Some basic statistics about Japanese women:
Women in Japan
Women's views on different things
Working conditions for women
Womanlike, manlike -- beware what you ask for, Japan Times article
As to women's rights, the Japanese Constitution of 1947 says "All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.
Women are also the main focus of the family. With the fathers often working late hours and seeing very little of their wive or children, the woman's importance and control of the family become very important.
The women are usually the ones to control the household finances. The man turns his earnings over to his wife who then doles out an allowance to him. The women have the major portion of child-raising responsibilities. It is the women who push the children to get the best education that they can.
All of this is in theory, of course, for in practical application women still remain technically unequal to men in Japan as in America. In the time leading up to WWII in particular, women became to be seen more as bodies that could be used by the state for its own purposes. This applied, of course, to the concept of "comfort women" (which I discuss elsewhere), but it also applied to the other Japanese females.
Just as Nazi Germany wanted to obtain the "pure" Aryan race, the Japanese stressed the purity of the Japanese race. From the book Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age, 2005:
"One result of this discourse was an increased polarity in gender roles, resulting in women being case solely as mothers, whose purpose was to breed sons for the empire, and men being regarded as fighting machines...However, not all women's bodies were deemed suitable vessels for reproduction. Popular media thought the 1930s exalted marriage and fecundity only for ‘superior persons,' calling for ‘the segregation and sterilization of so-called abnormal persons, namely the mentally infirm, physically handicapped and sexually alternative.'"
The men got an even better deal when it was determined that monogamous marriage was not really the best thing for men and that men needed a variety of outlets for their sexual energies. Thus, adultery by a husband was permissible; for a woman, though, it meant divorce and possibly even a prison sentence.
The lower-class women who were not really "superior" breeding stock still had their uses, though, and that was to satisfy the sexual needs of men. Sexual desires and needs of women were not considered at all. They were merely "semen toilets," according to one description. This type of thinking was also used, of course, in areas that Japan overran so that women of conquered countries were basically there for the taking as far as the Japanese military was concerned.
Interestingly enough, women's bodies were not always sufficient, apparently, as there was a problem with homosexual rape between soldiers and against civilians in overrun areas.
When you have that type of thinking along with the normal patriarchal type of thinking that Japanese society already had it's no wonder that women still have not attained equality with men and are still seen largely as potential mothers and homemakers whose presence is tolerated in the workplace for a while but who are still expected to leave after a few years, get married and raise a nice family.
That this general understanding is not working, though, is shown by the ever-falling Japanese birthrate. For one thing, raising children in Japan (actually, anywhere) is an expensive process especially in light of the collapse of the bubble economy. For another women are beginning to put off getting married and more and more women are choosing not to get married at all.
Gambling with Virtue
Kimono in the Boardroom
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page