Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Oct. 29, 1959
October 29, 2009 | 2:00 pm
Women of Japan Enjoy Their Liberty
LADIES DAY IN TOKYO (Part Two) -- When General of the Army Douglas MacArthur returned, as he had somehow hurriedly promised to do, Japan got its first taste of democracy.
In the manner of a triumphant but just warrior, he used an iron hand to force the philosophy of freedom on them.
Say what you will about the pompous, rather regal ruler of our Pacific forces during and after our World War II, he was unquestionably the man who finally managed to introduce the West to the East.
And the main beneficiaries of that introduction were the women of Japan.
Over a span of very few years, westernization has brought them out of the dark ages and into the present.
In the only culture of Nippon, a lady lived a life of gentle, uncomplaining subservience to the man in her family.
She walked a respectful few paces behind him when he annually took her out to observe the cherry blossoms. She dined in solitude. And then only after he and his offspring have been fed.
When he came home after a night of carousing, she bowed to the floor in humble greeting.
If he took a geisha girl as his mistress, that was his privilege. There was nothing she could say or do in protest.
And with it all, the women of Old Japan seemed contended enough.
But that was old Japan.
Then MacArthur moved in, and gave them the vote.
After that, they bloomed into lovely but sturdily independent flowers of the Orient.
Although a surprising number of them still haven't adopted western clothes -- it's always a strange sight for tourists in Tokyo's night clubs to see the many women in kimonos and wooden sandals doing the mambo -- and although almost all of them still carry their children strapped to their backs in the old manner, they've shown their emancipation in other ways.
Immediately after suffrage they elected women to the Japanese diet. They walk the streets arm in-arm with their husbands, not behind them. They pack the first rows of seats at political rallies. And they've gone to work in the commerce and industry of their country, previously a shocking thing for a middle-class Japanese girl to do.
It is my considered opinion that today the women run Japan. It's not something they will admit. The etiquette still insists that they keep up a pretense of humility.
But certainly they've had a tremendous effect on the changing manners and morals of their country.
They succeeded in voting out prostitution, a traditionally allowed way of life in Japan.
The nations' major problem for generations has been overpopulation. In the past, the only solution offered by the militaristic rulers was territorial expansion -- a route that led them into the most devastating war in history.
Crime Shows Protested
Today, with women in government, there's a new solution. The birth rate this year is down 14% because of an intensive government-sponsored educational campaign. Shocking as it may be to us, it was primarily the women of Japan who fought for legislation that makes abortion a relatively simple, legal matter, if the reasons are economic, illegitimacy or illness.
It is the women, too, according to English language Japanese newspapers, who have formed militant, vocal bands to protest "the crime and horror shows aimed at juvenile television audiences."
And that has a familiar, westernized ring, if I ever heard one.