Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 9:
Frontiers and Margins of Sexuality in Postwar Japanese Fiction
Organizer / Chair: Marilyn Bolles, Montana State University-Bozeman


In this panel participants will discuss a variety of explorations into subjectivity and sexuality by Japanese women writers. By contemplating institutional and contested gender roles in their fiction, these writers provoke a reassessment of the family, sexual identity, and the body.

Marilyn Bolles will discuss expectations for masculine sexual prowess and career ambition with the sexuality of older women in Enchi Fumiko's Yûkon (1970). Through intertextual layering with The Tale of Genji (ca 1005), Enchi's characters reevaluate culturally defined family roles, and with linguistic and fantasy elements, express potentially transgressive desires in public. Linda Flores will show that the yamanba or mountain witch protagonist of Oba Minako's fiction exists outside the boundaries of the ordinary as man-eater, but is also essential to the stability of the social order as loving mother. The yamanba disrupts elements of identity and community as she problematizes normative standards for womanhood. Kazumi Nagaike will analyze Big Toe P's Years of Apprenticeship for the ways in which Matsuura Rieko explores what defines a lesbian and her place in the sexual economy. Nagaike will suggest that lesbian theory offers a subversive space within which prevailing political, cultural, and ideological situations can be deconstructed. Mary Knighton's paper investigates the shôjo figure in works by Kanai Mieko, Kurahashi Yumiko, and Kono Taeko. In contrast to other recent theories, Knighton suggests that these women writers portray a sexualized girl who challenges the idealization of family and the shôjo mystique itself.

1) Marilyn Bolles, Montana State University-Bozeman. "The Masculine Ideal and the 'Older Woman' in Enchi Fumiko's Yûkon"

In the 1970 narrative Yûkon (Wandering spirit), Enchi Fumiko writes of an older female protagonist who contemplates her sexuality, not via the roles of wife or mother but through the desire associated with two men in her life. As her former lover and her son-in-law pursue success through masculine prerequisites of sexual prowess, family duties, and career ambition, the protagonist continually reevaluates her attraction for such definitions of masculinity. Moreover, the family structure dependent on some of these expected masculine duties is potentially undermined by the protagonist's secret affair with her unmarried daughter's lover, and her subsequent attraction for the daughter's husband.

Enchi layers the relational and social dynamics of Yûkon with the "Aoi" chapter of the highly influential Tale of Genji. She focuses on the visual spectacle of the "shining" Prince Genji at the Aoi festival, with his many admirers jostling for a glimpse of him. Genji projects the masculine ideals of sexual and career success for which the men in Yûkon are contemporary comparisons. As with Yûkon, in the "Aoi" chapter these ideals are unstable: Genji's secret affair with his stepmother endangers family and throne, while the social values of Heian court society prevent his achieving the highest imperial rank for himself. Finally, in both narratives the characters express a variant of their potentially transgressive, private desires in public, to articulate models of masculinity and female sexuality that challenge the division between the "norm" and the "deviant."

2) Linda Flores, University of California, Los Angeles / Josai International University. "The Ambiguous Figure of the Yamanba in the Fiction of Ôba Minako"

The yamanba, the mountain witch of Japanese folklore, plays a central role in narratives by Oba Minako including "Yamanba no bisho," ("The Smile of the Mountain Witch") and Rosoku uo" ("Candlefish"). While premised on the archetypal image of the demonic witch, a man-devouring, vengeful crone relegated to the periphery of the social order, Oba's yamanba diverges from the legendary version. She transgresses boundaries, charting a movement from periphery to center, mountains to village, historical folklore to modern fiction. A profoundly ambiguous figure, she is simultaneously a demonic witch and a loving mother.

This paper analyzes the yamanba utilizing Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject. According to Kristeva, the abject perpetually looms on the outskirts of the social order: always outside and yet constantly threatening the integrity of that system. Though always excluded from the center, the abject remains undeniably central to the social order. Coded with ambivalence, the abject disturbs borders, disrupts identities, and disturbs boundaries between bodies. In stories such as "The Smile of the Mountain Witch," the ambiguous figure of the yamanba transgresses the boundaries between mountain and village and brings the yamanba into the space of the dommus. This movement elucidates the relationship between center and periphery and the mechanism of Kristeva's abject. Moreover, through her ambiguous nature, the yamanba interrogates the validity of the dichotomy of the normative roles of wife/mother and demonized womanhood.

3) Kazumi Nagaike, University of British Columbia / Josai International University. "Lesbian Signifier and Signified in Matsuura Rieko's Big Toe P's Years of Apprenticeship"

Matsuura Rieko's "Big Toe P's Years of Apprenticeship" provides various theoretical viewpoints from which to consider questions concerning the position of lesbianism in relation to the phallogocentric world. The story portrays the sexual experiences of its female protagonist, Kazumi, whose big toe is suddenly transformed into a male sexual organ. Through this metaphor, Matsuura suggests ways by which contemporary lesbian critics can develop their diverse critical stances by first defining their discursive position in terms of the ontological question: "Who is a lesbian?" Kazumi literally possesses a "penis," with which she can penetrate other women. However, the fact that Kazumi attempts to detach herself from any reproductive heterosexual implications, thereby rejecting the masculine authority of the Lacanian "phallus," raises the question: How can the concept of lesbianism be analyzed with (and without) some sort of patriarchal penis-phallus correlation? Can we conclude that Kazumi succeeds in defining lesbianism as an essential attribute of women who want to escape institutionalized concepts of the body? Or is lesbianism to be viewed as merely Kazumi's performative choice? In that case, what is the discursive status of such an imagined woman with a "penis" in terms of lesbian discourse? This paper will therefore discuss "Big Toe P's Years of Apprenticeship" as a means to explore lesbian identity, which needs to be theorized as a specific form of sexuality in terms of both its discursive and biological contexts.

4) Mary Knighton, Osaka University. "(Re)Inscribing the Holy Family: The 'Perpetual Girl (eien no shôjo)' in Contemporary Women Writers' Fiction

Recent years have seen a renewed focus on the girl (shôjo) in Japanese literature and popular culture, with critical attention on the discourse of shôjoron. Scholars as varied in disciplinary approach as Otsuka Eiji, Honda Masuko, Yagawa Sumiko, Ueno Chizuko, and John Treat have analyzed, debated, and theorized the significance of the shojo in Japan, until she emerges as something both omnipresent and elusive, full of meaning yet signifying "lack," insatiable in desire but curiously pure from sexual contamination. Taking off from these writers' insights, I argue that their construction of the shojo exists somewhere between her image's commercialization and its aestheticization, between the Holy Family in the shadow of capitalism and the Holy Girl enshrined in a mystified prepubescent and Lolita-esque stage of physical and psychic development. Moreover, I re-examine the girl in works by women writers such as Kanai Mieko, Kono Taeko, and Kurahashi Yumiko, whose shojo participate in the shôjoron imagery yet also self-consciously satirize it. In doing so, these writers' shôjo creations refuse the claustrophobic and convenient containment of what Takahara Eiri calls the "shojo sphere" (shôjo ryoiki); indeed, they imply a girl who defies this Real world to become just as painfully split and subject to the Symbolic as anyone else. Taking up Kanai's early and recent fiction, Kono's story "Bishojo", and Kurahashi's novel Seishojo, this paper explores what we might call the sexualized "New Girl" in her subversion of the Holy Family and of the shôjo mystique itself.


list of panels