AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 322

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Session 322: Japanese Chick Lit: Women Writers of the Baby Boomer Generation

Organizer: Eileen Mikals-Adachi, Eckerd College, USA

In an attempt to define Japanese ‘Chick Lit’, a term coined by American novelist Cris Mazza in Chick Lit Postfeminist Fiction (1995) to designate a kind of genre fiction within women’s fiction, this panel will explore the writing of four popular women writers from Japan’s Baby Boomer generation: Hayashi Mariko, Natsuo Kirino, Himeno Kaoruko, and Yuikawa Kei. While Japan’s long tradition of women’s literature is indisputable and this genre now holds a secure place in mainstream literature, many of the most popular Japanese women writers find themselves on the sidelines of what has been traditionally defined as ‘pure’ literature and frustrated by their lack of recognition in what is still, in a sense, a male-dominated world. The humorous and cheerful tones these writers use to examine modern social issues facing Japanese women have clearly kept their works out of many serious discussions of literature. Yet, it is indeed the seemingly lighthearted nature of their works, together with rejection and/or redefinition of traditional values in the true fashion of the baby boomer generation, that have enticed a wide audience of readers and thereby kept their names on the list of best selling authors. While considering the parameters of Chick Lit and whether this term can appropriately be applied to Japanese women’s writing, our panel will study the underlying themes presented and initiate conversation about how these works represent not only a new genre, be it independent of or part of mainstream women’s literature, but also social commentary on contemporary Japan.

Portraits of Modern Japanese Working Women – the Literature of Hayashi Mariko
Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase, Vassar College, USA

Hayashi Mariko (1954 - ) is one of the most productive and popular female fiction writers to have emerged in the 1980s. Her works (essays, romantic stories, biographical and autobiographical fiction, etc) are all humorous, lighthearted, urban and fashionable. They target young women in their twenties and thirties, and are always best sellers. Hayashi Mariko is considered to be one of the most successful Japanese chick lit writers. Although her stories are easy to read and her narrative style is casual, the messages that she delivers through her works are often radical and challenging to society; she vividly narrates modern working women’s (sometimes vulgar) desires and emotional struggles with which her female readers show great empathy. Despite Hayashi’s ambitious efforts as a writer, she has never been evaluated fairly in the bundan (literary world), a circumstance that seems to cause her frustration. That she originally made her name as an advertising copywriter and that her stories are directed at an audience mainly comprised of young women probably contribute to her poor treatment at the hands of critics. This presentation will pay particular attention to her autobiography and biographical works of female literary figures. The idea of “authoring” was traditionally considered a male act; the idea of female writers authoring other female writers itself is political. Hayashi’s own ambition and frustration as a female writer are clearly reflected in her works.

Who is Aiko? ~ The Absent ‘Father’ in Natsuo Kirino’s I’m Sorry, Mama.
Kayo Takeuchi, Ochanomizu University, Japan

Natsuo Kirino (1951 - ) is one of the most popular female fiction writers in Japan. Her work Out (1997), which depicts housewives who work part-time and become involved in dismembering corpses, has, in particular, been widely discussed. In this way, Kirino uses the techniques of realism to portray the odious mentality of housewives, prostitutes and other such women who do not possess money, beauty, or youth. Through depicting the vitality of these heroines, Kirino scathingly exposes the oppression that Japanese women suffer in both the home and society. This presentation will explore the novel I'm Sorry, Mama (2004). The heroine Aiko is in her forties and has been brought up as an orphan in a Tokyo brothel. She does not hesitate to take on work involving the sex trade, theft, arson, and murder. The only thing she can rely on is a dirty pair of white shoes that she calls "Mama." This novel corresponds with the era when anger about economic disparity was beginning to be heard, and it focuses on a woman in the lower social strata. However, it has not been highly regarded until now. Perhaps this is because compared with Kirino's other novels, its very humorous fictional nature is highlighted. However, by interrogating the existence/absence of the ‘father’ in this text, I will demonstrate that it is this feature that enables Kirino to challenge the patriarchal gender roles that exist in the Japanese emperor and family systems.

To Be Beautiful, Or Not To Be Beautiful, That Is The Question—Himeno Kaoruko’s Seikei Bijo
Satoko Kan, Ochanomizu University, Japan

In contemporary Japan, women have a terrible obsession with being thin. For Japanese women, to be thin means to be beautiful. Therefore, they always make significant efforts to keep their bodies slender. However, what precisely is beauty for Japanese women? What relationship does being beautiful have with their self-esteem or identity? This presentation will discuss how female writers reveal that Japanese women’s obsessions are ruled by male sexual desire and how they thereby challenge those societal standards of beauty that continue to suppress Japanese women. Focusing on Himeno Kaoruko’s Seikei Bijo, this paper will highlight how this concept of beauty is controlled by social expectations based on patriarchal ideology. Himeno Kaoruko (1958- ) is a unique Japanese writer whose works describe the real issues women face in contemporary Japanese society in a cynical and humorous tone, and frequently as black comedies. In Seikei Bijo (Plastic Surgical Beauty, 1999), interestingly enough Himeno adapts the story of Cain and Abel as a framework and explores how Japanese women confront the concept of beauty through paradoxical descriptions. Through analysis of this work, we can see that beauty and ugliness are two sides of the same coin. In addition to Himeno’s work, I will refer to female writers of comics, including Okazaki Kyoko, Suzuki Yumiko and Anno Moyoko, to demonstrate how such contemporary female writers challenge the notion of gender ideology in their works.

Celebrations of the Heart – Romantic Lit by Yuikawa Kei
Eileen Mikals-Adachi, Eckerd College, USA

When discussing ren’ai shôsetsu, or Japanese love novels, the first writer that comes to mind to anyone familiar with this genre is Yuikawa Kei (1955- ). Since her literary debut with Kaishoku no gogo (Afternoon Colors of the Ocean, 1984), which received the 3rd Cobalt Novel Prize, Yuikawa has written close to 100 love novels, many of which have been transformed on the screen as films or TV dramas. The popularity of her works is undeniable and, while the quality of her writing has been criticized by some, two additional novels have likewise received literary prizes: Katagoshi Koibito (Over-the-Shoulder Lover, 2001), the 126th Naoko Prize and Ai ni nita mono (Something Like Love, 2008), the Shibata Renzaburô Prize. Such mixed reviews come from the way that, like many writers of love novels, Yuikawa uses simple language and the most basic of love-related plots for her works. At the core of her literature, however, are issues facing Japan’s post WWII generation of women, including gender roles, career options, and the traditional love-sex-marriage triangle dictated by an overbearing patriarchal society. This juxtaposition of light and heavy elements has attracted a wide audience of women readers who clearly identity with the writer and who, moreover, find therapeutic relief from their daily woes in such romantic tales. While focusing on Yuikawa’s award-winning novels, this paper will examine the significance of the writer-reader relationship, the healing quality of such ren’ai shôsetsu and how Japanese love novels fit into the overall definition of Chick Lit.