One of my personal dreams is to study abroad in Japan, and I thought of taking the opportunity to do research while fulfilling one of my long-term dreams. I am especially passionate about women’s issues and literature, and after taking a few anthropology courses there were important questions about Japanese culture that I wanted to explore. Paired with my Japanese studies, I wanted to explore the aspect of feminism in Japanese culture, and how their respective traditions and folktales/folklore pertained to the formation of Japanese gender roles, disparities, and feminism, to understand more of an important aspect of a different culture that I want to explore.
How do traditional Japanese folktales influence contemporary Japanese feminism?
For my research project, I plan on exploring the question, “How do traditional Japanese folktales influence contemporary Japanese feminism?” I intend on discussing this topic through establishing the current climate in Japanese politics and feminism, studying traditional Japanese folktales and the role of women within these stories, highlighting how contemporary stories show changes in contemporary feminism, and by drawing a picture of how Japanese feminism manifests itself in Japanese society. This upcoming spring semester, I will be studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, where I plan to take a class on traditional Japanese folktales to further my knowledge in the subject. During my time in Tokyo, I also plan on interviewing various professors on Japanese feminism and contacting various student culture clubs to ask their opinions on contemporary feminism, as well as reading various Japanese political texts and papers on their political and social system.
I am intent on thoroughly studying Japanese folktales and texts that exhibit Japanese values and cultural practices, by reading texts such The Tale of Genki, Kokoro, Momotaro, Kaguyahime, etc. I hope to analyze the role of women in these stories and how this affected the role of women throughout history, and if there were any significant cultural/political shifts that caused for these roles to shift. I hope to explore concepts such as filial piety, hierarchical power structures, the role of women as shrine priestesses/ goddesses, etc.
Within the current Japanese political climate and contemporary feminism, I plan on researching social attitudes by reading newspapers/articles and speaking with the local people at my university. I will also discuss the decline of the ‘Company Man’ culture in the 1970’s, which led to the increase in value of women’s employment; this has grown into Prime Minister Abe’s ‘womenomics’, an economic/political plan to integrate more women within the workforce. I will examine to see how important of a role this plan has played in contemporary feminism and whether or not new discussions or activism has risen due to ‘womenomics.’
I will tie these two concepts together—the role of women in traditional folktales and the role of women in the current economic/political system—to analyze to what extent historically the role of women has been shaped by traditional Japanese folktales, which mirror traditional Japanese values and customs, and to what extent these traditionalist practices remain influential today, specifying differences between urban, rural, and suburban Japan. I also hope on evaluating if contemporary Japanese feminism has manifested itself in contemporary stories or in the retelling of older folktales. My goal is to provide a holistic review of the role of traditional folktales in shaping the role of women both traditionally and in modern history, and how this affects Japanese feminism.