Woman Gender Role in Japanese Religious Tradition and Early History Essay

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Japanese Women

Gender Roles in the Japanese Religious and Social Traditions: Subjugation and Isolation as a Means of Domination

For whatever reason, most cultures in recorded history seem to be largely patriarchal, favoring the masculine over the feminine and significantly reducing the roles that women are expected or even allowed to play in the public and political spheres. Buddhism and Shintoism, the two major religions in Japanese history especially prior to the modern era, are perhaps not as staunchly patriarchal in their mythology, their institutions, and their practices as are many more common and more well-known Western religions, however these religions still helped to form a patriarchy out of the archipelago. As with so many areas of the world, Japan was essentially left with half a history in the story of its men while the story of its women was largely to be kept silent. The following paragraphs trace certain evidence of female subjugation and the limitation of gender roles in Japanese history.

Boundaries and Barriers

The division that existed between the two genders during Japanese history is made quite clear in much of the literature and many of the practices of the time. Buddhism was far from immune from this type of division and from the male domination that it led to; women in Buddhism were not thought to be capable of the same type or level of spiritual success but were explicitly considered to be inferior to and separate from men seeking enlightenment. This was illustrated both implicitly and explicitly in many ways in the religion and in the social practices it engendered, with perhaps the greatest clarity in this division demonstrated in the physical separation and isolation of women from sacred mountains and the Buddhist monasteries established there.
The closest that women were allowed to come to these mountainous holy places were "specifically designated buildings, called women's halls (nyonindo), which were placed outside the kekkai area" ("Arriva of Buddhism," p. 44). That accommodations were made for women indicates that they were still considered to be worthy of some attention and were capable of some spiritual blossoming, which in truth is more credit than women were given in many contemporary cultures, yet at the same time it makes it clear that a woman's place was not to be found in the ardent seeking of spiritual progress and enlightenment, but rather women are relegated to an outside realm of lesser spirituality. Their roles and tasks were considered more temporal, not entirely separate from spiritual pursuits but not of the same elevation as masculine efforts in both a figurative and, in the case of the mountain holy places, a literal sense. There is a sense that women could support and care for men and for masculine spiritual pursuits, and that this might in fact be the highest level at which a woman could serve society and even herself.

Buddhism was not the only major Japanese religion during the nation's development, nor was it the only source (or effect) of a patriarchal system that designated lower and more subservient personal and social roles to women, but Shintoism also shows clear strains of masculine domination and a patriarchal schema It is impossible to say with any certainty whether a masculine-centric attitude existed that helped to influence the development of religion and society or if the religions of the archipelago helped to instill this masculine-centric attitude into the populous, but regardless the separation of gender roles and the subjugation of women can be seen throughout….....

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