Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Excursions in Identity

Excursions in Identity: Travel and the Intersection of Place, Gender, and Status in Edo Japan

Laura Nenzi
Copyright Date: 2008
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Excursions in Identity
    Book Description:

    In the Edo period (1600–1868), status- and gender-based expectations largely defined a person’s place and identity in society. The wayfarers of the time, however, discovered that travel provided the opportunity to escape from the confines of the everyday. Cultured travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries wrote travel memoirs to celebrate their profession as belle-lettrists. For women in particular the open road and the blank page of the diary offered a precious opportunity to create personal hierarchies defined less by gender and more by culture and refinement. After the mid-eighteenth century—which saw the popularization of culture and the rise of commercial printing—textbooks, guides, comical fiction, and woodblock prints allowed not a few commoners to acquaint themselves with the historical, lyrical, or artistic pedigree of Japan’s famous sites. By identifying themselves with famous literary and historical icons of the past, some among these erudite commoners saw an opportunity to rewrite their lives and re-create their identities in the pages of their travel diaries. The chapters in Part One, “Re-creating Spaces,” introduce the notion that the spaces of travel were malleable, accommodating reconceptualization across interpretive frames. Laura Nenzi shows that, far from being static backgrounds, these travelscapes proliferated in a myriad of loci where one person’s center was another’s periphery. In Part Two, “Re-creating Identities,” we see how, in the course of the Edo period, educated persons used travel to, or through, revered lyrical sites to assert and enhance their roles and identities. Finally, in Part Three, “Purchasing Re-creation,” Nenzi looks at the intersection between recreational travel and the rising commercial economy, which allowed visitors to appropriate landscapes through new means: monetary transactions, acquisition of tangible icons, or other forms of physical interaction.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6243-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Everything Flows
    (pp. 1-10)

    THE EDO PERIOD (1600–1868) was the age of movement par excellence. Motion characterized and imbued its every aspect, from the gourd of the floating world slowly descending along the river to the fluid creations of linked-verse poets, from the dynamism of an expanding society to the innovative spatial logic of its made-for-strolling gardens.¹ It was only normal, and inevitable, that in a place and time where movement reigned supreme travel would become an activity through which life itself could be defined: “Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by,” sang poet and traveler...


    • CHAPTER 1 Maps, Movements, and the Malleable Spaces of Edo Japan
      (pp. 13-44)

      RECREATIONAL TRAVEL in the Edo period opened the door to an extra-ordinary space where the dogmas and obstacles of everyday life could be questioned and bypassed. This was made possible first and foremost by the very character of the landscapes across which travel occurred. The Tokugawa’s conceptual organization of the territory never completely succeeded in permeating—much less in stifling—travel practices, largely because the logic of officialdom was never able to overcome the variety of individual spatial constructions that coexisted with it and that generated multiple, malleable spaces of travel.¹ An array of different parameters, including considerations based on...

    • CHAPTER 2 At the Intersection of Travel and Gender
      (pp. 45-68)

      GENDER, ALONG WITH status, was one of the coordinates that defined a person’s place in Edo society. It was also one of the parameters that determined one’s ability to be mobile and to access specific spaces. Chapter 1 has shown how, across interpretive frames, standards evolved, locations rose to prominence, and the centers of today were not immune from becoming the peripheries of tomorrow. The continuous remapping of space and redrawing of boundaries, I suggested, made landscapes into multilayered entities, so much so that the same site could simultaneously embody a political statement, a cosmic diagram, and a cultural paradigm....


    • CHAPTER 3 Women on the Road: Identities in Motion
      (pp. 71-91)

      THE TENSION between a legislation that wanted women immobile and common practices that increasingly suggested otherwise created gray areas within which women of all social levels became able to negotiate the arguments of official discourse that prevented them from taking to the road. Along the roads and across the travelscapes of Edo Japan travelers attained a momentary respite from the ordinary;¹ women in particular experienced a brief yet forceful sense of autonomy, and even liberation, as they temporarily “manipulated the dominant tradition to free themselves.”²

      This section concerns itself with the two-tiered process that, out of “recreated spaces,” generated the...

    • CHAPTER 4 Palimpsests: The Open Road and the Blank Page
      (pp. 92-118)

      ON THE ROADS of Edo period Japan travel simultaneously offered a chance for recreation, in the leisurely connotation of the term, and for re-creation (that is, the regeneration or reinvention of one’s persona). The open road and the blank page of the memoir aided travelers in the art of reinventing themselves, for both areas opened in endless directions, both required personal choices, and both inspired the proliferation of individual constructions and hierarchies. The combination of a detachment from the everyday (the journey) and a creative cultural act (the composition of a diary) offered the possibility of modifying roles and identities...


    • CHAPTER 5 Print Matters: Popularizing Past and Present
      (pp. 121-140)

      HAD THE demanding wife of Nakagawa Hisamori lived in the second half of the Edo period, her request for a copy ofThe Tale of Genjiin the remote mountain hamlet on the way to Ikaho might have prompted a positive reply. By then, finding a provincial innkeeper familiar with Murasaki’s novel would not have been as hard a task as it apparently was in the seventeenth century. Through the diffusion of printed culture, in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the art of recovering a site’s past, hitherto largely exclusive to literati, aristocrats, and samurai, became commercialized...

    • CHAPTER 6 Icons of Escapism
      (pp. 141-164)

      FOR THE EDUCATED, writing and quoting provided a way to interpret the landscape through erudition. At the same time, the economic framework within which travel occurred enticed travelers from all social standings to appropriate a site not solely through ephemeral visions of the past but also through the material acquisition of icons. As the Edo period evolved into an age when money mattered more than pedigree, travel offered many a chance for re-creation by means of tangible amenities. The shift toward a more commodified engagement with the landscape was sustained not only by the authors of published materials but also...

    • CHAPTER 7 Bodies, Brothels, and Baths: Travel and Physical Re-creation
      (pp. 165-185)

      THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS have all hinted at the manifold ways in which the body could become a “location of practice and change.”¹ The authorities saw in physical attributes, from the shaved heads of nuns or the forelocks of young boys to the wombs of adult women(onna),powerful indicators of a person’s place, function, and value. The body and its manifold physiological manifestations were also central to religious discourse. As discussed in Chapter 2, the body as a source of pollution mediated a person’s ability to access certain Shinto and Buddhist spaces. With rare exceptions, Buddhism traditionally interpreted physicality as...

  8. Conclusion: Dreaming of Walking near Fuji
    (pp. 186-190)

    IN THE COURSE of the Edo period spaces were continuously appropriated, contested, redefined, and consumed through maps and interpretive frames, through cultural exploits and the sanctity of the written word, through cash transactions and physical intercourse. The tug-of-war between sites of power to lay claim to specific areas of competence and to control and interpret spaces created flexible terrains on which individual interpretations collided and hierarchies were continuously rearranged. Consequently, the power relationships established with and within space also evolved and multiplied, as the landscape became a projection of the travelers’ ambitions. Movements through malleable spaces thus became instruments of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 191-230)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-248)
  11. Index
    (pp. 249-260)