Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In A Grove: Marrying Age of Women

Professor Takagi’s studies centered on the examination of mikudari han (rienj ), that is,
documents related to divorce in the Edo period. In his groundbreaking work he collected about
500 such documents and came up with the following findings (Takagi 1987, 1992):

• The mikudari han gave permission for both husband and wife to remarry;
• Divorce proceedings as recorded in these documents included neither the cause
for divorce nor any criticism of either party;
• For the divorce to take place, both parties submitted a type of document called the
rienj kaeri issatu, or receipt for mikudari han.

As a result of his studies we must reevaluate our general understanding of divorce in Tokugawa Japan, which had been understood as initiated only from the side of husband. We now see that divorce occurred, not through the action of the husband, but through the coordinated
activity of the families on both sides. Marriage in the Edo period was usually set up within the
framework of two families, on roughly equal terms, thus making divorce and remarriage easy for
both sides. This was true even among samurai. One study of the shogunal hatamoto vassals has
shown the divorce rate to be, on average, 10% (Asakura 1990).

As a pioneer of demographic research in Japan, Professor Akira Hayami contributed to
women’s studies by investigating peasant-class family histories in Mino (Gifu prefecture) that
covered a period of nearly one hundred years. He found that by the 19th century it had become
usual for women to postpone their marriages by working outside the family for a few years. As a
result, the average marriage age of the middle to lower classes rose to 25, while upper-class
women usually married at the age of 21. Of course the relatively late marriage influenced the
number of children, the patterns of inheritance among peasant families, and also the level of
population growth.

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