Free «Japan’s First Woman Diarist  and the Beginnings of Prose Writings by Women in Japan» Essay Sample

Tomiko Yoda studies the emergence of Heian literature and kana writing from an angle, which generally differs from the general hypothesis of modern scholars. The author emphasizes that binary perceptions of Chinese/Japanese and masculine/feminine might not be the basic characteristic features of Heian literature. Through the analysis of kana and mana writings, as well as the study of references to Chinese and Japanese poetry in ‘Tosa nikki’, the first example of vernacular literature, as well as a number of other works by Japanese authors Tomiko Yoda states that modern perception of Heian kana literature is formed on the basis of existing stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. Instead the author suggests making a deeper study of the culture and linguistics of the early period of Heian literature. It will be the only way to see the actual background for the origins of kana and Japanese vernacular literature and the role of female population in it. At the same time the author emphasizes the overall lack of material on the topic.

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In the process of analysis Tomiko Yoda covers a number of topics, which she perceives as integral elements of the modern perception of Heian kana literature, which have to be challenged: the binary construct of Chinese/Japanese languages, the development and role of kana, the role of men in the development of Japanese literature etc. Overall it is a very interesting analysis, which presents an alternative point of view on Heian literature.

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The role of speech and written language is one of the primary and interesting arguments presented by Tomiko Yoda. The author states “Today’s definition of Heian kana as a phonetic system of writing has been deeply inflected by modern linguistic ideology and its reification of spoken national language.” (Yoda, 2000, p. 482) at this point the researcher challenges the modern perception of language and its’ role in the study of Japanese literature. While modern scholars perceive language as speech at the first place and writing only as an element, but not a principal part of language identification, Tomiko Yoda suggests that it is only a modern belief. The author argues that writing and written structure were primary for the definition of Heian poetry. It means that literary writings were measured not by the speaking patterns, but by written form. And the main difference between kana and mana can be in the calligraphic form. If this assumption is true, then it means that difference between Japanese and Chinese poetry was in fact not the language.

In this case the idea that Japanese women took part in the creation of kana only because they could not understand mana (Chinese) can be doubted. This is a good argument because it uses some basic linguistic structures and a simple shift of perception on one issue (role of language), which consequently leads to the change of perspective on a number of other things (difference between kana and mana, the reasons for women to use kana). Therefore Tomiko Yoda creates a whole new sphere for study of Heian literature.

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At the same time the author’s argument for the more significant role of men in the development of kana is less convincing. Although Tomiko Yoda offers a number of arguments that support her idea, such as the basic fact that the author of the first piece of vernacular literature was a man, as well as there were some other male contributors to the development of Heian literature, there are much more arguments in favor of the binary approach to this issue. The arguments that contradict the author’s hypothesis start from the definition of a type of kana called the “feminine hand” (Yoda, 2000, p. 466) and on the contrary the “male script (Yoda, 2000, p. 474), which refers to Chinese characters.

It is notable that in the 9th century, when the Heian kana literature was developing, it was the male noble prerogative to compose literature in Chinese, thus there was no necessity for the male population to develop kana writings. Finally, despite the fact that the author of ‘Tosa nikki’ was male, the book is written as a female diary. This particular fact shows that vernacular literature and kana writing were initially the prerogative of women. Moreover, for a number of times ‘Tosa nikki’ notes the inability of women to understand Chinese poetry, on the contrary o men who composed and recited it. Therefore despite the author’s argument, there are some facts that currently prove that existing theories on the roles of men and women in the development of Heian kana literature are more reliable than the one proposed by Tomiko Yoda.

This is a very interesting article that proposes an alternative point of view on the development of kana and Japanese literature in the 9th and 10th centuries. Despite its’ originality, the author is able to provide solid arguments that make the reader doubt the existing theories. It is especially appealing because the author touches not only the issues related to Japanese literature, but as well relates them to the modern concepts of language, femininity, masculinity, etc. Therefore sociological and psychological concepts are integral parts of this work and are as important as literary and linguistic ones. The work of Tomiko Yoda will be interesting for anyone who is concerned not only about the development of Heian kana literature, but also about the ways in which modern perceptions and attitudes shape scientific research.

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