Japanese Women - National Geographic, April 1990
The article begins by pointing out that "...a basic truth about Japanese life: the unquestioned, and unquestionable duty to do what is expected of you and do it properly." Thus, Japanese women are given a set of expectations by their Japanese culture and history.
"Japanese women are expected to do all that they do with patience, selflessness-and, above all, without complaining." It adds: "Popular Japanese literature abounds with stories bout lengthy, solitary vigils by Japanese women performing their duty of caring, for the young, the family, the elderly."
This is the popular notion of Japanese women; devoted, caring, selfless, patient and passive. In the anime series Ranma 1/2, for example, the eldest daughter Kasumi takes care of the family, trying to fill in her for her mother who had died some years earlier.
The article goes on to note: "Today as in the past, marriage is the only truly acceptable state of being for any Japanese woman - or man. As a woman approaches tekireiki, the 'suitable age' to marry (traditionally 23 to 25, not closer to 27), all Japan will help her find the right mate. Large companies often have marriage bureaus to facilitate introductions between single employees. Matchmakers, sometimes professional, often a friend of the family, suggest suitable mates. Parents hire detectives to check out each other's families - they look for assurances of mental and physical well-being, and for signs of shady ancestors. An example of someone considered a "shady ancestor" would be the burakumin.
The article talks about the "bridal training" many women take. They learn about the tea ceremony and flower arranging (ikebana) among other things.
The article also talks about the formal meetings that are held in order to arrange a marriage between two people who have not necessarily ever met each other before. Such a meeting is called an omiai. Some women end up having ten or more such meetings before being paired with a prospective mate.
One derogatory term used for older unmarried women is 'Christmas Cake', the term referring to something like the cake whose value drops down sharply after Christmas.
The article notes that the Western concept of romantic marriage is not really considered very important in Japan. Marriages are an appropriate match of family standing and education. The romance, though, has often not been very important in the marriage. The husband traditionally works long hours and is absent from home. He has little to do with any children or his wife since his life is basically his work, whether he wants it that way or not. (note; this is gradually changing).
One of the mother's most important duties is preparing the obento or "honorable lunch box" for her children to take to school with her. (I discuss these in my section on bento boxes) Preparing these, doing the laundry, and doing the daily shopping are just three of the duties that wives have. The grocery shopping is done daily because there is not the series of huge supermarkets in Japan that there is in the U.S., and car driving is not as "required" as it is in the U.S. There is also an emphasis on having food ingredients being as fresh as possible.
Japanese mothers are also dedicated to their children, especially their schooling. At the time of the article it was critical for students to get into the best schools and past the best entrance exams so that they could end up getting into a prestigious college or university. That would basically guarantee them a lifetime job as a company after they graduated. The wives also take care of the family finances, household purchases, and they make most of the important decisions having to do with housing and schooling.
The Western emphasis on self-expression and "doing your own thing" is just not part of the Japanese lifestyle. There are more and more women, though, who are able to combine marriage with a career. Even there, though, the women run into many problems. In some big companies important meetings will be held and the women won't be informed of them. They might write something and have their byline replaced by the name of a male. The women are also not welcome in the after-hours socializing (which often involves a lot of drinking.)
The article then goes on to talk about geisha. Overall the article is quite interesting, especially comparing it to more recent works.
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page