The Japanese Edo period is the time between 1603 and 1868 when ancient Japan was under the leadership of Tokugawa Shogunate. The period was marked with strict social order. One of the notable strict orders during this period was the rules that guided the marriage of women. There was a marriage between the higher authorities and the one among the common members of the society. The rich and high class were known as samurai, and a clear distinction of rules regarding marriage existed between them The third parties especially the parents played a crucial role in marriage and wedding ceremonies.
The marriage partners were sourced from members of the same social status. For the provincial leaders or the Shogun, the partners were chosen from the leaders of the day. The parties were handpicked by parents and hence marriages between willing parties were not common. The Tokugawa military regime arranged and controlled marriage based on political interests especially among provincial and Shogunate leaders (Belle, 2014). The society members of lower social status normally met in the village local festivals and in such cases, a parent’s approval was not a must as wedding resulted from long periods of acquaintance relationships.
A leader (daimyo) had to obtain consent from the Shogunate before the wedding. Intermixing of marriages from partners of different social status was not allowed. Initially, the wedding ceremonies were held at night but during the Edo period it became customary to hold weddings ceremonies during the day. The marriage ceremonies of the society members of high social status were very formal. An example is a marriage between a Shogun’s daughter and Daimyo Lord. It began with building a compartment adjacent to his residence as a sign of being ready to receive the bride.
As opposed to the commoner’s, the financial expenses was not an issue. The intimacy between the two partners of the high social status meant that their position and rank were raised and fortified. As a way of preparation, the daimyo obtained beautiful and expensive ornate wedding trousseaus for the bride to use (Belle, 2014). The trousseaus depicted a symbol of political alliance and social rank on upon which the marriage is based on. The preparations for trousseaus commences immediately after the announcement of the engagement of the partners.
The dowry was taken to the groom’s residence in a stylish wedding parade. The processions were portrayed on handscrolls with the names of all the participants in the wedding ceremony. The bride was also provided with refined and expensive household items such as Kimono, furniture, and household utensils. The trousseau was then taken to the groom’s residence in limited chests. The wedding trousseau consisted of valuables prepared with utmost attention and care such as hair ornaments, mirrors, decorative shelves, incense pillows and boxes, painting and calligraphy utensils among others (Belle, 2014).
The items were not only chosen to depict the social status of the bride but also to show that it is the most important ceremony in a woman’s life. To the commoners, the marriage partner’s opinion could count before the marriage took place. It was necessary to apply for a vassal permission, and marriage registration followed. During the wedding ceremony, the bride was carried in a basket known as Kago under the house maids to the groom’s family (Kurihara, 2015). A Mochi was prepared and offered to the couples before they could go to the bridal bed.
A small banquet just for the couples was always organized after the wedding ceremony. After this, they were expected to go jointly to the futon that was always ready for the ceremony. The Japanese marriage was characterized with many events ranging from wild celebrations and different foods during the Edo period. Different foods were served during the wedding. The foods that indicate peace and happiness were served. The traditional cakes served in the wedding are different from the present cakes we are familiar with in modern wedding ceremonies.
The cakes were tall and larger than the present. The dishes served at the ceremony were odd numbers as it symbolizes that it could not separate the couples (McCullough, 1997). Some of the common foods served at the ceremony included Sekihan red azuki beans, Kombu, Datemaki, sushi cakes and Kazunoko. Sekihan is a traditional sticky red rice made of beans that were served in the wedding as a symbol of happy occasions and celebrations. It was served alongside Gomashio that consists of a mixture of toasted seeds with salt.
Kombu a sea flavored clear soup was also served alongside sliced green onions, sesame seeds, and medium sized tofu. Kombu is prepared from Kombu, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, fresh ginger, squashes, and broccoli. In addition to that Kazunoko was also served during the wedding ceremony. Kazunoko is a symbol of women fertility, and that’s the reason it was a must in the wedding ceremony (Nielson, 2015). Datemaki dish was also popular in the wedding ceremony. It is a rolled omelet made from hanpen, a white fish cake, and dashi soup stock. Any wedding ceremony could not be complete ithout Daifuku sweet being served.
It is a traditional Japanese sweet served to the guests alongside green tea. The sweet demonstrated a symbol of sharing happiness with relatives and friends of the bride and groom during the happy occasion. Japanese observed a strict dress code during the wedding ceremony. The bride wore a white kimono, Uchikake, an outer robe and a silked white head dress that symbolizes obedience and humbleness. As per the Japanese culture, the dress enclosed symbolic horns on the bride’s head. An exchange of vows in the Shinto marked the beginning of the wedding ceremony.
The bride and the groom could freely mingle with guests and the relatives of the opposite partner while enjoying the food. At times, the couples could leave their seats once or twice to exchange their clothes and join the party again in what is known as oironaoshi (Kurihara, 2015). A ritual of sake drinking was common as the ceremony was about to end. The end of the ceremony was followed with Nijikai/sanjikai, an after party where only invited family members and friends could attend. The wedding and after party ceremonies did not mark the end of marriage in Japanese culture during the Edo period.
