Scholars have widely acknowledged the persistent ambivalence with which the Japanese religious traditions treat
women. Much existing scholarship depicts Japan’s religious traditions as mere
means of oppression. But this view raises a question: How have ambivalent and even misogynistic religious discourses on gender still come to inspire devotion
and emulation among women?
In Women in Japanese Religions, Barbara R. Ambros
examines the roles that women have played in the religions of Japan. An important
corrective to more common male-centered narratives of Japanese religious
history, this text presents a synthetic long view of Japanese religions from a distinct angle that has typically been discounted in standard survey accounts
of Japanese religions.
Drawing on a diverse collection of writings by and about women, Ambros argues that ambivalent religious discourses
in Japan have not simply subordinated women but also given them religious
resources to pursue their own interests and agendas. Comprising nine chapters
organized chronologically, the book begins with the archeological evidence of fertility cults and the early shamanic ruler Himiko in prehistoric Japan and ends with an examination of the influence of feminism and demographic changes
on religious practices during the “lost decades” of the post-1990 era. By viewing Japanese religious history through the eyes of women, Women in Japanese Religions presents a new narrative that offers strikingly different vistas of Japan’s pluralistic
traditions than the received accounts that foreground male religious figures
and male-dominated institutions.