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Under the Shadow of Nationalism

Politics and Poetics of Rural Japanese Women

Mariko A. Tamanoi

Publication Year: 1998

The contribution of rural women to the creation and expansion of the Japanese nation-state is undeniable. As early as the nineteenth century, the women of central Japan's Nagano prefecture in particular provided abundant and cheap labor for a number of industries, most notably the silk spinning industry. Rural women from Nagano could also be found working, from a very young age, as nursemaids, domestic servants, and farm laborers. In whatever capacity they worked, these women became the objects of scrutiny and reform in a variety of nationalist discourses--not only because of the importance of their labor to the nation, but also because of their gender and domicile (the countryside was the centerpiece of state ideology and practice before and during the war, during the Occupation, and beyond). Under the Shadow of Nationalism explores the interconnectedness of nationalism and gender in the context of modern Japan. It combines the author's long-term field research with a painstaking examination of the documents behind these discourses produced at various levels of society, from the national (government records, social reformers' reports, ethnographic data) to the local (teachers' manuals, labor activists' accounts, village newspapers). It provides a wide-ranging yet in-depth look at a key group of Japanese women as national subjects through the critical chapters of Japanese modernity and postmodernity.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

The cover of this book, Takahashi Hiroaki's Twilight, "highlights the ideological emphasis on the virtues of the traditional countryside in opposition to the urban, industrial society" (Dartnall 1996, 80). Yet, this depiction represents only half of the Story I will tell here...

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1. Introduction: Japanese Nationalism and Rural Women

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pp. 1-23

While acknowledging that every word inscribed in the present text has a history of its own, I intend to focus on only a few. I single out for study “Japanese nation/nationalism,” “rural,” and “women” because I am interested in the way in which the category of “rural women” emerged in the discourse of “Japanese nationalism” at...

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2. Fieldwork

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pp. 25-54

Under the warm sun of early afternoon, nothing seems to move. Only once every two hours, an incoming train breaks the silence. The big sign erected by the railroad reads, “Let Us Not Scrap the Iida Line,” a testimony to a decrease in local train use and an increase in car ownership...

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3. Komori

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pp. 55-83

"Komori" is a generic term that consists of a noun, “ko” (child), and a verb, “moru” (to protect or to take care of); Japanese use it to refer to any person, male or female, old or young, who takes care of children. In this chapter, however, I focus on the young girls, hired...

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4. Factory Women

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pp. 85-114

Yes, komori grew, physically and intellectually, protesting in their songs against upper- and middle-class commentaries and observations of them. And in the next phase of their life cycle, most of them engaged in silk spinning at modern “factories,” the symbol of the...

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5. The Countryside and the City 1: Yanagita Kunio and Japanese Native Ethnology

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pp. 115-136

I have argued that the silk industry was a central feature of Japanese nationalism from the very beginning of the Meiji period. Even after the 1880s, silk factory women were national subjects, while constantly being monitored for their “women’s morality” and their...

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6. The Countryside and the City 2: Agrarianism among Nagano Middling Farmers

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pp. 137-156

Yanagita left thousands of books and articles on his perceptions of rural women and his vision of nation building. Did the middling farmers in Nagano also leave us their writings? In 1990, I visited Ueda Hakubutsukan (Ueda History Museum), located on the...

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7. The Wartime Period

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pp. 157-178

I the previous two chapters, I argued that students of Japanese native ethnology as well as Nagano middling farmers tried to imagine a national community by identifying agrarian life as a “principle of social cohesion.” In order to do so, they relied heavily on the...

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8. The Postwar “Democracy” and the Post-postwar Nationalism

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pp. 179-205

In this chapter, I will divide the postwar period into two periods. I will call the first, from 1945 to the early 1970s, the (immediate) postwar period and the second, from the early 1970s to the present, the post-postwar period. The latter, a rather cumbersome phrase, connotes...

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Epilogue: A Short Critique of the Notion of Identity

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pp. 207-208

While England was still at war, Virginia Woolf tried to understand British nationalism and patriotism from the vantage point of the “daughters of educated men” in England, for whom the army, the navy, the stock exchange, the diplomatic service, the church, the press, the...


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pp. 209-238


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pp. 239-261


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pp. 263-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865399
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824819446

Publication Year: 1998

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rural women -- Japan -- Nagano-ken -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women in rural development -- Japan -- Nagano-ken -- History -- 20th century.
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