“Understanding Japan” starts slow but getting more interesting as it progresses towards the modern era. I have always been interested in Japan but haven’t read books about it–so much for my interest. I hope you don’t see me as a fraud. The people who are really into Japan would learn the Japanese language, immersed in its cartoons, wear Hello Kitty out fit, and travel there for an exchange program. Or failing all the above, at least read books about Geisha, Shogun, Sushi. Who’s that Japanese author who wrote big bricks of books on strange love tales? I can’t remember his name. The only Japanese author that I’ve ever read is Ryōtarō Shiba, whose books have nothing to do with Geisha, Shogun or Sushi.
What I like most about this book is its 22nd chapter, in which the author talks about family and women’s position in Japanese society. It is said Japanese women have extensive freedom–where they live and how to dispose of their own property–up to 13th century. And they lost it after the Mongolian invasion and the rise of the samurai culture. I am pleasantly surprised and very happy that I was misinformed for a long time on this issue.
Long time ago, I met a girl who’s studying either anthropology or history on Japan. She’s a French Canadian and she told me a lot of interesting stories of her life in Japan. Among them, she told me that Japan used to be a matriarchal society but it lost it after 8th century under the influence of Confucius and Buddhism. I just took her word for it and have believed it ever since. Although I did wonder at times why Japanese would let Confucius and Buddha to drastically change its society. I mean from matriarch to patriarch is a huge step and every social unit will be affected and many values reversed. The established system and the financial arrangement would have to be overturned. I mean people who already established themselves would not want to give up what they have so easily.
Now reading this book, I have a clearer picture of the whole thing. Probably women started to lose their power in 8th century, but they still kept quite a lot, like living with their own parents after marriage and dispose of their own property. However the real lost came when Japan was under attack in 13th century, which they had never suffered before. As an island nation, the natural barrier of the sea has prevented any invaders to come to Japan until 13th century. Under such a unprecedented duress, the samurai culture rose and women’s position fell. It all makes much more sense now.