anagnori

The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion by Elisheva A. Perelman

In Asia, mythology, society on January 11, 2015 at 06:00

From: The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion: Memes of Imperial Women by Elisheva A. Perelman, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

With the sun metaphor, though she herself would disavow it, Hiratsuka recalled the origination myths of Japan, and the birth of the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom Japan’s imperial household was purported to be descended. In Amaterasu’s origin, the relationship of men with women—both in the physical and spiritual sense—was shaped. The story of Amaterasu and her progenitors, Izanagi and Izanami, as an origin myth and a heuristic device, is far more complex than an obvious feminist manifesto. The tale of Amaterasu and Izanami, her “mother”, as conveyed by the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest extant chronicle, presents a legitimising meme of the subjugation of women, and of women’s attempts to circumvent subjugation; and this meme occurs not only within Japan’s origination myths, but also in far more modern iterations among Amaterasu’s current putative descendants.

Neither Amaterasu nor Izanami emerge from their stories unscathed. At the beginning of the Kojiki, following a commentary by the compiler, we are confronted by the primal void, which appears in so many origin myths, and from that void emerge Japan’s progenitrix deities, Izanagi and Izanami, male and female, respectively. The pair is tasked with creation, which is first undertaken through a rather pragmatic and perfunctory attempt at intercourse. While the actual, physical coupling seems to be fairly by the book, the postcoital utterance by Izanami ruins the encounter, forcing a miscarriage of form. It is Izanagi’s privilege to speak first, but Izanami, whether out of ignorance or excitement, blurts out her satisfaction with the partnering. Women are often charged with ruining aspects of origination myths—Eve and the apple, Pandora and the box—and Izanami falls into this trap. Her brother-spouse orders her silence after their next attempt, allowing him the first words following their union, and she complies with his command. It is his right to pronounce the union satisfactory first, whereupon Izanami is allowed to echo his sentiment. After all, when she was the first to speak, the offspring produced are, essentially, aborted, abandoned to the void. Izanami’s initiating speech is a miscarriage, a breakdown; her echo, a success. She complies, and, by choosing to hold her tongue, Izanami has been silenced, both by her partner and, in her acquiescence, by herself.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

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