most womanly,—kind, gentle, faithful, pretty. But the way in which they are treated by the men has hitherto been such as might cause a pang to any generous European heart. No wonder that some of them are at last endeavouring to emancipate themselves. A woman's lot is summed up in what are termed "the three obediences,"—obedience, while yet unmarried, to a father; obedience, when married, to a husband and that husband's parents; obedience, when widowed, to a son. At the present moment, the greatest lady in the land may have to be her husband's drudge, to fetch and carry for him, to bow down humbly in the hall when my lord sallies forth on his walks abroad, to wait upon him at meals, to be divorced almost at his good pleasure. "Society," in our sense of the word, scarcely exists. Men do not call on ladies, can hardly even ask after them. Two grotesquely different influences are now at work to undermine this state of slavery—one, European theories concerning the relation of the sexes, the other, European clothes! The same fellow who struts into a room before his wife when she is dressed à la japonaise, will let her go in first when she is dressed à l’européenne. Probably such acts of courtesy do not extend to the home, where there is no one by to see; for most Japanese men, even in this very year of grace 1904, make no secret of their disdain for the female sex. Still it is a first step that even on some occasions, consideration for women should at least be simulated.
Have we explained ourselves? We would not have it thought that Japanese women are actually ill-used. There is probably very little wife-beating in Japan, neither is there any zenana system, any veiling of the face. Rather is it that women are all their lives treated more or less like babies, neither trusted with the independence which our modern manners allow, nor commanding the romantic homage which was woman's dower in mediæval Europe; for Japanese feudalism despite its general similarity to the feudalism of the West knew nothing of gallantry. A Japanese knight performed his valiant deeds for no such fanciful reward as a lady's smile. He performed them out of loyalty to his lord or filial piety towards the memory of his papa, taking up, maybe, the clan vendetta and perpetuating it. Our own sympathies, as will be sufficiently evident from the whole tenour of our remarks, are with those who wish to raise Japanese women to the position occupied by their sisters in Western lands. But many resident foreigners—male foreigners, of course—think differently, and the question forms a favourite subject of debate. The only point on which both parties agree is in their praise of Japanese woman. Says one side, "She is so charming that she deserves better treatment,"—to which the other side retorts that it is just because she is "kept in her place" that she is charming. The following quotation is from a letter to the present writer by a well-known author, who, like others, has fallen under the spell. "How sweet," says he, "Japanese woman is! All the possibilities of the race for goodness seem to be concentrated in her. It shakes one's faith in some Occidental doctrines. If this be the result of suppression and oppression, then these are not altogether bad. On the other hand, how diamond-hard the character of the American woman becomes under the idolatry of which she is the object. In the eternal order of things, which is the higher being, the childish, confiding, sweet Japanese girl, or the superb, calculating, penetrating, Occidental Circe of our more artificial society, with her enormous power for evil and her limited capacity for good?"—That Japanese women are charming, either because or in spite of the disadvantages of their position, is a fact which the admiration of foreign lady travellers proves more conclusively than aught else; for in their case such admiration cannot be suspected of any arrière-pensée. How many times have we not heard European ladies go into ecstasies over them, and marvel how they could be of the same race as the men! And closer acquaintance does but confirm such views. Moreover, it reveals the existence of solid—we had almost said stern—qualities unsuspected by the casual observer. These delicate-looking women have Spartan hearts. Countless anecdotes attest their courage, physical as well as moral.
The following treatise by the celebrated moralist Kaibara so faithfully sums up the ideas hitherto prevalent in Japan concerning the relations between the sexes, that we shall give it in full, notwithstanding its length. The title, which is literally "The Greater Learning for Women" (Onna Daigaku), might be more freely rendered by "The Whole Duty of Woman."
The Greater Learning for Women.
"Seeing that it is a girl's destiny, on reaching womanhood, to go to a new home, and live in submission to her father-in-law and mother-in-law, it is even more incumbent upon her than it is on a boy to receive with all reverence her parents instructions. Should her parents, through excess of tenderness, allow her to grow up self-willed, she will infallibly show herself capricious in her husband's house, and thus alienate his affection, while, if her father-in-law be a man of correct principles, the girl will find the yoke of these principles intolerable. She will hate and decry her father-in-law, and the end of these domestic dissensions will be her dismissal from her husband's house, and the covering of herself with ignominy. Her parents, forgetting the faulty education they gave her, may indeed lay all the blame on the father-in-law. But they will be in error; for the whole disaster should rightly he attributed to the faulty education the girl received from her parents.
