The most “powerful women” at home are the Japanese wives


It is often misunderstood by the rest of the world that the Japanese women are mistreated, subordinate to men or powerless in Japan. It is simply not true.  It is mostly because none of them know this simple fact that a majority of the Japanese wives control the finances at home.

60% of wives and 20% of husbands control finances at home in Japan.

-Sompo Japan Survey, 2013

The Japanese wives are actually “most powerful” at home compared to wives in other cultures.  The majority of the Japanese women are solely responsible for making domestic financial decisions. When a man makes a big purchase, he would have to ask for permission from his wife in most households.  The average Japanese husbands receive weekly or monthly “allowances.” The wife may or may not work. It doesn’t matter how much money she makes. It’s probably because most Japanese men know deep in their hearts that the Japanese women tend to be more “financially savvy” and they will end up saving more money that way. If the husband is not happy with the amount of his allowances, he can negotiate with his wife. However, it is usually met with a comment from his wife such as “YOU need to make more money in order to do that.”


Survey conducted by a major Japanese insurance company, Sompo Japan

It’s just how the average Japanese homes are run.  In some cases when the wife is not so financially savvy,  the husband may be in charge of the finances at home. This translates into the figure of 20% of the Japanese husbands said they are responsible for managing the domestic finances in the survey.

It is noted in a Japanese book called “Daughters of Samurai” (Bushi no Musume) by Chikuma Bunko Publishing that the wives of Samurais were responsible for managing the finances at home in Edo era (1603 – 1868) .  The author was shocked to learn that the American wives on the other hand had to ask permission from their husbands to spend money because men controlled the domestic finances before the women gained equal rights in America.


Amaterasu, a female divine figure in Japan

I don’t have a clear answer to why this unique phenomena is happening in Japan.  One reason I can think of is the underlining matriarchal culture of the “prehistoric” Jyomon era is still deeply embedded in the Japanese culture. To this day, the word “Kakaadenka” which literally means “under the rule of Mother” is used to describe when the wife is the dominating force at home.

In the oldest Japanese historical publication called “Kojiki (Furukotofumi)” which was edited by Oono Yasumaro in AD 712, the evidence of the underlining matriarchal society in Japan is clearly stated. According to Kojiki, one of the most prominent divine ancestral figures is Amaterasu omi kami (Amateru).  She is seen as the political leader and the goddess of the sun.  Amaterasu is considered one of the most famous “founding mothers” of Japan and the Emperors of Japan are considered to be the direct descendant of Amaterasu.

The word “kami” in Japanese language means “god” or “divinity” but it also means “leader” at the same time. The government itself in the feudal era was called “okami” and the local leaders were called by a name which combined the name of the area and “kami” as in “Tosa no kami” which meant “the leader of Tosa.”  The word “kami” is still used to mean “leader” or “owner” in Japanese language.  The female proprietors of traditional Japanese restaurants and inns are also called “okami.” At Japanese households, the wife is sometimes called by their husbands “kami-san.”

In Japanese culture, women have been playing leadership roles for millennia. It must have worked out well for the people. Otherwise, this tradition would not have survived so long.

A sign of the ancient civilization in Japan: 9000 years old Lacquer Accessories

The Oldest Lacquer in the World Found in Japan

In the recent years, the new archaeological findings uncovered the fact the Japanese lacquer art had much older history than previously believed. It used to be believed by many that Japan did not have much sophisticated “culture” and most of the advanced technologies had come from China in Yayoi era around (BC 300 t0 AD300).

However, the Japanese lacquer art turned out to be as old as the Japanese language itself. The word lacquer in Japanese language is “Urushi.” It is said that the origin of this word is related to  “uruwashi” (beautiful) and “uruoshi” (to make rich, to saturate) .

Six lacquer accessories found in the ancient archaeological site called “Kakinoshima Iseki” in Minamikayabe-cho in Hakodate City, Hokkaido, Japan turned out to be approximately 9000 years old based on the radiocarbon dating.

Moreover, a branch of the Japanese poison oak (Urushi)  found at the site named “Torihama Kaizuka” in Fukui Prefecture, Japan turned out to be approximately 12600 years old which is the oldest in the world. This plant was also confirmed to be endemic to Japan. According to a NPO called Reijunkan in Japan, it takes at least 10 years of rigorous care to be able to harvest lacquer from the Japanese poison oak trees.  This suggests that the ancient Japanese people were already growing the poison oak trees for the next generation to use.

Ancient Japanese Women Were Respected

The comb found in Torihama Kaizuka which shown on the cover of the book below. Numerous combs painted with red or black lacquer were found from the archaeological sites in Japan. The fact that the ancient Japanese people were making “fashion accessories” which are considered non-essential items to one’s survival show that these people were abundant enough to do so.  It also means that the owners of these combs who were probably females were respected and well taken care of. It is also possible that women themselves made these items. At any rate, it is clear that the society allowed women to have fashion items. This is a clear sign of a civilization.

The Japanese lacquer art is still the integral part of the Japanese culture. Essential Japanese utensils such as chopsticks and soup bowls are made using traditional technique. Different techniques are passed down to different areas in Japan with each one having unique characteristics.  In Fukui Prefecture where the 12600 year old lacquer art pieces were discovered,  the type of lacquer art called “Wakasa-nuri” is still being made and it is loved by people all over Japan.