The contemporary Japanese writer Tsushima Yuko has been consistently labelled a feminist writer by Western literary critics,1 who have called for the application of feminist literary theory to her work. Responding to this call, however, is a complex theoretical task, given that although Japan has now embraced in principle many Western ideologies and theoretical tools, its literary beginnings emerged from a nation effectively closed to Western influence. In the Japanese context, the historical and cultural determinants which bear upon the sociology of gender have been necessarily different to those of the Western nations. The interplay of Japanese and Western epistemologies in the construction of contemporary Japan is apparent, and is exemplified in the literary context by Tsushima, who cites both classical Japanese literature and Western writers such as Poe, Woolf and Faulkner as significant influences in her work. In attempting a feminist analysis of Tsushima’s literature, then, my task has been to formulate a methodology whose prime imperative is to allow both the Japanese and the Western to speak, which interrogates and gives voice to both Japanese and Western theoretical concerns. This paper seeks to illustrate the problems inherent in the uninterrogated use of Western theoretical tools to examine these Japanese texts, and to emphasise the necessity of creating and maintaining a theoretical space in which cultural difference may be allowed to interact in a dialogic fashion with Western theory. A cultural theoretical model, which takes account of the specific circumstances of the text's generative environment, mobilises psychoanalytic, linguistic and biological aspects of feminist theory. At the same time, it maintains that the collective of 'women' forms a cultural group of sorts in itself, which is intersected by these various sites of difference. While retaining the fundamental concerns and modes of inquiry of feminist criticism, it takes account of 'ways of seeing' these issues which are present in Japan and not in the West.
Tsushima Yuko began her active writing career in the 1960s. A prolific author and the recipient of numerous literary awards, she has attracted the critical attention of both Japanese and non-Japanese critics. Her texts overwhelmingly focus on areas which appear to be of concern primarily to women, with narratives revolving around issues such as pregnancy and motherhood. The female protagonists who are always central to these narratives are almost invariably in situations which are distanced from what might be considered the social 'ideal'. We find in Tsushima's work a plethora of single mothers, fatherless children, women estranged from their parents and friends, and alienated from their immediate social environment in general. Social roles and norms are stripped away, the institution of motherhood is problematised, and traditional familial ties are undermined.
Narratives with such characteristics would appear to lend themselves to a feminist analysis, and indeed, it would be difficult to find similar English language texts which have not been the focus of such an approach. However, while Tsushima has been labelled a feminist author by many critics, and calls have been made for a feminist analysis of her work, this has not been attempted to date. To understand why this may be the case, it is important to consider the Japanese socio-cultural context. What is striking about calls to place Tsushima's work within a feminist critical viewer is that they are all made by critics operating primarily within the Western intellectual tradition. While the Japanese critical community devotes a great deal of attention to the thematic concerns of Tsushima's works and discussing their contribution to discourses on motherhood, female identity and the notion of the family, it appears less concerned with such labels as 'feminist', and not inclined to posit Tsushima's work within the broader socio-political framework that this implies.2
The reasons for this may stem from both literary and sociological differences between Japan and the West. The word 'feminism' as it is understood in the West does not have the same currency in Japan, where there is generally less consciousness of gender based power issues as a rule (Mackie, 60). Moreover, the application of particular theoretical approaches to literary texts is not widely practised in Japan, and does not have the history that it does within the Western critical establishment. The Western critic's overtly theoretical approach contrasts with the accepted Japanese pattern of an 'explanation' based on factors intrinsic to the text or on the critic's limited understanding of the author's psyche. This latter critical approach, in which the author's psyche is used as a frame of reference for interpretation is common in Japan, and is known as biographical interpretation, or 'biographism'. One effect of this approach is that the Japanese critic is more influenced by what the author says about her work, and herself in relation to it, than the Western critical establishment, concerned with issues of Intentional Fallacy and ‘The Death of the Author’ would perhaps feel academically comfortable with.