"More precious in a woman is a virtuous heart than a face of beauty. The vicious woman's heart is ever excited; she glares wildly around her, she vents her anger on others, her words are harsh and her accent vulgar. When she speaks, it is to set herself above others,—to upbraid others, to envy others, to be puffed up with individual pride, to jeer at others, to outdo others, all things at variance with the way in which a woman should walk. The only qualities that befit a woman are gentle obedience, chastity, mercy, and quietness.
"From her earliest youth, a girl should observe the line of demarcation separating women from men; and never, even for an instant, should she be allowed to see or hear the slightest impropriety. The customs of antiquity did not allow men and women to sit in the same apartment, to keep their wearing-apparel in the same place, to bathe in the same place or to transmit to each other anything directly from hand to hand. A woman going abroad at night must in all cases carry a lighted lantern; and (not to speak of strangers) she must observe a certain distance in her intercourse even with her husband and with her brothers. In our days, the woman of the lower classes, ignoring all rules of this nature, behave themselves disorderly; they contaminate their reputations, bring down reproach upon the heads of their parents and brothers, and spend their whole lives in an unprofitable manner. Is not this truly lamentable? It is written likewise, in the Lesser Learning, that a woman must form no friendship and no intimacy, except when ordered to do so by her parents or by the middle man. Even at the peril of her life, must she harden her heart like rock or metal, and observe the rules of propriety.
"In China, marriage is called returning for the reason that a woman must consider her husband's home as her own, and that, when she marries, she is therefore returning to her own home. However humble and needy may be her husband's position, she must find no fault with him, but consider the poverty of the household which it has pleased Heaven to give her as the ordering of an unpropitious fate. The sage of old taught that, once married, she must never leave her husband's house. Should she forsake the 'way' and be divorced, shame shall cover her till her latest hour. With regard to this point, there are seven faults, which are termed the Seven Reasons for Divorce:' (i) A woman shall be divorced for disobedience to her father-in-law or mother-in-law, (ii) A woman shall be divorced if she fail to bear children, the reason for this rule being that women are sought in marriage for the purpose of giving men posterity. A barren woman should, however, be retained if her heart is virtuous and her conduct correct and free from jealousy, in which case a child of the same blood must be adopted; neither is there any just cause for a man to divorce a barren wife, if he have children by a concubine, (iii) Lewdness is a reason for divorce, (iv) Jealousy is a reason for divorce, (v) Leprosy, or any like foul disease, is a reason for divorce, (vi) A woman shall be divorced, who, by talking overmuch and prattling disrespectfully, disturbs the harmony of kinsmen and brings trouble on her household, (vii) A woman shall be divorced who is addicted to stealing.—All the Seven Reasons for Divorce were taught by the Sage. A woman, once married and then divorced, has wandered from the way, and is covered with the greatest shame, even if she should enter into a second union with a man of wealth and position.
"It is the chief duty of a girl living in the parental house to practise filial piety towards her father and mother. But after marriage, her chief duty is to honour her father-in-law and mother-in-law to honour them beyond her own father and mother—to love and reverence them with all ardour, and to tend them with every practice of filial piety. While thou honourest thine own parents, think not lightly of thy father-in-law! Never should a woman fail, night and morning, to pay her respects to her father-in-law and mother-in-law. Never should she be remiss in performing any tasks they may require of her. With all reverence must she carry out, and never rebel against, her father-in-law's commands. On every point must she enquire of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, and abandon herself to their direction. Even if thy father-in-law and mother-in-law be pleased to hate and vilify thee, be not angry with them, and murmur not! If thou carry piety towards them to its utmost limits, and minister to them in ail sincerity, it cannot be but that they will end by becoming friendly to thee.
"A woman has no particular lord. She must look to her husband as her lord, and must serve him with all worship and reverence, not despising or thinking lightly of him. The great life-long duty of a woman is obedience. In her dealings with her husband, both the expression of her countenance and the style of her address should be courteous, humble, and conciliatory, never peevish and intractable, never rude and arrogant: that should be a woman's first and chiefest care. When the husband issues his instructions, the wife must never disobey them. In doubtful cases, she should enquire of her husband, and obediently follow his commands. If ever her husband should enquire of her, she should answer to the point;—to answer in a careless fashion were a mark of rudeness. Should her husband be roused at any time to anger, she must obey him with fear and trembling, and not set herself up against him in anger and frowardness. A woman should look on her husband as if he were Heaven itself, and never weary of thinking how she may yield to her husband, and thus escape celestial castigation.
