What Was a Major Cultural Change Concerning Women in Japan Related to WWII?
Japan's surrender of World War II on September 2, 1945 brought the horrors of war to a close and opened up the door for a wave of cultural change to sweep across the Empire of the Sun, especially for women. Some welcomed the social changes with open arms, while others, such as author Yukio Mishima, wrote novels expressing his sorrow over Japan's depletion of its culture and for what partially lead him to commit harakiri -- a ceremonial act of suicide with a sword.
1 Women in the Workforce
Immediately following the war the cost of living was extremely expensive and people had to work long hours to support their families. As a result, many women started working which changed their social status in Japan. Women worked in various industries, including factories to make materials to help rebuild their war-torn country. As women worked alongside men many felt a surge of gender empowerment. Professor Ken Smith of the Emmanuel School writes that gender empowerment is a high priority in modern Japan -- a quest for social reform that, had women not been integrated into the workforce immediately after the war, could be years behind from advancing compared to where women in Japan stand today.
2 Women as Mothers
Another repercussion of World War II affected women as mothers. After the war women had fewer children and households became smaller. As women took on more roles to help support the family through hard economic times they had fewer hours for childbearing and child raising. It also made financial sense to have fewer children. Author and sociologist Haruo Matsuoka's publication on post-war Japanese culture examines a national census of 1960 revealing that the average number of children dropped significantly. Before the war women may have had three children but in post-war Japan women had an average of two.
3 Junior-Senior Relations
As women young and old flooded the work place in post-war Japan, their relationships took on a social change. Traditionally older people were never challenged or questioned by younger social subordinates. But when they were uprooted from the traditional social sphere of pre-war domestic life and placed along side one another in the work environment the social bond shifted. Although traditional culture still held fast dictating that older people were to be treated with respect by the young, the social integration of multiple generations created a new social layer in female junior-senior relations. In many cases they had to work together under the same title performing the same roles whereas before most women tended to communicate with others in their same age and social sphere.
The status of geishas changed significantly before, during and after the Allied Occupation from 1945 to 1952. Fashion and new work opportunities played key roles in changing the status order of geisha. Before these shifts the finest geisha had the best manners, exquisite personalities, and the finest traditional kimonos. As Japan was striving for modernization, the country succumbed to the influence of Western dress and fashion from the 1920s and onward. When the Allies arrived in Japan and brought the latest in Western dress the geisha, who had already started losing their fashion status, became further distanced. Also as more jobs opened up to women, many departed from geisha roles to take on different work. Over the years geishas have slowly died out and are today typically seen during festivals and holidays.