Gender in Japanese History

National Museum of Japanese History

poster for Gender in Japanese History

This event has ended.

*By appointment only. (Please visit official website for the details.)

Countless historical phenomena formed and disappeared over the course of time, but only some have been written down. We call the former “reki” and the latter “shi.” Despite women’s indisputable existence as “reki” in the long history of the Japanese archipelago, they rarely appear in “shi.” Nonetheless, researchers of women’s history raised the following fresh questions through their efforts to bring female figures to light. “Why did we come to differentiate male from female?” “How did people in the past navigate through such gender divisions?” With the use of more than 280 sources including important cultural properties and UNESCO “memory of the world” items, this historical exhibition explores what gender meant and how it transformed within the long history of Japanese society.

By focusing on the space for state affairs and politics, this exhibition first examines the emergence of gender divisions. Classical Japanese society developed along with the formation of the ritsuryō state, by dividing its constituents into “male” and “female” and thereby assigning them to prescribed gender roles. In the medieval and early modern periods, individual households (ie) came to function as political space. Then, with the establishment of the modern nation state, women were completely excluded from government affairs. Contemporary Japanese society has emerged after all those changes.

Additionally, this exhibition sheds light on women and men in their work and lives. By investigating excavated items such as classical wooden tablets and clay figures from mounded tombs, heretofore unknown information about women and men’s actual working conditions in classical Japan are revealed. Here, through investigating different aspects of labor- such as rice planting in medieval and early-modern Japan, hair dressing jobs, and artisan activities- when and how images about male and female occupations developed can be seen.

Furthermore, by focusing on the sex trade from medieval to postwar times, this exhibition explores the history of sexuality, which has been significantly influenced by the gender and social characteristics of each period. While introducing diaries and letters of women who lived as prostitutes, this exhibition helps you visit the history of sexuality in Japan, which greatly reflected gender division and male-female positioning.

This special exhibition, “Gender in Japanese History,” aims to present exciting elements of history while offering visitors an opportunity to search for a way to develop a society in which everyone can live freely without gender-based restrictions.



from October 06, 2020 to December 06, 2020
Exhibition Hours 9:30-16:30. By appointment only.



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