Women in Japanese Religions

Women in Japanese Religions

Women in Japanese Religions

Women in Japanese Religions


Scholars have widely acknowledged thepersistent ambivalence with which the Japanese religious traditions treatwomen. Much existing scholarship depicts Japan's religious traditions as meremeans of oppression. But this view raises a question: How have ambivalent andeven misogynistic religious discourses on gender still come to inspire devotionand emulation among women?

In Women in Japanese Religions, Barbara R. Ambrosexamines the roles that women have played in the religions of Japan. An importantcorrective to more common male-centered narratives of Japanese religioushistory, this text presents a synthetic long view of Japanese religions from adistinct angle that has typically been discounted in standard survey accountsof Japanese religions.

Drawing on a diverse collection ofwritings by and about women, Ambros argues that ambivalent religious discoursesin Japan have not simply subordinated women but also given them religiousresources to pursue their own interests and agendas. Comprising nine chaptersorganized chronologically, the book begins with the archeological evidence offertility cults and the early shamanic ruler Himiko in prehistoric Japan andends with an examination of the influence of feminism and demographic changeson religious practices during the "lost decades" of the post-1990 era. Byviewing Japanese religious history through the eyes of women, Women in Japanese Religions presents anew narrative that offers strikingly different vistas of Japan's pluralistictraditions than the received accounts that foreground male religious figuresand male-dominated institutions.


In 1911, Hiratsuka Raichō (1886–1971), one of Japan’s early feminists, wrote in the opening issue of the women’s journal Bluestocking, “In the beginning, woman was the sun. An authentic person. Today she is the moon. Living through others. Reflecting the brilliance of others.” Hiratsuka seemed to be alluding to the female gender of the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, who, according to Japanese mythology, ruled over the heavenly plain and established the imperial lineage. Hiratsuka was suggesting that during a primordial age women were once powerful and self-reliant but somehow lost their independence over the course of history. Years later she explained in her autobiography, “To be sure, the sun and the moon symbolized the objective realities of women’s history—the breakdown of a matrilineal society and the rise of a patriarchal system; the tyranny of men and subjugation of women; the gradual decline of a woman’s status as a human being.” In 1948 she amended her statement after the promulgation of the new Japanese constitution, which gave women unprecedented equal rights, saying, “Now, thirtyseven years later, I am overjoyed, and want to cry out: ‘Look! The day has come! Now is the time. A big, big sun is shining out from the hearts of Japanese women!’”

This book is intended as an important corrective to more common male-centered narratives of Japanese religious history. It presents a synthetic long view of Japanese religions from a distinct angle—women’s history—that has typically been discounted in standard survey accounts of Japanese religions. It also provides a framework for existing works on women in Japanese religions, which are usually microhistories and lack . . .

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