Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

Paperback(First Edition)

Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Friday, May 31


Offering a concise, entertaining snapshot of Japanese society, Manners and Mischief examines etiquette guides, advice literature, and other such instruction for behavior from the early modern period to the present day and discovers how manners do in fact make the nation. Eleven accessibly written essays consider a spectrum of cases, from the geisha party to gay bar cool, executive grooming, and good manners for subway travel. Together, they show that etiquette is much more than fussy rules for behavior.
In fact the idiom of manners, packaged in conduct literature, reveals much about gender and class difference, notions of national identity, the dynamics of subversion and conformity, and more. This richly detailed work reveals how manners give meaning to everyday life and extraordinary occasions, and how they can illuminate larger social and cultural transformations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520267848
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 04/21/2011
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jan Bardsley, Associate Professor of Japanese Humanities at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of The Bluestockings of Japan: New Women Essays and Fiction from Seito, 1911–1916. Laura Miller, Eiichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Professor of Japanese Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics. Bardsley and Miller coedited Bad Girls of Japan.

Read an Excerpt

Manners and Mischief

Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan

By Jan Bardsley, Laura Miller


Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94949-2


Genji Guides, or Minding Murasaki


What is the proper way to read the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari), the greatest classic of Japanese literature, and who are its proper readers? We, modern seekers after the "truth" of literature, might chafe at being told how to correctly read a poem, or be wary of conduct manuals used to create disciplined social groups, but when confronted with the almost eight hundred poems larded into the famously allusive prose of Genji monogatari, some kind of guide begins to seem welcome. The fifty-four-chapter bulk of the text has no doubt left many a student wondering whether it might not be preferable to be told that the Genji is, unfortunately, not the thing for a youth to read. This monumental work is an argument for instructional aids, if ever there was one. Long before centuries of language change intervened between the modern audience and Murasaki Shikibu's (c. 978–c. 1016) prose, the fact that most characters were identified by official titles rather than personal names, and that these titles changed from chapter to chapter with a character's promotion or change of social role, led to the production of genealogies for tracking them, not to mention nicknames for conveniently making reference to the main heroes and heroines among the more than five hundred individuals who put in an appearance. Dilettante and professional readers alike were in need of these "handles," without which few could grasp the salient plot points.


It would seem that guides to a major work of literature, particularly one that presents special problems due to its historical distance, are something to celebrate. This is especially true in the case of the Tale of Genji. First of all, the reader must come to terms with an elite, hierarchical world in which lords and ladies pass the time with arts and seductions. One also has to figure out which character is acting, speaking, or being spoken to or about at any given time in Genji monogatari (true pronouns are mostly absent; grammatical inflections signal the relative social position of parties to a conversation).

The eighth chapter, "Under the Cherry Blossoms" (Hana no en) provides a useful example of the charming and yet slightly alarming way the narrative moves through highly charged territory, giving us a good idea of why generations have turned to guides for clues to navigating this classic. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to the main man as Genji (a pronunciation of the family name "Minamoto," given to princes who are removed from the royal succession) but not rely on other sobriquets. Although the chapter is a mere half-dozen pages in English translation, it is dense with references to courtly romances and pastimes.

The chapter begins with the court gathered to fête the cherry tree before the royal palace. The introduction of each participant brings allusions to the complicated emotions among them, from the resentment of the sovereign's first wife toward the honor shown the current empress, to the nervousness of Genji's best friend and rival as he is called on to produce Chinese poems or dance just after the incomparable hero, to the tears of the father-in-law who thrills to Genji's dancing, even though he wishes the young man were more attentive to his daughter. The empress watches her stepson Genji with mixed feelings, since she and he have been involved in an affair. Her precarious situation is revealed in a poem that the narrator admits it is strange for her to be able to report. Having had a lot to drink, Genji tries to get in to see the empress, but the door through which he might gain access is locked. He continues until he finds an unlocked door. There begins one of Genji's many affairs, a perilous liaison with a high-ranking woman whose parents intend for her to marry well, to Genji's half-brother, the heir apparent. Genji suspects but hopes this is not the woman he has found under the misty moon (until he realizes it could be a convenient out for her to marry his brother). As he frets over the identity of the lady, from whom he had received only an appealing display of fright, a poem and a fan, Genji runs a mental comparison with the empress (a repeated topos, as he never forgets a relationship), plays music, calls both on the girl he is raising to be his model wife and on his first, less friendly, wife, and is finally invited to an archery contest by the father of the mystery lady. The chapter ends with Genji clutching the hand of the one he guessed to be his conquest, filled with joy and misgivings when she offers him a verse in response.

