electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Article 2 in 2007
First published in ejcjs on 14 May 2007


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Desperate Housewives in Modern Japanese Fiction

Three Novels by Sawako Ariyoshi

By

Wendy Jones Nakanishi

Professor of English Literature
Shikoku Gakuin University

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Abstract

While Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-1984) is widely recognized as one of modern Japan's most influential and important writers, little research has been devoted to her accomplishments. This article focuses on three of her novels which have been translated into English, adopting the approach of a socio-literary analysis. Ariyoshi's work vividly illustrates Japan's historic and contemporary gender discrimination. Her emphasis on putting women's issues at the forefront of her stories has arguably influenced Japan's contemporary crime writers, who differ from their western contemporaries in focusing on the private lives of their female protagonists.

Key Words: Japanese literature, Sawako Ariyoshi, gender discrimination


Introduction

Sawako Ariyoshi is characterized by Mark Weston, in a 1999 publication entitled Giants of Japan, as 'the writer who gave voice to silent women' [1]. It has often been remarked that although women such as Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon held a pre-eminent position in classical Japanese literature in their masterpieces The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book, the strong female voice they represented was silenced from the mid-fourteenth century up until the modern age, apart from a brief resurgence in the Meiji Era spearheaded by the popular Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896) [2]. Various explanations have been advanced for this. Some have blamed the influence of Neo-Confucian precepts on Japanese society while others have argued that transformations in Japan's legal system dating from medieval times led to the subordination of women [3]. But the second World War altered Japanese society irrevocably, leading to a boom in women writers in 1960s and 1970s Japan, when authors like Ariyoshi began to 'explore through fiction the various discourses and power relationships of postwar Japan' [4].

Sawako Ariyoshi (1931-1984) was born in Wakayama prefecture and brought up in an area south of Osaka noted for its old, venerable traditions. This environment fuelled an interest in the traditional arts and theater and were reflected in some of Ariyoshi's earliest stories. In her lifetime, she was best known as a journalist unafraid to tackle controversial subjects. She wrote about atomic bomb survivors, environmental pollution, and discrimination and prejudice, both as experienced in America, where Ariyoshi had studied for one year, and in Japan. But her works do not simply represent sociological manifestos masquerading as fiction. In his Reader's Guide to Japanese Literature (1999), J. Thomas Rimer concedes the general opinion of Ariyoshi as 'one of the finest of postwar Japanese women writers' but argues that that description is inadequate because it fails to 'define or suggest the range of her prodigious talents' [5].

Regrettably, little of Ariyoshi's literary output, consisting of over one hundred short stories, novels, plays, musicals, and a music script, has been translated into English. Translated works include a number of short stories published in the Japan Quarterly, a four-act play, and The Kabuki Dancer, first published in Japanese in 1972, under the title of Izumo no Okuni, and in English, in 1983. It is a fictionalized biography of Okuni, the seventeenth-century priestess-dancer at the Grand Shrine in Izumo whom Ariyoshi credits as the founder of Kabuki theater.

This article will concentrate on Ariyoshi's role as popular novelist and the influence she exerted on successive generations of Japanese women writers by focusing on women's issues. Three of her novels, arguably Ariyoshi's most famous, will be described in detail. Ki no kawa appeared in Japanese in 1959 and in English translation, as The River Ki, in 1981. Hanaoka Seishu no tsuma was published in Japanese in 1966, in English as The Doctor's Wife in 1978, and in French in 1981, becoming a bestseller in France. Kokotsu no hito was published in Japanese in 1972 and in English, as The Twilight Years, in 1984, the year of Ariyoshi's death.

For all her many achievements as a journalist, as a novelist, as a writer who could pinpoint sociological issues, it may be that Ariyoshi is most important as a representative of and spokesperson for Japanese womanhood. It would be tempting to label her a feminist, but it would be more apt to describe her as a humanist sympathetic to men as well as women in being bound by Japan's traditional social rules and constraints. The four years Ariyoshi spent as a young girl in Indonesia made her more objectively aware of the unique character of Japanese society when she returned to Tokyo. She particularly disliked the subordinate role of women.

Ariyoshi, like most Japanese novelists, provides the thread of continuity and the focus of interest in her stories in the form of the consciousness of a protagonist whose subjective responses to environment and events constitute the drama of the narrative. As Ariyoshi's typical protagonist is a woman, her environment is her home. Ariyoshi's heroines rarely stray beyond the boundaries of their domestic landscape. The events in their lives are the social customs and obligations marriage, child-rearing, the tending of aged parents which have traditionally occupied much of the average Japanese woman's life and continue to do so.

Ariyoshi paints a bleak portrait of that life in the three novels under discussion here, and one whose parameters remain disturbingly unchanged from the eighteenth-century Japanese women depicted in The Doctor's Wife to those inhabiting the modern-day setting of The Twilight Years.

The first section of the article will detail at length the plots of the three novels. This article being written in English and aimed at an English-speaking audience, references to the novels will be to their English translations.

There are two reasons why the plots should be fully related. The first is that Ariyoshi was a born storyteller. She fleshes out her characters with convincing detail and makes her readers care about what happens to them. Whether her stories are set in Japan's distant or recent past, they breathe veracity and life and appear to represent factual biographies rather than fictional tales. Allowing Ariyoshi to describe the vicissitudes of her remarkable heroines seems a befitting courtesy to extend to a writer acknowledged as one who gave voice to her 'silent' countrywomen.

The second reason is that Ariyoshi was a writer prescient in forecasting future trends in Japanese society and well-versed in analyzing and depicting issues with roots in its past. In particular, she draws a vivid portrait of the challenges facing Japan's women which stem from the country's culture and traditions. The turns and twists of Ariyoshi's stories outline these challenges more vividly than any abstract analysis could.

The second section of the article will present relevant historical and sociological research on women in Japanese society and relate this to the three novels under discussion. The third section discusses Ariyoshi's legacy. Her policy of putting women's issues at the forefront of her novels has yielded surprising results. Ariyoshi has arguably influenced Japan's contemporary women crime writers, who differ from their western counterparts in focusing on the private lives of their female protagonists.

The Stories

Although The River Ki was written before The Doctor's Wife, the latter novel will be described first as it depicts a period of Japanese history pre-dating the former work. The historical Kae, wife of the legendary Hanaoka Seishu (1760-1835), the first Japanese to develop and to use anesthesia in a surgical operation, was born in 1761. Hana, the fictional heroine of The River Ki, was born in 1876. The Doctor's Wife is a dramatized biography of Hanaoka Seishu's wife and mother.

The relationship between these two women is the prominent feature of the story from the start, with the doctor remaining a shadowy, almost incidental figure. As a girl Kae is fascinated by and drawn to the beautiful Otsugi, a woman whose breeding and looks set her apart from the family into which she has married. The attraction is mutual. Although Kae is the daughter of a rich man and has much better marriage prospects, Otsugi seeks Kae as a bride for her son. Otsugi is a commanding, impressive personality and, through sheer force of will, she secures Kae's father's permission for this unlikely match.

