Divorce Divorce

In the Heian period, "Divorce" was less formal. Since husbands rarely lived with their wives, ceasing the visits constituted a divorce.

During the late Edo period, the following concepts were born: a woman should obey her father until marriage, then her husband and his family and finally, in her old age, her sons. She should be humble, frugal and hardworking. And she should remember that she could be divorced for such transgressions as disobedience, barrenness, jealousy, ill health or garrulousness.

It was an easy job for a married man to get rid of an unwanted wife. If he only writes a short, divorce letter referred to as Mikudarihan (three-and-a-half-lines notice) to her, he was able to divorce without any reasons at all. The letter was a form one and read like this:"I will divorce you for my personal reasons. You can go anywhere you want and remarry anyone you want". Simply because a married woman was unable to bear a child or in any other reason, she was often forced to accept an unreasonable divorce.

Wives could be divorced for any of the following reasons:
- disobedience.
- lewdness.
- jealousy.
- leprosy.
- talking too much.
- stealing.

Women had no right to obtain a divorce from their unwanted husbands, no matter how cruel, drunken, or sadistic they were. It was the society where predominance of men over women prevailed. The only chance for women to escape was to run off to the Convent. Once inside the Convent, they were protected officially by the authorization of the Shogunate. After staying three years (later, two years) in the Convent, their marriage was annulled and they were able to officially get a divorce. Men were denied access. Those women, once accepted by the Convent, did not need to become nuns. In this context, Tokei-ji played a pivotal role in freeing many harassed wives from their disgusting husbands.

Here, a woman is running into the convent.
Though she was caught by her husband before entering the gate, It is said that her run-in was accepted if her sandals were already in!

Woman running into the convent


A woman was not allowed to take her children with her. Under the restrictive Tokugawa Shogunate, adultery committed by a wife was punishable by death, while a husband might keep women as concubines in his own home and have other sexual affairs without restrictions. The constant advice to young girls to grow up and to be obedient wives might be seen as teaching future wives a necessary survival skill for the time they entered a world that denied them any essential marriage rights. The first point to bear in mind is that marriage in Tokugawa Japan, at any level of society, was not primarily a union of two individuals. Instead, it was first and foremost a union of two families and only secondarily of individuals. Therefore, it would have been rare for any man, regardless of social status, to have had the power to make an arbitrary individual decision about a matter like divorce. This is not to say that divorce was necessarily a terribly weighty matter. Among most commoners, divorce was common in Tokugawa times. Still, most divorces would be mediated, negotiated, and arranged by the members of the two families involved. Once the separation details had been agreed upon by both parties, then the husband would finalize the agreement by writing the three and a half line document.

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