Working Women in 13th-Century Japan: A Noblewoman's Guide to Career Success

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Sproul Hall 912

Christina Laffin, University of British Columbia

Christina Laffin's talk starts with a woman in Kyoto who received a request from her only daughter in 1264: what teachings can you send me for my life at court? “I set it all down in detail,” responded the mother, and produced a letter brushed with more than 600 lines of instructions on how to succeed in life and in work. Seven and a half centuries later, her letter exists as a copy within the collection of an aristocratic lineage. In the 1930s, it was adapted and continually read as an advice guide for women. This presentation will trace some of the advice contained in Abutsu’s Letter (Abutsu no fumi) and consider what it reveals about elite medieval Japanese women. What stages and paths were there in a woman’s life? What skills were necessary for career success? How were such skills gained? What glimpses do we get of everyday life? 

Christina Laffin is an associate professor and the Canada Research Chair in Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in medieval travel diaries, women’s education and socialization before 1600, and premodern Japanese poetry. Laffin’s publications include Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu (Hawai‘i University Press, 2013).

Sponsored by:  Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, East Asian Studies Program, Department of History, UC Davis Humanities Institute, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies