Reveals the rich and lively world of literate women in Japan from 1600 through the early 20th century

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Table of Contents:

  • Women, education, and literacy / P. F. Kornicki
  • Tale of Genji: required reading for aristocratic women / G. G. Rowley
  • Illustrated classical texts for women in the Edo period / Joshua S. Mostow
  • The woman reader as symbol: changes in images of the woman reader in Ukiyo-e / Itasaka Noriko
  • In the shadow of men: looking for literate women in biography and prosopography / Anna Beerens
  • A father's advice: confucian cultivation for women in the late eighteenth century / Bettina Gramlich-Oka
  • Nishitani Saku and her mother: "writing" in the lives of Edo period women / Yabuta Yutaka
  • The taming of the strange: Arakida Rei reads and writes stories of the supernatural / Atsuko Sakaki
  • Kishida Toshiko and the career of a public-speaking woman in Meiji Japan / Sugano Noriko
  • Readers and writers: Japanese women and magazines in the late nineteenth century / Mara Patessio
  • Women and literacy from Edo to Meiji / Anne Walthall.


The Female as Subject presents 11 essays by an international group of scholars from Europe, Japan, and North America examining what women of different social classes read, what books were produced specifically for women, and the genres in which women themselves chose to write. The authors explore the different types of education women obtained and the levels of literacy they achieved, and they uncover women’s participation in the production of books, magazines, and speeches. The resulting depiction of women as readers and writers is also enhanced by thirty black-and-white illustrations.For too long, women have been largely absent from accounts of cultural production in early modern Japan. By foregrounding women, the essays in this book enable us to rethink what we know about Japanese society during these centuries. The result is a new history of women as readers, writers, and culturally active agents.The Female as Subject is essential reading for all students and teachers of Japan during the Edo and Meiji periods. It also provides valuable comparative data for scholars of the history of literacy and the book in East Asia.

P. F. Kornicki is Deputy Warden of Robinson College and Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. Mara Patessio is Lecturer in Japanese history at the University of Manchester. G. G. Rowley is Professor at

"Broad in scope and coherent in theme, this collection of essays focuses attention on Edo-period female practices of reading and writing. Combining lively case studies of women from various backgrounds with a consideration of more general trends in publishing, readership, and images of female readers, it enriches our understanding not only of gender issues but of Edo society as a whole."—Kate Wildman Nakai, Professor Emerita, Sophia University

"A major contribution to the studies of literacy, education, and the book in Japan, and of women and gender . . . The Female as Subject effectively addresses its targeted audience of students and teachers of the Edo and Meiji periods as well as 'scholars of the history of literacy and the book in East Asia.' [It] would also prove valuable in comparative studies that look beyond East Asia."—Michelle Osterfeld Li, The Journal of Asian Studies

"The separate chapters make up a multifaceted and nuanced whole, and the book is valuable not only for its depiction of literate women and what they read and wrote, but for its indication of the many ways in which they dealt with gender disparities in Edo and Meiji times."—Janet R. Goodwin, Monumenta Nipponica