Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel

Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel

Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel

Embodying Culture: Pregnancy in Japan and Israel


Embodying Culture is an ethnographically grounded exploration of pregnancy in two different cultures--Japan and Israel--both of which medicalize pregnancy. Tsipy Ivry focuses on "low-risk" or "normal" pregnancies, using cultural comparison to explore the complex relations among ethnic ideas about procreation, local reproductive politics, medical models of pregnancy care, and local modes of maternal agency.

The ethnography pieces together the voices of pregnant Japanese and Israeli women, their doctors, their partners, the literature they read, and depicts various clinical encounters such as ultrasound scans, explanatory classes for amniocentesis, birthing classes, and special pregnancy events.

The emergent pictures suggest that athough experiences of pregnancy in Japan and Israel differ, pregnancy in both cultures is an energy-consuming project of meaning-making-- suggesting that the sense of biomedical technologies are not only in the technologies themselves but are assigned by those who practice and experience them.



I conceived this study in the autumn of 1996, when, toward the end of a two-year study program as a research student at Tokyo University, I became pregnant for the first time. What I remember most vividly is an overwhelming and all-encompassing sense of becoming “different,” which I felt constantly even though the pregnancy was not yet showing, and I continued my research and writing as before. I was twenty-nine by then, and although I used to think of myself as someone who had undergone at least a few powerful experiences (compulsory military service in the Israeli army, travel through East Asia, and studies in Israel and Japan), I could not recall any other experience that encompassed and overwhelmed me so intensely. Since 1996 I have experienced three more pregnancies and am now the mother of four daughters. The transformative experiences of birth and mothering, each with its own intensity and vigor, only strengthened my conviction that there is much more to pregnancy than merely the transitory stage to birth and motherhood.

Underlying this study was a sense of unease, curiosity, and fascination with pregnancy, and a wish to investigate and develop tools to better understand this way of being. Yet my initial positioning as an Israeli woman gestating in Japan turned this somewhat ontological bemusement with pregnancy in a specific direction: pregnancy as a cultural and social phenomenon captured my interest. The focus on “culturally constructed versions” of pregnancy came from my own everyday interactions with Japanese friends and colleagues, as well as my encounters with Japanese care providers. I particularly remember my conversations with Mr. Kobuta, a forty-five-year-old man with whom I practiced Japanese drumming for two years. As soon as he learned that I was pregnant, he started talking to me about the importance of eating “good food.” With sparkling eyes shining through his thick glasses, he explained on every available occasion how . . .

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