Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard University Press


Gender, as Joan Scott asserted in 1986, is a useful category of historical analysis.1 In the last quarter century, gender has emerged as a lively area of inquiry for historians and other scholars. Gender analysis has suggested some important revisions of the "master narratives" of national histories-that is, the dominant, often celebratory, tales of the successes of a nation and its leaders.2 These narratives, like all histories, are provisional and incomplete and, to varying degrees, reflect the changing material, discursive, and ideological contexts of their times.3 To mention just two of the fields of history that had traditionally formed the core of national(ist) narratives-colonial history and political history- bringing in gender has begun to alter the dominant narratives in those fields.4 Recent colonial studies examine such issues as gendered notions of expansion; virility among colonizers and colonized; and relations between men and women, women and women, and men and men on the colonial periphery. Because political histories look at the meanings of citizenship and participation, gender, like race and class, clearly has utility as a category of analysis.

While modern Japanese history has not yet been restructured by a foregrounding of gender, historians of Japan have, indeed, begun to embrace gender as an analytic category. Interested readers can barely keep up with the exciting new scholarship in the form of journal articles and monographs in both Japanese and Western languages. If the experience of previous turns in Japanese historiography is any guidefor example, in the 1950s and beyond, interest in the course of Japan's modern development led to the categorizing of historical patterns as stages of modernity, and interest in social groups defined by categories such as material circumstances, cultural identities, occupation, religion, or residence has complicated and enriched the master narratives of Japanese history-gender too will emerge as an important issue in redefining master narratives in modern Japanese history. This interdisciplinary volume attempts to ignite the process of redefinition by bringing together research by Western-trained historians of Japan and historically minded scholars in other disciplines. 5

Problematizing gender in an anthology on modern Japanese history recognizes the stimulating developments in that field of scholarship. 6 A number of Japan scholars, including some of our contributors, have been engaged in research in women's history for over a decade, and are now producing works in the area of gender history. Gender history emerged from women's history outside the Japan field as well, although the sometimes rivalrous tension between women's history and gender history in other fields has not been replicated in Japan studies.7

This volume, which assembles articles on men as well as women, on theories of sexuality as well as on gender prescriptions, and on samesex as well as on heterosexual relations, takes the position that history is gendered. To say that history is gendered is to make two interrelated claims. First, historians invariably, though perhaps unconsciously, construct a gendered notion of past events, people, and ideas. That is, we engender the past, creating ways of thinking about the past through our notions of gender (and other categories we take for granted) in the present. A gendered history, like any type of history, is an invention of historians. History attempts to view ideologies, discourses, practices, bodies, and institutions as both derived in part from notions of gender and, conversely, constantly reifying these notions.

Chapter of

Gendering Modern Japanese History


Barbara Molony
Kathleen Uno


Copyright 2005 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Do not reproduce.



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