Japanese attitudes to women, marriage and family since the Tokugawa period and their effect on families separated by sankin kotai, dekasegi and tanshin funin : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Japanese at Massey University
Some of the ideals about women, marriage and family which exist in Japan today can be traced back to the ideals of feudal society which crystallised in the 'bushi' class of the Tokugawa Period. These ideals were largely part of the Confucianism and Buddhism that were imported from China many centuries earlier and which the Tokugawa government used as the moral base by which they controlled society. The feudal view that the primary function of a woman was to produce heirs for her husband's family lowered women's status. The idea that the sole purpose of the marriage was to perpetuate the family related to the vital aspect of its economic survival. So in 'bushi' families, the relationship of the married couple was denied in favour of the hierarchical relationships through which the source of income was transmitted. The family centered on the flow of generations, at the expense of the happiness both of the current title-holder and his family, as individuals and as groups. These ideals were spread throughout society in time. Changes were made to the law after the Meiji Restoration, when the old feudal institutions were abolished. Some of these changes were the result of influences from the West, but because the new rulers came from the 'bushi' class they carried their ideals forward, especially in relation to the family, as a trusted means of social control. The greatest Western influence was felt in the Constitution of 1947 which awarded recognition to the individual and therefore to women and to married couples. These changes are only now becoming part of the consciousness of the people. As a result, the definition of "family" is in question, making it difficult to apply a precept which has been fundamental in Japan for centuries: "for the sake of the family". Under this precept people were expected to put the wellbeing of the family ahead of their own happiness. Urbanisation and industrialisation have simultaneously contributed to the pressure for change both in ideals and realities for women in particular. We can trace changes to the ideals by looking at the families caught up in 'sankin kotai', 'dekasegi' and 'tanshin funin'. The latter can be called a social problem in that these families are at the cutting edge of change. Their difficulties are forcing society at large to rethink the traditional balance of the interests of the individual and society.