"As brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law are the brothers and sisters of a woman's husband, they deserve all her reverence. Should she lay herself open to the ridicule and dislike of her husband's kindred, she would offend her parents-in-law, and do harm even to herself, whereas, if she lives on good terms with them, she will likewise rejoice the hearts of her parents-in-law. Again, she should cherish, and be intimate with, the wife of her husband's elder brother,—yea, with special warmth of affection should she reverence her husband's elder brother and her husband's elder brother's wife, esteeming them as she does her own elder brother and elder sister.
"Let her never even dream of jealousy. If her husband be dissolute, she must expostulate with him, but never either nurse or vent her anger. If her jealousy be extreme, it will render her countenance frightful and her accents repulsive, and can only result in completely alienating her husband from her, and making her intolerable in his eyes. Should her husband act ill and unreasonably, she must compose her countenance and soften her voice to remonstrate with him; and if he be angry and listen not to the remonstrance, she must wait over a season, and then expostulate with him again when his heart is softened. Never set thyself up against thy husband with harsh features and a boisterous voice!
"A woman should be circumspect and sparing in her use of words; and never, even for a passing moment, should she slander others or be guilty of untruthfulness. Should she ever hear calumny, she should keep it to herself and repeat it to none; for it is the retailing of calumny that disturbs the harmony of kinsmen and ruins the peace of families.
"A woman must be ever on the alert, and keep a strict watch over her own conduct. In the morning she must rise early, and at night go late to rest. Instead of sleeping in the middle of the day, she must be intent on the duties of her household, and must not weary of weaving, sewing, and spinning. Of tea and wine she must not drink overmuch, nor must she feed her eyes and ears with theatrical performances, ditties, and ballads. To temples (whether Shintō or Buddhist) and other like places, where there is a great concourse of people, she should go but sparingly till she has reached the age of forty.
"She must not let herself be led astray by mediums and divineresses and enter into an irreverent familiarity with the Gods, neither should she be constantly occupied in praying. If only she satisfactorily perform her duties as a human being, she may let prayer alone without ceasing to enjoy the divine protection.
"In her capacity of wife, she must keep her husband's household in proper order. If the wife be evil and profligate, the house is ruined. In everything she must avoid extravagance, and both with regard to food and raiment must act according to her station in life, and never give way to luxury and pride.
"While young, she must avoid the intimacy and familiarity of her husband's kinsmen, comrades, and retainers, ever strictly adhering to the rule of separation between the sexes; and on no account whatever should she enter into correspondence with a young man. Her personal adornments and the colour and pattern of her garments should be unobtrusive. It suffices for her to be neat and cleanly in her person and in her wearing-apparel. It is wrong in her, by an excess of care, to obtrude herself on the notice of others. Only that which is suitable should be practised.
"She must not selfishly think first of her own parents, and only secondly of her husband's relations. At New Year, on the Five Festivals, and on other like occasions, she should first pay her respects to those of her husband's house, and then to her own parents. Without her husband's permission, she must go nowhere, neither should she make any gifts on her own responsibility.
"As a woman rears up posterity, not to her own parents, but to her father-in-law and mother-in-law, she must value the latter even more than the former, and tend them with all filial piety. Her visits, also, to the paternal house should be rare after marriage. Much more then, with regard to other friends, should it generally suffice for her to send a message to enquire after their health. Again, she must not be filled with pride at the recollection of the splendour of her parental house, and must not make it the subject of her conversations.
"However many servants she may have in her employ, it is a woman's duty not to shirk the trouble of attending to everything herself. She must sew her father-in-law's and mother-in-law's garments, and make ready their food. Ever attentive to the requirements of her husband, she must fold his clothes and dust his rug, rear his children, wash what is dirty, be constantly in the midst of her household, and never go abroad but of necessity.
