Gender and ethnicity in urban Japan

Authored by: Jamie Coates

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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In this chapter, I trace how ethno-racialized understandings of what it means to be Japanese have intersected with gender since the nineteenth century onwards. First, I show how early twentieth-century figurations of Japan attempted to assert the nation-state and its associated ethno-racialized identity as robust and masculine. I then continue this analysis to argue that Japaneseness, at a national and normative level, continues to rely on hegemonic masculine tropes in many ways. Following Sharalyn Orbaugh’s observation that masculinity is “epistemically central” to nation-state figurations of ethnicity, I go on to discuss the consequences of the intersection of ethnicity, race, and gender for those who are peripheral to these dominant discourses in Japan. Normative discourses often posit Japanese women as complicit with, or at least subject to, hegemonic masculine ideals of ethnicity. Similarly, the gendering of non-Japanese people, such as Koreans, Chinese, and Filipinos, as well as marginalised Japanese groups such as Okinawans and Ainu, are often subject to hegemonic masculine discourses. Yet it is important to note the history of feminist activism and gender-queer critique in Japan, as well as the many tactics and strategies of those who engage in everyday resistance, from migrants to the marginalized.

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