Gender in pre-modern Japan

Authored by: Rajyashree Pandey

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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This chapter offers new perspectives for reading the categories “body,” “gender,” “woman,” and “agency” in medieval Japanese texts by highlighting the cultural and historical variability of these concepts. It argues that the mind/body debates, which were at the heart of the Western philosophical tradition, found no counterpart in the East Asian religious traditions and that the body was defined not as pure materiality but as a psychosomatic process, integrally connected to the mind. Gender difference was central to the hierarchical order of the world of pre-modern Japan, and women within it were without question positioned as inferior to men. However, difference was constituted not through “man” and “woman” understood as fixed and stable biological categories, defined through their bodies. Rather gender was produced through the performative aspects of the body. The chapter argues that modern conceptions of agency are anthropocentric and humanist in that they presuppose the supremacy of Man, who replaces the gods as the maker of meaning in the world. It claims that this understanding of agency had no meaning in the medieval world of Japan in which gods, buddhas, beasts, dreams, and material objects worked together with humans as active agents in a shared cosmological and worldly order.

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