Recently I have finished reading the following book. The book summary and my comment are as follows:
Book title: Suzanne Hall Vogel with Steven Vogel. The Japanese Family in Transition: From the Professional Housewife Ideal to the Dilemmas of Choice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Inc. 2013.
The goal of the book is to argue that the role of the professional wife had both constrained and empowered Japanese women. The book also suggests that the professional housewife ideal continued to cast a shadow over Japanese society today although its influence was fading (p.2).
The book presents the life stories of three ordinary professional wives for a period of over 50 years. They respectively were wives of a doctor (Tanaka-san), an accountant (Itou-san), and a business owner (Suzuki-san). The purpose was to gain an insight into the strength and vulnerability of postwar profession housewives, and to see how their roles shifted as they grew older and as the Japanese society changed (p.19).
The author first met these three housewives in 1958 that were living in a middle-class suburb in Tokyo. They were wives of professionals or “salarymen” and were called the sengyou shufu, i.e. full time “profession” housewives (p.4). As the research progressed, Vogel found that in many ways these Japanese wives were actually much more independent than she had thought (p.7). They had a separate role in the family which their husbands had little influence (p.7).
As a clinical caseworker/psychotherapist by profession, Vogel was able to discover how the cultural context affected the manifestation of psychological stress, for example the troubled youth in Japan, including the children of these housewives, tended to “act in” by withdrawing into their homes while the American youth like to “act out” by engaging in mischief of violence in streets.
The first professional housewife introduced was Mrs. Tanaka (Hanae). Her husband was a family doctor. Hanae was born in 1914. She was the second of 8 children who had attended a girls’ high school (p.24). At 44 she had five children aged 12 to 19 (p.23). Hanae’s children represented the majority of children who were born during or soon after the war. They had enjoyed improved technology. They had fewer siblings compared to their parents’ families. The female children put less emphasis on trying to become a professional wife (p.58). Vogel regarded Hanae as a natural fit for the professional housewife role, excelled and found fulfilment in this role (p.60).
The second housewife was Mrs. Yaeko Itou. Vogel found that she was less constrained by either the prescribed feminine manners or the mandates of the professional wife role (p.61). In Yaeko’s family the mukoyoushi pattern appeared in her mother’s line. Mrs. Yaeko’s mother was adopted into the Itou family (p.62). Yaeko went to Tokyo and entered a high school by the age of 13. In Tokyo she continued to follow her own interest and ambitions (p.66). When her parent tried to find her a suitable husband, she turned it down because he was not college educated (p.69). Later she married Tokuzou in 1949. She gave birth to a boy (Ken), a girl (Mari) and then another girl (Katsuko). Yaeko was surprised when Vogel told her that all her children were very much like her: they were smart, able, independent, realistic, sociable, strong and determined in pursing their own interest and own path in life (110). When Vogel reflected on Yaeko, she always pondered what price Yaeko had paid for her rebelliousness against the narrowly defined housewife/mother role of her day. She had been confronted with criticism, conflict, and had broken relationship with her children.
The third housewife was Mrs. Suzuki (Mieko). Married to a successful businessman, at the age of 38 in 1958 she had five children (p.114). While recognized the explicit authority held by men, she believed in equality in her heart and was aware of a wife’s covert power which was based on a strong alliance with her children (p.115). Often while she said ‘yes’ to his husband, she thought of ‘no’ in her heart (p.117). Vogel found the Suzuki children to be free and easy, fun-loving, open-minded, and warm-hearted (p.121). In conclusion, Vogel knew that when Mieko was raising her children she could develop a balance of power with her husband: she controlled the household. Yet during her husband’s retirement year, she was less able to control the home life, merely addressing her husband’s wishes. Feeling less in control, she clung harder to control her physical body instead. When she was on longer able to control the situation, her silent “no” took over.
In the final chapter Vogel tries to analysis social changes in Japan in two periods. From1960s to 90s, professional wives’ ideal for the Japan’s new middle class women was giving way to greater diversity and complexity. Arranged marriage dwindled, more women got jobs, some refused to marry men whose mother lived with them, the average age of marriage for women increased, and women achieved equality with men in education (pps.150-1). While the profession housewives ideal eroded, it was difficult for women to combine marriage with career. Although they had freedom of choice, they often filled with conflicted feelings (p.161). In the second period from the 90s to present, the established structures became less dependable; there was more freedom, more choices and fewer rules. A gap arose between men and women. While women pushed for changes, men were content with the status quo. When the status quo began to crumble, men were more confused about how to redirect their goals (p.169). Vogel concluded that for the women, it might be less a matter of finding alternative than a matter of adjusting to essential values of the professional housewife to a new era and new circumstance (p.177).
The book is successful in showing how respectively 3 wives of the salarymen in Japan had changed over a period of some 50 years. Yet the book is difficult to read. The writer often uses a pronoun to start a sentence thus causing confusion as to what that pronoun was meant to represent, for example on page 46 second paragraph, and on page 52 last paragraph. The second confusion was caused by the repeating of ideas, for example the first paragraph on page 130. Also the usage of English idiom was difficult to understand, for example “to wait on him hand and foot” on page 134. Furthermore, sometimes topics changed too much in one single paragraph, for example in the last few sentences on page 131. Apart from the above I think this is a good book.