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Finding Sanjō Genshi: Women’s Visibility in Late Medieval Japanese Aristocratic Journals

Finding Sanjō Genshi: Women’s Visibility in Late Medieval Japanese Aristocratic Journals

By Sherry J. Funches

PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan, 2017

Abstract: This study examines women’s visibility in journals composed by Japanese male aristocrats in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. This was a turbulent era for the imperial court, which suffered a dynastic split, warfare, political challenges by warriors, and a devastating decline in revenues from imperial and aristocratic estates.

The late medieval period has been seen as a point of decline for aristocratic women due to several matters, such as the disappearance of formally appointed imperial consorts and the solidification of patrilocal marriage. However, assessing how women were affected by the era’s vicissitudes is challenging due to transformations in the historical record in the disappearance of women’s memoirs in this period.

This dissertation seeks to reveal hitherto little known aspects of this period’s highly gendered court life through close analysis of events in the lives of women, with a focus on Sanjō Genshi, mother of Emperor Go-Komatsu (1377-1433). It examines how women were visible in the contexts of ceremonies, wealth, and politics in three journals written by men: Gogumaiki, by Genshi’s father Sanjō Kintada (1324-1383), Sanefuyu-kō ki, by his son Sanefuyu (1354-1411), and Hirohashi Kanenobu’s (1366-1429) Kanenobu-kō ki.


These journals depicted women as participants in ceremonies that traditionally displayed households’ and the court’s prestige and significant social connections. Furthermore, in this period of economic decline, they emerged as continuing to possess their own economic resources, which enabled participation in court activities. They were also depicted as relying on male kin’s assistance for material aid and, to a limited extent, as providing financial resources. Lastly, in the continual competition for social capital, women appeared as a means through which warriors and courtiers acquired and displayed prestige and influence.

Click here to read this dissertation from the University of Michigan



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