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» » Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women
Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women


Kittredge Cherry


Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women


Politics & Social Sciences

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1506 kb

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1497 kb

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1234 kb

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Kodansha USA; 1 edition (August 9, 2002)




Womens Studies



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Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women by Kittredge Cherry

Womansword is an insightful look at Japanese words concerning women and what they reveal about the status of women in modern Japan. In a collection of short, lively essays, author Kittredge Cherry considers the connotations, usage, and context of several hundred common words and phrases related to female identity, girlhood, marriage, mothering, working, sex, and aging. These Japanese words offer a new perspective on issues that are central to the lives of women everywhere.We learn, for instance, that an "intruder wife" is one who snags a husband by cooking for him every night, cleaning up for him, and generally coddling him till he realizes he can't live without her (but who lets him do the actual proposing); that Barbie didn't sell well in Japan till she was transformed into a cuter, shorter, less glamorous, younger version; that families with no sons to carry on the family name sometimes "adopt" one by marrying their daughter to a man who agrees to take their name, join their household, and generally adapt to their ways; that "honorable bag" (ofukuro) is an affectionate term a son may use to refer informally to his mother; and that people do not usually greet close relatives - even after a long separation - with a hug, but with a bow.Womansword is a thought-provoking book that paints a vivid picture of contemporary Japanese women, in all their layered and often contradictory roles.
For anyone interested in Japanese culture, especially the role of women in society, this is a "must" read. Through countless examples, the author offers insights into contemporary society shaped by centuries of tradition. Although Japan is a highly modernized society, there are many aspects of everyday life today that may seem archaic to the outsider, but makes perfectly good sense considering how Japan evolved from an agrarian society, to feudal, then industrial society. Some things have not changed that much. For the frequent traveler in Japan--or an expat--the book is a valuable resource to help better understand the roles of men and women throughout history.
I have to admit, I really detest books along the lines of Making Out in Japanese, which purport to teach you Japanese love-slang, for the simple reason that they are insulting to any reasonable person's intelligence. Womansword, by Kittredge Cherry, is much better. An exhaustive yet approachable "pop study" of Japanese vernacular, this thin, smart book goes beyond basic sexual words, and instead takes on words and idioms that exist (or once existed) in Japanese, which tell about the relationship of women in Japanese society. Useful for a serious student as well as for someone looking for some interesting phrases to spring on cute Japanese exchange students.
This book delivers what it promises. It's also very short: which is both good and a bit bad. I wish a new study was conducted with new data, I bet it would be very interesting to see how things have changed in 20 years (after the first edition)
Nice and clean copy.
Language and culture are inextricably tied, and attempting to learn one without the other is foolhardy. Certain phrases that you will encounter make no sense if translated literally ("Hako-iri Musume" - "Daughter in a Box"), and can only be understood in the context of the society they are a part of. (A sheltered girl who is taken care of by her parents like a doll in a protective box.)

Kitterdge Cherry understands this, and has tackled a specific part of Japanese language/culture, that of Japan's view of women as expressed through the language. In this book, "Womansword: What Japanese words say about women," she has combed through the female-specific vocabulary and supplied a cultural background for each word or phrase. In this manner, she has written an interesting book that not only offers new vocabulary but also provides some valuable insight.

As a vocabulary builder, "Womansword" is limited but useful. Many of the terms are outdated, as the book was written in 1987, and many of the words have not been used commonly for more than 60 years. However, when reading Japanese literature, or living daily life in Japan, I have encountered enough of the vocabulary presented here to have been glad that I read the book. Most of these are "casual words," the types of things you are likely to find in Manga or daily chit-chat than anything else. I recommend you check with a Japanese friend before using the majority of these words though. I have busted some out and found later that they were inappropriate, a distinction that Cherry does not make.

As a cultural book it is more successful. Cherry, who is an activist as a lesbian minister in the US, keeps the tone of the book neutral and non-judgemental, something which I really appreciated. In a book like this it would be easy to condemn Japanese culture, but education

and elucidation are the genuine aims. Japan's treatment of women has come a long way since 1987, but it is still a very different culture from the US, one where gender differences are more acknowledged, and gender roles more accepted. Books such as "Womansword" can help to put this in perspective.
I feel compelled to write purely to disagree with the previous reviewer about Making out in Japanese. While Womansword gives all sort of interesting analysis of interesting words and situations, it will not help you at all doing what most newcomers to Japan want to do, which is to either make friends or lovers out of those Japanese who are not English speakers. Making out in Japanese is simplistic, but it is a non-threatening, easily employed tool for making those first and very difficult steps into the forbidding Japanese language. When I started Japanese, almost a decade ago, I read it for entertainment, and it helped me learn. It got left behind as I went from a beginner to an intermediate speaker of Japanese, but I remember it fondly.
As a student of Japanese, I didn't find that this book added much to my knowledge of the language, except for some new vocabulary I likely won't talk about in Japanese conversation. But for what it's worth, I found this book to be very interesting. It explains a lot about Japanese culture, which I guess is just as valuable to know if you speak the language or travel to the country. I was surprised by a lot of the stuff I read, which made me a little suspecious that the culture may be a little outdated. But it was entertaining nonetheless. Like I said, it serves for interest purposes than usefulness purposes.

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