In this context, whereby the author herself exerts influence of this nature over the critical reception of her work, attempts by Western critics to claim Tsushima as a feminist writer appear to be somewhat problematic. Tsushima's stated belief that 'women are somewhat passive beings who look after themselves...perhaps it is only men who change the course of history' 3 (Yonaha, p 127) is perhaps not what one would expect to hear from a 'feminist' writer. Tsushima herself downplays the issue of gender when it arises, stating that she '[doesn't] really feel such a difference between men and women' (Tsushima, p 158), that perhaps because of the era in which she grew up, she does not perceive gender as a reason for difference, and has no direct personal experience of oppression (Tsushima, p 158). She asserts that the reason she writes about 'female' concerns such as birth and childrearing is purely that these are the things of her own experience, and that 'you just use whatever you can to your advantage' (Tsuruya, p 119). Even were the Western critic to concern herself with the author, it seems she would find little upon which to hang a feminist label. Caution is required, however, in the wholesale application of a Western feminist paradigm to the Japanese context - the concept of 'passivity' for example, may not have the same connotations in a society in which overt self-assertion is not valorised as it is in the West.
What Western critics have considered the failure of the Japanese critical community to apply a feminist critical approach to Tsushima's work, then, is perhaps a result of the different sociological and literary milieu in which they practice. This does not suggest, however, that Tsushima would not be a valid subject for feminist analysis by critics who are inclined to take on this task, or that this kind of approach is inappropriate for her work. While Japanese critics tend to avoid such terms as feminist, to a Western critic, their treatments of Tsushima's works nevertheless suggest a cross-cultural consensus that her primary thematic concerns at least are with issues which appear fruitful for feminist analysis. While Tsushima may not consider herself a feminist, her texts are certainly concerned with gender, and do construct a discourse on female sexuality, social roles and identity. Whether she herself is personally aware of gender-based oppression, whether or not her works are 'feminist' in intent, they must lend themselves to the scrutiny of a feminist analysis even if only by virtue of their overt subject matter and their status as texts by a female author.
However, just as specific differences between the Japanese and Western environments have led to a disparity in the treatment of Tsushima's work, so are these differences - of history, psychology, philosophy and religion - of critical importance in considering how to apply feminist methodology to these texts. The influence of the West upon Japan has been marked in the last century and a half, and as a consequence, emphasis has often been placed on Japan's rapid assimilation of Western concepts and ways of being. The growing similarities between Japan and the West, as well as the notion that one must emulate the West in order to prosper, has meant that Western ideologies and theoretical tools such as feminist theory have been embraced in principle. However, because Japan was effectively closed to Western influence on a broad scale until the mid 1860s, the historical and cultural determinants which influenced such things as Japanese philosophy, religious beliefs and psychology, all of which bear upon the sociology of gender, were necessarily different to those of the Western nations. As a consequence, although Japan has been exposed to considerable Western influence in the last century and a half, the legacy left by these years of relative isolation remains considerable.
Given this situation, it is not my intention to embark on the fruitless and reductive task of attempting to untangle what is Japanese and what is Western in order to reconstruct an 'authentic' Japanese theoretical model. Neither do I wish to contribute to the essentialist 'Nihonjinron' debate by positing Japanese literature as something so radically other that it requires its own unique theoretical constructs. While an acknowledgment of cultural otherness is vital in the recognition of such discourses of power as colonialism and orientalism, it is also important to remain aware of sites of intersection in the specific context of Japanese-Western interaction, what Marilyn Ivy terms the 'coincident modernity of Japan and the West' (Ivy, p 8). What I wish to suggest, rather, is that recognising the assumptions inherent within the existing constructs of feminist theory, and interrogating why certain of those may not be relevant to the Japanese context may contribute meaningfully to both current Western theoretical practice and to the way in which literature is 'understood' in contemporary Japan.
Scholars such as Lynne Miyake and Anne Allison have claimed that while Japanese literature and culture do demonstrate the ethnocentricity of certain modes of interpretation formulated by Western feminist criticism, their study may still benefit from the insights such theoretical modes provide (Miyake 1989, p 99; Allison, p 33). What is suggested is an approach which, while retaining useful and appropriate aspects of Western theory, remains structurally open to allow for the difference of the texts, the differing social, historical, religious, philosophical circumstances from which they emerged. A methodology which, rather than utilising a rigid, inclusive theory, interrogates and gives voice to both Japanese and Western theoretical concerns, constructing a flexible space in which Japan and the West may interact dialogically, goes some way to addressing concerns such as that of Naomi Schor, who states:
'There are risks inherent in opting exclusively for either one of the positions now occupying the forefront of feminist literary criticism. To read beyond difference is inescapably to run the risk of reinforcing the canon and its founding sexual hierarchies and exclusions, while to read for difference is to risk relapsing into essentialism and its inevitable consequence, marginalisation.' (pp 249-50)
To attempt to discard entirely the Western model and construct a 'pure' Japanese space from which to speak, while not only impossible for me as a Western critic, is to deny the potential of Western theoretical constructs to interact meaningfully with the Japanese text. To invert the hierarchy and posit the West as entirely 'other' and unhelpful in relation to the Japanese context is as fundamental an error as running roughshod over what is 'Japanese' by failing to interrogate my theoretical tools.
For the purposes of my study of Tsushima's work, what I have loosely termed 'cultural differences' between Japan and the West are relevant in how they differ in their ordering of gender issues such as the representation of men and women, issues of equality, and in how they have contributed to the development and influence of a women's movement we shall call 'feminism'. Much has been written about the relatively subdued feminist movement in Japan in comparison to the way in which it has manifested in the West. While feminism in Japan did flourish in the 1970s concurrent with similar activities in Western nations, it has never grown into the sustained and influential political movement that it has in the West. Of course, the Western critic's concept of what qualifies as a feminist movement or attitude may be radically different to that in Japan. Barbara Christian has written of 'the emphasis on one way to be black' which effectively excluded non-urbanised black writers from critical consideration as black writers (p 575). The danger we as Western feminists face is that of positing one way to be woman, one way to be feminist, based on our own experiences and assumptions, which do not necessarily coincide with those of women in other cultures.
With the Japanese cultural context in mind, it becomes apparent that there are many reasons why the feminist movement in Japan may seem less than effectual to Western eyes. Sumiko Iwao has claimed that the women's movement is somewhat 'muted' in Japan because of the Japanese avoidance of direct confrontation as a form of protest (p 15). It is suggested that, because in Japan such confrontation can actually hinder progress towards resolution, the feminist cause there is more of a 'quiet revolution' (p 2), characterised by pragmatism rather than principles and a tendency towards indirect or non-confrontation. Many commentators on Japanese society have accused those operating from within Western frames of reference of similarly 'overlooking the context of power of Japanese women,' (Berger, p 57). Reacting against the Western stereotyping of Japanese women as submissive and powerless, they suggest that the family is where a woman's locus of power exists (Reischauer, p 180; Berger, p 58), that theirs is a different, but not inferior, power. This position holds that while sex roles are strongly defined, the Japanese paradigm views both roles as equally important, and that most women neither feel inferior, nor have the desire to move into the so-called man's world. Interestingly, most pronouncements of this type have been made by commentators who are either Western males, or Japanese, neither of whom interpret through a lens which is both feminist and Western.
From a Western feminist perspective, their position may seem tenuous at best, and possibly outrageous. Feminists reading the Japanese situation from the West have made the accusation that this sense of personal strength and superiority actually 'serves to enslave Japanese women by convincing them that only they are capable of making the required sacrifices. The male is thereby absolved from reciprocal actions due to his inherent weakness' (Wawrytko, p 157). Statements such as those made by Michael Berger that, while women may be strongly identified with family responsibilities, they are also made very aware of their importance (p 58) hold little water under the Western feminist gaze, which sees the potential of such a tactic to serve the patriarchal agenda of reinforcing women in their allotted role. Similarly, his assertion that 'Japanese men look down on women in many categorical ways, but they do not look down on women's role' (p 58) is hardly comforting to the feminist observer, who sees inherent within it an immutable perception of women themselves as inferior, independent of their prescribed roles. However, these readings stem from a Western feminist perspective, just as other turns of the lens stem variously from the speaking positions of Japanese woman, Japanese feminist, Western male and so on. Rather than valorising one of these competing discourses over another, I choose rather to consider these alternative perspectives as potential contributors to my own theoretical approach.