There were several issues surrounding marriage of the new couples such as upholding the marriage, sex, purpose of the marriage and the benefit of the marriage to the partners and the whole community. After marriage, the couples were allowed to have sex at their pleasure provided it was not openly done in front of children. Women were not allowed to have sex out of wedlock. Having sex out of wedlock was illegal and attracted harsh punishment. In most cases, sex was practiced at night as it was seen as the ideal moment for creating babies (McCullough, 1997).
The purpose of marriage was for companionship and having children. Marriage was viewed as the legal way of obtaining a family and hence it was rare to find unmarried parents in ancient Japan. Being an unmarried parent could cause significant legal issues concerning the rights of the child and recognition of the father. Traditionally, there was no romantic image of love in marriage, and this is still upheld up to the present day (Maciamo, 2015). They took the pragmatic view that it was impossible for the love between the couples to last forever and hence it should not be the reason for getting married.
What was important in marriage was having and raising the children. Once the woman had a baby, the man regarded her as a mother. Thus, they become less sexually active. The mother also seemed to lose interest in her husband. The children born slept with both parents or sometimes with the mother if the couples do sleep separately. Some fathers had their rooms so that they don’t wake up their kids when they come back late. The children slept in between their parents (Kawa) between the age of 3 to 16 depending on the number of children the couples had and the space of their house (Maciamo, 2015).
Once the couples had a baby, the women had to stop daily chores and spend most of her time with the newborn. This culture is still practiced in present Japan. The major benefit of marriage to the couples was having children and companionship. Being married made a primary contribution to common good as the couples could jointly tackle issues and problems facing them together. Married women and men seemed to be happier, healthier and enjoyed marriage life. The women had emotional and practical support from the men they were married to.
In addition to that, traditional Japanese married families were associated with lower poverty levels as both the parents could jointly work in farms and get involved in fishing activities. Marriage was not only beneficial to the couples but also to the Japanese society as a whole. Since marriage involved spouses from different families, it cultivates cordial relationship among them hence fostering peace and unity in the Japanese communities. The resultant social bond from the marriage is not only beneficial to the involved families but also to the society as a whole.
The Japanese society viewed marriage as a seedbed for best prosocial behavior. Moreover, the institution of Japanese marriage created effective social and economic conditions for effecting parenting. Marriages marked the willingness of an individual to continue the generation and existence of the society (McCullough, 1997). The result of Japanese marriages was institution of families. The father was the head of the family charged with the responsibility of taking care of the family. The mother, on the other hand, cared for the young children and was responsible for household activities.
The children were expected to be obedient to their parents. The father and mother’s roles were segregated. The children were the role of the mother to take care of them and the father was the breadwinner and responsible for family repairs. The traditional Japanese family was concerned with extension and progress of the household more than the individual. For instance, if the eldest son was unable to head the family, the second son could replace him and assume the roles of the family head. The woman could be divorced even after marriage if she failed to please the in-laws.
The in-laws were concerned with keeping the family continuation and pride. Through the extension of household, the kinship relationship concurrently expanded. The man was the head of the family and hence he was responsible for all decisions made on behalf of the family, managing his house, children and providing income and food for the family. Multi general families also existed during the Edo period. The multi-general family consisted of children, parents and paternal grandparents with Sazae-san an example. The family of Sazae-san depicted an image of an average Japanese family (Varley, 2000).
Patriarchal and monogamous families were common during the Edo period. If the mother was barren, the man was allowed to keep a concubine. The child that the concubine gave birth to proceed to head the family thus securing its progress. If either the concubine or the wife failed to bore a child, the customary laws allowed the family to adopt a successor. The man who is supposed to take headship of the family had to live with the parents even after marrying. The child had to take care of his parents when they become old. In addition to that, he manages households and takes care of family labor.
The successor has to ensure the continuation of the family. Moreover, the successor also decides who will succeed the headship in the event of his death (Emiko, 1997). It was generally agreed that the eldest son was the heir of the family, and his family had to live with his parents. If the couples have no available son, they may opt to live with one of their daughters to take care of them when they are old. Therefore, the oldest sons and daughters were likely to live with their parents if they do not have brothers more than living with their families. Once the couples were married, the marriage was expected to last forever.
However, divorce was not still inevitable, especially among the samurai family. This is probably due lack of their contribution or choice of their partners in marriage. Among the samurai, family issues or matters were subject to the total control of Lord of the domain. Divorce could only take place with permission from Tokugawa. For commoners, a man could present a message or letter to the wife and if she agrees the divorce is complete. The Edo letter of divorce was referred to as mikudari-hun translating to “three lines and half” that is a traditional short form of these documents.
The divorce was unilateral and men prerogative as it could only be issued by men. Under the Tokugawa laws, it was illegal for a woman to get remarried without being issued with a letter of divorce. If a woman got married without being divorced, she was returned to her parents’ house with her hair shaved (Varley, 2000). However, men who got remarried without getting divorced were to be banished but was always overlooked. For commoners, divorce involved a discussion between the two families sometimes known as negotiated divorce. The Japanese identity was based on family.
A child was named after their father or grandparents and expected to uphold the family name. It was the role of the eldest son to preserve the family dignity at all time. On the flip side, romantic relationships were not allowed before marriages. For samurai’s the family dictated whom one get involved with, and the relationship was supposed to lead to marriage marked by a colorful wedding. The samurai were strict on this so as to avoid cases of marriage with partners from low social status. For commoners, relationships normally resulted from village festivals where different members of the society met.