Japanese Women Refusing To Be Buried With Husband's Families


In what some are terming “the final frontier for women’s equality in Japan,” some are refusing to be buried traditionally with their husbands’ families.

Reports the LA Times,

For centuries in this male-dominated society, women have been guided by the concept of ie, or household, in which wives are bound to their in-laws for life – and beyond. Formally abolished at the end of World War II, the system has hung on in many parts of Japan. Yet quality-of-life changes here, including climbing divorce rates, higher education levels and increased geographic and social mobility among women, mean many are now thumbing their nose at a tradition that often forces a lifelong divorce from their own families. “Women are rebelling against the idea of being buried for eternity with people they didn’t even like that much in life. They see it as a form of eternal torture,” said Yoriko Meguro, a sociologist at Tokyo’s Sophia University and former Japanese representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. “The refusal to be buried in the husband’s ancestral plot is the last stand against traditional family confinement.”

As one widow put it succinctly to the Japan Times in 2004, “I don’t want to be buried in my husband’s family grave in the Kansai region because I don’t feel I belong there…I also hate thinking that my mother-in-law, who often picked on me, might still treat me like her son’s wife after I die.”

Traditionally, cemeteries and temples could and did refuse places to people without offspring. But in response to the shift, some cemeteries have started offering independent plots; even if women wish to be buried with their own parents, sometimes the older generation is resistant. And needless to say, this has led to friction with in-laws. But such is the way of major — and necessary — change.

As Japanese feminist Junko Matsubara put it, “The point is not simply to avoid being buried with one’s husband, but rather to learn how we as women can lead more independent lifestyles.”

In Japan, Women Challenging Burial Traditions [LA Times]
Family Plot Not For All Women [Japan Times]

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