Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

East Asian Languages and Culture: Japanese

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Since the 1970s, Japan's rapidly aging population has prompted a range of narratives addressing the issue of aging, which has disproportionately affected women. Prevailing narratives often present the elderly demographic as either a national burden that exhausts social resources, or a national pride that represents a well-structured healthcare system. This study focuses on aged women—often deemed expendable and unimportant by society—who occupy principal roles in various works by Japanese modern women writers. This study asks the question: why does literature occasionally lure its readers to the oft-ignored voice of the sultry crone? By granting their aging female protagonists unconventional interiorities and subjectivities, writers underscore elderly women's voices and agency. In so doing, these writers challenge the popular narratives of Japan's greying society which have reinforced restrictive representations of the elderly and overlooked the richness and diversity of their personal lives and experiences. This study examines three stories by Enchi Fumiko (1905-1986)—"Hana kui uba" ("The Old Woman Who Eats Flowers," 1974), "Neko no sōshi" ("The Cat Scroll," 1974), and "Kinuta" ("The Fulling Block," 1980)—and Tanabe Seiko's (b. 1928) novel Uba tokimeki (Silver Butterflies, 1984). These works treat the socially regulated views on aged women by diverging from common narratives that illustrate them as weak, lonely, and socially useless characters. Borrowing Margaret Gullette's notion of "decline ideology," which defines aging as a social, ideological process rather than a biological process, my study builds upon and expands the previous scholarship on aging in cultural and literary realms. It explores how the two writers challenge rigid gender divisions and social propriety in modern Japan through their aged female characters, who break away from the stagnated images of the powerless and ineffectual elderly woman.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Rebecca L. Copeland

Committee Members

Marvin H. Marcus, Jamie L. Newhard, Nancy E. Berg, Gerhild S. Williams


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/doi:10.7936/K7K64GG5