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Women Writing, Writing Women: Essays in Memory of Professor Satoko Kan

From: U.S.-Japan Women's Journal
Number 43, 2013
pp. 3-10 | 10.1353/jwj.2013.0004

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In May 2011, Professor Satoko Kan passed away at forty-seven, after a brief illness. Her loss to the field of Japanese women’s literature is immense and is only starting to be felt. Professor Kan and her generation of scholars of Japanese women’s literature elevated gender studies as a theoretical method for exploring literature, yet never lost sight of their engagement with the literary text. Professor Kan’s great gifts included the breadth of her interests and the fact that she rejected the rigid specialization that often marks literary scholars. She not only published on all aspects of modern women’s literature, both popular and serious, but lectured in Europe, North America, and Asia and hosted foreign graduate students in her wildly popular literature seminars. In this special issue of U.S.–Japan Women’s Journal, we, a group of scholars whose lives have been irrevocably changed by our encounters with Professor Kan, would like to honor her contributions with a series of essays called “Women Writing, Writing Women,” devoted both to literary topics that Professor Kan wrote about and to work that she inspired in others.

Professor Kan spent her academic life researching and teaching about Japanese women’s literature. As an undergraduate and graduate student at Ochanomizu Women’s University, she studied with Professor Asai Kiyoshi and focused her attention on the Meiji period (1868–1912). In her early professional life in the 1990s, again at Ochanomizu Women’s University, she joined the already dynamic field of research on women’s literature. Professor Kan was among the second generation of women scholars and critics who wrote about women writers as josei sakka. Her contributions began as those of most young scholars do: as contributions to collections by other writers on the state of the field. In the 1990s her name appeared on essays on the Meiji as she began the research that would lead to her first major publication, Media no jidai: Meiji bungaku o meguru jōkyō (The age of media: The conditions surrounding Meiji literature, 2001), which influenced the field of Meiji media culture by addressing how print media mediates the relationship between author and reader. Encompassing all aspects of the physical book, from the copyright to photographs and illustrations as well as reader responses to authors, Kan’s work explores the give-and-take of publishing in the nascent world of print capitalism.

What distinguished Professor Kan from the first generation of feminist scholars was her insistence on the use of gender studies rather than feminist theory to analyze women’s literature. This was yet another step in the changing field of women’s literature in Japan. From the beginning of modern Japanese women’s literary studies, the debate was whether Japanese women writers were joryū sakka or josei sakka—terms equivalent to the distinction between “women writers” and “women writers.Women writers were inferior to men, it was thought, because of their choice of language and theme. Nonetheless, despite what women writers believed themselves to be, because of the persistence of the bundan literary guild and the literary establishment, the term joryū sakka remained. Author Setouchi Harumi’s tongue-in-cheek 1962 checklist, “Requirements for Becoming a Woman Writer,” demonstrates by its contradictions how problematic the term is, and thus reveals how conflicted women themselves were about the term.1

Yet the term joryū sakka remained in play until it was gradually replaced, at least in the academy, by the term josei sakka. Mizuta Noriko, Yonaha Keiko, and other scholars embraced the term josei, influenced by the work of women’s studies in the 1980s. Joryū did not disappear overnight, however, as the 1986 issue of Kokubungaku demonstrates. Titled “Josei—sono henkaku no ekurichūru” (Écriture of the changing female), it featured a table of contents that was split between joryū and josei. Yet 1987 featured a book of collected works of women writers that labeled them all josei sakka (women writers). Scholars generally attribute this change to the introduction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1986, but some also suggest that in the academy this change was due to the introduction of feminist theory to the study of literature as...



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