Historical Evidences Japanese Women Used to be More Free than Western Women

Japan ranks 121 out of 153 countries in The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 Rankings, but I can show you historical evidences that Japanese people used to be more of feminists than Westerners. East and West have different cultures, and so is interpretation of feminism. The first Westerner who came to Japan was a Christian missionary of 16th century, and he was surprised how free Japanese women used to be compared to the women in the West. Here is the report by 16th century Portuguese missionary, Luís Fróis.

'1. In Europe, the supreme honor and treasure of young women is their chastity and the preservation of their purity; in Japan, women never worry about their virginity. Without it, they lose neither their honor nor the opportunity to wed.'

'29. In Europe, men walk in front and women walk behind; In Japan, the men walk behind and women in front.'

'30. In Europe, property is held in common by husband and wife; in Japan, each owns his or her own, and sometimes the woman lends hers to her husband at exorbitant rates of interest'

'31. In Europe, repudiating a woman is not only a sin but a great dishonor; in Japan, one can repudiate as many women as one pleases without them consequently losing their honor or respects for marriage.'

'32. In accordance with corrupt nature, it is men in Europe who repudiate women; in Japan it is often the woman who repudiates the man.'

'34. In Europe, the seclusion of daughters and maidens is important and rigorous; in Japan, daughters go out for the whole day, or many, wherever they want to, without telling their parents'

'35. Women in Europe never leave the house without their husband's permission; in Japan the women are free to go where they please without their husbands' knowledge'

The First European Description of Japan, 1585

The First European Description of Japan

You can see how equal men and women used to be in Japan especially with property rights. The history of the West was a history of wars, and Western women were war trophies, but Japan had long time peace history, and women had equal rights with men. It's quite common in Japan a husband hands over his entire salary to his wife and the wife gives him an allowance.

Is it a myth that a significant number of Japanese husbands hand over their salaries to their wives for management?

Why male Japanese wage-earners have only 'pocket money' - BBC News

Here is another great testimony from the first class historical document, which was written by a daughter of high-ranking Japanese samurai. She came to America in late 1890s and wrote a book, which became a bestseller in pre-war America. In her book, she pities American women for having no control at all over money.

A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto

(The entire paragraph is in the bottom of this page)

Daughter of the Samurai

'One thing in America, to which I could not grow accustomed, was the joking attitude in regard to women and money.'

'probably a foundation of serious truth might lie beneath some of the amusing stories.'

'a pretty, bright, and beautifully dressed woman rose and said that she didn’t know how to save money and she didn’t know how to earn it. She had promised not to cheat in her charge account at the store, and she had promised not to ask her husband for the five dollars, so she had done the only thing that was left for her to do she had stolen it from her husband's pocket when he was asleep. This report caused a great deal of merriment, but I was saddened. All the reports seemed tragic after she said, “That was the only thing left to do.” It seemed incredible, here in America, where women are free and commanding, that a woman of dignity and culture, the mistress of a home, the mother of children, should be forced either to ask her husband for money, or be placed in a humiliating position.'

Japanese women used to be excluded from the political system, but they had dominating power at home, and they were quite happy with the system. Western women didn't have power both in the society and at home so Western feminism is giving women power in the both areas. East and West have different cultures, and which system is better is another argument. I just want to point out Japanese women were never oppressed, and it was Western women who were oppressed.

Continues to Part 3

Yoko dominated the whole situation , always chose for both of them , and even paid the bill at the end


A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto

One thing in America, to which I could not grow accustomed, was the joking attitude in regard to women and money. From men and women of all classes, from newspapers, novels, lecturers, and once even from the pulpit, I heard allusions to amusing stories of women secreting money in odd places, coaxing it from their husbands, borrowing it from a friend, or saving it secretly for some private purpose. There was never anything dishonorable implied in this. Perhaps the money was saved to get new curtains for the parlour, or even a birthday present for the husband. These jokes were a puzzle to me — and a constantly growing one; for as time passed on, I myself saw things which made me realize that probably a foundation of serious truth might lie beneath some of the amusing stories.

Our suburb was small and we were all interested in each other's affairs so I was acquainted with almost everybody. I knew the ladies to be women of education and culture yet there seemed to be among them a universal and openly confessed lack of responsibility about money. They all dressed well and seemed to have money for specific purposes, but no open purse to use with free and responsible judgment. Once, at a church fair, where I had a table, several ladies, after walking around the hall and examining the various booths, had bought some small, cheap articles, but left the expensive ones, saying, "My husband will be here later on and l get him to buy it,” or "When the gentlemen come those high-priced things will sell.” I had never known a Japanese man to buy anything for his home, or be expected to.

Once, when I was shopping with a friend, she stopped at her husband’s office to ask him for money. I thought that was strange enough, but a still more curious thing happened when I went with Mother to a meeting of the church ladies where they were raising a certain amount for some unusual purpose. The Ladies' Aid had recently made a great many calls on the husbands' purses, and so this time each member had pledged herself to bring five dollars which she must obtain without asking her husband for it. The meeting I attended was the one where the money was handed in, each lady telling as she gave it, how she had succeeded in getting her five dollars. Most had saved it in various ways a little at a time. One said that she had made a real sacrifice and returned to her milliner a new hat—paid for, but not worn—receiving in exchange one that was five dollars less in price. Another had sold two theatre tickets which had been given her. Still another told in very witty rhyme, how she, a poor Ladies’Aid lady, had spent most of her leisure time for a week, and had pledged herself for a week longer, in darning stockings for the children of her neighbour, a rich non-Ladies’Aid lady.

The meeting was intensely interesting. It reminded me of our poem-making parties, only of course this was gayer and these stories were on an undignified subject. I enjoyed it all until a pretty, bright, and beautifully dressed woman rose and said that she didn’t know how to save money and she didn’t know how to earn it. She had promised not to cheat in her charge account at the store, and she had promised not to ask her husband for the five dollars, so she had done the only thing that was left for her to do she had stolen it from her husband's pocket when he was asleep.

This report caused a great deal of merriment, but I was saddened. All the reports seemed tragic after she said, “That was the only thing left to do.” It seemed incredible, here in America, where women are free and commanding, that a woman of dignity and culture, the mistress of a home, the mother of children, should be forced either to ask her husband for money, or be placed in a humiliating position.

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