Kae's father and Otsugi agree to the nuptials and arrange the wedding, and she is never given a chance to meet Umpei, her prospective bridegroom. In fact, as he is pursuing his medical studies in Kyoto, Umpei is not even present at the ceremony which unites them. Kae spends her wedding night in her mother-in-law's room, an arrangement Kae can consider a semi-permanent one as Umpei is not expected to return to his home in Wakayama for another two and a half years.

In her eagerness to become a true Hanaoka, Kae immediately adapts herself to their habits and quickly learns that her new family lives for one purpose: to further Umpei in his medical career. Okatsu and Koriku, Umpei's sisters, for example, spend any spare time at the loom to earn money to send him to medical school, and Kae soon learns to weave cloth herself, to be able, too, to contribute financially to Umpei's studies.

Kae finds this atmosphere of self-sacrifice a congenial one. It does not disturb her to realize that Umpei's sisters, in lacking a dowry and in devoting their lives to their brother, are unlikely ever to be able to marry. Kae does not even mind that Umpei never writes her a single letter, nor does he ever thank his family for the money they send him. Kae's childhood dream of intimacy with the formidable Otsugi has been realized, and that is sufficient satisfaction for her.

Ironically, Kae's happiness is only disturbed by Umpei, who makes his first appearance in the story one third of the way through the novel. He makes her feel an outsider in the household which she has striven so hard to become a part of, and she feels shy with this man who is officially her husband but actually a stranger.

Above all, Kae is shattered by the discovery that Otsugi will unhesitatingly sacrifice their friendship for the deeper intimacy she shares with her son. Otsugi seems 'cold and distant' to Kae upon Umpei's return home [6]. She fails to mention to him that Kae, like his sisters, has woven cloth to send money to him, and she slights Kae by simply ignoring her when they are in Umpei's presence. Symbolically, Otsugi separates the couple on their first night in the same house, insisting that Kae sleep with her. Kae senses a sexual rivalry between them. Listening to Otsugi laughing with Umpei that evening, she feels that the 'sounds were lascivious,' and Otsugi, on the other hand, wants her son to sleep alone for as long as possible (p. 58).

Ariyoshi clearly spells out the unfortunate turn of events: 'So it came to pass that the beautiful intimacy between the two the bride and the mother-in-law who had sought her terminated upon the arrival of the loved one they had to share' (p. 58).

From this point, the novel consists of a battle for Umpei's love, a struggle all the more intense and terrible for the fact that it is one which is never acknowledged. Kae and Otsugi can never openly admit to their feelings of hostility and competitiveness. Each uses politeness as a double-edged sword, seeking any opportunity to undermine the other's position in the household. Kae's pregnancy affords her an advantage over her mother-in-law, but, as she bitterly reflects, it is only a temporary biological 'superiority' and one which reduces her to a purely physical being: 'Were her teeth, tongue, and stomach nothing but pestle and mortar, merely the instruments to feed the Hanaoka heir?' (p. 77). When Kae's first child turns out to be a girl, the battle begins afresh with Kae's belief that, until she can bear a son, she will remain inferior to Otsugi; she senses all the 'superiority and pride of a woman who had borne a male child' in Otsugi's congratulations (p. 89).

Throughout the novel Umpei is apparently oblivious to the struggle for his affections waged by his wife and mother. This is partly attributable to egotism fostered by his family, which means that Umpei is a man incapable of ever looking beyond his own selfish interests. But, as his sister wryly observes, expediency may also underlie Umpei's insensitivity to the long-standing rivalry between Kae and Otsugi: 'I think this sort of tension among females...is...to the advantage...of...every male' (p. 163).

The advantage that Umpei reaps is that his wife and mother offer the ultimate self-sacrifice her very life for the sake of his medical research. Both volunteer as subjects for Umpei's first experiments on the use of anesthetics on people rather than on animals, vying for the dangerous role of human guinea pigs in full knowledge that theirs is now a fight to the death, that Umpei's untested potions may prove fatal poison for them.

It is only after Kae is blinded as a result of his experiments that Umpei becomes primarily a husband rather than a doctor in his relationship to her. Kae happily submits to losing her sight because it signals her ultimate victory over Otsugi: 'In constant torment, [her husband's] heart was now always with her, even when his mother died like a decayed leaf falling to the ground' (p. 149).

Kae's sister-in-law Koriku offers the obituary on what she describes as the 'horrible relationship' between Kae and Otsugi in observing that Kae can feel compassion for her mother-in-law after her death only because Kae has won the battle between them (p. 162). Koriku maintains, however, that the hostility between Kae and Otsugi was not a special case but, rather, an inherent feature of the family system in Japan and that, despite dying of cancer, in physical agony, as a spinster, she accounts herself a lucky woman because she never married and therefore had never needed to endure the torment a mother-in-law might inflict upon her (p. 164).

In the one hundred years which intervene between the settings of The Doctor's Wife and The River Ki, the situation for Japanese women has scarcely changed. The River Ki opens with a scenario strikingly similar to that of The Doctor's Wife. Young Hana has been promised to a man she has only once, briefly, met a marriage arranged by her formidable grandmother, Toyono who, in strength of character, resembles Otsugi. Hana knows that after the wedding she must completely forsake her own family and assimilate into her husband's; it was perfectly clear to her that her foremost duty was to adopt the customs and ways of the Matanis. Thus although Hana, like Kae, is better-educated, more worldly, from a wealthier, more socially-prestigious family than the one she has married into, she renounces her former life to become fully a part of her new household, a movement symbolically represented in her relinquishing the playing of the koto for the assumption of kitchen chores.

In The River Ki Ariyoshi establishes a strong link between women and the natural world. Hana has learnt from her grandmother to feel a special kinship with the river Ki and, indeed, Toyono favored Keisaku Matani over a more prosperous suitor on the grounds that, in travelling to the Matanis' home, Hana would, in accordance with nature, be travelling downstream, with the natural flow of the river. The penalty exacted against those who choose to 'go against nature' is high; shortly after her marriage Hana learns that a girl who travelled up the river for her wedding was drowned ten days later when the Ki flooded [7].

As a woman and thus a creature of nature, Hana relies on emotion rather than on thought, on intuition rather than on reason. She places a great reliance on these 'womanly gifts.' Although her wedding night marks the first time in Hana's life that she has ever been left alone with a man, she is not frightened, for her first glance at Keisaku, imbued with the power of womanly empathy, had assured her that 'he was indeed a man in whom she could place her trust' (p. 25 ).

Ariyoshi likens woman not only to the river Ki passively flowing but powerful a force whose potential for harm as well as for good must be reckoned with by man but also to the ivy plant: 'From ancient times, the ivy which grew around its own central stem symbolized positive feminine characteristics' (pp. 85-6 ). Ivy is at once decorative and strong. It requires a prop on which to climb, and which it adorns. Hana's 'prop' is Keisaku, and their relationship reflects the curiously ambivalent but symbiotic relationship between ivy and that which supports its growth.

