Men and Women Stuck in Cultural Roles in Taiko

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A traditional Japanese wedding ceremony in Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo, Japan. Copyright All rights reserved by Xiyeimages

Taiko demonstrates the male perspective’s inability to understand females outside of their relationship to themselves as individuals because of Japanese ideals of masculinity and femininity that do not allow for a female character defined outside of male roles.

In Japanese culture masculinity is defined through a man’s internal strength, instead of the external. In contrast, where masculinity allows for some more stability in their external interactions, femininity requires women to be submissive and docile to their husbands as a home-maker without any mention of what is occurring on the inside. This large amount of room awarded to a character within the masculine role are emphasized in the protagonist, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, of Taiko. Hideyoshi undergoes many changes as he journeys to become a samurai and man. His initial impression of masculinity is created by his father, Yaemon, who was a Samurai, which Hideyoshi wishes to emulate himself. This desire is related to gender when his father gives him a sword, which angers his mother, and in response he father tells him that she is upset because “women hate swords” (10). In addition, before this instance Yaemon also told Hideyoshi that he should never hurt women physically, and  that he is suppose to protect them (9).

These statements establish not only the novel, but also Hideyoshi’s approach to the rest of the women he shall meet in his life. First, when his father states that women hate swords, he is defining women in relationship to the stereotypically masculine object of a sword, which simultaneously defines the Samurai culture, therefore he is defining women’s role through men. Second, his father establishes the idea that women are items, which are too be protected, much like the definition of the subservient and quiet home-maker defined by Japanese culture. Once again the woman is defined in relation to what the man must do for him. Overall, this first impression solidifies Hideyoshi’s understanding of masculinity and femininity, men are first and women are defined through them.

The idea that women exist in relationship to men then becomes more evident through relationships between Hideyoshi and the women in his life, when Hideyoshi and other men throughout the text are unable to define women as individuals, and instead define them in relation to men as wives and daughters. For example, when Hideyoshi is talking to his future father-in-law, Matemon, about marrying Nene he states that he understands why it is important to choose the proper husband because “A woman has only one life to live, and her happiness depends on the man she marries” (141).This instance demonstrates the manifestation of Hideyoshi’s deep seated ideas about women, that their role and happiness exist due to their relationship to a man. Furthermore, when Hideyoshi saves the sister of his lord, Nobunaga, and brings her to him, she is angry with him for killing her husband, however, he does not acknowledge this emotion as real or on any level truly empathize and understand it. Instead Nobunaga “felt an uncontrollable revulsion for this foolish woman who could not understand her brother’s great love” (421).

These instances reinforce the texts view that women are defined through masculine roles and men, and therefore never give them the chance to be understood as individuals.

Works Cited

Yoshikawa, Eiji, and William Scott Wilson. Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal     Japan. New York: Kodansha USA, 1967. Print.
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