I would now like to turn to some specific examples of where a feminist theoretical approach may benefit from a consideration of the Japanese context. It has been noted that, notwithstanding specific differences in the perception and representation of women between Japan and the West, in both regions a dominant discourse links men with culture and dominance and marks women as the passive other, inversely subsumed within the natural. Japan and the West now make use of essentially the same binaries of dominance/submission, culture/nature, victimiser/victim, active/passive and so on. It may be, however, that the configuration of these binaries is ordered somewhat differently in the Japanese context. The association of vocalisation with the active side of the binary schema, for example, is not necessarily relevant in a culture where silence is often perceived as verbal restraint, rather than as a passive failure to speak. In a discussion of Asian women's writing, Cheung has argued that 'monocultural criteria of competence and even feminist antipathy toward silence may run roughshod over the sensibilities of some ethnic groups' (p 6). Accordingly, the outward silence, passivity and non-confrontational attitude of a Japanese woman may construct meaning which would be unseen through the lens of Western feminist principles. The intention of my study is not to counter the Western model by reifying a 'Japanese' configuration of these binaries, but rather, through their interrogation, to suggest that there are many ways of being both woman and feminist.
Another potential theoretical approach to Tsushima's work, the feminist psychoanalytic approach, evidences similar cross-cultural dilemmas. This paradigm evolved from a philosophy of the self grounded in Freudian tenets which were based on clinical observations of Western psychology. While it is possible that aspects of this philosophy may be common to the self as it emerges from the Japanese environment, it is equally likely that there are elements of difference which warrant an interrogation of aspects of the psychoanalytic approach before it is transported to the Japanese context. In his discussion of the Japanese family dynamic, Reischauer points to the relative absence in Japan of Freudian psychology's 'domineering father', while acknowledging the presence of another Freudian concern, that of 'excessive maternal attachment', which he likens to the Japanese amae (p 181). His statement indicates that certain aspects of psychoanalytic theory may be applicable to the Japanese context while others are less so, and that its application in general requires careful interrogation. The notion of amae, which is somewhat inadequately expressed by the English term 'maternal attachment' is considered by many to be central to Japanese psychology.4 The Japanese psychologist Takeo Doi posits amae as complex and absolutely fundamental to the Japanese psyche, ordering relations on every level, not just those between parent and child (1992, pp 7-8). In her discussion of sites of female power, Sandra Wawrytko writes:
Japanese men don't look down on women's role - they have a dependency which gives rise to gynophobia, a fear of women as a force to be reckoned with or avoided. Women's power is usually traced to their sexuality. To ameliorate this aura of danger, women adopt a nonthreatening childlike persona. So men can view their dependence on women as a natural extension of the maternal relationship and regain a sense of security. (p 124)
Here, we see how the notion of amae, which really has no equivalent in Western psychological discourse, orders the nature of male/female relations, the coding of gender roles and the way in which a maternal discourse is constructed in Japan. Recent debates on motherhood often refer to French theories of the body, sexuality and language. However, these can only have limited utility where terms such as phallocracy - which have grown out of particular historical circumstances in Europe - are applied uncritically to Japan (Mackie, p 64). One would expect then, that an approach which takes account of aspects of Western theory, as well as such specifically Japanese notions as the central function of amae both in motherhood and in interpersonal relations in general, would mobilise the text more meaningfully than one which excludes one or the other.
The feminist critic Nancy Chodorow, in her revision of theories of the development of female identity, has posited female personality as relational and fluid. Because girls form their gender identity positively, becoming like the mother, they have difficulty establishing clearly delineated ego boundaries, and thus their sense of self becomes more relational (Chodorow, pp 6-7). It is suggested that this results in a feminine style of writing which is less linear, unified and chronologically ordered, a blurring of the public and the private (Gardiner, p 355), an 'experimentally fluid form of writing which subverts the reader's expectations of linear, rational discourse, merging identities and ego-boundaries' (Palmer, p 97). But how does this relate to the Japanese context? Chodorow's argument is sociological and historical, rather than biological, and as such, it is particularly susceptible to the intervention of cultural difference. The importance of 'relational' considerations in Japanese society is widely acknowledged, and is manifested clearly in the way in which language has developed. In the Japanese system of discourse, which relies heavily on a complex hierarchy of humble and honorific forms, a context-free utterance rarely exists. Self in the Japanese language 'cannot be defined in the abstract. It cannot be without reference to the specific other. As a corollary, the self is never constant...' (Ohnuki-Tierney, p 23). Here, a relationally defined and fluid sense of self is linguistically coded as a characteristic of the Japanese people, not of females specifically. While Chodorow's argument may be no more or less persuasive in the Japanese context, one must bear in mind that perhaps in this context, the male self is generally more fluid and relational than it is in the West, and thus the gap between male and female is not so great that one may take these issues as representative of a 'female style' in literature, as Western critics often do.
