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Fertility and Pleasure

Fertility and Pleasure: Ritual and Sexual Values in Tokugawa Japan

Copyright Date: 2007
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    Fertility and Pleasure
    Book Description:

    As their ubiquitous presence in Tokugawa artwork and literature suggests, images of bourgeois wives and courtesans took on iconic status as representations of two opposing sets of female values. Their differences, both real and idealized, indicate the full range of female roles and sexual values affirmed by Tokugawa society, with Buddhist celibacy on the one end and the relatively free sexual associations of the urban and rural lower classes on the other. The roles of courtesan and bourgeois housewife were each tied to a set of value-based behaviors, the primary institution to which a woman belonged, and rituals that sought to model a woman’s comportment in her interactions with men and figures of authority. For housewives, it was fertility values, promulgated by lifestyle guides and moral texts, which embraced the ideals of female obedience, loyalty to the husband’s household, and sexual activity aimed at producing an heir. Pleasure values, by contrast, flourished in the prostitution quarters and embraced playful relations and nonreproductive sexual activity designed to increase the bordello’s bottom line. What William Lindsey reveals in this well-researched study is that, although the values that idealized the role of wife and courtesan were highly disparate, the rituals, symbols, and popular practices both engaged in exhibited a degree of similitude and parallelism. Fertility and Pleasure examines the rituals available to young women in the household and pleasure quarters that could be employed to affirm, transcend, or resist these sets of sexual values. In doing so it affords new views of Tokugawa society and Japanese religion. Highly original in its theoretical approach and its juxtaposition of texts, Fertility and Pleasure constitutes an important addition to the fields of Japanese religion and history and the study of gender and sexuality in other societies and cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6250-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. 1-26)

    IN THE 1790s Kitagawa Utamaro (1750–1806) drew a portrait of the courtesan Hanaōgi, smiling as she dreams of her wedding procession and the start of a new life as a wife in a respectable household (fig. I). Employing a technique of visual allusion—a picture within a picture(koma-e)—to point to the unreality of the dream world, Utamaro makes clear that the woman’s hope for a fabulous wedding is really a pipe dream.¹ While it was not unusual for courtesans to marry after their term of service had expired, their husbands were usually simple commoners, or, in some...

    (pp. 27-48)

    IN THE SUMMER of 1808, the granddaughter of Uesugi Yōzan (1746–1822), lord of the Yonezawa domain, married. Thinking that an appropriate farewell gift should employ ancient wisdom to guide her in her new life as a wife, Uesugi decided on an epistle based on a classic Chinese ethical treatise,Precepts for Women.¹ Rooting his letter in the moral themes ofPrecepts,he wrote in contemporary Japanese, penned an evocative title—Young Leaves of a Peach (Momo no wakaba)—and sent it off with his granddaughter when she left for her new home with her husband’s family.² Uesugi’s creation of...

    (pp. 49-96)

    FERTILITY AND PLEASURE models sought to guide female behavior in the marriage household and bordello. For each model, ritual was especially important in the celebratory incorporation of women into a new role and institution. In the fertility model the marriage ceremony ushered a woman into the wifely world; ceremonies marking a woman’s debut as a courtesan and her first meeting with a client placed her in the role of courtesan. Although these rituals of celebration put the values of fertility and pleasure into sharp contrast, they also revealed a similitude of symbols, concepts, and human situations. Wedding ceremonialism was at...

    (pp. 97-136)

    RITES OF MARRIAGE and debut/first meeting shared another characteristic beyond broad ritual patterning: culmination through the same act. Each value model, however, interpreted the sex act with a different understanding of its ideal purpose and the quality of relationship it signified. Along with the personal satisfaction that a wife and her husband may have gained from it, which strengthened their bonds, household sexual activity was also valued for its productive potential, and it signified through the use of her body a woman’s obedience to the need of generational continuity. The quarters valued sex for the profits it secured from clients...

    (pp. 137-175)

    ENTERING INTO THE LIFE of a wife or courtesan also implied an exit from the life of a daughter. Fertility values idealized this exit as properly permanent. Pleasure took a different approach. Since it put forward the concupiscent need for young women, it institutionalized this ideal with a system of retirement that called for a woman’s contract to expire at some point during the twenty-seventh year of her life. For these exits, fertility practiced rites of betrothal and bridal exit from the natal home, whereas pleasure instituted rituals of retirement, either at the age of twenty-seventh year of her life....

    (pp. 176-180)

    HENRIETTA MOORE NOTES that “competing, potentially contradictory discourses on gender and sexuality” mark many societies. Given this multiplicity, she puts forward as an important inquiry of social research the question dealing with how people “take up a position in one discourse” among many.¹ Utamaro’s portrait of a courtesan dreaming of her wedding, which opened this volume, provides an outline of one answer that Tokugawa Japan gave to this question: ritual practice. Ritual mediated a daughter’s entrance into the sociosexual role of either a wife or courtesan. A woman could also employ ritual to exit either role through a variety of...

    (pp. 181-184)
    (pp. 185-186)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-216)
    (pp. 217-230)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 231-234)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-238)