"Her treatment of her handmaidens will require circumspection. These low and aggravating girls have had no proper education; they are stupid, obstinate, and vulgar in their speech. When anything in the conduct of their mistress's husband or parents-in-law crosses their wishes, they fill her ears with their invectives, thinking thereby to render her a service. But any woman who should listen to this gossip must beware of the heart burnings it will be sure to breed. Easy is it by reproaches and disobedience to lose the love of those, who, like a woman's marriage connections, were all originally strangers; and it were surely folly, by believing the prattle of a serving-maid, to diminish the affection of a precious father-in-law and mother-in-law. If a serving-maid be altogether too loquacious and bad, she should speedily be dismissed; for it is by the gossip of such persons that occasion is given for the troubling of harmony of kinsmen and the disordering of a household. Again, in her dealings with these low people, a woman will find many things to disapprove of. But if she be forever reproving and scolding, and spend her time in bustle and anger, her household will be in a continual state of disturbance. When there is real wrong-doing, she should occasionally notice it, and point out the path of amendment, while lesser faults should be quietly endured without anger. While in her heart she compassionates her subordinates weaknesses, she must outwardly admonish them with all strictness to walk in the paths of propriety, and never allow them to fall into idleness. If any is to be succoured, let her not be grudging of her money; but she must not foolishly shower down gifts on such as merely please her individual caprice, but are unprofitable servants.
"The five worst maladies that afflict the female mind are: indocility, discontent, slander, jealousy, and silliness. Without any doubt, these five maladies infest seven or eight out of every ten women, and it is from these that arises the inferiority of women to men. A woman should cure them by self-inspection and salf-reproach. The worst of them all, and the parent of the other four, is silliness. Woman's nature is passive (lit. shade). This passiveness, being of the nature of the night, is dark. Hence, as viewed from the standard of man's nature, the foolishness of woman fails to understand the duties that lie before her very eyes, perceives not the actions that will bring down blame upon her own head, and comprehends not even the things that will bring down calamities on the heads of her husband and children. Neither when she blames and accuses and curses innocent persons, nor when, in her jealousy of others, she thinks to set up herself alone, does she see that she is her own enemy, estranging others and incurring their hatred. Lamentable errors! Again, in the education of her children, her blind affection induces an erroneous system. Such is the stupidity of her character that it is incumbent on her, in every particular, to distrust herself and to obey her husband.
"We are told that it was the custom of the ancients, on the birth of a female child, to let it lie on the floor for the space of three days. Even in this, may be seen the likening of the man to Heaven and of the woman to Earth; and the custom should teach a woman how necessary it is for her in everything to yield to her husband the first, and to be herself content with the second, place; to avoid pride, even if there be in her actions aught deserving praise; and on the other hand, if she transgress in aught and incur blame, to wend her way through the difficulty and amend the fault, and so conduct herself as not again to lay herself open to censure; to endure without anger and indignation the jeers of others, suffering such things with patience and humility. If a woman act thus, her conjugal relations cannot but be harmonious and lasting, and her household a scene of peace and concord.
"Parents! teach the foregoing maxims to your daughters from their tenderest years! Copy them out from time to time, that they may read and never forget them! Better than the garments and divers vessels which the fathers of the present day so lavishly bestow upon their daughters when giving them away in marriage, were it to teach them thoroughly these precepts which would guard them as a precious jewel throughout their lives. How true is that ancient saying: 'A man knoweth. how to spend a million pieces of money in. marrying off his daughter, but knoweth not how to spend an hundred thousand in bringing up his child!' Such as have daughters must lay this well to heart."
Thus far our old Japanese moralist. For the sake of fairness and completeness, it should be added that the subjection of women has never been carried out in the lower classes of Japanese society to the same extent as in the middle and upper. Poverty makes for equality all the world over. Just as among ourselves woman-worship flourishes among the well-to-do, but is almost, if not entirely, absent among the peasantry, so in Japan the contrary or rather complementary state of things may be observed. The peasant women, the wives of artisans and small traders, have more liberty and a relatively higher position than the great ladies of the land. In these lower classes the wife shares not only her husband's toil, but his counsels; and if she happen to have the better head of the two, she it is who will keep the purse and govern the family.
With the twentieth century, the "new woman" has begun to assert herself even in Japan. Her name figures on committees; she may be seen riding the "bike," and more usefully employed in some of the printing-offices and telephone exchanges. Such developments, however, affect but a small percentage of the nation.
Book recommended. Japanese Girls and Women, by Miss Bacon.
- Compare the Article on Samurai.
- This translation is reprinted from a paper by the present writer entitled Educational Literature for Japanese Women, contributed in July, 1878, to Vol. X. Part III. of the "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain." An imitation of the original work, intended at the same time to serve, as its refutation by preaching modern ideas to the Japanese "new woman," appeared in 1809 from the pen of the celebrated educationalist, Fukuzawa, but was not calculated to add to his reputation.
- See page 310.
- See page 357.