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Between Court, House and Monastery

The Life of a Woman in Medieval Japan

Carolina Negri    Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italia    



In Japanese history the establishment of the ie, or family system, on which patriarchal authority was based, represents one of the most important turning points. The ie that came into being from the late eleventh century onwards, differs from the uji that had characterised previous eras, not so much on account of its patriarchal system but because it would place the married couple in prime position. The family, previously made up of a man engaging in occasional relationships with a number of women, would gradually become a more stable nucleus comprising of a husband with a wife who enjoyed a legally recognised position of privilege compared with all the other concubines. After her husband’s death, she would naturally become a sort of substitute figure, often gaining considerable authority and prestige. With the threat of the Mongolian invasions (from 1274 and 1281) and the consequent increase in limitations on women’s inheritance rights, many widows were forced to take vows as a sign of loyalty and tangible proof of their choice not to remarry if they were to secure their husband’s property. The literary production of Nun Abutsu (1225 ca.-1283 ca.) written in a period which led to the inevitable breakdown of the economic, social, and political balance of Japan, offers a realistic description of women’s ambitions, duties and concerns in an era of great transformation. In a close reading of her major works Abutsu no fumi (The letter of Abutsu, 1264 ca.), Utatane (Fitful slumbers, XIII century) and Izayoi nikki (The Diary of the sixteenth night moon, 1280 ca.), the book casts light on some important issues in Japanese women’s history: the gradual shift from uxorical to virilocal marriage, the consequences of this process for inheritance patterns, the meaning of women’s participation in the intellectual life of their time.

Oct. 20, 2021
May 6, 2021
March 29, 2021
Number of pages
16x23 cm
Copyright: © 2021 Carolina Negri. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Table of contents

Oct. 20, 2021
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Continuità e trasformazione della condizione femminile nel Giappone del periodo Kamakura (1185-1333)
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Una donna intraprendente del Medioevo
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Ritratto di una dama di corte durante il declino del potere imperiale
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Un’opera sui diritti e i doveri delle donne nel Medioevo
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