On the one hand Hana, as noted above, as a woman, is automatically relegated to second-class citizenship in Japanese society. Ariyoshi draws an interesting parallel between Hana's position of dependency and inferiority in the Matani household and that occupied by Kosaku, Keisaku's younger brother. With the elder son guaranteed the privileges and responsibilities belonging to the head of the family, a younger son must make his own way. It is a Japanese tradition which Kosaku bitterly resents but is unable to alter. Kosaku's birth order, like Hana's sex, represents the incalculable, implacable force of nature translated into Japanese social customs which Ariyoshi's characters cannot bring themselves to question but, rather, accept with all the grace they can muster.

On the other hand, although Hana considers it her wifely duty to be completely obedient to her husband, she quickly assumes a tacit dominance over him. Nature assists her in this. After the birth of their first child a son, the all-important heir Hana is able to control Keisaku: 'Elegant and obedient, Hana was as beautiful as ever. And yet a look or a word was enough to keep her husband in check' (p. 47).

Hana and Keisaku are depicted as a typical old-fashioned Japanese couple. Keisaku never tells his wife anything of his business affairs, nor does she ever expect him to confide in her. Soon after their marriage Keisaku begins to frequent the geisha quarters; while Hana is fully conscious of his marital infidelity, the subject is never broached between them. There is something unmistakably maternal as well as submissive in Hana's relations with Keisaku: she accepts him as her master but often treats him with the indulgence of a mother.

Ironically, it is because he is a somewhat 'feminine' character that Hana is increasingly drawn to her brother-in-law, Kosaku. Kosaku not only resembles women in his social inferiority as a second son but also in more intangible ways. Physically weak, Kosaku is drawn to the world of thought and emotion rather than that of business and action. He enjoys reading and writing poetry, gossiping with women, playing with children and, much to Hana's surprise, is even au fait with the latest fashions in women's chignons. Kosaku's abruptness with Hana hints at an attempt to conceal love for her. To her dismay, Hana finds his warmth and sympathy attractive. This is especially apparent on the birth of her second child. As it is a girl, Keisaku cannot conceal his disappointment and will not even try to think of a name for his daughter. Kosaku, however, approves of Hana's choice of the name 'Fumio' and quickly demonstrates his skill at such 'women's' tasks as feeding and diapering the baby.

Despite her own fondness for an 'unmanly' man, Hana is determined that her children, Seiichiro and Fumio, shall conform to the traditional sexual stereotypes. She worries because Seiichiro is delicate and lacks vitality. Fumio ironically possesses the very qualities her brother lacks. While Seiichiro is undeniably highly intelligent, gaining entry to the prestigious First High School in Tokyo, he somehow disappoints his parents, who often gaze at their mischievous, high-spirited daughter and wish Fumio 'were a boy' (p. 96).

It is Hana rather than Keisaku who checks at every step Fumio's struggle for a life independent of the pattern set for the model Japanese woman. This leads to constant friction between mother and daughter, for poor Fumio is more like a boy than a girl. She is bored by the traditional interests of the Japanese woman, which include attention to personal appearance, a desire for material possessions, and a preoccupation with domestic chores. Rather, Fumio has an inquisitive, critical outlook on life and a logical mind which delights in such 'ungirlish' activities as solving math problems.

Fumio's body as well as her mind rebels against the limitations imposed on Japanese womanhood. Robust and athletic, she chafes against the decree that she should be dainty and modest. Fumio strides briskly to school and, on the sly, she learns to ride her cousin's bicycle.

The simmering tension between Hana and Fumio bubbles into violence on two occasions. Hana, a highly-accomplished koto-player, is determined that her daughter, too, should master that gentle art. On sensing Fumio's apathy to her instruction, one day Hana slashes her daughter across the hand, leaving life-long scars. Shortly after, in a fury, Hana locks Fumio in the Matani storehouse when she learns that her daughter has offended her notions of womanly decorum not only by learning to ride a bicycle but by demonstrating her skill in the neighbouring village.

Ariyoshi likens these domestic upheavals to nature. On being locked in the storehouse, Fumio amusedly wonders whether her mother's rage stems ultimately from frustration at being thwarted in dominating her daughter: 'Was [Hana] that resentful of the Narutaki River which refused to flow into the Ki?' (p. 123). Fumio learnt this imagery of the tributary stream and the main river it refuses to join from Kosaku, who once confided to his niece that he believed that they were 'alike' because of their refusal to live up to Hana's expectations. On that occasion Kosaku had compared Hana to the river Ki whose 'blue waters, flowing leisurely, appear tranquil and gentle, but the river itself swallows up all the weak rivers flowing in the same direction' (p. 111).

Despite her desire to control Fumio, Hana finally accedes to her daughter's ambition to attend a university in Tokyo. In her belief, derived from ancient Japanese custom, that everything should revolve around the eldest son, Hana allows Seiichiro as much money as he requests and never questions him about his student-life in Tokyo, but she is hesitant similarly to send Fumio funds and often wishes she had never allowed her rebellious daughter to leave home.

Hana's scheme to dispose of Fumio in an arranged marriage is, however, thwarted when her daughter falls in love. Appropriately, Eiji, Fumio's chosen husband, is also interested in the 'modern' and particularly in all things foreign. Their wedding is in the western-style, but Hana expresses her own wishes for the couple in symbolically choosing for the bride's crest her favorite patterns; Hana was indicating her 'hope that her proud and independent daughter would cling to her husband like ivy' (p. 147).

The thread of river imagery which runs throughout this novel appears again shortly after Fumio's marriage when, symbolically, this modern Japanese woman rejects the native beauty of her mother's favorite river: 'The beauty of the Ki cannot be compared with the many colors of the sea' (p. 161). En-route to her husband's job posting in Shanghai, Fumio cannot resist thus taunting her religiously Japanese mother with her preference for the foreign.

But, again, tragedy befalls those of Ariyoshi's characters who reject nature, often equated by this novelist to Japaneseness. Just as the rebellious Kosaku lost his daughter to the Ki, so Fumio loses her second son. This bereavement inspires in Fumio an interest in her cultural heritage. Fumio decides that she wants her next child to be born in Japan and, overcoming a lifetime's rejection of what she once condemned as Japanese superstition, Fumio fashions a breast-charm for the baby she is expecting.

River imagery dominates the remainder of this book and often serves as a kind of litmus test of its characters. Hana is beautiful and powerful because she recognizes and acknowledges the beauty and power of nature, because she can see the river Ki as a beloved parent. Keisaku, despite his 'manly' insensitivity to the lovely Ki, fully realizes that his considerable political and financial successes have been largely due to his possessing a wife so attuned with nature: 'Half of his life had been spent sailing down a smooth river with an elegant wife at his side who had always conducted herself with dignity' (p. 162).

Fumio and Kosaku, on the other hand, must be chastised by the death of their children into a proper appreciation of nature and Japaneseness. Denied an obedient daughter in Fumio, Hana is rewarded for her steadfast observance of proper values in life by being entrusted with Fumio's daughter, Hanako, in whom she hopes to instill a love of her nationality. Interestingly, Hanako believes that she is linked to her grandmother by atavism: the abiding natural element of tradition ties them together despite all the superficial differences separating old and modern Japan. On first being shown the river Ki by her grandmother, Hanako remarks on the loveliness of its color. This sensitivity to nature augurs well for Hanako in Ariyoshi's fictional world and, at the novel's end, as Hanako gazes appreciatively at the river below her we know that she is an appropriate inheritor of the spirit of Japan embodied in Hana.

Again, Ariyoshi's primary importance lies not only in the acute sensitivity she displayed in her fictional depictions of Japanese women but also in her skill in forecasting future trends which would shape their lives. In The Twilight Years, published nearly thirty-five years ago and seen by many as her most important work, Ariyoshi anticipated that the course of Japanese demographics, following a pattern similar to but more rapidly-accelerated than in any other modern industrialized nation, would result in a serious social problem some sixty years later. In The Twilight Years Ariyoshi offers a portrait of the fictional Tachibana family, in which the middle-aged protagonist Akiko suddenly finds herself saddled with the onerous burden of caring for a senile father-in-law. Because of discord between Akiko and Shigezo, her father-in-law, the aged parents actually inhabit a small cottage constructed especially for them in the garden but, to all intents and purposes, they are living with their son, Nobutoshi, his wife Akiko, and their grandson, Satoshi.

In one respect, the Tachibana household that Ariyoshi portrays is not typical. In Japan, as in most modern industrialized nations, women's life expectancy exceeds men's, but this novel opens with the sudden death of the elderly Mrs. Tachibana and the family's subsequent discovery that she had shielded from them the knowledge of the elderly Mr. Tachibana's advanced senility.

Ironically, Mrs. Tachibana had both concealed and contributed to Shigezo's condition by acting the part of the 'perfect' Japanese wife. That is, she had looked after her husband with the 'utmost care' and had been so 'protective of him that he had continued to be wilful well into old age' [8]. In the novel's opening scene, before Akiko realizes that has father-in-law has lost his mind, she meets him on returning home from work. She is carrying two heavy bags of shopping which her tall, seemingly fit father-in-law does not offer to assist her with, and Akiko reflects with considerable bitterness that he is truly a 'Meiji' man in treating women as servants. Similarly, Akiko characterized her mother-in-law, who had never contradicted her quarrelsome, troublesome husband, as truly a 'Meiji' woman.

Kyoko, Akiko's sister-in-law, believes that a modern Japanese woman 'would divorce a man like [her father] after three days of such treatment' (p. 35). Akiko's own situation, however, belies such optimism. As a working wife and mother Akiko seems far removed from the old Mrs. Tachibana, whose life was devoted to caring for a fastidious, demanding, temperamental husband. But, as Ariyoshi makes clear, Akiko is nearly as great a slave to tradition and custom as her mother-in-law had been. The only difference is that Akiko must carry a full-time job in addition to being responsible for all the household duties: laundry, cleaning, shopping, and cooking.

In her relations to Nobutoshi, too, Akiko observes the old-fashioned decorum of the husband-wife relationship. Despite her husband's gross insensitivity to the hardship and suffering imposed on her by the unwritten rule decreeing that the wife of an eldest son shall look after her in-laws until their death, Akiko finds it extremely difficult to complain about let alone to refuse the onerous task of caring for the senile Shigezo. The habit of taking his wife for granted runs deep in selfish Nobutoshi. He is similarly unable to acknowledge the financial assistance rendered the Tachibana household by Akiko's salary.

Akiko only begins to question her traditional pattern of self-sacrifice and self-effacement when her burdens grow unbearably heavy. Upon her mother-in-law's death, the task of caring for the increasingly helpless Shigezo naturally devolves entirely upon Akiko. Before the onset of his father's senility, Nobutoshi had seen very little of him, despite their occupying the same living quarters. Nobutoshi either stayed in bed on his days off or played golf, and this pattern of opting out of family life and its cares and responsibilities does not change with the death of his mother.

Midway through the novel Nobutoshi smugly congratulates himself on the state of affairs in the Tachibana household: seeing how well his senile father was being looked after, he felt that the family had worried unnecessarily. In context, this reflection is bitterly ironic. Nobutoshi can indulge in such complacency only because it is his wife rather than himself who has assumed all the duties of caring for his father. It is Akiko who, every night, must sleep beside the aged Shigezo to assuage his nocturnal fears and to shepherd him out to the garden to urinate; who must bathe Shigezo, clean his dentures and, eventually, even diaper him; who must prepare his meals and launder his clothes; who must accompany him to and from a day-care center for the elderly; and who must search for him when the senile old man absent-mindedly wanders away from home.

It is somehow touchingly appropriate that it is Akiko, too, who, despite her having single-handedly borne the heavy burden of caring for her senile father-in-law, most sincerely mourns him on his death.

The Context: Women in Japan

Although misogyny has represented a prominent strand in the tapestry of world literature since time immemorial, with the Biblical Eve blamed for mankind's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Sophocles complaining of woman's inconstancy, Shakespeare, of her frailty, and Tennyson describing her as a 'lesser man,' it may be, as Virginia Woolf argued in 1929 in A Room of One's Own, that this disparaging view of the female sex largely arises from the fact that the pen drawing such damaging portraits has, historically, been wielded by men. This imbalance provides all the greater urgency for attention to be paid to the contributions of women authors.

This is particularly true in such countries as Japan, where a woman might well bewail her fate, born in a country which automatically consigns her to social inferiority. The genetic lottery of conception represents a momentous circumstance for the fetus in Japan, one which will determine, in large part, the fate of the human being the fetus ultimately will become. In Japan, as in much of the world, and particularly in what are known as developing world countries, there is a strict division between the sexes in terms of domestic duties and opportunities related to education and to career prospects. Such divisions are slowly being eroded in developed or highly-industrialized nations, but Japan remains a society where, for the thousands of years of its history, a woman has traditionally been defined by her relations to others who are often her male relatives. Rather than possessing an independent, individual identity, a Japanese woman traditionally has been described, recognized and treated primarily as someone's daughter, wife or mother. Ariyoshi recognized and played ironically upon this paradox in The Doctor's Wife. Judging from the novel's title, its protagonist Kae appears to possess little identity other than that conferred upon her by marriage.

In feudal Japan it was customary scarcely to consult a young woman as to her own wishes in the matter of a husband. Marriages were usually arranged for families by a go-between. The prospects for a woman marrying an eldest son were particularly bleak [9]. The bride was expected to enter her new home as a vulnerable woman who had given up all claims to her own family's protection and care. She was required to serve her mother-in-law with unquestioning obedience. She was supposed to bear an heir whose upbringing and education might well be taken over by others. She was not allowed to complain if her husband was cold or selfish or unkind or unfaithful or even if he took a mistress into his own household as a concubine. She needed to remain in the background unobtrusive, acquiescent, tacitly observing all the customs of her new family until her own son's marriage enabled her finally to acquire power over her own household and, specifically, over her new daughter-in-law.

