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Urban Taxonomy of Japanese Women's Representation

Academic, Columbia University, Spring 2018 

Elective: Books, Figures, and Objects| Tutor: Hilary Sample



Japanese women have been assigned to labels and images throughout history and it still has a restricting effect on women’s position in the sociopolitical environment. This collection of images tries to examine the representation of women in the urban context to expose ways in which imagery of women has been sexualized, westernized, traditionalized, maternalized and domesticated. The purpose is to examine images of women in the urban context to explore how the power of these images shape Japanese women’s lives, the potential traditional images embody for contemporary purposes and the opportunities some images might provide Japanese women for expanding their behavioral choices.


The representation of women is critical considering the uneven pace at which male and female attitudes and behavior is a current source of stress in Japanese society. The extent to which women could participate in Japanese society has varied over time and social classes. The inequality ethics, governments, religion, tradition have produced, ironically allowed women the margin of freedom to explore their individuality in ways not permitted to men. Women diversified while men stayed homogenous. It is a very critical moment in time for Japanese women because now they are truly in search of themselves. 

The ways in which gender ideology has been constructed, reproduced and reinforced or even hidden are all inherent in the images. Even though expectations from a woman is strongly ingrained in the imageries that are exposed to both women and men in the urban context, on daily basis; this superficial layer of information gives birth to the extremities of expression in the Japanese society. It is important to comprehend that the institutionalized representation of women by the government and the media is different from what women define themselves in the society. Women reinforce, juxtapose and reinterpret these institutionalized messages in ways in which they express themselves every day. 


It is also interesting to distinguish how women have always been represented as monstrous figures in Japanese culture. Mythological constructions of women have always marked the female form with mystery, fear, and desire. This approach has been carried out with mangas. While documenting this ingrained perception of the position of women in society, culture, and history related with her monstrosity, the book suggests the ways and which to embrace that monstrosity. By re-contextualizing the monstrosity and what it imposes, women can celebrate monstrousness as something human, political and a metaphor for goodness and challenge the sexist precepts of public representation.

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