Women and physical culture in Japanese history

Authored by: Keiko Ikeda

The Routledge Companion to Gender and Japanese Culture

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138895201
eBook ISBN: 9781315179582
Adobe ISBN:


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The British model influenced late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japanese women’s school gymnastics and games. In addition, the concept of ryōsai kenbo, the ideal of the Japanese women, rooted in the same period, is exemplary of the ethos of a gender-biased space, although the concept was an invented tradition. Feminine organized games derived from social activities in the suburbs and later influenced extracurricular activities at schools for middle-class girls in England. Another Western influence was seen in school physical education where callisthenics, Swedish exercises, and musical gymnastics were taught with physical progress, checked through regular physical examinations by a qualified doctor who prescribed treatment by exercise to cure postural defects. These activities were transferred to Japan by leading Japanese educationalists who studied abroad. This applies to the so-called “separation model on gender issues” proposed by a leading Japanese sociologist, Ueno Chizuko. Ueno explains that the “separation model” is one strategy that utilized aspects of femininity such as motherhood and maternity to advance the social position of women. This explains the reason such an ideal has been historically sustained in the Japanese society for more than one century.

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