This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Peculiar women's culture in Meiji Japan

Alice Mabel Bacon
Alice Mabel Bacon
By Chihiro Oka

Alice Mabel Bacon was a specialist of Japanese culture and women. In Japan, she taught English at Gakushuin Women’s School for aristocratic families. She left Japan once; however, she came back to Japan to establish Tokyo Women’s Normal School (now Ochanomizu University), and basically helped Tsuda Umeko who was a Japanese educator for women. She spent a time in Japan, and experienced a lot of aspects of Japanese women’s lives. Today, Japanese women are mostly free to choose working or being house worker, and almost all Japanese women are free to live. However, in Bacon’s life, she realized and considered Japanese women’s peculiar lifestyle. When people think about Japanese women in Meiji period from 1868 to 1912, it is important to focus on her experiences in Japan. Then, it is necessary to consider about three aspects of education, marriage and women’s different status in Japan.

The first important thing to think about women in Japan is education. Bacon (1902) said that there were no chances for women to get education at school. It means there were no schools for women. Then, how did they study, or could they study? Actually, they had to study from reading books, and obtained way of writing and reading Japanese language without schools. In general, there was thinking that women’s culture in Japan should be manners, writing skills, and liking the tea ceremony or flower arrangement. Those were forgotten study for women. To get knowledge of these things, they had to go to teacher’s house. Although there were no schools, women could write and read Japanese, and learn Japanese manners. However, these customs changed since Commodore Perry came to Japan and the country began to open to the West. Schools for women were established, and women could get education. They could study not only manners or writing and reading skills, but also mathematics or foreign languages. Moreover, there were not problems of women’s status in society. Both high class and low class women were able to go to school to study. Bacon thought that there were a lot of things to study, and it was hard for men and women to do them. However, she felt that Japanese people were hard workers.

The second thing is marriage for women. Bacon (1902) said that Japanese women usually got married when they are 16 years old. They were able to say whether the person who would be their husband was good or bad. However, it was not allowed to refuse a marriage. After they married, there were big differences between American style and Japanese style. In America, a young couple had their own house. On the other hand, Japanese couples did not. Wife had to live with husband and his family. Women had to be more involved with husband’s family than her family. In addition, if women wanted to get a divorce, it was hard for them, because men have a parental authority, so women had to leave their children. Moreover, if women can have a parental authority, it was hard and difficult for them to make their lives. System and condition for women were not fair when it was compared with men. Bacon was surprised at the situation. She thought that different status between men and women were related to areas and social status. It means women in a city and high class had big differences from men, and women had to follow them. On the contrary, women in country and low class did not have big differences from men. Men thought that women were almost equal to them.

The last thing is women’s status in society and family. There were big differences of status in family between high and low class women. Bacon (1902) said that low class women were fuller of life than high class women. Low class women worked in the field with men. This living condition makes women almost same status with men. On the contrary, high class women had to be a servant of husband’s parents. High class women gave up their freedom, and obeyed them. Therefore, Bacon (1902) explained that high class women looked more tired than low class women. She felt that Japanese women who worked were attractive, and it was Japanese peculiar virtue.

In conclusion, the women’s lifestyle was different between high class and low class status, and at the same time, the relationship between men and women was also different. When Bacon considered about women’s lifestyle in high and low class, low class women are happier than high class women because of working. It means that working is important for women to make their life better. There are human rights, and men and women have to be equal, and women should study and work in society.


Alice Mabel Bacon (1902), 明治日本の女たち [JAPANESE GIRLS AND WOMEN], Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Company