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General Nogi's Wife and the Gender of the Modern Nation

23.10.2003 | 18.30

Sharalyn Orbaugh (Professor, University of British Columbia)


General Nogi Maresuke and his wife Shizuko committed suicide on the evening of the funeral of the Meiji Emperor, September 13, 1912. The end of the reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912) represented the culmination of Japan's intensive and largely successful attempts to re-invent itself as a nation-state worthy of subject position among the other nation-states of the modern world.

The suicide of General Nogi Maresuke, hero of the Russo-Japanese War, epitomized the conflicting meanings of modern Japanese subjectivity. Maresuke's act was identified as junshi (following one's lord in death) by the contemporary media. In 1912 junshi had been outlawed for 150 years; Maresuke's choice of this feudal act to honor Japan's first modern emperor generated passionate debate about the meaning of modernity and tradition in Japan. The press, the public, and the intellectual-artistic community rushed to construct narratives about the significance of this event as it related to their own conceptions of the modern Japanese nation.

In contrast, Shizuko's concurrent suicide has passed relatively unremarked. But not entirely so; narratives about Shizuko and the meaning of her death have appeared in various media from 1912 to the present. In this presentation I will discuss a selection of these narratives and analyze the way they can be considered paradigmatic of the gender structures underpinning the discourse of nation-building at various moments of modern Japanese history.

Professor Orbaugh is Associate Professor of Asian and Women's Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. This year she is Visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. She earned her Ph.D. in 1989 from the University of Michigan in Modern Japanese Literature with a dissertation on the short works of Shiga Naoya.


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