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  • Mizuta Noriko
  • Ueno Chizuko (bio)
    Translated by James Garza (bio)

What would Japanese feminist criticism have been like without Mizuta Noriko?

In its formative years in Japan, feminist criticism was widely regarded as "secondrate criticism": rehearsing the same tired diatribes about gender bias in literature while filling the ideological void left by a Marxism on the wane. The broadside that my co-authors and I leveled against the literary establishment in On Man-Made Literature (Danryū bungaku-ron [1992/1997])1 also probably did not help feminist criticism's negative reputation.

So we were fortunate when Mizuta returned to Japan after her lengthy sojourn in America. She may have been coming back to take up a post in university administration, but she would decisively transform the study of literature in this country. At first, it felt like we had lost another tremendous literary scholar to the administrative side of academia. But somehow, amidst the grueling task of running a university, she not only continued to actively publish, but also realized a project that had been close to her heart, establishing both an institute for Women's Studies at her university as well as Japan's first graduate program in Women's Studies; meanwhile, she filled her teaching roster with researchers from around the world, and in her spare time taught classes of her own. The number of researchers and students whose lives she touched is countless.

Perhaps it is only natural for literary scholars to return to the milieu of their native language. And perhaps it is natural for them to turn their interests toward writers of the same generation, the same gender. Having Mizuta back in Japan has meant that we can read her analyses of the Japanese-language literature of her female contemporaries. Moreover, we also gained a brilliant interpreter of female writers like Ōba Minako and Takahashi Takako.2

Of all her works, the one most vital to me has always been "The Escape to Women and from Women: Male Images in Modern Japanese Literature" (Onna-e-no tōsō-to onnakara-no [End Page 8] tōsō—kindai Nihon bungaku-no danseizō).3 It was in this essay that she argued that the history of men's literature in modern Japan has been one of escape into (and out of) the arms of women, and I found myself deeply sympathetic toward her position. Modern literature has always privileged sexual affection between men and women as a site of interior development for men. But actually, Mizuta argues, the man-made discourse of modern literature has never come to grips with women as a "sexual other" (seiteki tasha); this is because the refuge men sought was always a fantasy, one that necessitated a second escape when real women refused to perform that fantasy. Moreover, Mizuta points out that "the disparity between the dream women that [those writers] depicted and women in the real world was what made the landscape of male interiority such a fascinating thing to behold."4 I saw in this a particularly damning criticism of our On Man-Made Literature. After all, in that book we had taken male writers to task for not depicting women in their lived reality.

I was so taken with the piece that I anthologized it in Representation and Media (Hyōgen-to media), the seventh volume in the Feminism in Japan book series.5 When it came time to put out the revised and expanded version of that series, we invited Saitō Minako to help edit Vol. 11: Feminist Literary Criticism (Feminizumu bungaku hihyō),6 and she duly re-anthologized the essay there. After the publication of that revised and expanded series, the critic Toyozaki Yumi was kind enough to join our study group. Renowned for her scathing book reviews, Toyozaki once dismissed feminist criticism as "boring," but even she admitted that "reading this volume was worth it for [Mizuta's] essay alone."

As her seventies stretched out ahead of her, Mizuta, who is also a poet, published a collection titled The Road Home (Kiro [2008]).7 It contained the follow lines:

"well where do we go from here? / the road home seems so long"

Now, in her golden...


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