The Roles of Women in Japanese Society

Powerful Essays
Gender Construction of The Roles of Women in Japanese Society from 1800 to 1930

Mohammed Rizvi

History Seminar: Gender and Culture in Modern Japan

Dr. Donald Roden

December 12, 2012

Introduction
Since the 1800’s, Japan shows an enriching history that displays its growth in government and gender ideologies. In 1868, the Meiji era shifted Japan from feudalism in the Tokugawa era to a more modern state. Also, the Taisho era in 1912 continued Japan’s journey to modernity by adopting more Western cultures. The gender construction of women in Japanese society also changed from the Tokugawa era to World War I. In the Tokugawa and Meiji era, women were assigned household roles and duties and had limited rights. However, during the Taisho period and after World War I, women began to ague for equality and reject the traditional gender principles. Also, many women never associated themselves to the traditional gender roles, which they became geishas or prostitutes. This caused many debates by both female and male activists on the issues of women’s roles, which many of them argued on the elimination of prostitution. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the growth of gender construction of the roles of women from the Tokugawa era to the 1930’s, and to look at the different roles women participated in, such as being wives, mothers, prostitutes, and geishas.
Women’s Roles in the Tokugawa Era
In the Tokugawa era the roles of women, particularly wives, were established to those who were in higher social classes in that period. The Tokugawa period was an era from 1600 to 1868, which the Japanese society was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate and the daimyos, who were territorial lords. In Kathleen S. Uno’s “The Household Division of Labor, discusses how roles were established for wives based on their social status. In her article she writes, “There was, of course, little need for women in wealthy households to [do productive work], but without women’s agricultural



Cited: Ariga, Chieko. "Dephallicizing Women in Ryukyo Shinshi: A Critique of Gender Ideology in Japanese Literature." The Journal of Asian Studies (1992): 565-83. Bernstein, Gail Lee. Recreating Japanese Women: 1600-1945. Berkeley U.a.: Univ. of California, 1991. De Mente, Boye Lee. Mistress-Keeping in Japan - Then & Now. Phoenix, 2009. Fukuzawa, Yukichi, and Eiichi Kiyooka Fukuzawa Yukichi ;. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1960. 70-74. Hane, Mikiso. Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan. Berkeley: University of California, 1988. Seigle, Cecilia Segawa. Preface. Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1993 Tanizaki, Junʼichirō. Some Prefer Nettles. New York: Knopf, 1955. 7-17.

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