The Transformation of Marriage in Meiji Japan
The Meiji reformers all demonstrated enlightened idea on gender equality but all define marriage as something different. Altering the equality of gender relations became a topic during the Meiji era because for the first time Japan could make comparison to, and in some cases, the idolization of Western ideals. Each Meiji reformer has fundamentally different ideas about the degree in which women’s rights should change and subsequently how women’s rights will change the country and even the threat it might create if equality is achieved. The gender roles of women prior to the Meiji era put them at a disadvantage. The institution of marriage was never considered to be the merging of two equal entities but as Mori Arinori states, “Looking at marriage customs in our country today, the husband treats the wife as he pleases, and there is still no national legislation [protecting the wife]…” Even though women rights were unequal around the world, Japan and China took this to an extreme. Philosopher Tsuda Mamichi explains how the Western version of “Equal Rights of Husbands and Wives” is not equal when it involves public rights. The man, in Western tradition, still is the head of family affairs, any private property, and any civil suits. Tsuda is conveying that the western equality that is circulating around Asia is not as equal as reformers perceive. However, Tsuda does explain that the treatment of women in Japan is absolutely unethical. Tsuda states “Asians, however, debased womanhood to such an extreme degree that they do not enjoy what is called equal rights of men and women even under civil law.” Prior to the Meiji era, women were not equals in a marriage but considered a possession of the husband. Women, in Asian cultures, have the soul purpose of serving their husband and are isolated from any social interaction. The reformers of the Meiji era demonstrate how the mistreatment of women is unacceptable and...
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