Ruth Linhart | Japanology | Biography project Imai Yasuko| Photographs german version

Imai Yasuko and her world. A biography.

Imai Yasuko during the year in Vienna 1977 Summary

The 20th century has brought to Japanese women in several phases of development great changes and on the legal basis the liberation from patriarchy. With the biography of the 1933 born Imai Yasuko and its integration into contemporary history the path of Japanese women is to be demonstrated from the obligation to be a "good wife and a wise mother" towards a larger variety of possibilities of organising their lives.
The example of the unmarried literary expert and feminist Imai Yasuko, who managed to refuse the traditional obligations of Japanese women, shows in the context of "her world" clearly, to what a high degree political and social processes affect the life of individuals. But it proves also the "persistence of social structure" (Nakane Chie), that hampers a self determined living.
The story of an untypical Japanese like Imai Yasuko, who is neither a famous personality in the sense of conventional historiography nor the "ordinary woman" which is in the centre of "oral history", permits a differentiated view of these ambivalences of Japanese society.
The project is arranged interdisciplinary and uses the methods of Japanology, women - and gender studies, contemporary history and social anthropology. Imai Yasuko´s life and world is documented by using written and oral documents in japanese - life historical interviews in the tradition of oral history, writings of Imai Yasuko on Japanese literature and on women´s problems, approximately 160 letters of Imai Yasuko -, as well as by photos, by the visit of important locations of her life, various documents concerning her curriculum vitae and also by interviews with important persons from her social surroundings and time witnesses.
The individual life of Imai Yasuko will be linked with the events of contemporary history predominantly by research in german and english literature. In doing so it is planned to stick closely to the biographic course of life of Imai Yasuko. Therefore the following topics will be treated in particular: Imai Yasuko´s childhood during the Japan-China War and the Pacific War, her growing up in a paternalistic family, the democratisation and modernisation of Japan after the war especially in view of the situation of women and its impact on the life of Imai Yasuko, the left wing student movement in the second half of the fifties of the last century and its dealing with women, obstacles in the private and professional sphere despite legal equality of Japanese men and women, women´s movement and women´s activities in Japan starting in the seventies, in the UN decade of women and afterwards.
It is a goal of the planned biography to form in the figure of Imai Yasuko and in the contextualisation with her social surrounding a kind of mirror of the changing political and social characteristics of "her" time, above all of the women´s situation and of the normative image of women. Naturally this mirror like all mirrors can only show a certain extract of reality. Although it will be strived for methodical correctness it remains unverifiable whether this reality really existed in the same manner. The goal of the biography is to attain the best possible approximation to it.

Aims of the project

The scientific reference frame for the biography "Imai Yasuko and her world" is the historical and the social anthropological women´s research concerning Japan that is accessible in German and English. The goal of the planned biography is to add to the spectrum of aspects on Japanese women depicted in these two languages a further facet: the biography of a Japanese woman in the context of social relations and historical events, who is neither a famous personality nor belongs to the "average" or anonymous men and women , which are preferably object of the oral history or "Geschichte von unten". Imai Yasuko is a woman, who does not only experience history, but who also reflects and commentates history - especially women´s history, and as a teaching person tries to pass her insights to the younger generation.
The unmarried university professor Imai Yasuko is virtually atypical for the women of her age cohort . But nevertheless she is suited well for fulfilling the demand on the biography as historiographic genre, that by the description of an individual life the knowledge about general social and historical events and trends should be enlarged. Precisely speaking, the life of Imai Yasuko, who was born in 1933 and passed away in 2009 is investigated on the basis of written and oral self references mainly with regard to what it is telling us about being a woman in Japan between 1930 and 2000. One chapter is also dedicated to her ancestors.
"How is an individual determined by social change? And in reverse: How can the individual intervene actively in the process of social change and how can it deal with a crisis?" asks Kenichi Shimamura in a paper about "Biographical research in Japan" (BIOS 1/1991, 81-96). Imai Yasuko´s life is suited well to try an answer to exactly these questions. In the planned work the focus will lie on the social change concerning the position in family and society of Japanese women.
I would like to summarise the questions, to which the biography of Imai Yasuko shall give an answer, in the following five items:

  1. How does the world look like and how does the world change, into which Imai Yasuko is born and where she spends her life, particularly in view to the social status and the life possibilities of women?
  2. How does the process of Japanese contemporary history and the political and social development affect the personal life of the female individual Imai Yasuko?
  3. With what means did Imai Yasuko try to put into practise her insights into the necessity for a change in the situation of Japanese women and how successful was she?
  4. In the centre of the project stands a woman who clearly does not match the Japanese norm, but also not the stereotyped western conceptions about Japanese women. Is she the "exception who confirms the rule" or can the example of her life add a crack to the western cliché?
  5. Which role as a personality developing impetus plays "the West" or rather play the different images of "the West" and of European women for Imai Yasuko?

Dr. Ruth Linhart
A-1050 Vienna
Schlossgasse 6-8/18

See also:
Life record of Imai Yasuko

Projektbeschreibung deutsch

Imai Yasuko: Vor dem Tagesanbruch für Frauen

Herbst in Hamamatsu - Besuche im Garten Eden


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