Ariyoshi depicts this traditional pattern faithfully in The Doctor's Wife and The River Ki. As we have seen, neither Kae nor Hana is consulted as to her preference in a marital partner nor are they permitted to meet their future husbands before the wedding. Although Kae and Hana enjoy unusually close relationships with their families, marriage takes them far from their birth homes, and they scarcely have a chance to meet their relatives again. Too, another feature of Japan's feudal life the notoriously poor relationship between a Japanese woman and her mother-in-law, forced to inhabit the same household finds vivid portrayal in The Doctor's Wife, which is ostensibly a tale of heroism and sacrifice but whose story of the ingenious doctor and his important discovery is permanently relegated to the background, with the novel actually representing a sordid drama of the fierce rivalry between the doctor's wife and his mother as each strives to be 'first' in his life.

Still, Kae and Hana do not have to put up with quite so much as the heroine of Fumiko Enchi's The Waiting Years, originally published in Japanese as Onnazaka in 1957 and translated into English in 1971, which is also set in feudal Japan. Tomo Shirakawa, the wife of a prominent political figure, is required to act as panderer for a husband who is a serial philanderer. He dispatches her and her small daughter to Tokyo to find him a suitable mistress. Suga, the naive young woman Tomo chooses, is taken into the household, ostensibly as a maid, and forced to submit to her employer's sexual advances, who secures her complaisance and silence by eventually adopting her as a daughter. She is only the first of a number of young women who become Mr. Shirakawa's maids/mistresses/daughters until he commits the final outrage of seducing his son's wife.

Enchi's acute realism in depicting the torments of her heroine recalls Ariyoshi's similarly frank treatment of her characters. Tomo Shirakawa is consumed by a variety of emotions inspired by her husband's cruelty. An attractive woman with normal sexual urges and needs, she is jealous of Mr. Shirakawa's lovers who deprive her of his attentions. At the same time, she is ravaged by guilt. She feels especially responsible for the fate of the charming young girl Suga who, as her husband's mistress, becomes a dull and bitter middle-aged woman, bereft of hope or happiness. Mr. Shirakawa's outrageous treatment of his legally-wedded wife also leads Tomo to lose confidence and self-respect. She never complains or in any way undermines or harms her monstrous partner. Her revenge is her circumspect, upright code of behavior which is intended to act as a silent reproach.

Many modern Japanese women enjoy scarcely greater privileges than such feudal 'sisters' as Kae, Hana and Tomo. The traditional role of self-sacrifice is all the more necessary, yet onerous, nowadays because modern-day Japan has been characterized by sociologists as a 'father-absent' society [10]. A recent study concluded that the average Japanese employee worked 2,044 hours per year, 200 more than the average American or British and 500 more than the average German or French employee [11]. Given the inflexible exigencies of the Japanese workplace, requiring long hours, dedication to the company, and providing little in the way of holidays or provision for maternal leave, the Japanese full-time employee is usually male, with Japanese middle-class motherhood, on the other hand, characterized as '"being nailed in the house," cut off from social contacts, and occupied with the drudgery of household routine' [12].

Because the husband/father is conspicuous in the modern Japanese household by his absence, the mother occupies a primary role and enjoys an almost iconic status in Japanese society where she traditionally has been idealized as a self-effacing, angelic soul 'devoted to her children, [who] always shows them affection, and is willing to sacrifice her own plans and desires on their behalf' [13]. Masami Ohinata likens this idealization of the mother figure who represents the bedrock of Japanese society to a kind of 'religious faith' [14].

This idealization of the Japanese mother signally fails to translate into her being granted the social status and privileges of a Japanese man. Despite the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in April 1986, and its revision in 1997, women still routinely suffer from sexual discrimination in Japanese society in general and the Japanese workplace in particular, earning lower wages and expected to resign from full-time employment upon marriage or upon expecting their first child. Until very recently, Japanese women were forced to choose between opting for marriage and parenthood or for a career. With mothers rather than fathers viewed as the lynchpin of the family, it was viewed as an impermissible self-indulgence for a woman to try to 'have it all,' the rationale being that a person juggling two such huge areas of responsibility would devote insufficient energy and concentration to either.

A Japanese woman such as Akiko in Ariyoshi's The Twilight Years a modern working wife and mother enjoys only a superficial, even an illusory, improvement in circumstances as compared to preceding generations of Japanese women. When Akiko's senile father-in-law is rejected by community adult-care services, the responsibility for his care automatically devolves upon her, increasing a domestic and employment workload which she already finds nearly unbearable.

As for the employment workload, there has been a dramatic increase in working women in Japan, rising from 18.3 million in 1960 to 27.4 million in 2004 [15]. An older working woman like Akiko typifies the demographics of this trend. While the rate of employment for Japanese women with children under the age of seven has decreased from 35.9 per cent in 1990 to 33.3 per cent in 2000, the shortfall has been taken up by the employment of older women, with a shift in the unskilled labor pool from young women to middle-aged housewives [16].

But Japanese women traditionally have been excluded from Japan's 'Lifetime Employment System' with its job security and enviable package of benefits, forced, instead, to labor as 'atypical' workers. The proportion of 'all female employees who are non-regular by classification' has increased from 'under 10 per cent in 1965 to over 45 per cent of the female labour force in 2001,' with the 'non-regular track for female labour...entrenched as an employment system for Japanese women' [17], What this translates into for a working woman such as Akiko is being classified as a part-time laborer while working what is essentially a full-time job and being paid much less than male colleagues who may be doing the same work. In 1975 in Japan the 'regular cash earnings of female employees were only 58.9 when assuming that those of male employees were 100' and in 2004, female employees' cash earnings had risen only to 67.6 [18].

As for the domestic workload, in a survey conducted in 1995 by the Japanese Prime Minister's office, 90% of the respondents identified 'cleaning, washing, cooking, and cleaning up after meals [as] women's responsibilities' [19]. Similarly, over 80% perceived shopping and the management of household finances as the wife's duties, and 70% described childcare as a 'female activity' [20].

As noted above, in The Twilight Years Ariyoshi anticipated that Japan's rapidly aging society would result in an explosion of problems related to care for the elderly, and that this circumstance would represent a women's issue because, with their world record for longevity at 81.81 years, Japanese women represent sixty per cent of Japan's elderly and act as a very large percentage of the caregivers. It is predicted that by the year 2025 'one out of every two women will be involved in caring for senile or bedridden seniors' in Japan [21]. Akiko can only resolve the crisis into which she is suddenly plunged on her mother-in-law's death by resigning from her job to devote herself full-time to her father-in-law's care. Given current global economic insecurities now affecting even Japan, once seen as unassailably stable, with the recession 'officially' visiting Japan in 1990, quitting a job may be a luxury many Japanese housewives would find unaffordable.

