- Gender Studies und Women’s History in Japan
- International Feminist Theory
- Social Movements
Women’s History in Japan
Since the 1980s publication of material and research in feminist historiography increased drastically. According to the bibliography Nihon joseishi kenkyū bunken mokuroku about three thousand publications dealing with women’s history appeared between 1982 and 1987. In Western languages there has – apart from two essays – been no systematic study giving a detailed overview on the evolution of women’s history in Japan. In my research I first of all intend to outline and present the academic and non-academic developments in this field.
Self-constitution through gender and culture
In feminist historiography we generally find the tendency to historically either reconstruct or deconstruct an assumed identity of “woman”. In the case of women’s history in Japan (as in other non-Western countries), we can find the cultural component in the form of the historical reconstruction or deconstruction of the “Japanese woman” or of a specifically Japanese women’s history. I will examine the implicit and explicit scientific positions of the pioneers in women’s history, especially of the historian Takamure Itsue (1894-1964), as well as the theoretical discussions within the discipline since the 1970s under the perspective of cultural and gendered self-constitution and/or at times self-assertion.
Gender and Nation in War-time Japan
With regard to concepts of nation and nationalism, feminist historiography and theory are no longer limited to issues of women’s exclusion from conceptual and factual domains of power and decision-making. Rather, the focus has shifted to women’s ambivalent integration into social, cultural and political systems. In his widely received study on “imagined communities,” Anderson has referred to the category of gender only with regard to the fraternization of brothers. Meanwhile, feminist scholarship has shown that the discursive imagination and reproduction of a national order and an explicitly binary gender system developed simultaneously and were (are) crucial for their reciprocal representations.
Andrea Germer is currently conducting research within the DIJ project “Assertions of Cultural Uniqueness in Asia” on questions of gender and nation in war-time Japan. Two issues form the center of her analysis. Firstly, an investigation into the collaboration of several feminists of pre-war Japan, who followed the regime in its imperialist strategies and played an active ideological role therein. The motive for these maternalist as well as egalitarian feminists, some of whom were appealing to and some of whom were critical of the state in pre-war times, seems to have ultimately been the expectation of being granted full citizenship, i.e., their share in social and political power, within the nation-state. Preliminary results of this issue have been presented at the Third Symposium “Assertions of Cultural Uniqueness in Asia” (“Asiatische Selbstbehauptungsdiskurse”) in Erlangen, Germany, in December 2002 (cf. Newsletter 18).
Secondly, Germer is investigating the particular ways of women’s and men’s integration into the national project in the context of international competition and friction, focusing on the kinds of gendered models for identification offered to them. The magazine Nippon fujin (“The Japanese Woman,” 1942–1945), the official organ of war-time Japan’s streamlined women’s organization Dai Nippon Fujinkai, serves as primary material for the analysis of coherence and ambivalence of such models of identification offered on part of the nation-state. As of yet, in Japanese as well as in international scholarship, remarkably little attention has been given to this historical source material, abundant in text and imagery. At first sight of the magazine, it becomes apparent that within the certainly male-dominated process of nation building, women and gendered representations in general form an essential element in structuring the inside as well as in demarcating the outside in nationalist discourse. A detailed analysis of this source shall contribute to the clarification of discursive relationships with regard to gender, nation, and war.