93808 - Japanese Literature and Culture within a Gender Perspective

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality Reduced inequalities Partnerships for the goals

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students will have the theoretical and methodological instruments necessary for the analysis of gender in the literary and cultural history of twentieth-century Japan. A comparative approach will be favoured, taking into account diverse forms of artistic expressions (literature, cinema, music, visual arts) in order to enhance understanding and critical reading of gender issues within the cultural contexts of the country.

Course contents

Pathways through the history of women in post-war Japan

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report - which measures the gap between women and men in four key areas: health, education, economics and politics - ranks Japan 120th out of 156 countries in 2021. Since Japanese women are on average highly educated and have excellent health care, it can be assumed that the country's unsatisfactory ranking is due to low economic participation and to a lack of political empowerment. In other words, the report seems to confirm the picture still widespread overseas of Japanese women as submissive and poorly empowered.
The aim of the course is to trace the history of Japanese women in the post-war period, between reality and imagination, and to unhinge stereotypes by overcoming preconceived interpretative schemes and models produced by Euro-American culture. There are three pivotal moments that mark important stages in the path of women in post-war Japan: the American occupation; the economic stagnation that followed the bursting of the speculative bubble at the beginning of the 1990s; the triple Tohoku disaster in 2011 with the consequent nuclear crisis. The key themes are education, marriage and motherhood, work, political and social rights, and the starting point for discussing them in different historical and social contexts will be offered by the representations of the female figure in literature, cinema and in the media, from magazines to advertising billboards and television, up to the #meetoo campaign which exploded on social media.


The debate on equality and women's suffrage
The economic boom and the new family : the ideology of the shufu (housewife)
The second wave of Japanese feminism: marriage and sexuality
The 1980s and post-feminism

The economic shock: women and the labour market
The family breakdown 1: new models of masculinity and femininity
The family breakdown 2: new mothers
Women in today's Japan: womenomics and the 'feminism' of Shinzo Abe


No prior knowledge of Japan or the Japanese language is required.


Critical  sources (2 texts of your choice):

Vera Mackie (ed), Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Laura Dales, Feminist Movements in Contemporary Japan, Routledge 2009.

Lynne Nakano, ‘Single Women in Marriage and Employment Markets in Japan’, in Kawano, Satsuki, Glenda S. Roberts and Susan O. Long, Capturing Contemporary Japan, pp.163-182, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2014

Fujimura-Fanselow, Kumiko (ed), Transforming Japan: How Feminism and Diversity Are Making A Difference, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2011.

Ayako Kano, Japanese Feminist Debates: A Century of Contention on Sex, Love, and Labor, University of Hawaii Press 2016.

Julia C. Bullock, ‎Ayako Kano, ‎James Welker, Rethinking Japanese Feminisms, University of Hawaiʻi Press 2018.

Amanda Seaman, Reading Pregnancy in Low Fertility Japan, Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press, 2017.

Yoko Tokuhiro, Marriage in Contemporary Japan, Routledge 2010.

Chizuko Ueno, The Modern Family in Japan: Its Rise and Fall, Trans Pacific Press 2009.

Julia C. Bullock, The Other Women's Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women's Fiction, 1960-1973, University of Hawai'i Press 2010.

Hiroko Tomida, Hiratsuka Raichō and Early Japanese Feminism, Brill 2004.

Mire Koikari, ‎ Gender, Culture, and Disaster in Post-3.11 Japan, Bloomsbury Academic 2020,

Primary sources (1 or more text/s of your choice):

Jan Bardsley, The Bluestockings of Japan: New Woman Essays and Fiction from Seito, 1911-16, The University of Michigan Press 2007.

Raichō Hiratsuka, In the Beginning, Woman was the Sun: The Autobiography of a Japanese Feminist, Columbia University Press 2010.

Shiori Ito, Black Box, Inari Books 2020.

Enchi Fumiko, Namamiko. L'inganno delle sciamane, traduzione di P. Scrolavezza, Safarà editore 2019

Yoshiya Nobuko, Storie di fiori, a cura di P. Scrolavezza, Atmosphere libri 2020.

Murata Sayaka, La ragazza del convenience store, E/O 2018

Kawakami Mieko, Seni e uova, E/O 2020

Movies and Documentaries:

Murakami Ryu, Tokyo decadence, Giappone 1992

Hirokazu Kore'eda, Un affare di famiglia, Giappone 2018


Any other hard-to-find materials will be provided by the teacher during the classes.

Powerpoint files used throughout the course will be  available to students on Virtuale platform.

Teaching methods

The course will consist in lectures held by the teacher and seminars. A strong and active participation in class discussions by the students is warmly encouraged.

Assessment methods

The exam is oral and is designed to assess the achievement of the main teaching objectives of the course, i.e. the acquisition of critical knowledge of the history of women in Japan, with attention to the relationship between representations and  historical, cultural and social context. Given seminar format of the course, where active participation in the discussion is crucial, the exam will consist of an in-depth research of a subject from those addressed in the course, which will be presented and discussed during the final exam.The exam will be considered satisfactory if it demonstrates an informed knowledge of the main themes addressed, combined with the critical methodologies used throughout the lessons.

Teaching tools

Slides, video, multi-media supports. In addition to class lectures, a series of seminars held by national as well as international scholars will be organized, whose active involvement is part of the final exam.

The Powerpoint files used during the course will be available for students on the course website (Virtuale).

Office hours

See the website of Paola Scrolavezza