SBP Blog

Excerpt Wednesday - "Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women" by Kittredge Cherry

Intern Intern - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

This Wednesday we’ve pulled our quote from Kittredge Cherry’s Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women, an intriguing portrait of Japanese womanhood that offers linguistic, sociological, and historical insight into issues central to the lives of women everywhere.

“A delightfully insightful read,” writes Tofugu in their review, “[Womansword] remains one of, if not the best, English language resources for learning about the women of Japan through the language they use.” Thirty years after its first publication, Womansword remains a timely, provocative work on how words reflect on female roles in modern Japan. Short, lively essays offer linguistic, sociological, and historical insight into issues central to the lives of women everywhere: identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality, and aging. A new introduction shows how things have—and haven't—changed.

This passage is a prime example of how Cherry contextualizes the linguistics of femininity within Japanese culture, history, and society. Here she dissects the concept of femininity and how colloquial Japanese language uses the natural world to summarize the character of the sexes, for better or worse:

onna-rashisa: Femininity

One way to chart the meaning of femininity (onna-rashisa) in Japan is to listen to how the landscape itself is described. A “male hill” (otoko-zaka) is the steeper side of a hill, while the more gentle sloping grade is termed the “female hill” (onna-zaka). This seldom-used phrase was resurrected by author Fumiko Enchi as the title for her novel about a wife who waits decades to get revenge for her husband’s infidelity, though the English translation of Onna-zaka is titled simply The Waiting Years. Another way of using nature to summarize the character of the sexes is the proverb “Men are pine trees, women are wisteria vines (Otoko wa matsu, onna wa fuji), which means men are the strong base to which women cling.

The positive traits associated with women are bundled up and tied together in the word onna-rashisa. Dictionaries define it in terms of being kind, gentle, polite, submissive, and graceful. Sometimes “weak” is included, spurring feminist scholars to protest in the 1980s. Many people would also add cheerfulness to the list of what gives a woman onna-rashisa.

On the other hand, the Japanese have several insults based on the linking of women with certain character faults. “Rotten as a woman” is an insult hurled at Japanese men by accusers of both sexes. Onna no kusatta yo na is a standard reproach for guys whom Westerners might call wimps or sissies. These fellows may also be assaulted with a negative word built from two “woman” ideograms, memeshii (effeminate). Both men and women are offended when someone denounces them as “womanish” (joseiteki). The trait that often shakes loose this avalanche of abuse is mealy-mouthed indecisiveness. Sometimes the criticism is cloaked in poetic imagery. “A woman’s heart and the autumn sky” (Onna-gokoro to aki no sora), croons a proverb. The connection is that fall weather in Japan shifts quickly, just as the moods of a woman’s heart. The word onna-gokoro is usually used in the context of love, where such fickleness is generally unwelcome.

To learn more about Womansword or to order a copy for you or a loved one, click here.

 

 


Like our blog? Please share it!

Categories

Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan


Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Exploring Kyoto


This revised and updated edition of the Japan travel classic and cultural guide gets you wandering from downtown quarters to remote mountaintop temples and features expanded information on new museums and gardens now open year-round for viewing.


Japanese Garden Notes


Marc Peter Keane's personal journey through 100 Japanese gardens, looking at them with a designer’s eye.

My Year of Dirt and Water


Married to a Zen monk in training, an American woman in Japan chronicles her own year of growth and discovery.

Tag Cloud

Interview diary zazen japan restaurant behavior religion japanese etiquette reviews Chiune Sugihara World War Two tea garden university of chicago Christianity in Japan book review chinese comics asia Basho koun william f sibley literary prize bowing in japan Spring Festival japan travel memoir japan etiquette otakuusa author drinking in japan Chinese Astrology Ukiyo-e tricycle magazine shun medoruma Tokyo Olympics History gaijin pot Children's Literature hiroaki sato Asian Studies monks wife The Colorado Review travel Japan how to order in japan award center of east asian studies japan memoir tracy franz Japanese literature photography author tour suicide book hoarding green tea jing liu japanese people Japan seppuku Coming of Age Day World War II Chinese New Year matcha yukio mishima Chinese culture how to travel in japan Anime/Manga/Comics journal Korea understandind china through comics Poetry manners AAS 2020 Olympics gaijinpot amy chavez a shameful life Second World War Shoah Japanese art tea Spirituality mark gibeau what do in japan japan custom Chinese history astrology Translation Travel literature Basho's Narrow Road japanese holocaust japanese drunk world literature today Olympics Culture Japanese aesthetics zen review guide japanese travel stone bridge press 1960's Japan non-fiction danica davidson new books internment Nikolas Bunton osamu dazai no longer human literary review 1960s Korea Art/Design haiku etiquette japanese culture in the woods of memory Year of the Dog books Japanese holidays Christianity haibun japan food eating in japan gratitude in japan China Okinawan literature Korea photography WWII stone bridge cafe memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist kansuke naka zen monk Language the silver spoon Children's Books japan guide buddhist monk tourist book tour japanese customs wife takuma sminkey pottery
RSS