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 20
Reconstructing Gender in the Nara Period
Organizer/Chair: Loren D. Waller, Kyoto Prefectural University

The strong presence of female rulers in early Japan, as well as the large number of references to dual-gender chieftain pairs in the pre-Nara period, attests to the status and role of women at the time. However, the specifics of the feminine role, and the dynamics leading to the eventual disappearance of female rulers requires yet further investigation. This panel examines gender roles in Nara Japan. How can gender structures be discerned from the complexities of written texts influenced by layers of oral traditions and Chinese literary influences? Why did female rulers emerge in Japan, and how did this compare with Chinese models? How did the religious and philosophical views of the time influence gender roles? How did later eras perceive the strong position of women in the Nara period? This panel considers questions such as these from linguistic, literary, historical, and religious perspectives.

First, Bentley will set a framework for examining gender in Nara texts. An understanding of how gender is represented linguistically is foundational to the interpretation of these sources. Taking a broad perspective, Sakakibara provides a model for which to examine the emergence of female rulers by looking at current theories. Waller explores the feminine role of spirit-medium and its position in military expeditions, particularly examining Jingû Kôgô as portrayed in the Kojiki. Meeks looks at how the strong female leaders Kômyô and Anahobe no Hashihito were imagined in later eras from the point of view of the Kamakura nunneries that idolized these women as their founders.

1) John R. Bentley, Northern Illinois University: "A Linguistic View of Gender in the Nara Era"

This paper is an attempt to take a linguistic approach to the issue of gender as seen in various Nara-era texts. The main focus is how male and female are expressed in the texts. As very little of this kind of research has been done in the past on Nara era models, the paper first lays some groundwork, and then explores how these two gender roles are linguistically expressed.

2) Sayoko Sakakibara, University of Tokyo. "The Significance of Female Rulers: The Emergence of Empresses in Premodern Japan"

Female rulers since Empress Suiko (reign: 592-628) have often been considered to be interim (nakatsugi) monarchs. While many historians have argued that the ritsuryô provisions favored a continuous male-dominated hierarchy, the ascension to the throne by a female actually had considerable impact on the subsequent succession of male rulers. The role of Empress Koken (reign: 749-758)/Shôtoku (reign: 764-770) represents the distinction of a female ruler under the ritsuryo kingship epoch. Her political function as both Kôken and Shôtoku remained a latent undercurrent throughout the Japanese monarchy under the ritsuryo system. Koken can be seen not only as a legitimate heir of Emperor Shômu (reign: 724-749), but also as a sacerdotal successor of other female monarchs in the past. As Shôtoku, she established a new type of tenno-centered government. By exploring the above traits of Kôken's reign, I will show the significance of female rulers in premodern Japan.

3) Loren D. Waller, Kyoto Prefectural University. "The Military Role of Women in the Kojiki"

When examined as literature, the story of Jingû Kôgô and her military expedition into Silla while pregnant with the future Emperor Ojin sheds light on early Japanese beliefs, despite its unreliability as an historical event. In this paper, I examine the role of women as spirit-mediums, and the believed significance of this in efforts to militarily subdue surrounding clans on the Japanese isles and Korean peninsula. Yamato-Takeru-no-Mikoto's wife Oto-tachibana-hime sacrifices herself to pacify the sea god, for example, and Ama-no-uzume is chosen to attend Ninigi-no-Mikoto due to her power to overcome enemies. Narratives such as these show the ability of women to communicate with and pacify the gods as an important part of inter-tribal warfare as Yamato solidified its control over other clans and eventually claimed divine authority over a centralized state. Jingû Kôgô exemplifies this role, by first relating the will of Amaterasu that the land over the sea should be subdued, and then leading an army and accepting the surrender of the King of Silla without a fight. An understanding of these events will further shed light on the significance of describing a female ruler as the first to expand the scale of Yamato influence from insular to continental, and the necessity of the male presence in her womb. In addition, the overall representation of women in the Kojiki will be examined, relating to their religious, political, and military roles.

4) Lori Meeks, Princeton University. "Imagining Princess Hashihito and Empress Komyo in Kamakura Japan"

This paper will provide an examination of the ways in which Anahobe no Hashihito (?-621) and Empress Kômyô (701-760) are portrayed in the literature of the nuns who revived the Hokkeji and Chûgûji nunneries in the mid-twelfth century. In the engi and other documents associated with the revival of these ancient nunneries, the nuns of the movement venerate Kômyô and Hashihito as the founders of Hokkeji and Chûgûji, respectively. The women are described both in Confucian and Buddhist terms, as sound rulers and as compassionate bodhisattvas. The texts call for a return to the glory of the days when women had power in the religious and political realms, thereby implicitly romanticizing what they understood to be the splendor (and less severe andocentrism) of the Asuka/Nara age. How do Hashihito and Kômyô figure into their texts, and why did Kamakura audiences find these figures so compelling? How are Hashihito and Kômyô understood as beings gendered female? In what ways are their associations with femininity underscored, and in what ways are they downplayed? Moreover, how do these nuns' interpretations of Hashihito and Kômyô differ from earlier accounts of these women (accounts that emerge primarily in late Heian setsuwa literature)? To what degree were these authors responding to larger social and cultural changes (such as the rise of female divinities and increasing romanticization of motherhood)? These are just a few of the concerns I aim to address in the paper.


list of panels