By Gergana Ivanova
Proceedings from the 2006 Japan Studies Conference (JSAC), October 12-15, 2006
Introduction: In this study, I address the issue of women’s humour and laughter in Heian Japan, particularly as handled in Sei Shonagon’s Makura no soshi, a key text in the tradition of women’s writing and reading. Despite the sighing and lamentation that dominate Heian literature, and the declining political influence of the court in which the author serves as a lady-in-waiting, Sei creates a narrative saturated with humour and laughter. Tears women usually shed are replaced by exuberant laughter and jokes, especially in passages that recount moments of intense vulnerability and instability for the female attendants to empress Teishi. By examining some of the scenes in which women laugh in unison, I attempt to ident ify the sources and functions of their laughter as represented in the text. I also argue that through laughter the author creates an image of the female attendants as provocateur, and aims to subvert the literary convent ion of representing women as passive, obscure the vulnerability of the ladies-in-waiting in a declining court, and challenge the misconceptions about the socially active women as immoral.