by Seimu Yamashita
I researched the relationship between Japan’s marriage scene and race and ethnicity by comparing the cases of Japan and India. The vast majority of marriages in India are arranged marriages, in which usually a family member initiates and determines the marriage partner. However, more than 90 percent of marriages in Japan are love marriages. If we look at the data showing the shift of the percentage of love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan, we see that arranged marriages accounted for nearly 70% of all marriages in Japan in the 1930s. The proportion of love marriages gradually increased (and that of arranged marriage decreased relatively), surpassing arranged marriages in the 1960s.
Japanese-style arranged marriage is called miai. In the process of miai, a profile with a picture, called tsurigaki, has been used as a marriage ad. It functions as a curriculum vitae for marriage. A person who wants to get married gives his/her tsurigaki to a matchmaker. The matchmaker tries to find its partner either from other tsurigaki he or she has or from tsurigaki that other matchmakers have.
In the miai process, there was racial, class, and genetic discrimination. The most common discrimination was against members of the Burakumin. A matchmaker requires candidates to submit a family history to prove that they are not a member of the Burakumin. Many Zainichi Koreans were also discriminated against for being non-pure Japanese. Members of the Ainu, an indigenous people in Hokkaido, were usually avoided as well. As a genetic discrimination, descendants of Hibakusha, those who were exposed to the radiation from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were avoided since there were stories of possibilities of rare diseases. Due to such discriminations, those people could not even have the opportunity for having miai.
There were preferences in ascribed characteristics such as class and family standing in miai. Moreover, in miai, there was a preference for women with a fair complexion, but not as much as India’s case. The existence of a preference for a white skin can be seen from Japanese old proverb: 色の白いは七難隠す, which literally means a fair complexion hides faults. It is basically saying that as long as a woman has a fair skin, she can be forgiven for her faults.
In conclusion, the form of marriage has shifted from arranged marriage to love marriage in Japan. Comparing to the marriage scene in India, Japan’s preference in fair complexion seems to not be as prominent, but still exists.
- National Social Security, Population Problem Research Center. (n.d.) Basic research for trends in births. Retrieved December 23, 2013 from http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/whitepaper/w-2009/21webhonpen/html/i1112000.html
- Hendry, J. (1981). Marriage in changing Japan: community and society. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Ironoshiroiwa shichinan kakusu (A fair complexion hides faults). (n.d.). Old Proverb Dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2014, from http://kotowaza-allguide.com/i/iroshiroishichinankakusu.html
- Uchida, T. (2002, October 26). Research Institute about discrimination in marriage. Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. Retrieved January 3, 2014, from http://blhrri.org/kenkyu/project/kekkon/kekkon_0002.html