On August 6th and 9th of 1945, the first nuclear bombs were used on humans, dropping on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ultimately ending World War II . The aftermath of these bombings impacted Japan’s political and hierarchical structure immensely. During the post-war occupation, the allied powers led by General Douglas MacArthur, set reforms on the Japanese economy and government to create a civil Japan. These reforms completely reconstructed the government, changing political and hierarchical powers. Though many reforms such as demilitarization and disestablishment of the state religion, Shinto, were made, the most impactful changes of the reforms were the modifications made to the government and the rights of the citizens . Formerly a constitutional monarchy, Japan did not have a very fair balance of power. The reforms helped to change this power balance by shifting Japan into a democracy. Through this change, many laws restricting the rights of the people became abolished and gave birth to a more fair Japan. The rights of women were most impacted by these changes, for they obtained capabilities that allowed them to escape their inequitable treatment and lack of influence. Before these reforms, women were unable to vote and held no social or political power. The reforms later granted women rights they never had before. Although Japan’s historical values were rooted in monarchy, masculinity, and suppression of feminism, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki set forth a variety of reforms that gave women the opportunity to influence the country politically.
Women in Japan prior to the war were bound to many laws that restricted their capabilities and potential of influence. Buddhism, Confucianism, and the bushido all contributed to the mistreatment of Japanese women. These three philosophies were highly discriminatory towards Japanese women and greatly affected the treatment they received. The discriminatory beliefs were developed through Buddhism, which taught that salvation was not possible for women, as well as Confucianism, which emphasized the supreme position of males . In addition to having restricted rights due to these social morals, women also had their rights suppressed by Japanese laws. Japanese laws enforced that women could not own property, and were practically considered the property of their husbands. To emphasize this further, inheritance laws (Kotaku) allowed only the eldest son, even with an older daughter, to inherit family property. The Japanese government was a monotheistic patriarchy, which put women in a impotent position for influence in government. Women were often exploited in the form of arranged marriages in which lower-class families could rise in power. The women’s literacy was also suppressed by limited education and opportunities to learn. Women, not as literate as men, were only taught to read hiragana, thus preventing them from reading business and political transactions, which were written in the more formal writing style, kanji. The effects of World War II eradicated these social and political beliefs towards women and reconstructed the concept of equity.
Women during World War II tolerated many changes that led to their future success. Despite the ongoing war, women gained many merits from the turmoil. Japan, desperately trying to achieve the same level of modernization as the west, employed thousands of women into industrial jobs. Though the condition of women in these factories was miserable, they were paid wages. The wages were significantly lower than that of men’s, but this allowed women to make money without a dependence on men. Women began to gain control of the industry as men were removed to join the army. The absence of men during the war put women in control of their personal households and overall power.
Though women were starting to gain some degree of freedom, the overall state of Japan was miserable, as Japan encountered the atomic bombings.With the use of nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, millions of people were left dead and homeless, disillusioning the people of their powerful military. General McArthur wrote about the bombing, "it was not merely the overthrow of their military might, it was the collapse of faith, it was the disintegration of everything they believed in and lived by and fought for. It left a complete vacuum, morally, mentally, and physically." Along with the hopes of the people to win the war, the economy and social traditions collapsed. Social anarchy followed as a despondent period began. Many social connections were shattered, and a majority of the people were left to live without the help of family. This forlorn situation led to the fostering of a minor democratic shift, ultimately causing the collapse of the feudal family system. The post-war occupation followed the war as McArthur ensured the continuation of the social revolution that was starting to begin.
The post-war occupation was a blessing to the women as McArthur changed the government entirely eliminating many methods of discrimination. Laws that led to inequality were abolished, ending the age of masculinity. Religions that oppressed women such as Buddhism and Confucianism were now far from conventional, and western ideas that gave power to women became more common. Women started becoming more literate, giving them access to all types of education. Twenty-six universities for women were established, and many women began rising in political power. Monotheistic patriarchy was abrogated, and the emperor now serves only as a symbol of Japan, not as a dictator. General McArthur encouraged union activity, which supported co-ed schools and women in government positions. A law of labor standards was also passed to provide equal pay, working hours, and maternity/menstruation leave for women. The number of women put through arranged marriages was halved since before the war, as women became more independent and self-serving. The role of women began to become more equilibrium with men; in fact, the role of women in a household has almost become more powerful than that of the men's’.
Though the power of women significantly increased after World War II, there are still many cases in which women are discriminated against. Many people have disobeyed the new laws, following their pre-war tradition of masculinity. These kinds of people continue to suppress the rights of women in many societies, including Japan’s. Over the last decades, however, these kinds of cases have decreased significantly, letting women possess the rightful power they deserve to have. The effects of World War II on Japanese women were immeasurable, giving women the potential, capabilities, and opportunities to influence the country as they wish.
Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. Back Bay Books, 2008.
“Role of Women in Japan.” Richmond World Affairs Council, 17 Jan. 2019, www.richmondworldaffairs.org/role-of-women-in-japan/.
U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/japan-reconstruction#targetText=After%20the%20defeat%20of%20Japan,%2C%20economic%2C%20and%20social%20reforms.
McKenzie, Eleanor. “Cultural Changes in Japan Due to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb.” Synonym, 21 Nov. 2017, classroom.synonym.com/cultural-changes-japan-due-dropping-atomic-bomb-7516.html.
“An Interview with a Survivor of the Hiroshima Bombing.” National Catholic Reporter, 19 Dec. 2016, www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/interview-survivor-hiroshima-bombing.
Maguire, Amy. “World Politics Explainer: The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” The Conversation, 8 May 2019, theconversation.com/world-politics-explainer-the-atomic-bombings-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki-100452.
Moore, Charles A., and Aldyth V. Morris. The Japanese Mind. Tuttle, 1982.