Differences in both innate characteristics of Japanese and English, and the way in which they are used in the literary context, mean that care must also be taken in addressing linguistic concerns from a feminist perspective. Just as the hierarchy of humble and honorific linguistic forms point to a differing encoding of self than that which prevails in Western philosophies, so other Japanese linguistic features not shared by European languages can render Western theoretical constructs problematic in the Japanese context. Lynne Miyake uses the Japanese classic The Tosa Diary to illustrate the distance between Japanese and Western modes of expression. In this work, a fluid narrative point of view is facilitated by linguistic features of Japanese such as the absence of pronouns with clear referents, and the lack of clear morphological distinctions between direct and indirect discourse, which create a space in which multiple, and variously gendered, voices can reside jointly. (Miyake 1996, pp 42-3, p 63). While Miyake refers to features of classical Japanese, it is widely acknowledged that modern Japanese literature has inherited a substantial legacy from the classical tradition, which 'permits/encourages an absence of obvious structure' (Ryan, 254).
While it is well documented that Western influence in the Meiji period brought about significant changes in literary language, the influence of the classical poetic tradition has remained a distinguishing feature in much of contemporary Japanese literature. Reference has been made also to the residual influence of the uta monogatari or 'song story' on Japanese narrative tradition, with the suggestion that a text does not build to a climax, but follows a more circular form (Rimer, p 79). Kemmochi Takehiko reaches the same conclusion from a different route, suggesting that the Japanese language contains 'internal gaps and pauses...and fixed endings' (Pilgrim, p 60), rather than constructing the logical and linear narrative order of Western languages. The lack of closure and cyclical nature which characterises Cixous' 'feminine' text, is a feature of Japanese literature in general by virtue of both the grammatical structure of its language and its poetic tradition. A linguistic feminist approach then, which seeks out feminine style in the repetition of stylistic devices and image patterns in women's writing, must cross the cultural space with care. To employ such an approach in a feminist interpretation of Tsushima's work risks missing the point that the prevalence of certain 'feminine' constructs in Japanese is dictated by linguistic and cultural specificities which are not common to the West, and which are not gender-based.
The risks of assuming Western theoretical constructs as universally applicable are apparent. Consequently, as my research has progressed, it has increasingly evolved into an exercise in negotiating the application of theoretical constructs in a cross-cultural paradigm. The task of my study has become to determine what may be considered to constitute feminist in the Japanese context, and how this might be represented in the indigenous literature. In attempting this, my analysis aims to construct a theoretical space which facilitates the interaction of Japanese and Western constructs. The effect of this is to place the texts within a cross-cultural theoretical paradigm to which they have not previously been exposed, while also defamiliarising and interrogating the assumptions of Western feminist criticism.
1. I use the term 'Western' or 'the West' in an apparently oversimplified way here to refer to literary practice as it emerges from North American critical discourse. I do not mean to suggest that the West is a homogenous entity, but to acknowledge that critical theory such as feminism has all but established the 'West' as a homogenous term as regards literary theory, through its politics of inclusion.
2. Very few Japanese journal articles on Tsushima make any reference to feminism. One notable exception is that of Yamashita Masafumi who in his article 'Kazoku - Tsushima Yuko', contradicts Tsushima's own stated position and posits her as standing in opposition to feminism that does not recognise gender difference. Western critics, on the other hand, almost invariably raise the issue of feminism when referring to Tsushima. See, for example, Masao Miyoshi in 'Women's Short Stories in Japan', and in Off Center, and also Livia Monnet in ‘Connaissance Delicieuse or The Science of Jealousy: Tsushima Yuko’s Story "Kikumushi", and ‘The Politics of Miscegenation: The Discourse of Fantasy in ‘Fusehime’ by Tsushima Yuko’.
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