Judging from Ariyoshi's novels, Japan's modern women suffer from the same discrimination as its feudal women had and its men continue to profit from this situation. The male characters in her novels often assume an expedient form of 'blindness'. Just as Kae's feudal-age husband Umpei had benefited from the rivalry between his wife and his mother which he only pretended not to notice, so the modern-day Nobutoshi takes advantage of the traditional male preserve of insensitivity in never acknowledging Akiko's selflessness in taking care of his father. As for The River Ki, Keisaku ignored his wife's pain at his marital infidelities, secure in the knowledge that she would never confront him nor question his right to maintain a string of mistresses.

Japanese men come out badly in Ariyoshi's work. She is ambiguous on the causes of the male selfishness and childishness that she portrays with such devastating clarity. It sometimes appears as if the saintly character demanded of the traditional Japanese wife is partly to blame. In The River Ki, on hearing of her father's numerous extra-marital affairs and of his penchant for geishas and mistresses, Fumio holds her mother responsible. She tells her uncle, who concurs, that it is Hana's saintly forbearance which has led to Keisaku's self-indulgent ways (p. 112).

Ariyoshi presents a curious paradox at the heart of relations between Japanese men and women, from its past up to the present. They are both complicit in the sexual discrimination in Japanese society. Women like Kae, Hana and Enchi's Tomo unquestioningly enact the role of the model Japanese wife handed on by custom: a woman who is gentle and submissive, delighting in sacrificing all for her family. These heroines participate in what have been termed teishu kampaku relationships, once the norm in Japan. The husband assumes the role of petty tyrant in being unquestioningly allowed to exercise authoritarian power over a meek, passive wife [22].

In an essay entitled '"Male Chauvinism" as a Manifestation of Love in Marriage,' Sonya Salamon connects this teishu kampaku aspect of the traditional Japanese marriage to amae, defined as a structural feature of Japanese society [23]. Salamon describes amaeru as a concept which has no counterpart in the West, as an 'active verb which designates the seeking or causing of oneself to be loved, nurtured, and indulged by others,' and which sees its most perfect expression in Japanese culture in the relationship between a mother and her child but one that is easily re-created between a husband and wife [24]. Salamon argues that many Japanese men revert to an infantile role within the confines of marriage, behaving as the wife's son rather than as her husband, and permitted this childishness by the wife [25].

Ariyoshi's work reflects this state of affairs. With the traditional Japanese man at once the lord and master and the pampered child of the household, in the early years of her marriage Hana likens her husband to their infant son 'who threw a tantrum when he did not get his way' (p. 50). Similarly, a curious mixture of the romantic and the maternal characterizes Kae's relationship with Umpei in The Doctor's Wife and Akiko's with Nobutoshi in The Twilight Years.

One of the most striking features of Ariyoshi's novels is the sheer vitality and resourcefulness of her female characters. Kae, Hana and Akiko abide by a subtle code of ethics. Because they feel that they possess greater mental strength and courage than the men in their lives, they pretend to be weak. They do not balk at playing the part of Japan's traditional woman - one who is obedient like a daughter, as sexually available as a mistress, and as protective of her man's interests as a doting mother. They perform the dominant role in the stories presented in Ariyoshi's novels while the male characters are vaguely presented and incidental to the plot. The boy-men are spoiled, guarded, encouraged and guided by their wife-mothers, who outwardly don the role of inferiors.

Paradoxically, Japan's women, traditional and modern, have appeared to embrace the proverbial chains that bind them. Although they have been crippled by Japan's traditions, they represent the country's customs' most local guardians. In The River Ki, it is Hana rather than her husband who checks their daughter's struggle for an independent life. In The Waiting Years, Tomo is willing to endure any humiliation and pain as long as she can maintain her appearance of personal rectitude as a Japanese wife and mother and retain the illusion of family harmony. Japanese women continue to act as the 'keepers of the flame,' carefully preserving the old rituals and beliefs and passing them on from generation to generation. In Ariyoshi's novels, it is inevitably the women who are familiar with, who organize and act as the main participants in such fundamental affirmations of social life as weddings, memorial services, and funerals.

It would be tempting to describe Ariyoshi as a proto-feminist determined to lay bare in her works the resistance of Japan's women to an oppressively patriarchal social system. But Ariyoshi paints too broad a fictional canvas to allow for such simplification or easy generalization. Her generous impulses are directed towards her male as well as her female characters. While her women are strong and cannot usefully be classed simply as 'victims,' her men seem to suffer from Japan's social constraints and expectations, too. Kosaku in The River Ki finds his life as an unconventional Japanese male uncomfortably circumscribed. In The Doctor's Wife and in The Twilight Years we see, in Umpei and Nobutoshi, two childish men who will never 'grow up,' who will never be encouraged to become mature, fully-realized individuals. But there is hope for Japan's men. In The Twilight Years Ariyoshi presents, in Akiko's son Satoshi, an agreeable projection of a new generation of Japanese men who find no compromise of their manly dignity in being affectionate, humorous and tender, who are helpful in the household and emotionally supportive of women.

Ariyoshi's Legacy

Judging from these three novels in their English translations, Weston or Rimer or any of Ariyoshi's many other fans would find it hard to claim that her novels and stories aspire to or achieve a level higher than middle-brow fiction. Her writings have not survived primarily because of inherent literary merit, nor are they chiefly valued for that reason. As we have seen, The River Ki is dominated by river imagery, with moral approval conferred on characters possessing the sensitivity to appreciate natural beauty. Compared to The Doctor's Wife and The Twilight Years, written and published subsequently, The River Ki is a self-consciously literary work with its heavy reliance on symbolism.

In this writer's opinion, Ariyoshi came to discard literary pretensions, apart from occasional employment of irony, because of her determination to be free to express in the most vivid, compelling and compendious way what she perceived as the plight of Japanese women. She may have felt impatient of any potentially limiting ambitions to write self-consciously literary works. The Twilight Years, in particular, exudes a sense of urgency, even of breathless haste, as though Ariyoshi felt it her mission in that work to convey a true or accurate portrait of the desperate situation faced by the typical Japanese woman she embodied in the character of Akiko, forced to bear a heavy burden of familial and social expectations while attempting to find individual fulfillment in life.

Ariyoshi's sense of purpose may have been reinforced by her awareness that Japanese women have been silenced both by the cultural customs outlined above, which dictate a woman's submission and obedience whatever the circumstances in which she finds herself, and by the Japanese tradition which honors stoical, wordless endurance of suffering.

Again, the dilemma facing Japanese women is not a new one. In Onna-men, published in Japanese in 1958 and in English in 1983, as Masks, Fumiko Enchi includes allusions to Noh plays and to the classic The Tale of Genji in her story of a middle-aged woman, Mieko Togano, who manipulates her daughter-in-law, Yasuko, in her relationships with the two men in love with her. This aptly-named work focuses on the masks - the variety of prescribed roles dating from antiquity which Japanese women have been forced by social expectation to assume, and characterizes Japanese women as 'puppets' expected to dance to the tune of the feudal code of womanly virtue.

