From Sacred to Secret: Tracing Changes in Views of Menstruation in Japan

Maura Stephens-Chu

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/sijp.2019.60-61.4

Abstrakt


This paper examines understandings and experiences of menstruation in Japan, by tracing shifts in views of menstruation throughout Japanese history and analyzing ethnographic interviews conducted with college-aged Japanese women in 2018. Once considered a mystical phenomenon, menstruation came to be seen as a source of pollution, surrounded by various taboos and proscriptions. Then, around the turn of the twentieth century, views of menstruation shifted again; menstruation was no longer a cause of spiritual defilement. Instead, ideologies of moral and physical hygiene that dominated education and public health discourse in twentieth-century Japan positioned menstruation as an issue of hygiene that should be managed through proper bodily comportment and careful use of commercial menstrual products. While hypothetically ‘free’ of connotations of impurity and pollution, women still were not – and are not – free from stigma surrounding menstruation. Today, public discourse on menstruation is virtually nonexistent outside of menstrual product commercials, and menstruating women carry out vigilant routines of concealing their menstrual status, creating an illusion of absence. Young women’s reported experiences of compulsory swim class in grade school, as well as recent news articles discussing the topic, are used in this paper to highlight both the social and health issues currently surrounding young menstruators in Japan.

Słowa kluczowe


menstruation; Japanese history; taboo; anthropology; Japanese women

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Bibliografia


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