Japanese History Attribute Meiji Masculinity Thesis


10 Contemporaneous with relocating the capital from Edo to Tokyo was the drawing up of the 'Memorandum on Reform of the Imperial Palace' in which Article 1 states that the emperor would 'deign to hear about all political matters' in the front throne room adding that 'women are to be prohibited from entering the front throne room' 11.

Yoshii Tomozane, Senior Secretary for Court Affairs peremptorily dismissed all court ladies, after which a rare few were reselected for appointment. In his dairy, he noted: 'this morning, the court ladies were dismissed in their entirety… the power of women already lasting for centuries has been erased in a single day. My delight knows no bounds." 12.

In this way the power of the 'hens' was removed from the 'Enlightened regime' of Meiji rule and suppressed throughout the country. Acquiring and reinforcing the classical masculine stance from the West (as will be seen in the coming section), the Meiji male affirmed his masculinity in his treatment towards his wife and daughters -- in fact to all females in particular -- demoting them to an inferior position whilst he promoted himself as master of the 'Enlightened Nation'.

Part III. Western Influence

The Meiji period were differentially influenced by the West. On the one hand, there were those who perceived Japan as being effeminate in its dandy ways and the west as masculine in its logical and analytical mannerisms and endeavored to simulate the West. On the other hand, there were those who maintained that Japan, by imitating the West, was demeaning itself and ruining its tradition. They tried to rejuvenate their country by rearing a vigorous masculinity that rejected Western materialism and instead extolled sumarai-like notions such as those of physical courage, chivalry, and the national spirit. Either way, these two opposing representations of masculinity imbued the Meiji regime with a national identity that was articulated in the idiom of gender.

The Japanese Meiji gentleman -- shinshi derived from the Confucian context of shinshin, namely Confucian scholars who served as high-ranking officials in the Heian court - saw themselves, in the words of a contemporary, as "an educated man of high society in public service who dedicates himself to the service of the state."

Gentlemen in Meiji Japan received their advice on how to be gentlemen from the West. Yukichi's etiquette book introduced European and American clothing (including zangiri-atama, a short loose haircut which was considered the essence of Westernization), food, and furniture along with mannerisms to an eager Japanese public. This and similar etiquette books described all the necessary ways down to the smallest nuances appropriate for becoming a 'Western gentleman' 13. Victorian fashions and dictates clearly influenced the works. Meiji Japan was resolved to become as Western as rapidly and as fully as possible. Adler (2008) commented that:

Japan seems to be on the brink of being reduced to yet another helpless victim of Western industrialism, but at this point, a decisive difference emerged. Some of the deimyo and samurai faced the causes and consequences of Japanese impotence squarely: they decided to imitate the West as rapidly as possible

… One major reform after another came out of the imperial capital in Toyo (formerly Edo). All were modeled on the West… They systematically carried out reforms, even at the expense of cherished traditions. 14

Their objectives were to create fuou-hoyel, an influential powerful nation modeled after the West and inspired by the West, and they thought that by adopting Western appearances, they could convince the foreign powers that Japan, being just as civilized as they, should be respected and treated as equals (*).

To this end, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) foremost Japanese advocate of Westernization castigated the Japanese tendency to low self-confidence:

Those who haughtily ride about on horses or in carriages, scattering everyone in their way, are almost all Westerners. When they get into an argument with anyone & #8230; the Westerners behave insolently; they punch and kick at will…. Many [Japanese] simply swallow their anger and do not report such incidents. And even when there are grounds for litigation & #8230;people say to one another that, rather than press charges, it is better to swallow one's anger and be submissive. 15

To be a man, Yukichi argued, is to be Western. And to be Western, one has to imitate the West.

Other Japanese, however, mainly the university students, caricatured this tendency to ape the West. Caricatures in magazines depicted these government officials in all sorts of degenerated postures including that of aping monkeys, implying that they are denigrating not only themselves but also their nation in an attempt...


