japanese shogun on horseback

Rethinking Women’s Roles in Early Medieval Japan: Was Hojo Masako Japan’s Only Female Shogun?

Monday, March 5, 2018
4:00 pm
Harrison Hall 111

The creation of Japan’s first samurai government, the Kamakura shogunate (1192-1333), is often depicted as the start of a protracted decline in women’s rights. Yet a woman, Hōjō Masako (1157-1225), played a key role in developing many of the shogunate’s institutions. As wife of the first shogun and mother of the following two, she mediated disputes, stabilized the regency, and mobilized troops. 13th-c. Contemporary sources praised her contributions, listing Masako as having been a shogun in her own right. Curiously, however, later accounts depict Masako quite differently; as a cunning, heartless woman who thought only of power and her biological family’s interests.

Segal’s lecture explores wide range of issues including Masako’s life and legacy; what does her success suggest about the roles of women in early warrior society? Given that she achieved so much, why did no other women follow her into positions of power? Finally, what can the changing ways in which she has been remembered reveal about historians’ assumptions regarding women, gender, and power? Modern Japan is still struggling with the place of women in business and politics. According to the World Economic Forum, Japan was ranked 111st out of 145 countries on its Global Gender Gap Index in 2016. A daughter and the only child of the crown prince and princess has been denied Japan’s emperorship. Professor Segal’s talk gives an insight into this gender gap from a historical perspective. So, Masako’s accomplishments offer a salient trajectory point to women’s role in modern Japan.

Ethan Segal
Ethan Segal
Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Japan Council, Michigan State University