Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945

EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY Gail Lee Bernstein
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnmjh
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945
    Book Description:

    In thirteen wide-ranging essays, scholars and students of Asian and women's studies will find a vivid exploration of how female roles and feminine identity have evolved over 350 years, from the Tokugawa era to the end of World War II. Starting from the premise that gender is not a biological given, but is socially constructed and culturally transmitted, the authors describe the forces of change in the construction of female gender and explore the gap between the ideal of womanhood and the reality of Japanese women's lives. Most of all, the contributors speak to the diversity that has characterized women's experience in Japan. This is an imaginative, pioneering work, offering an interdisciplinary approach that will encourage a reconsideration of the paradigms of women's history, hitherto rooted in the Western experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91018-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Gail Lee Bernstein

    Japanese women’s lives, like those of women everywhere and in every time, have been shaped by a multitude of factors. The many forces that have affected their fate include their position within the family (and the nature of the family system itself); their social class standing; the predominant religious and social values of their society; and the prevailing legal, economic, and political institutions. These have changed continuously over the course of Japanese history, altering women’s status and the roles they were expected to play. It makes little sense, therefore, to talk about Japanese women as though they formed a monolithic,...

  5. PART ONE WOMEN AND THE FAMILY:: 1600–1868

    • ONE Women and Changes in the Household Division of Labor
      (pp. 17-41)
      Kathleen S. Uno

      In present-day Japan two domestic activities, motherhoodd an household management, define the core of women’s familial and social obligations. This model of womanhood, enshrined as a cultural ideal, guides the multitudes of urban women, who now greatly outnumber their country cousins.¹ Yet only a century ago, among the farmers who made up roughly 80 percent of the population, peasant mothers in and middling households spent more time at productive than reproductive labor. Although village mothers toiled at domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and child care, they also spent long hours cultivating fields and practicing sidelines such as silk reeling....

    • TWO The Life Cycle of Farm Women in Tokugawa Japan
      (pp. 42-70)
      Anne Walthall

      Peasant women in Tokugawa Japan grew up, married, gave birth, and died in generally obscure circumstances. Little is known of them as individuals, and the emotional content of their lives remains largely unrecorded. The accounts women themselves left molder in family archives, and aggregate data can scarcely provide insights into the nature of their childhood experiences, their relations with their husbands and their husband’s family, and their later years. It is only by piecing together a variety of different sources that we can begin to perceive, in patchwork, a pattern to these women's lives.

      One source is village records, such...

    • THREE The Deaths of Old Women: Folklore and Differential Mortality in Nineteenth-Century Japan
      (pp. 71-87)
      Laurel L. Cornell

      One of the most startling stories in Japanese literature is the folktale “Obasuteyama” (literally, “Old Woman–Abandoning Mountain”).¹ In this legend, a peasant, adhering to local custom, carries his aged mother up the mountain to abandon her to die. As they go along the trail through the wilderness, he notices her breaking off twigs from the surrounding bushes. When he asks her why, she replies: “So you will not get lost on your way home.” Overwhelmed by gratitude and shocked by the magnitude of the offense he was about to commit, the son defies custom, turns around, returns home, and...

    • FOUR The Shingaku Woman: Straight from the Heart
      (pp. 88-107)
      Jennifer Robertson

      One of the most distinctive features of the Shingaku (Heart Learning)¹ movement was its timeliness. Founded in Kyoto in 1729 by Ishida Baigan (1685–1744), a farmer-turned-merchant, this movement had as its overall objective the rectification of a social system destabilized by rapid expansion of the market economy. Although merchants were officially at the bottom of the four-class hierarchy, Baigan argued that they, as the de facto managerial class, performed a function in society homologous to that of the samurai; that is, it was incumbent on both groups to conduct their businesses with honesty and in a spirit of selfless...

    • FIVE Female Bunjin: The Life of Poet-Painter Ema Saikō
      (pp. 108-130)
      Patricia Fister

      Ema Saikō (1787—1861) was one of the finest Chinese-style poets and painters active in nineteenth-century Japan. Many Edo-period Japanese were drawn to Chinese culture as a result of the Tokugawa shogunate’s promotion of Chinese Neo-Confucianism, a philosophy of ethics and government that introduced the Japanese to other facets of Chinese culture, including artistic traditions. Men and women aspiring to becomebunjin(scholars of Chinese arts and letters) established local Chinese language study groups, practiced composing Chinese-style verse (kanshi), and occasionally held exhibitions of Chinese art. By the latter part of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth, literati painting...

    • SIX Women in an All-Male Industry: The Case of Sake Brewer Tatsu’uma Kiyo
      (pp. 131-148)
      Joyce Chapman Lebra

      The brewing of sake (rice wine), Japan’s oldest industry, has traditionally been an all-male occupation. Both the brewmasters and the brewers who prepared the mold, mixed the yeast and rice, and tested the mash were always male, because women were thought to endanger the fermentation, a process that could not begin without invoking the appropriate Shintō deities. “Let a woman enter the brewery,” the proverb goes, “and the sake will sour.” This warning against the polluting nature of females prevailed in all sake breweries during the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, and in prior centuries as well.

      Closer examination, however, reveals...

