Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan: Wives Final Revolt

For centuries in this male-dominated society, women have been guided by the concept of ie, or household, in which wives are bound to their in-laws for life - and beyond.

Formally abolished at the end of World War II, the system has hung on in many parts of Japan. Yet quality-of-life changes here, including climbing divorce rates, higher education levels and increased geographic and social mobility among women, mean many are now thumbing their nose at a tradition that often forces a lifelong divorce from their own families.

"Women are rebelling against the idea of being buried for eternity with people they didn't even like that much in life. They see it as a form of eternal torture," said Yoriko Meguro, a sociologist at Tokyo's Sophia University and former Japanese representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. "The refusal to be buried in the husband's ancestral plot is the last stand against traditional family confinement."

At Aoyama cemetery, one of Tokyo's largest public burial grounds, new sections are reserved for people who want to be buried alone or with a spouse, unconnected to larger family sites.

Activists say the burial requirement is one of many outdated responsibilities women are forced to shoulder within the Japanese family structure. Many must perform duties such as caring for their in-laws.

Some of those traditions are also being challenged. In February, six women filed a lawsuit fighting a 113-year-old civil law that precludes brides from keeping their surnames when they marry, insisting that the law violates their right to equality.

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