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.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Women then and now

By Yuria Ono 

I was really impressed by the lives of the women of former days when I took a class about that. It was quite different from now. I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it, if I were in the time. After Meiji civil law was enforced [1898], women did not have just rights. So, I decided to focus on the women in modern time. I've divided my essay into three parts. First, I will write about women in the family, and then, will focus on women in society. Finally, I will explain about movements conducted by women.

First is about the family. Most people got married with partners who were chosen by their parents at that time. The government required women to be “Ryo-Sai Ken-Bo” (良妻賢母). “Ryo” means good, “Sai” a housewife, ”Ken” clever or smart, “Bo” a mother. This idiom consisting of 4 kanji means an idealistic woman who is a good wife and at the same time a good mother. They had to support their husbands, who shouldered responsibility for “Fukoku-Kyohei” (富国強兵) [Editor’s note: “Rich country, strong army”] and bringing up their sons to be steady men because they were successors. Actually, women were the possession of men and tools to have babies. They did not have the right to own property or to inherit. They were doing housework all day, every day. Many husbands had not only wives but lovers. It was not illegal, but when married women did that, they were punished. Thus, the inequality was clear (Kenji, H, 2010). 

In the later part of the Meiji era, getting married for love became ideal way because of the influence of romanticism. Tokoku Kitamura claimed desperately the importance of serious love. Until then, it had been natural to get married to a partner who one knew little about. So, many people were impressed by the new idea. Nowadays getting married for love is common and omiai is not. Omiai is marriage where a person called a go –between introduces a prospective couple. Actually, my parents did omiai because their parents prized Japanese custom so deeply. But I don’t want to do it, because being a partner with a person I don’t know well must lead to a bad relationship.

Second is about women in the society. Before Meiji restoration, almost all of the women worked in their house as wives. However, hair dressers, midwives, washer women and maids were also possible occupations (Koukyu, A. & Noumaru, S., 2000). After the restoration, the ranges of the occupations expanded gradually. For example, teachers, nurses, pharmacists, reporters and so on opened up. During Russo-Japanese war, most of the women worked as nurses. However, it was not permitted to participate in politics yet. I strongly wish to work in society. Now, we have equal opportunities to take interviews for jobs. Moreover, we tend to not adhere to fixed ideas. As evidence, the number of female flight attendants, nurses, doctors, police and even presidents are increasing.

Third is about movements. According to Wikipedia, in order to be free, women started to take action. In 1869, Shinichiro Tsuda submitted a proposal to abolish for women trade. In 1871, five girls went to study abroad to America. Moreover, in 1873, the right of wives to sue for divorce was announced. After that, the government permitted the right to vote for women. The chance was created by a lady called Kita Kusunose. First, she insisted to Kochi prefecture authorities, where she lived, that women who held property should have the right to vote. However, the prefecture refused her requirement. And next, she insisted it to the Department of the Interior. Finally, the right was approved in 1880 [in some prefectures - editor]. Later also, women’s liberation movement was continued by activists like Raicho Hiratsuka. Now we have the right to vote. Everyone over 20 years old can vote freely. However, many young people don’t vote. If many people knew about this history, the number of people who went to vote would increase.

In conclusion, by this research, I knew about the miserable time of women and felt fortunate because I was born in liberated time. Despite this, nowadays some women still insist that they are discriminated against. We have to remember the awful time for women and the people who made efforts to support women’s freedom. From now, I want to use and appreciate my rights fully.


・Shuhei, K & Iturou, K. (1985). 家族の時代. The time of family. Bunkyo city, Tokyo: Gogatu Company.

・Kenji, H. (2010). 家族と格差の戦後史.The war history of the family and gap. Chiyoda city, Tokyo: Aoyumi Company.

・Koukyu, A. & Noumaru, S. (2000). 日本近現代女性史. Japanese women modern history. Bunkyo city, Tokyo: Huyou publishing.