Joy and misgivings over Genji fill the many women in his orbit: the girl he brings up, young Murasaki, must adopt the daughter of a mistress while having no children of her own; and his first wife, Aoi, is struck dead by the spirit of a rival just after having a son. The parade of ladies, their letters, their attendants, and even their locations behind screens and under layers of robes keeps the reader's head whirling. If the producers of manuals to such a text are themselves good readers, scholars with access to contextual knowledge (knowing how archery contests proceeded, for example), and educators who have the public's best interests and edification at heart, and if their efforts encourage larger audiences to read the work, as surely they must, what can be the objection? But the rhetoric of "best interests" often hides a threat of coercion. When the interpreter tells the reader what to look at and therefore what to ignore in order to read correctly, text and reader are at that interpreter's mercy. Some guides to the Genji seem more like guards keeping us from the Genji, from Murasaki Shikibu, or even from ourselves. They promise to narrow and straighten us (as the English banner at the top of one cover proclaims, JAPANESE TRADITIONAL CULTURE OFFICIAL APPROVAL [sic]), in essence to prevent an uninhibited embrace of the material. Even as they bring the text to our notice and herald it as a classic, they aim to organize and institutionalize our reactions. Indispensable though they may be—and, no, I could never have read the book myself without them—they invite suspicion.

In saying this, nonetheless, we face a paradox and a question about the nature and purpose of reading itself. Handbooks to the Genji have historically tended to try to simplify the process of the encounter with the text, and to focus our attention on the shared values of the community of readers that such guides presuppose and work to reinforce. They imply a correct reading that is arguably less diffuse and more shallow than we could acquire by approaching the text without their mediation. Were we to read the text directly, a freer, deeper experience might emerge, one that would not necessarily produce a directed and shareable response. Such an unencumbered reading seems ideal. And yet it is equally dogmatic to insist that the proper way to read the Tale of Genji is in an immediate, undisciplined, and singular encounter. Whether we say that the right reading is the unfettered or the guided, we are still calling for control over how the text is consumed, and implicitly calling for seriousness. Yet it is impossible to fully admire the variety of readings the text courts—its profound creativity—while rejecting the handy chart, the digest, the comic book, or even the attractions of the Super Dollfie designer doll modeled on the male lead, the Shining Genji. Each of these has its place and may be the natural and preferable response to a tale that so often remarks on the devastating good looks of its hero. Scenes of voyeurism beckon us to look at handsome men or unavailable women and sigh. Love relationships do emerge as the highest goal for women (with committing suicide or becoming a nun the frequent, but lamented, alternatives). The world of the tale (monogatari) is one of women gathering in groups; we hear the things (mono) they tell one another (katari). Genji is always ready to substitute likely candidates for the women he has loved and lost, beginning with his mother, and reading requires we keep track of them. Guides have their utility, and can expand our horizons by sharpening our focus. What I hope to show, however, is that some have used their mastery over the text as a way of suppressing a range of discoveries, especially those that open up a critique of gender. The fact that the author is a woman, and that the intended audience was evidently female, has raised the stakes for those who felt charged with making the best parts of the text legible. Women, as much as the text, are the object of advice for good conduct when it comes to this tale.

Why we must read, who "we" are, and why we ought to read particular things are topics for a philosophy or an ideology of reading. Educators must be aware of their own answers, which, in turn, form the structuring principles of a canon. But such moral imperatives are not entirely divorced from the question of how we should read, in the literal sense of what physical posture to assume, or where it is appropriate to be seen reading, for example (until recently, it was not common to see women reading on trains in Japan). This etiquette of reading—how to turn the pages or wind the scroll, which material details to remark upon, which characters may be part of polite conversation—participates with the larger project of training one's sights on the classics and avoiding trash. The aim in both cases is to produce the educated, refined person who upholds propriety. Such a person reads the right things, in the right fashion, and draws the right conclusions. The etiquette of reading Genji monogatari does not focus on form to the exclusion of content. In fact, I will argue that it raises attention to certain matters of form as a means of patrolling the content and, perhaps more significantly, responses to it. The etiquette imposed on readers, furthermore, can be seen as keeping the author, or at least her ideas, in check as well.