  6. PART TWO THE MODERN DISCOURSE ON FAMILY, GENDER, AND WORK:: 1868–1945

    • SEVEN The Meiji State’s Policy Toward Women, 1890–1910
      (pp. 151-174)
      Sharon H. Nolte and Sally Ann Hastings

      The exclusion of women from politics has been normative for so much of history that explanation of this phenomenon in any society might well seem superfluous. In an East Asian society such as Japan, Confucianism and the “traditional” submissiveness of women make their political suppression in the early years of Japan’s industrialization seem an obvious continuation of the practices of the previous era. The “naturalness” of women’s political oppression in Japanese society has been so much a part of the folk wisdom on both sides of the Pacific that little attention has been given to the comprehensive policy of the...

    • EIGHT Yosano Akiko and the Taishō Debate over the “New Woman”
      (pp. 175-198)
      Laurel Rasplica Rodd

      In November 1911, a production of Henrik Ibsen’sA Doll’s House, starring the beautiful young actress Matsui Sumako (1886–1919) and directed by Shimamura Hogetsu (1871–1918), opened in Tokyo.¹ Although it was only a university production, the strong performance by Matsui and the explosive message of the play generated considerable attention from the popular press.A Doll’s House, with its suggestion that marriage is not sacrosanct and that man’s authority in the home should not go unchallenged, created an immediate sensation in a society where women had few, if any, rights.

      In his review of the production, playwright Ihara...

    • NINE Middle-Class Working Women During the Interwar Years
      (pp. 199-216)
      Margit Nagy

      Although the Japanese prided themselves on having a unique family system that was the source of enduring national strength and unity, popular press accounts as well as statements by scholars and officials attest to the widespread concern over the apparent instability of the Japanese family in the 1920s. The risen in juvenile delinquency, the increase in the number of family disputes brought before the courts for settlement, and the perception that divorce was becoming more frequent seemed to portend undesirable social trends that already troubled Western industrialized nations.¹

      Against this background of growing concern over the forces of familial disintegration...

    • TEN Activism Among Women in the Taishō Cotton Textile Industry
      (pp. 217-238)
      Barbara Molony

      “Where are the organized women workers?” Alice Kessler-Harris asked in 1975.¹ Her question unleashed an unabating torrent of provocative studies of proletarian womenn in a number of countries, particularly in the United States and Europe.² This deluge of solid research notwith-standing, activist women, to paraphrase Anne Firor Scott, continue to be seen and not seen.³ Pre—World War II Japanese women textile workers suffer the same, if not indeed a more pervasive, invisibility. When they are not generally overlooked, they are pitied as passive victims incapable of acting on their own initiative. When instances of activism are so obvious they...

    • ELEVEN The Modern Girl as Militant
      (pp. 239-266)
      Miriam Silverberg

      The Modern Girl makes only a brief appearance in our histories of pre-war Japan. She is a glittering, decadent, middle-class consumer, who through her clothing, smoking, and drinking, flaunts tradition in urban playgrounds of the late 1920s. Arm in arm with her male equivalent, the Modern Boy (themobo) and fleshed out in the Western flapper’s garb of the roaring twenties, she engages inginbura(Ginza-cruising).¹ Yet by merely equating the Japanese Modern Girl with the flapper we do her a disservice, for the Modern Girl was not on a Western trajectory.² Moreover, during the decade when this female, a...

    • TWELVE Doubling Expectations: Motherhood and Women’s Factory Work Under State Management in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s
      (pp. 267-295)
      Yoshiko Miyake

      Why did the Japanese government resist mobilizing women for war work despite the acute labor shortage that resulted when male workers were drafted during the Pacific War? It was not until August when a scarcity of raw materials and a series of air raids had already interrupted production, that the wartime cabinet decided to implement compulsory conscription of women for the munitions industry. Even then, the conscription ordinance applied only to widows and unmarried women between the ages of twelve and forty and specifically excluded those women “pivotal [konjiku] to a family”¹—that is, women in their procreative years whose...

    • THIRTEEN Women and War: The Japanese Film Image
      (pp. 296-314)
      William B. Hauser

      Although feature films dealing with war, either as conscious wartime propaganda or as postwar efforts at apology or rationalization, have obvious consequences for men, they communicate to and about women as well. War films, as both official and unofficial statements about society at war, include important messages not merely on military service, patriotism, and nationalism, but also on women, the family, and the special roles that women must play to hold a culture together during the turmoil of international conflict.¹ Such messages were found in German films of the Second World War. Joseph Goebbels, minister for popular enlightenment and propaganda,...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 315-322)
    Jane Caplan

    When Gail Bernstein suggested that I write an afterword to this collection to set it in the context of current thought in women’s history, I was intrigued by the idea, if also somewhat daunted by the potential scale of the task. It offered a challenging opportunity to reflect on the current status of women’s history, and it seemed nicely consistent with the selfreflective and critical quality that has marked feminist studies as an academic discipline. I also knew that reading the essays would introduce me to a field of history with which I, as a European historian, was largely unfamiliar,...

  8. Glossary of Japanese Names and Terms
    (pp. 323-324)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 325-328)
  10. Index
    (pp. 329-340)