Christianity and Gender Relationships in Japan: Case Studies of Marriage and Divorce in Early Meiji Protestant Circles

By Ballhatchet, Helen | Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Christianity and Gender Relationships in Japan: Case Studies of Marriage and Divorce in Early Meiji Protestant Circles


Ballhatchet, Helen, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies


It is accepted that Victorian attitudes to love, chastity, marriage, and the family, all rooted in Christianity, played an important part in changing norms of behavior related to gender relationships in Meiji Japan. But writers on Christianity in Meiji Japan have paid little attention to women and the influence of Christian ideals on the actual behavior of Meiji Christians. This paper examines gender interaction in early Meiji Protestant circles and the evidence available for the marriage relationships of five Protestant leaders: Ibuka Kajinosuke, Uemura Masahisa, Ebina Danjo, Kozaki Hiromichi, whose marriages seem to have been successful, and Uchimura Kanzo, whose first marriage was not. Particular attention is paid to four issues: the extent to which the individuals studied had participated in gender interaction in Christian circles before becoming deeply involved, how partners were chosen, how the partnerships developed and, finally, the tensions that arose and what was done about them. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

KEYWORDS: Meiji Japan - Protestant - converts - marriage - gender relationships - Uchimura Kanzo

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IN LATE Tokugawa Japan, marriage customs, the role and position of women in the family, and attitudes to female chastity differed according to status and occupation. It was acceptable for elite males to have concubines, and for peasants to sell their daughters into prostitution. Beauty and desirability were the attributes of high-class geisha rather than of ordinary, marriageable, women. Women who belonged to the merchant and farming elite had opportunities for education and were able to take part in cultural pursuits, such as membership in literary circles, on the same terms as men. Female members of the samurai class, however, led more restricted lives. They were educated, but it was an education specifically for women. Their lives centered on the home and subservience to their fathers, their husbands, and their mothers-in-law. While the concept of male-female equality was present, for example in the writings of Ando Shoeki ... and the preaching of Kino ..., the founder of Nyoraikyo ..., Confucian teachings about the inferior status of women were able to reach a wide audience through the use of texts such as Onna daigaku . ... in reading primers for women of all classes (Hirota 1994, 325-27; Kanda 1994; Walthall 1991 and 1998).

As is well known, early Japanese visitors to America and other Western countries were surprised by the prominence of women in public life and shocked by the deference paid to them by men (Kume 2002, 253-54). It is therefore not surprising that there was much discussion about the position of women in society in the early Meiji period. The status of women, the relationship between husbands and wives, prostitution and concubinage were among the topics raised by the early "enlightenment intellectuals" in their journal, Meiroku zasshi ... (Braisted 1976). Saeki Junko (1998) has analyzed the influence of the Victorian concept of love on Meiji literature. In the Tokugawa period, love (iro .) was not linked to chastity and the search for the right marriage partner; it existed outside marriage and focused on the sexual act as a way of transcending everyday experience. Sexual activity belonged to the sacred, not the profane. But in the Meiji period, iro came to seem uncivilized and was replaced by ai ., the Victorian concept of romantic but chaste love which made sexual activity a conjugal duty rather than the goal. Although the pleasure quarters remained the easiest place for novelists to explore gender relationships into the 1890s, the relationships sought by the heroes and heroines of writers such as Tsubouchi Shoyo ... and even Ozaki Koyo ... were spiritual rather than physical (Saeki 1998, 7-64; Kohiyama 2005, 1-7).

It is accepted that Christianity played an important part in these changes (Saeki 1998, 13-16; Kohiyama 2005, 7-11). …

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