The question of proper readings and readers for the Genji has, moreover, always exceeded mere issues of organizing information or classifying possible responses. In its own pages the tale raises such issues as gender, genre, and morality; continuing debate on each of these has shaped its reception down to the present. Whether eager readers, avid canonizers, or detractors, pundits in every epoch have taken little for granted. (And how could there be a muted response to a story such as this? It begins with death by bullying, progresses through the amorous adventures of the royally born Genji—seeking a substitute for the stepmother with whom he trysts only long enough to make her pregnant—his rivals, and progeny. It finally ends with a woman who tries by all means to resist the bonds of romantic submission to two men, the grandson and the putative son of Genji, who represent society's highest aspirations for male behavior.) How the Tale of Genji is read reflects the concerns of the historical period in which it is read. The tale functions as a touchstone for views of the past, of literature, and of properly male or female spheres. In what follows, I will briefly trace representative premodern views of how to handle this most capacious of texts, beginning with visions that take the Genji itself as the guide, before returning to some of the ways it has been parsed for modern audiences, both within and outside Japan. While this will hardly be an account of all the customs that hem in the reading of the tale today or in times past, it suggests some of the reasons that an etiquette of reading (one with much ideological force) often trained on the superficies of the book has developed around Genji monogatari. Although early moral reactions can be stern in their critique of the tale, the fortunes I sketch are not always on an upward trend to a modern, increasingly enlightened acceptance of the Genji. Rather, periods of intense interest in the tale at a national level have sometimes apparently done the least to promote a balanced appreciation of it. The year 2008, recognized (by committee) as the one thousandth year of the tale's existence, has seen the work receive its fullest local, global, and virtual exploitation. Nationwide, "culture centers" offer reading groups, exhibitions proliferate, and even the Kyoto branch of the Bank of Japan draws on the Genji's cachet to lure customers on a tour of their local financial institution. The tale is at the center of a marketing effort that is probably unprecedented, and yet there is a certain hesitation to embrace the whole saga, an always resurfacing ambivalence about this work that is so closely identified with, but still so dangerous to, traditional Japanese culture. How this can be so should be obvious to anyone who has read it, although readership never seems to grow quite in proportion to the energy that goes into exhorting people to read the book, at least in our time.


Evidence suggests that the tale attracted readers much more easily in its own day, at least among the tiny percentage of the population that comprised the literate elite. In her journal, Murasaki Shikibu at one point laments that her patron has taken an inferior version from her room to give to his second daughter, implying that fans were anxious to peruse the latest installments. She also reports that the sovereign Ichijo (r. 986–1011), to whom the central woman in her salon, Shoshi (also known as Akiko, 988–1074), was married, remarked upon hearing some of the tale read that the author must have read the history Nihongi (properly, Nihon shoki, Chronicles of Japan, 720). This remark inspired the lady-in-waiting Saemon no naishi to tease the writer with the nickname "Our Lady of the Chronicles." Ichijo's sally may imply that he recognized the tale had a gravity that would lend itself to being a subject for lectures, as the Chronicles of Japan did. Or it may be a reference to Murasaki's views in the tale about the comparative value of genres. Heian culture followed the Chinese ranking: history was best, poetry was good, and fiction did not even belong in the list, so degraded was it. The author herself inserted a "defense of fiction," a passage in which her eponymous hero assures his adoptive daughter (the object of his unrequited desire) that tales really do tell more truth than do histories. Both comments, by the sovereign and by the fictional character Genji, attest to male interest in the monogatari. We may read them today as subversive votes in favor of the vernacular produced by women (cannily placed by the female writer in the mouths of men). Historically they have been used to endorse an image of the author as a talented, wise woman (saijo). Biographies of notable Japanese women, popular in the Edo period (1600–1868), hold Murasaki up as a model reader of serious works.


Excerpted from Manners and Mischief by Jan Bardsley, Laura Miller. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Manners and Mischief: Introduction Jan Bardsley Laura Miller 1

1 Genji Guides, or Minding Murasaki Linda H. Chance 29

2 Box-Lunch Etiquette: Conduct Guides and Kabuki Onnagata Maki Isaka 48

3 The Perfect Woman: Geisha, Etiquette, and the World of Japanese Traditional Arts Kelly M. Foreman 67

4 Mortification, Mockery, and Dissembling: Western Adventures in Japanese Etiquette Gavin James Campbell 80

5 A Dinner Party Is Not a Revolution: Space, Gender, and Hierarchy in Meiji Japan Sally A. Hastings 95

6 The Oyaji Gets a Makeover: Guides for Japanese Salarymen in the New Millennium Jan Bardsley 114

7 The Dignified Woman Who Loves to Be "Lovable" Hiroko Hirakawa 136

8 Making and Marketing Mothers: Guides to Pregnancy in Modern Japan Amanda C. Seaman 156

9 When Manners Are Not Enough: The Newspaper Advice Column and the "Etiquette" of Cultural Ideology in Contemporary Japan Janet S. Shibamoto-Smith 178

10 A Community of Manners: Advice Columns in Lesbian and Gay Magazines in Japan Hideko Abe 196

11 Behavior That Offends: Comics and Other Images of Incivility Laura Miller 219

Bibliography 251

Contributors 269

Index 273

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Manners and Mischief disdains frivolity and stands firm as an academic text for students serious about extending their anthropological knowledge of Japan."

Japan Times

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews