When Masako was a child growing up in close connection with her parents and grandparents, her grandmother used to say, “Women must obey their husbands.” This continued to be thought natural in Japan until after post-war changes began to occur, long after there was more equality in America.
“If a husband says ‘Do this,’ his wife must say ‘Yes’ always and at once.” Even if matters were going badly, Masako was told, “Don’t talk about family shame to others.” In all cases, the honor of the household should be protected.
Masako has told me she used to see her mother crying because of treatment by Masako’s father and grandmother. Her mother was told, “If you have many troubles, it is because you don’t serve your husband enough. Love more! Don’t complain!”
As a result Masako wanted to become a woman who could live her own life. She studied hard and became a high school teacher. When she was married, she thought she would be OK because she and her husband were both teachers and she thought he was considerate.
However, she found out that her thinking was mistaken in many points because he didn’t help with anything in the house. Instead, she said, he was a man like a feudal lord in the pre-modern Edo period! Masako was tired with her own work, so she wanted him to do things that he could do for himself. However, her conscience still accused her, for she thought, “Should I do everything for him because I am a woman?”
After their son was born, Masako resigned from her work as a teacher. Her husband was very busy, so she had to take care of their son by herself. She felt irritable even though she wanted to change her thinking. Raising a son is very difficult, and she felt this especially in her case as her family has opposed her Christian faith.
In those days Masako asked herself, “Which way should I go, as a slave or a wicked woman? If I obey my husband’s will, my heart will die. If I obey my own will, I will be a bad wife and mother.”
At this time she had not yet encountered Jesus Christ, so this was a very serious dilemma without any clear escape route.
Gradually Masako became sick and unable to sleep. She reports that in her house she used to look at a window and hear bad voices in her heart: “Why don’t you hang by your neck in the porch?” “I’m sure I won’t be a good wife and mother. I should die for everyone in my family.” “There are many alternative persons to you in this world! No one needs you.” “Your son cries every night because he hates you.” “You have no friend because you are not charming.” “If you are dead, perhaps some better woman will be a good mother for your son. It's OK.”
Masako confesses that she has no idea why she could live with those voices. There is a high suicide rate in Japan among people who feel overwhelmed with the burdens of cultural expectations. She wanted to die, but she didn’t. She concludes: “God helped me, I think.”
Masako continues to find it difficult to judge correctly which voice is God's in this world, but her growing faith in Jesus Christ is helping her to develop in positive directions.
Perhaps especially in Japan there are many different beliefs affecting people’s lives. Some beliefs are traditional, some come from new religious groups, and some are secular. Even now, Masako says, she sometimes hears bad voices when tired, but going to church on Sunday, reading the Bible and Christian books, and talking with Christian friends led her to the right way. She has become able to declare that “God's voice is good, so I don’t think that I am a slave.”
My friend thanks God for making her God’s child. She points out that Jesus teaches us: “Your sin has been forgiven. God loves you. Live and strengthen other people. You are my friend. Human beings cannot live only by bread, but rather by the words of God.” Now she is filled with the hope that she will be with God always. She knows that without God's words she cannot really live.
Masako points out that in Japan there are many people who are interested in good cars, big houses, high-level education and good health, but most of them do not seem to be really interested in other people. She says that when she gets together with other wives, they tend to avoid personal subjects. They are busy. They don’t know each other, much less share each other’s suffering! She hopes that many Japanese will truly believe in Jesus.
As always, your prayers and designated gifts help to make it possible for me to live in Japan as one of the mission co-workers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), teaching about English and Christianity at Kwassui Women’s University, and I want to thank you for your support of Christian mission throughout God’s world.
Please pray that our students will be able to find worthwhile employment and take with them what they have learned about the love of God for all persons. In addition, please remember the need for personal Christian witness in lonely Japan, and continue to join together as members of the body of Christ to support the work of witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through your prayers and gifts.
Barbara Jo Easton serves as a professor of English and Christianity courses in the English Department of Kwassui Women’s College in Nagasaki, Japan. Barbara's appointment is sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the United Church of Christ in Japan, known as the Kyodan, which was formed in 1941 as a result of the merger of 30 Protestant churches.