Controversial Womanhood in Japanese Art
The Japanese woman has been characterized in a diverse set of ways by many scholars of Asian Studies. Through an analysis of Japan’s artistic creations expressed in the visual and literary arts, a basis for characterizing Japanese women emerges. Several interpreters of the nature of Japanese women during the Heian period (794-1185) have come to different conclusions about how the identity of Japanese women should be defined. The conclusions made are based on artistic evidence thought to reflect Japanese society and personhood. While the two interpretations focused on in this paper will contradict one another, a better understanding of life for Japanese women during the period in question can be derived from these conflicting interpretations.
One perspective from which Japanese women are viewed is articulated by John Berger in an excerpt from his book Ways of Seeing. In this excerpt describing the nude woman as a subject of an artwork, Berger posits the theory that western women suffer from a split-self identity. According to Berger, this affliction, while reflected in the Western artistic cannon, is absent from the non-western traditions. It is observed by Berger that in Japanese visual arts, the content is “likely to show active sexual love as between two people, the woman as active as the man, the actions of each absorbing the other” (Berger). This view of not only the choice of but the interactions between subjects is concurrent with another art critic’s perspective by the name of Mara Miller. Miller expounds on this observation by Berger in an essay entitled “Art and the Construction of Self and Subject.” In this essay, Miller makes the claim that women are not the object of the male gaze by referencing several tablets created in the style of Ukiyo-e as supportive of her thesis. Her thesis asserts that a self neither split nor devalued can be derived from the analysis of Japanese art and can be evidenced in...
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