Modern Japanese officials, he maintained, had become 'effeminate.' All they did was ape the externals of the West in an attempt to become more masculine and thereby successful, but as Kanjo saw it, the West was making them more 'effeminate'. "Accommodation to the West suggested weakness and effeminacy" 16. They were losing their traditional strain of militarization whish was the true indicator of strength and masculinity.
Tokutomi, too, saw the "country gentleman' as becoming increasingly more "extravagant, self-indulgent, lewd, weak, and corrupt."17. He urged a spiritualized return to nationalism that would be centered on the "people" and "everyday life."

The soshi, the masculinized counterpart to the 'modernized effeminate gentleman' were characterized by their physical appearance and brazen attitude. In the words of one writer, "They were rough and unrefined, and walked around with their shoulders thrown back twirling a large club." 18. Long stitching on the crest of their kimono, and the thong on their clogs also marked their soshi virility, reinforced by defiant rips of their clothing, particularly their kimono, and tucking up their sleeves. Remarked Tokutomi: "When one witnesses their righteous indignation, dauntless integrity and bounteous patriotic spirit, and when one sees them tuck up their sleeves, proud of being Japanese men, they do not become extremely appealing." 19.

The soshi became notorious for their violence and aggression. A special office had to be established to handle their legal defense. Their main focus centered on the complaint that it was this, not the officials of court who represented authentic masculinity. The resulting feud between the competing versions of masculinity led one soshi to conclude, "Our country has become divided between gentleman and soshi." 20

Although the soshi culture gradually declined, its values and style -- and particularly its message -- left a lasting impact on Japanese culture, particularly on gender ideology. In fact, as De Vos and Wagatsuma (1961) concluded "The values of the old samurai [warriors; the soshi also became known as that]… were fostered by the government for the nation as a whole" (1205). What De Vos and Wagatsuma, presumably, imply here is that the government was attracted to other views on women and to their accentuation of the masculine rather than, of course, to their unconventional, anarchic disposition. However, it was not just the soshi's ideal of masculinity that affected the country. Both masculinities together, the official and the soshi, fused with the earlier-mentioned Confucian influences to wreak a toxic influence on their perceptions of gender and on the way that the Meiji male, generally, treated their women.

Part IV: Meiji Attitudes Towards Women

Nitobe (1908), when asked why Japan did not impart religious education in its schools, responded that it was Bushido that characterized Japanese moral education:

"Bu-shi-do_ means literally Military-Knight-Ways -- the ways which fighting nobles should observe in their daily life as well as in their vocation" (20).

His entire book proceeds to spell out this code at length, but, generally, Bushido can be understood as the elaborated code of the samurai revolving around masculine traits such as chivalry, courage, dignity, and honor. Bushido, as Ninomiya (1996) rightly noted is a "teaching primarily intended for the masculine sex" (p.6).

The Meiji Empire reintroduced the values of the old samurai, and they infiltrated the country from the top down. It was not only the government that exemplified these values, but farmer, merchant and craftsmen did too by resurrecting feudal samurai customs and values. "Modernization," wrote Kazuko (1977, p.2), "entailed samuraization of all the people of Japan." The exemplary Japanese woman (and hopefully mother) in the Meiji period represented the ideal of ryosai kenbo, i.e. good wife, wise mother. It was affirmed that maintenance to traditional roles would safeguard this Empire of Enlightenment, whereas focus on individualism, particularly feminist individualism, would destruct it 19. It was towards this end that the old custom of primogeniture (inheritance passing down to son in patriarchal fashion) was rejuvenated and codified, and the Meiji government stated that the needs of the "house [were to be placed] before individual needs" 20. In the ascending scale of service stood woman, who annihilated herself for man, that he might annihilate himself for the master, that he, in turn, might obey heaven. The twofold requirements of duty and piety, rather than love and affection, were to guide and bind man to wife (and vice versa) and women to children (and vice versa), and a Japanese woman was,…

Sources Used in Documents:


Adler, Philip. World Civilizations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth / Thomson, 2008

De Vos, George & Wagatsuma, Hiroshi, "Value Attitudes Towards Role Behavior of Women in Two Japanese Villages," American Anthropologist, 63, (1961).

Hastings, S.A. "Gender and Sexuality in Modern Japan" a Companion to Japanese History, Blackwell Pub., 2007

Hendry, Joy, Understanding Japanese Society. London: Routledge, 1991.

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