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
The notion of "poison women," or dokufu, was a prevalent topic among common readers during the early Meiji period. While the term itself comes from mid- to late-Edo period dramatic writing particularly the Kabuki theater in this context it refers to a group of women convicted in the first decades of Meiji of vicious crimes ranging from fraud and extortion to murder. Names such as Harada O-Kinu, Takahashi O-Den, "Torioi" O-Matsu, and Hanai O-Ume came to be widely known and associated with women of low birth whose chief characteristics were their unbridled sexuality, violent tempers, and greed. But the notoriety of the "poison women" was tempered by the fascination in which they were held by the public at large. This fascination was enhanced by a series of sensational stories that appeared in the popular press of the time. These stories were a mixture of factual reportage and fictional embellishment, and most (but not all) portrayed their criminal heroines in a negative light. At the same time, their depiction of the "poison women" as sexually promiscuous enhanced the attraction such women held for their male readershipin particular, making these stories instant bestsellers once they were converted to book form.
This panel will examine several critical aspects of the early Meiji female criminals and the stories told about them. Marie Söderberg discusses aspects of the early Meiji newspaper industry, and provides a general overview of the medium in which these stories were presented. Ulla Frisk examines the historical basis of the "poison women," delineating, where possible, fact from fiction. Eiko Norlander looks at the aesthetic, literary angle of the stories, particularly their structural similarity to Kabuki. Matthew Strecher wraps things up with a discussion of structure and genre, discussing the "poison woman" stories as hybrid fact/fiction, an early form of literary journalism, and an important forerunner to the serialized newspaper novel.
1) Marie Söderberg, Stockholm School of Economics. "A Comparison of Japanese and Swedish Newspapers at the End of the 19th Century"
The development of newspapers in Japan and Sweden follows
radically different paths. The newspapers fulfilled quite different
roles in the two countries and were to an extensive degree reflecting
the societies in which they were produced. This paper will start
by giving an overview of the development of the newspaper industry
in Japan and in Sweden. A comparison will be made between the
type of newspapers that were produced as well as to the content
that they had.
2) Matthew C. Strecher, Toyo University. "Poison Women, Tsuzukimono, and the Development of the Meiji Newspaper Novel"
Much has been written in Japan in recent years about the "poison women" of the early Meiji period women who gained notoriety for crimes ranging from fraud and extortion to outright murder. Such cases were presented vigorously by early journalists in the popular press of the time, mostly (but not exclusively) in the "small newspapers" (koshimbun) aimed at a lower-class readership. These stories took the short-lived form of the tsuzukimono, serialized pieces that combined the diverse elements of factual news reportage, gesaku fiction, and wildly imaginative embellishment in which the female criminal/heroines were portrayed in particularly lurid terms. Generally speaking, such women were depicted as suffering from overactive sexual drives, mental instability, mild to severe psychoses, and even hereditary flaws. Most, though not all, were unsympathetically presented. This paper examines the structure of the tsuzukimono as hybrid fiction, and the impact they had on later writing, including journalism (both orthodox and "literary"), the serialized newspaper novel, and literary art in general.
3) Eiko Nordlander, Stockholm University. "On the Strolling Shamisen Player Omatsu's Adventures Kabuki Plays and the Novel"
It is said that when Torioi Omatsu kaijo shinwa (The
strolling shamisen player Omatsu's adventures) by Kubota Hikosaku
was published in book form in 1878 it became a bestseller, so
much so that the bookbinder could not keep up with demand which
caused trouble between the publisher and the bookstores. Why
was Torioi Omatsu kaijo shinwa so popular? There were
historical and social reasons which scholars have discussed.
However, I should like to look at the work as one present-day
reader struck by Kubota's dramatic touch. When reading Kaijo
shinwa one sometimes feel as if one was watching a kabuki
play. It seems that Kubota clearly created a kabuki play in the
form of a novel, consciously or unconsciously. Of course, there
are parts of the novel which are not like kabuki plays. But Kubota
actually began working as a playwright in 1863 for the family
of Onoe Kikugoro which was important in the kabuki world. He
was considered clumsy at writing dramatic scenes and building
up to a climax in his plays. Nevertheless his interest made him
start a kabuki theatre in 1889. During the Edo period, many Noh
and ningyo joruri (doll theatre) plays were made into
kabuki plays, so it is not odd that the kabuki style was tried
in the form of a novel (which first was serialized in Kanayomi
Shinbun). There was no kabuki play dealing with the Omatsu
4) Ulla Frisk, Stockholm University. "The Female Character in dokufu Novels in the Early Meiji Period"
I will discuss the historical background to the characteristics
of the "poison woman"or dokufu in the popular
novels Takahashi Oden yasha monogatari by Kanagaki Robun
(1829-1894) and Torioi Omatsu kaijo shinwa by Kubota Hikosaku
(1846-1898). These novels were first published as serial stories
in newspapers in the late 1870s, and belong to the genre called
gesaku. The plots are a mixture of fact and fiction, and
were written at a time of political uproar which culminated in
1877, when Saigo Takamori with a rebel force in Satsuma challenged
the Tokyo regime. The portrait of the street singer Omatsu, who
was brought up by her parents in the Umegahara district in Tokyo,
made her the most famous heroine among the so-called dokufu.
Omatsu´s family belonged to the cast of hinin (non-humans),
but due to her beauty, seductiveness and ambition, she had relations
with people from various social classes.