Câmpeanu 1 Iulia Câmpeanu Professor Anca Iancu Introduction to Research 7 February 2011 Samurai Women in Feudal Japan Samurai
was the name given to the military class in Japan. The duty of a samurai may be expressed in one single word: loyalty- loyalty to his lord and loyalty to his country- loyalty so true and deep that for it, all human ties, hopes and affections must be sacrificed if necessary. The true samurai is always brave; he never fears suffering or death. In Feudal Japan, women were as brave and fearless as men. Although it is hard to imagine, there were also samurai women, women whose ancestors were soldiers and in whose veins ran the blood of generations of warriors. The girl born in a samurai family was taught to be delicate, enigmatic and gentle on the one hand and to manipulate weapons, to be courageous, loyal and brave on the other. The code of the samurai was called Bushido and it contained all the rules that guided the life of a samurai. The virtues that Bushido prized in a woman were far from being feminine. Samurai women were deeply respected if they emancipated themselves from the frailty of their sex and displayed a heroic fortitude worthy of the strongest and the bravest of men. (Nitobé 56) Therefore, samurai girls were taught to repress their feelings, to indurate their nerves and, of course, to manipulate weapons (the naginata, a long, curved sword was considered the weapon most suitable for women and they also carried a dagger in their sleeves, called kaiken); literature and art were not neglected- they were also taught to sing and to dance in order to entertain their
Câmpeanu 2 fathers and, later in life, their husbands. The samurai woman had very little independence throughout her life because, apart of the Bushido code, she had to respect the dogma of the Three Obediences: Obedience to her parents when young, obedience to her husband and his parents when married and obedience to her sons when old. (Grant-Webster 106) The samurai woman gets married very young, at the age of sixteen, and she does not have the right to choose her husband. If a man (a samurai, of course) considers that a woman is suitable for him, he talks to her parents and if they agree the wedding will be done. The alternative of spinsterhood is never considered. As mentioned before, after she gets married, a samurai woman has to obey her husband and to sacrifice herself for him. As mother, she has to sacrifice herself for her sons. Thus, her life becomes one of self denial and dependent service. The cases when the husband and wife loved each other were not very common. This is why the husband had a mistress and the wife was just the woman who took care of his home. As her warrior husband was often absent, the samurai wife had important duties at home and in wartime she had to defend the house and all the people who lived in it. She oversaw the harvesting of crops, managed all the servants, and took over all financial business. On the samurai wife fell also the burden of providing the proper education of her children. She had to instill in them a strong sense of loyalty to the samurai ideals of courage and physical strength (Reese). In matters which concerned the well-being of the family, her advice and opinions were respected but did not weight as much as those of her mother-in-law. As long as the mother-inlaw lives, she is the real ruler of the house and most of the times she tries to make the life of her daughter-in-law very difficult. Despite all this, the samurai wife is very proud of her rank and tries her best to take good care of her household and to satisfy all her husband’s wishes because
Câmpeanu 3 Woman’s surrender of herself to the good of her husband, home and family, was as willing and honorable as the man's self-surrender to the good of his lord and country. Self-renunciation, without which no life-enigma can be solved, was the keynote of the Loyalty of man as well as of the Domesticity of woman. She was no more the slave of man than was her husband of his liege-lord, and the part she played was recognized as “Naijo”, the inner help. (Nitobé 59) If the husband or any other member of the family would complain of the samurai wife, she would be dishonored for life and had no option but to kill herself. The issue of samurai suicide was very much discussed throughout history and it still is. As mentioned before, if the samurai woman was dishonored in any way she had to kill herself in order to maintain the name of her family clean. Sometimes, if her father, her husband, or her son were dishonored or committed a shameful thing, the samurai daughter, wife or mother was also expected to kill herself because honor and good-name were two of the most important things in a samurai’s life. The suicidal act was called “jigai” (in the case of men it was called “hara-kiri”) and it consisted of cutting her throat in accordance with the exact rules of the ritual (Ratti and Westbrook 116). The ancient heroines committed the suicidal act as calmly as they killed their enemies and suffered death bravely, even joyfully, to avoid or wipe out any disgrace. The women of the samurai class learned how to handle the naginata (a long, curved sword considered the most suitable weapon for women) primarily to defend themselves and their homes. In the event that the castle of their lord was overrun by enemy warriors, the samurai women were expected to fight till the end, side by side with the men, to show bravery and prowess on the field of battle and to die with honor, weapons in hand. Some young samurai
Câmpeanu 4 women were such skilled warriors that they went to war and fought till death, defending their country and their lord. Samurai women were paradoxical beings. Underneath that mask of bravery, obedience and self denial there was a gentle and kind woman capable to sacrifice herself for the ones that she loved. She knew how to defend her home and her children by using the sword but she was also capable of singing, panting and dancing. She was a delicate warrior. Alice Bacon compares the samurai woman with a Spartan mother who would rather die than see her son or husband branded as cowards.
Câmpeanu 5 Works Cited Bacon, Alice. Japanese Girls and Women. The Echo Library, 2010. Web. 6 February 2011 Nitobé, Inazô. Bushido: The Soul of Japan. USA: Nu Vision Publications, 2008. Web Ratti, Oscar and Wetbrook, Adele. Secrets of the Samurai. The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan. USA: Tuttle Publishing, 1991. Web. 6 February 2011 Reese, Lyn. Women in Heian and Feudal Japan. Womeninworldhistory.com n.d. Web. 6 February 2011 Webster Grant, Robert. Japan from the Old to the New. Elibron Classics, 2005. Web. 6 February 2011