Divorce in 19th-century Japan

Just saw “The Hidden Blade,” a Japanese movie in which an unmarried samurai, c. 1860 or so, rescues his childhood sweetheart from her abusive and slave-driving husband. The woman lives with the samurai as his maid and assistant for at several months, maybe even a year or so, but there’s no sex and they don’t hold themselves out as husband and wife. There was some reference to her being of a different caste, but no explanation of that. When asked by her sister if she’ll marry again, the woman says no, that she’s learned from her mistake. Later, she and the samurai (after he’s resigned as a samurai and renounced that social station) decide to marry. No mention of any kind of divorce proceedings, either informally or through a court or some public official’s action.

Was divorce an option in Japan at that time? Was it available for women of some social classes but not others? Could the equivalent of a divorce be secured simply by living apart from your spouse? If you got a divorce, would that in and of itself result in a loss of face or social status?

I don’t know about the 19th century, but in modern Japan getting a divorce can be as simple as filling out a form at the registry office.

Interesting reading about The Meiji Civil Code, which tells you a lot. Check out the SITE, which says the following (and more):

Probably an obvious point, but just to avoid confusion, that should read 1898 (the typo is on the original website).

Here’s some selected paragraphs from Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945 (Gail Bernstein, ed.) that discuss divorce in Tokugawa Japan.

Huh. I assumed that samurai women were free to divorce if they chose. That’s what I get for reading Clavell, I guess! :wink: