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 22
Women as Metaphors in the Poetic Construction of Modern Japan
Organizer/Chair: Angela Yiu, Sophia University

This panel consists of three papers that explore the metaphor of women in the political, historical, moral, and literary imagination of Japan in its gestation period of becoming a modern nation. Kyoko Kurita will discuss the role of women in the mirai-ki (records of the future), focusing on the life of a woman as a metaphor for the history of the nation in Uchimura Gijo's "Nijûsan-nen mugen no kane"(1888). Daniel O'Neill will examine the female character in Natsume Sôseki's "Shumi no iden" (1905) in relation to discourses that instruct people in how to imagine themselves as sympathetic participants in the construction of a modern nation. Angela Yiu will examine Tamura Toshiko's texts to explore the creation of a semiotics of women that probes the deeper meaning of existing literary archetypes and the construction of a lingering metaphor of women that questions the ethos and ideology of a rising nation. The overall goal of this panel is to examine how the metaphor of women in these literary works embodies the artistic imagination as well as the intellectual and political consciousness of modern Japan and its inherent interest and significance in addressing the question of modernity.

1) Angela Yiu, Sophia University. "Women as Metaphors in Tamura Toshiko's Fiction"

Despite the fact that Tamura Toshiko (1884-1945) was active and well-received in her life time as a prize-winning Meiji-born woman writer, she has been consigned to the margins of literary history and her works receive scant scholarly treatment in English and Japanese. Tamura's writing is a constant challenge to definitions and categorization: She stopped writing in the elegant-vernacular style characteristic of Ichiyô's prose by 1905. She bypassed the Romantic poets (e.g. Kitamura Tôkoku, Shimazaki Tôson), dabbled in Koda Rohan's classicism and Ozaki Koyo's (Ken'yusha) rich, ornate prose and added her own sensual and tormented dimensions to the legacy. She responded to the stimulation of the Naturalists who emphasized the depiction of life as it is (ari no mama ni) yet rejected their plain, transparent language. She answered to the call of Seito (Bluestocking, a magazine that became the symbol of Japan's "New Women") but did not always adhere to a simple ideology. One central concern of her work lies in the creation of a semiotics of woman that probes the deeper meaning of existing literary archetypes, and the construction of a lingering and sometimes disturbing metaphor of women that questions the ethos and ideology of a rising nation. My paper will focus on the language and literary imagination that explore the lasting mystery of women as metaphors, a philosophical and artistic legacy that continues to inform the works of subsequent writers such as Enchi Fumiko and Tsushima Yûko.

2) Kyoko Kurita, Pomona College. "The Role of Women in Meiji Mirai-ki: Temporality and Romanticism"

This paper illuminates the role of women in the genre of mirai-ki (records of the future), which thrived in the early to mid-Meiji era. The genre of mirai-ki is usually considered a sub-genre of the seiji-shosetsu (political novel). However, the most significant aspect of both genres is their common preoccupation with futurity, rather than the relative breadth or narrowness of their focus on political issues. Seen in this light, the genre of mirai-ki was the overarching genre, rather than the other way round. This genre gained popularity during the 1870s, and by 1885, when Suehiro Tetcho's "Nijûsan-nen mirai-ki" appeared, the number of mirai-ki publication saw a sudden increase. In Meiji mirai-ki and seiji-shôsetsu, what propels the narrative in constructing the future is the romantic attraction between a brave freedom fighter and a beautiful, compassionate woman. The role of women in mirai-ki was important from its inception, and it gained more significance as the genre developed. Uchimura Gijô's "Nijûsan-nen mugen no kane" (1888) seems to mark one historical turn in this development. The title is clearly indicative of the influence of Tetchô's epoch-making work, and it does make use of the signature framework of the mirai-ki. However, it departs significantly from previous mirai-ki, in that it relates the life of a woman as a metaphor for the history of the nation. Here we see the burgeoning Meiji Romanticism, which typically employed female figures to explore the issues of historicity/temporality, politics/society, and individual psychology in a changing world.

3) Daniel O'Neill, University of California, Berkeley. "Locating Sympathy and Romance in Sôseki's 'Shumi no Iden'"

A short story that chronicles the mourning process of a narrator haunted by his friend's death, Sôseki's "Shumi no iden" (Heredity of taste, 1905), in its concluding moments, presents us with a narrator reappearing as a happy consciousness whose difficult journey toward this state replicates the difficult project of cultural healing, responding, as it were, to the social and political upheavals following the Russo-Japanese War. Though the first part of the story powerfully describes the narrator's visions of the war dead, it is the second section, in which a beautiful woman appears before the narrator with the promise of transcendence that has monopolized critical attention. In prioritizing the second section, the critical commentaries on Sôseki's short story transform the subject of war into a backdrop for the unfolding drama of romance. Though this drama has found an enduring niche in Sôseki's criticism, my paper will argue that romance does not complete the story. First, I will examine the different ways in which the topic of war is displaced from the history of the story's emergence. Second, in doing so, I hope to create a critical context in which the source of the story's affective hold--the beautiful woman--can be examined in relation to discourses that instruct people in how to imagine themselves as sympathetic participants in the construction of a modern nation.


list of panels