Japanese History Lecture Series – Tsuneno’s Journey: Gender, Microhistory, and the Limits of the Ordinary in Tokugawa Japan

Japanese History Lecture Series -- Tsuneno's Journey: Gender, Microhistory, and the Limits of the Ordinary in Tokugawa Japan

Amy Stanley - Assistant Professor of History, Northwestern University

Monday, March 26, 2012 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Room 202, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 6511

Tsuneno, daughter of the Shin temple Rinsenji in Echigo province, had an exciting life. Over the course of the 1830’s and ‘40’s, she married twice, divorced twice, ran away from home, worked as a waitress in an Edo teahouse, took up with a gangster who extorted her family, and married a down-and-out samurai who later entered the service of a famous Edo city magistrate. Her story, which foregrounds conflict and features a surprising degree of physical and social mobility, differs from the accounts of more sedate commoner women’s lives that dominate scholarship on this era. But was Tsuneno extraordinary?

This talk considers Tsuneno’s journey across Japan and through households and status categories in order to rethink the relationship between “normative” and “normal” in Tokugawa history. How do we know what constituted an ordinary life for a woman of Tsuneno’s era? Is this a question that microhistorical research can address? Finally, how can we join the typically small-scale, intimate histories of women – extraordinary or not – to larger narratives of social and economic change in early modern Japan?

Amy Stanley (Ph.D. Harvard, 2007) specializes in the history of early modern Japan. She is particularly interested in women’s history, the history of gangsters and the underworld, and the formation of social policy in early modern cities and towns. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Japanese Ministry of Education, the Japan Foundation, and the Whiting Foundation, and she has studied at Kansai University in Osaka and Waseda University in Tokyo. Her dissertation, which she is currently revising for publication, explores official and popular attitudes toward the sex trade in provincial Japan between 1600 and 1868. Other recent work includes an article on adultery and punishment in Tokugawa Japan and research on education for geisha during the Meiji period.