A male character in Masks named Ibuki finds Yasuko an unfathomable mystery. Yasuko is beautiful and intelligent but apparently content to assume a role of passive submissiveness in her relationship with her mother-in-law. Mieko, too, is inscrutable. She is a stickler for correctness in her behavior, with her obsessive conventionality leading Ibuki to assume her character must be a superficial one. Yet, after he happens to read an essay Mieko had written in her youth about the Lady Rokujo in The Tale of Genji, Ibuki is forced to revise his estimate. In Ibuki's words, 'this seeming shallowness of character, or weak-willed stupidity, could not be reconciled with the beauty and the richness of the verses she wrote' [26].

Ibuki comes to see Mieko and Yasuko as prototypes of female characters in The Tale of Genji. Like the Lady Rokujo, they are compelled to subsume their passion, intelligence, and individuality beneath the roles Japanese society traditionally has demanded its women to assume. Ibuki ascribes Mieko's and Yasuko's air of tranquility to their donning, as in a Noh play, a mask, with all their 'deepest energies turned inward,' hidden from public view [27].

Ariyoshi's legacy, in putting women's issues to the forefront of her fictional works, continues to exert an influence on subsequent Japanese writers. A case in point is presented by Natsuo Kirino. For those 'untravelled' individuals who supply gaps in their knowledge of other countries by recourse to cultural stereotypes, the portrait of Japan and its inhabitants presented in Kirino's recent best-selling crime novel, Out, published in Japanese in 1997 and in English translation in 2004, may come as a brutal awakening. In its depiction of four 'desperate housewives' employed on the 'graveyard-shift' at a boxed-lunch factory in a dreary suburb of Tokyo, Out presents a land and people far removed from popular imaginings of geisha and cherry blossoms, of the pristine beauty of Mt. Fuji presiding over orderly terraces of rice fields. Out's female characters are not cherished blossoms of Japanese womanhood but four individuals trapped in dysfunctional relationships with children and partners, burdened by unbearably heavy chores and responsibilities, who unite to assist each other when one of them, a young housewife, impulsively murders her gambling, philandering husband. The mutual assistance extends to the housewife's friends consenting to dismember the corpse and to attempt to dispose of it in rubbish bags, but their secret is discovered by a local yakuza loan shark and by a ruthless nightclub owner, with disastrous results for nearly all involved.

For all their crimes and misdemeanors, these four housewives are presented by Kirino as victims rather than vicious criminals. Kirino's sympathy is extended to her depictions of women pushed to the edge of reason by the selfish, greedy, aggressive male characters who populate her picture of contemporary Japan.

In Bodies of Evidence, published in 2004, a study of women, society, and detective fiction in 1990s Japan, Amanda C. Seaman argues that such authors as Kirino are riding the crest of the wave of popularity accorded crime novels which transcend the who-dunnit formula to offer an examination of pressing social issues in Japan. Seaman ascribes what she describes as the recent boom in women mystery writers like Kirino to their willingness to embrace, in their works, the topic of woman's role in their native land: 'consumerism and the crisis of identity, discrimination and workplace harassment, sexual harassment and sexual violence, and the role of motherhood in contemporary Japan' [28].

In this respect, Kirino and other such current bestselling female authors of detective fiction in Japan as Miyabe Miyuki, Nonami Asa, Shibata Yoshiki, and Matsuo Yumi can be seen as Ariyoshi's benefactors in putting women's issues at the forefront of their works. But they are not the only ones to benefit from her writings. Although Ariyoshi passed away over twenty years ago, her works continue to resonate with significance for contemporary Japanologists. Sociologists and feminists focusing on the topic of women in Japanese still routinely quote from such novels as The Doctor's Wife and The Twilight Years in discussing issues presented by traditional family life in Japan, including, in the first work, rivalry between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law and, in the second, the Japanese woman's responsibility for the care of aging, ill, or senile in-laws or parents [29].

Japan's current 'Hanako syndrome,' characterized by a rapid increase in young Japanese women who are single, have careers, continue to live with their parents, and whose salaries are spent on self-indulgences, was unforeseen by Ariyoshi [30]. Or perhaps she tacitly disapproved of such a possibility. As we have seen, those characters in her novels who refuse to accept their traditional roles such as Hana's daughter Fumio in The River Ki are obliquely punished, penalized or ostracized. Whether this signifies the author's own implicit condemnation or her belief that unconventional Japanese women necessarily lead lives of hardship and conflict is unclear.

Despite the attempt by Japan's 'Hanakos' to forge a new life for themselves, fundamental attitudes about women in Japan remain little changed. In a recent study on Hayashi Fumiko (1903-1951), often described as Japan's most important woman writer of the twentieth century, Joan Ericson describes the hostility and condescension she encountered at an academic conference she had attended in Tokyo in 1985 when she raised the issue of gender as related to Japanese literature [31]. In her book, published in 1997, she quotes at length a Japanese male academic's appraisal of a popular woman writer, Kurahashi Yumiko:

When I read the works of Kurahashi, I am filled with admiration for her intellect. The ranks of women writers (josei sakka) who, for the most part rely on emotion, are not devoid of intellect. However, I cannot help but think there is something different about Kurahashi's intelligence or, more colloquially, her smarts, which sets her apart from other women...Kurahashi's brain is more masculine, or androgynous. You could even say that it has uniquely evolved, even more than the average man's [32].

Ericson believes that many Japanese men and dismayingly, even many educated Japanese women, are convinced that women naturally are more emotional and intuitive, with the Japanese woman writer's success being dependent on her ability to arouse passion in her reader. She implies that Japanese women are complicit in their own subservience in Japanese society, where the term 'woman writer' remains a derogatory one and a stigma continues to be attached to 'women's studies'. Praise for women is reserved for those who are perceived to act either in an androgynous or, better yet, a masculine fashion. In 1991, accordingly, Ariyoshi won particular praise as representing a writer capable of exhibiting characteristics the Japanese are reluctant to associate with a woman; she was described as 'brilliant, non-emotional, and intellectual' [33].

In Out, the prospects for Japanese women remain depressingly bleak. One of its four housewives is a widow living with an elderly mother-in-law who requires diapering and feeding and another is trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage with a sullen, taciturn husband and a son whose bad luck has resulted in his being expelled from the Japanese school system. A third lives with a partner who is physically frightened of her and relies on her financially, while the action of the novel stems from the fourth, the mother of two small boys, who, on learning that her husband has gambled away all their hard-earned savings, kills him in a passion of rage.

In Seaman's study of the recent boom in crime novels written by Japanese women authors, she comments on the commonplace that detective fiction, whatever its location, whoever its author, represents a timeless genre; it is like a sonnet - an endless variation on 'an inflexible form' [34]. She stresses, however, that Japanese women writers differ from their western counterparts in one important respect, which is in their depiction of the private lives of their female protagonists. Whereas European and American women novelists such as Marcia Mueller, Sara Paretsky, Liza Coday and Sue Grafton feel free to develop independent female private eyes in the hard-boiled tradition, the Japanese woman novelist is constrained to emphasize her heroine's cultural context in Japan, which is one of 'economic vulnerability, the threat of male violence, and isolation' [35].


Notes

1. Mark Weston, Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Greatest Men and Women (London: Kodansha International, 1999), p. 281.

2. In Lost Leaves: Women of Meiji Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), Rebecca L. Copeland examines the life and career not only of Higuchi Ichiyo but of three of her peers Miyake Kaho, Wakamatsu Shizuko, and Shimizu Shikin whom, she argues, also represent important women writers of the period.

3. Joan E. Ericson, 'The Origins of the Concept of "Women's Literature",' The Woman's Hand: Gender and Theory In Japanese Women's Writing, edited by Paul Gordon Schalow and Janet A. Walker (California: Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 79. Ericson inclines towards the latter theory.

4. Sharalyn Orbaugh, 'The Body in Contemporary Japanese Women's Fiction,' The Woman's Hand, op. cit., p. 127.

5. J. Thomas Rimer, A Reader's Guide To Japanese Literature (Tokyo: Kondansha, 1988), p. 185. Rimer disliked the notion of describing Ariyoshi as a 'woman writer,' preferring to remark that it was 'Better surely to say that she is one of Japan's most evocative and elegant modern novelists and that she is also a woman.'

6. Sawako Ariyoshi, The Doctor's Wife (Tokyo: Kondansha Press), first published in Japanese as Hanaoka Seishu no tsuma in 1966, translated into English by Wakako Hironaka and Ann Siller Kostant, 1978, p. 49. Quotations from this book are hereafter cited within the text.

7. Sawako Ariyoshi, The River Ki (Tokyo: Kodansha Press), first published in Japanese, as Ki no kawa, in 1959, translated into English by Mildred Tahara, 1981, pp. 14-5, p. 46. Quotations from this book are hereafter cited within the text.

8. Sawako Ariyoshi, The Twilight Years (Tokyo: Kodansha), first published in Japanese, as Kokotusu no hito, in 1972, translated into English by Mildred Tahara, 1983, p. 8. Quotations from this book are hereafter cited within the text.

9. See English Discussion Society, Japanese Women Now (Tokyo: Women's Bookstore Shoukadoh, 1992), p. 14. According to the editor: 'Japan is a democratic society now, but before 1947 under the former constitution, through which the eldest son inherited the family property together with the responsibility to respect his ancestors, was almighty. It was his privilege and, at the same time, duty to take care of all his family members with special respect to his parents. And his wife, the yome had to be devoted to taking care of the family members, especially of her husband's parents.'

10. Sonya Salamon, '"Male Chauvinism" as a Manifestation of Love in Marriage,' included in Japanese Culture and Behavior: Selected Readings, revised edition (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), pp. 130-141.

11. Fujimura-Fanselow, Kumiko, and Atsuko Kameda, 'The Changing Portrait of Japanese Men: A Dialogue Conducted Between Charles Douglas Lummis and Satomi Nakajima,' Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future, edited by Kumiko Fujimura-Faneslow and Atsuko Kameda (New York: The Feminist Press, 1995), p. 229.

12. Ibid.

13. Salamon, op. cit., p. 134.

14. Ohinata, Masami, 'The Mystique of Motherhood: A Key to Understanding Social Change and Family Problems in Japan,' Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future, edited by Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and Atsuko Kameda (New York: The Feminist Press), p. 205.

15. Helen Macnaughtan, 'From "Post-war" to "Post-bubble": Contemporary Issues for Japanese Working Women,' Perspectives on Work, Employment and Society in Japan, edited by Peter Matanle and Wim Lunsing (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), p. 33.

16. Ayumi Sasagawa, 'Is It Worth Doing? Educated Housewives' Attitudes Towards Work,' Perspectives on Work, Employment and Society in Japan, op. cit., pp. 187-91. Paradoxically, however, as Sasagawa points out, 'While a number of housewives were used as a cheap labour force to support the Japanese economy, the ideal image of the married woman in the 1960 and 1970s was the full-time housewife'.

17. Macnaughtan, op. cit., p. 38.

18. Masahiro Abe, 'Does Asymmetric Information Influence the Wage Differential between Men and Women?' Japan Labor Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, p. 23.

19. Merry Isaacs White, Modern Families in an Era of Upheaval (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002), p. 91.

20. Ibid.

21. Patricia Morley, The Mountain is Moving: Japanese Women's Lives (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1990, p. 92, p. 103. According to Vera Mackie in Feminism in Modern Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 190, in an 'ideal' Japanese family, 'the aged would be cared for in an extended family where three generations shared the same residence,' but 'this ideal was a long way from the reality of the latter decades of the twentieth century, where most families lived in houses or apartments barely large enough to house a nuclear family'. Mackie pointed out that 'As long as women were mainly engaged in part-time labour, they would be able to look after such relatives, a burden not easily shared by men who worked the longest hours of any developed country'. But the problem grew so extreme that a system of national insurance for care of the elderly was instituted in the 'Nursing Care Insurance Law' passed in 1997, to be implemented in 2000.

22. Sonya Salamon, '"Male Chauvinism" as a Manifestation of Love in Marriage,' op. cit, p. 137.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., pp. 130-141.

25. Ibid., p. 136.

26. Fumiko Enchi, Masks (New York: Random House), first published by Tokyo's Kodansha Press in Japanese as Onna-men in 1958, translated into English by Juliet Winters Carpenter, 1983, p. 91.

27. Ibid., p. 26.

28. Amanda C. Seaman, Bodies of Evidence: Women, Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), p. 2.

29. See, for example, White, op. cit., who uses The Twilight Years to illustrate the plight of Japanese women required to care for ailing in-laws (pp. 9, 95, 100, 155). In her Japan: The Childless Society? (London: Routledge, 1997), Muriel Jolivet describes The Doctor's Wife as reflecting the 'universal conflicts' resulting from the traditional rivalry between Japanese wives and their mothers-in-law. See. p. 17.

30. Jolivet, op. cit., pp. 141-2.

31. Joan Ericson, Be a Woman: Hayashi Fumiko and Modern Japanese Women's Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), p. x.

32. Ibid., p. 32.

33. Ibid., p. 105.

34. Seaman, op. cit., p. 145.

35. Ibid., p. 13, pp. 145-6.

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About the author

Wendy Jones Nakanishi, an American by birth, spent seven years in Britain, earning her MA in 18th-century English Studies at Lancaster University and her PhD at Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis on Alexander Pope's correspondence. She has been a resident in Japan since the spring of 1984, working first for five years as a 'Guest Professor' at Tokushima Bunri University's Shido campus and, since then, as a full-time tenured member of staff in the Department of Language and Culture at Shikoku Gakuin University. She has published widely in her academic field, mainly on the topic of letters, diaries and journals, but recently has also been writing on the topic of her experiences as a foreigner living in Japan, the wife of a farmer and the mother of three sons.

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