JAPANESE AND AMERICAN CONTEXTS
(Xiltural room is created within a broad context, and while the Japanese and American contexts are similar in some ways, they very much differ in others. Both societies have a “past” in which most women were more subordinate to men than they are today. Much of the cultural negotiation in each society centers on how much of which past gender practices and beliefs is to be incorporated into the present. But in Japanese tradition the genders have been far more deeply divided, women far more subordinate, and the weight of that tradition far heavier.
In addition, while both Japan and the United States are capitalist giants, Japan, a homogeneous society of 127 million people, has emerged from agrarian feudalism recently and rapidly. Its women have emerged from being a virtual lower caste in each tier of a Confucian feudal hierarchy to being secondary participants in its modern economy. ror the last fifty years, half of all Japanese women have worked outside the home—a rapidly growing number of them in large companies—and a small but growing number о! these employees are mothers of small children. In the 1980s, when the books wfere published, Japanese women made up about a fifth of college and university students, and about 90 percent of junior college students. Yet the weight of Japanese culture—its language, customs, and rites—have much more sharply divided men from women than in the United States. In Japanese, the very character for “wife" symbolizes “inside house.” A 1972 best-selling advice book by Minoru Hamao, the former tutor of the emperor and two princes, even wrent so far as to recommend separate textbooks for Japanese boys and girls.2
The Japanese have historically honored the ie, the male family line, and strongly attached womanly honor to maternal sacrifice to husband, in-laws, and children. Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at the University of Tokyo, offers die startling thesis that Japan has built capitalism on the basis of this maternal sacrifice. Adult men, he suggests, transfer their dependence from a sacrificing mother to a demanding company and, like their mothers, sacrifice themselves to it, in the process building capitalism. If this is plausible, then perhaps this tradition of maternal sacrifice is the most salient point of cultural brokering reflected in Japanese advice books for women. But today the family to which a woman is to sacrifice herself is in the process of transformation. Today fewer parents than in the past arrange their children’s marriages, and because it is less compulsory than in the past, far fewer people marry. Those who do marry more often live independent of
their parents and, compared to previous generations, have fewer children. Although very low to begin with, the divorce rate has risen since the 1960s to a high of one out of four in the 1980s, and one in three in the 1990s.
A larger (276 million) and ethnically more plural society, the United States lacks a feudal past, save that which immigrants brought with them from Europe and Asia. In 1900 a fifth of women worked outside the home, mostly in a few “women’s” jobs. Today two-thirds of American women work and at almost every kind of job. To be sure, over the last two hundred years, the bulk of American women have moved from being husband-helpers on small farms to being factory hands, domestic workers, and clerical and service workers, but, in contrast to their Japanese sisters, many more American women are branching into the “male” trades, professions, and management. More American women than men now graduate from both two – and four-year colleges.
American, compared with Japanese, family life began from a very different cultural starting point, though it has been proceeding in the same direction. Outside of certain small ethnic enclaves, marriages in the United States were never arranged. If the Japanese family was patrilineal and patrilocal, American families, as William Goode and Talcott Parsons have pointed out, have long been neo-local and decreasingly patrilineal. But given different starting points, family trends have pointed in the same direction—toward less marriage, later marriage, more divorce, and fewer children. In both cultures, too, women have been granted more autonomy.
How, then, does the texture of each culture—its weight, stretch, and notion of connectedness—alter the prospects for working mothers? What clues do advice books give us about this?