Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 3, January 2000
Again in this issue we feature the work of Endo Orie who has sent us two new volumes: gender issues in the Japanese language; and the history of the past century in Japan, as told by women who lived it. Endo Orie is Professor of Sociolinguistics and Japanese Language Education at Bunkyo University. Her fields of interest include sexual discrimination in Japanese and the language used by young people. She also engages in frequent field surveys of the women's script of southern Hunan in China.
Born in 1938 in Gifu Prefecture, she gained her Master's degree in Japanese literature from Ochanomizu Women's University in 1977.
Representative publications include: Onna no kotoba no bunkashi (A Cultural History of Women's Language), from Gakuy˘ Shob˘ and Ki ni naru kotoba (Words which Bother me), from Nan'undo. She has also edited a dictionary for learners of Japanese, Nihongo o manabu hito no jiten, from Shinch˘sha. We have previously featured Endo Orie's work on the Nüshu and as Reading Notes
in Issue 2 of Intersections.
In her research into women's language in modern Japanese, Endo Orie felt the need to search backwards into the first half of this century, to examine the language used in the early Showa, Taisho and Meiji eras. Unable to time-travel herself, she hit upon the strategy of interviewing women born in the final decades of Meiji, the 45-year period ending in 1912 which saw Japan enthusiastically embrace Western ideas and technology after centuries of self-imposed isolation.
The resulting volume, co-authored by Kobayashi Mieko and Takasaki Midori, is a fascinating collection of real-life anecdotes in the words of twelve Japanese women born between 1899 and 1905: Arima Hideko, Iida Miyuki, Kawahata Toshiu, Kushida Fuki, Kuroda Hatsuko, Kokonoe Toshiko, Sumii Sue, Hirai Masae, Matsuda Tokiko, Mikami Miwa, Mochizuki Yuriko and Yuki Michiko. Their diverse careers include a poet, a physician, a novelist, a bar owner, a philosopher and a textile artist, with not one self-proclaimed 'housewife' among them. Endo and her colleagues have skilfully woven the interviewees' comments into each of seven chapters, which discuss such subjects as their upbringing, the Meiji and Taisho education systems, societal attitudes towards women, their own 'impudence' (sic), working women, influential books and people, and Meiji women's language.
As the jacket promises, the lucid and often humorous reminiscences describe first-hand experiences of 'the war that was not written about in the textbooks,' and we are also given an insight into what it was like to grow up under the 'good wives and wise mothers' approach to female education.
The interview transcripts have been edited to remove hesitations and repetitions, but preserve the vocabulary and grammar of the women's speech for linguistic analysis by the reader, interspersed with explanatory paragraphs and frequent footnotes which enable a fuller understanding of the terminology, historical events, places and people mentioned.
How does the Japanese language convey and perpetuate stereotypical views of gender roles, marriage, children, ageing, nationality, disability and authority? What intention underlies the use of honorific or humble expressions, or metaphor?
From her standpoint as both a Japanese language specialist and a woman, Endo Orie examines words and stock phrases in Japanese that give her cause for concern because of their connection with human rights issues, or, as she says in her introduction, 'Things I wouldn't want said to me, so I suppose other people would similarly find repugnant.'
Endo largely draws her examples from the contemporary press, including written contributions from readers. Her style is informal but very thought-provoking, and is aimed at the general public. The advanced student of Japanese will find her explanations interesting and informative, for she quotes various well-respected dictionaries as sources for word meanings, and places the expressions into the context of present-day Japanese society, along with many challenging suggestions as to how, through a shift in the consciousness behind language use, Japan could be changed for the better.
Reviewer: Leonie Rae Stickland
Orie Endo's Nüshu website
Anne McLaren, 'Crossing Gender Boundaries in China: Nüshu Narratives.'
This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.
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From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL:
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