Rienjo (a letter of divorce) (離縁状)
Rienjo is a document for confirming a divorce that was issued by a husband to his wife (or his wife's father or brother) during the Edo period.
In the law Kujikata-osadamegaki (the law of Edo bakufu), the letter was called Ribetsujo. It was also called Sarijo or Itomajo.
Since there was a custom to write the body of the letter in three and a half lines, the letter was commonly called Mikudarihan (three lines and a half.)
Unlike the report of divorce in the modern Japan, which is a confirmation document submitted to the government under joint signature of the couple, Rienjo was a document to confirm a divorce, which was a unilateral action by the husband.
It is pointed out that a lot of Rienjo are remaining in the silkworm-raising districts, because a source of income for wife was secured after the divorce in the regions where the people were mainly engaged in sericulture, silk reeling, and textile manufacture, all of which were supported by female labor.
Divorce system in the Edo period
Since only the husband had the authority to divorce in those days, it was only the husband who wrote Rienjo. The divorce came through when the husband issued Rienjo to his wife or his wife's father or brother. But in fact, it was considered to be a disgrace to the husband if he did not write Rienjo when his wife wanted him to, or even when the husband wrote Rienjo, it was kept by relatives or their Nakodo (matchmaker) in the most cases. As such, it is considered that it was not such a system to allow the husband to easily and arbitrarily divorce his wife.
According to the stipulations of Kujikata-osadamegaki, a woman who remarried before receiving Rienjo from her present husband was shaved her head and returned to her parents' house, and a man who remarried before issuing Rienjo to his present wife was convicted dismissal from his place of residence, i.e., expelled.
As there was some illiterate population in those days, those who did not know their letters were allowed to draw three and a half lines to substitute the body of the letter.
Rienjo was commonly called Mikudarihan, meaning three lines and a half. Since there was a custom to write the body of the letter in three and a half lines, it was commonly called like that. But not all Rienjo were necessarily written in three and a half lines in fact.
There are several versions for the body of the letter, but mostly the description about the divorce comes in the first part and the description about permission to remarriage comes in the latter part (according to Shigeto HOZUMI, Professor of Tokyo Imperial University.)
縁 然ル上者其元儀 何方縁組
Reading in Japanese: Ribetsu issatsu no koto
Hitotsu, konnpan sohokatteai wo motte rien ni oyobi, shikaruueha sonomotogi, izukata ni engumiitashisoro tomo, watakushikata ni futagokoronaku, koreniyori ribetsu issatsu kudan no gotoshi.
I November 24
General Meaning: Letter of Divorce
On this occasion, by mutual agreement, we will divorce. Therefore, whomever you will remarry, I will not object to that and will not change my mind about this divorce. Here, I submit this document as the Letter of Divorce.
the year of Boar, November 24
The letters of divorce kept by Mantoku-ji Temple (Ota City [former Ojima-machi town] Gunma Prefecture), which was a divorce temple, are called the Mantoku-ji Letter of Divorce, which are written in a unique style containing Buddhist terminology. The divorce temple was a convent, which was a safehouse for women seeking a divorce in those days when women had no right to obtain a divorce from their husbands; once a wife fled into there, she can obtain a divorce from her husband. Tokei-ji Temple in Kamakura City was also famous as a divorce temple.
弘化四年 国治郎 爪印
Reading in Japanese: Ribetsu issatsu no koto. Hitotsu, shinko no shukuen, senpaku no koto. watakushi arazu. gojitsu tahe kasuto iedomo, ichigon iran korenaku. Yotte kudan no gotoshi.
Koka 4, August
General Meaning: Letter of Divorce
Our Karmic Ties that seemed to have been deep and thick has been shallow and thin in fact. Both of us are not to be blamed for that. Whomever you will remarry, I will not object to that and will not retract my word.
Fourth year of Koka era, August
Kunijiro, tsumein (tsumein is the impression of the thumbnail edge)
To Sister of Tsunegoro
About the origin of the name 'three lines and a half,' there are opinions that 'three and a half' is a half of 'seven' of the document title 'seven grounds for husbandly repudiation of the wife,' which was one-sidedly issued by the husband in repudiating his wife in uxorilocal marriage as defined in Ritsuryo code during the Nara period, or that 'three and a half' is a half of 'seven,' which is the number of lines customarily written in the permission of marriage issued by the wife's parents.