Women were also disadvantaged in divorce. Bingham and Gross, cited in Smits (1992), presented that in Tokugawa period (1602-1868), Japanese women could be divorced for any reason and their husbands had all rights to decide those conditions. Men just needed to give their wives several lines written notice and their wives would have to leave (Bingham and Gross, cited in Smits, 1992). Wives had no ground to divorce and escaping to Buddhist contempt was the best way they could do in case of abuse, Bingham and Gross stated.
Wives were allowed to sue for divorce the first time in Meiji period, though their petition must have supports of a male relative (Mackie, 2003). Nevertheless, they could only sue in grounds of cruelty or desertion but not adultery. In contrast, a man could sue his wife for adultery but he was only prosecuted by husband of another married woman, Mackie compared. It means that the society considered adultery with single women was acceptable as it did not threaten the family.
Furthermore, there was no protection for divorced women at that time (Mackie, 2003) as men still controlled authority roles in the family as well as the society.
The traditional Japanese society also partially stereotyped the role of women. During the Meiji period, the popular social and political slogan “Good wives and wise mothers” became the official view of the role of Japanese women (Smits, 1992). Specifically, the term defines women as managers of housework and nurturers of children (Gordon, 1993). He said this slogan was widespread in Japanese society through mass media and high numbers of girls’ schools.
In 1906, the Japanese Education Minister considered the training of “good wives and wise mothers” as the fundamental purpose of education for girls’ higher education, Gordon gave example. However, he demonstrated that the term failed to become the hegemonic ideology because it encountered critical voice of educators, leftists and opposition of feminists through writings and protests, despite the repression of the government. In addition, Matsui (1990) also mentioned another notion of “breadwinner-husband” and “housekeeper-wife” in the early 1970s. At that time most women who worked outside home were young and unmarried while wives of middle-class stayed at home and basked in the illusion of matriarchy, Matsui judged. In short, from family to the society, the major of traditional women suffered injustice and stereotype in silence and consent, as it was their obvious roles of obeying and enduring.
Traditional Japanese women were submissive and dependent on their husbands because of financial difficulties and social perception. However, the partial Japanese society towards men has no longer stayed alive. The talk show of Everywoman program “Culture shift in Japan” by AIJazeera English (2007) deeply discussed about the new social trends of old and young Japanese women. The talk show emphasized the highest divorce rate in history of Japanese mid-age women and the increasing population of young Japanese women delaying marriage. According to the talk show, one reason of the highest divorce rate drove by mid-age women is because of the irresponsibility of their retired husbands. While retired husbands stay at home, cannot earn income anymore and do not care of families, wives still have to do housework and prepare two meals a day for their husbands. Thus they feel tired, depressed and want to divorce, the talk show explained.
In the past, Japanese women used to sacrifice for families and obey their husbands without any complain as it was obvious or simply because they had no other choice in the male dominant society. Nowadays they decide to divorce if they are not satisfied with families and their husbands. According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan (cited in Lee, Tufis and Alwin, 2010), women who reached adulthood in 21st century encountered the risk of divorce four times greater than women reaching adulthood in immediate postwar period. One reason for that change could be the new divorce law in April 2007 which stated that “housewives can obtain up to half their husbands’ pensions in a divorce settlement” (Hongo, 2006). Kuwahara (cited in Hongo, 2006) pointed out that financial difficulties have long been the major impediment for Japanese women to divorce. Thus with the new law, they would be more resolute with decisions of ending up unhappy marriage.
The talk show also discussed about the trend of delaying marriage of young Japanese women. Marriage is no longer an obligation of women to obtain financial security. Instead, young Japanese women are more economic independence and they delay marriage to concentrate on careers, with a quarter of Japanese women in early thirty unmarried (Everywoman, 2007). Interestingly, Everywoman also mentioned about the appearance of Host Clubs, where young Japanese women with high salaries come for entertaining with “young and attractive men”. The price for an evening at Host Clubs is around USD2000, half of average monthly salary in Japan, Everywoman recorded. Tsukasa Umeda, an interviewed customer, said Host Club is a Disney Land for adults, where people treat her like a princess and make her feel good. She said her life is work-oriented so she does not have opportunities to meet new guys. Sumiko Iwao (Japanese Activist & Academic), one invited guest in the talk show, said this new trend is because young women like Tsukasa fear of being committed to a close relationship.
Kaori Shoji (Journalist of Japan Times newspaper), another invited guest, explained another reason is that Japanese men are not ready to care about women’s needs or contribute to a relationship as they did not have to fall in love before with traditional arranged marriage. In addition, according to Lee, Tufis and Alwin (2010), modern Japanese women would rather choose to postpone marriage than marry a man with conservative beliefs of gender. Everywoman program pointed out parts of the changing roles of Japanese women by new trends in marriage and divorce. These new trends contrast with the traditional image of Japanese women and to some extent demonstrated their revolution in the society.