Women play an important role in all forms of Japanese literature. Many classical Japanese authors were women and even the very style of vernacular written Japanese has origins in writing that was used by women in the Heian court. The metamorphosis of female characterization speaks volumes about cultural expectations and changing social roles for women in Japan. In the earliest mythology, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, has great power and gives birth to the Japanese imperial line. Folklore contains a variety of women stereotypes, including the angelic self-sacrificing wife and virtuous maiden, as well as the demonic yamauba (mountain hag) and yukionna (snow woman). Classical Japanese narratives, such as the Tale of Genji (ca. 1008), were often written by women and include memorable female protagonists of complex psychological depth. The lyric tradition includes not only women poets who express their longings openly, but also a variety of female archetypes for, or about whom, poetry was written. In drama, the no and kabuki traditions contain a full spectrum of both good and evil women characters. Women’s roles in society underwent reevaluation following the Meiji Restoration. On the one hand, the government promoted traditional roles and values in such slogans as “ryosai kenbo” (good wives, wise mothers), and didactic fiction tended to empasize this stereotype. Yet other narrative works, such as Izumi Kyoka’s “Koya hijiri” (1900; tr. The Koya Priest, 1959–60), underscore the mystical, demonic female character. The tanka of Yosano Akiko, with their overt description of female desire, offered a profound challenge to the Meiji-period stereotypes. By the 20th century, translations of Western novels and a swing toward realist fiction, along with the influence of Japanese feminism, led to more complex and threedimensional female protagonists, such as the four sisters in Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s wartime novel Sasameyuki (1943–48; tr. The Makioka Sisters, 1957).
   After the war, the Occupation brought new cultural innovations and expectations to Japanese women, which were expanded during the 1960s and 1970s as waves of new women writers published stories that explored the range of changing female stereotypes and the tensions of the Japanese workplace. Many contemporary novels, such as the stories of Tsushima Yuko, depict women who are confused by the array of expectations and options available to them, while others, such as works by Yamada Eimi, portray aggressive female characters in control of their destinies.

Historical dictionary of modern Japanese literature and theater. . 2009.

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