The Surprising Role of Women in Medieval Japan [GUEST POST]

Geisha

Over the centuries, Japanese women have been everything from shopkeepers and moneylenders to geisha and warriors. (Photo by Yiannis Theologos Michellis, Flickr)

Many people don’t realize the important roles women played in medieval Japan, or that a Japanese woman’s “place” was often in the shop—or even on the archery range—as well as in the home.

While most of the samurai warriors were male, women born into the ruling class were also considered samurai, and some of them even wore swords and trained like men. Among the shinobi (ninja) clans, female fighters were even more common; female spies, called kunoichi, worked as assassins and espionage agents alongside and independently of their male counterparts.

Members of both the ruling samurai class and the lower artisan and merchant classes often taught their daughters to read and write, because women were often expected to handle the household ledgers or to manage the shop’s accounts. Japanese records show that during this era women owned and ran successful businesses—and not just teahouses. Women were also brewers, moneylenders, and rice merchants.

Susan Spann's BETRAYAL AT IGA

Seventh Street Books

Of course, women did run restaurants, teahouses, and brothels during this era, too. The geisha rose to fame during the medieval era (in fact, the term “geisha” was coined during the 17th century), and they remain a famous aspect of Japanese culture to this day. In the West, many people mistakenly believe that geisha were prostitutes, though in reality they were highly paid entertainers who specialized in dancing, music, and conversation. While some did extend additional favors to special patrons, sexual services were not a standard part of the geisha’s performance.

When writing my Hiro Hattori novels, I try to include historically-accurate female characters, some of whom are engaged in professions readers might find unusual or surprising. In Claws of the Cat, I feature a female warrior, or onna-bugeisha, a rare but historically accurate member of the samurai class.

Since Betrayal at Iga takes place in a ninja village, I had the chance to show a number of female assassins: my protagonist’s mother, Midori, and his grandmother, Akiko, are retired kunoichi—and his former lover, Neko, is a highly successful, and dangerous, assassin.

Readers are often surprised to discover the active part many women played in medieval Japanese commerce and society. While many did play subordinate roles to their fathers and husbands, others owned property, managed businesses, and had careers as important as those of their male counterparts.

Although I write from a male perspective (both my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick Father Mateo are men) I try to make sure the characters in my fictitious version of medieval Japan are balanced as well as accurate. Times have changed, but people still feel joy, love, fear, hate, excitement, and jealousy—which is one major reason readers relate to mystery novels no matter when or where the book is set. That said, I try to include as diverse a cast as possible, both to help readers relate to the books and to ensure that I portray as many of the unique and interesting aspects of Japanese culture as possible on the page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Spann

Susan Spann

Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of the Shinobi Mystery novels featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo.

Her debut novel, Claws of the Cat, was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Other books in the series include Blade of the SamuraiFlask of the Drunken Master, and The Ninja’s Daughter

When not writing, Susan is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law. She obtained her degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history and culture.

In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

She invites readers to visit her home on the Web at SusanSpann.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

BETRAYAL AT IGA
By Susan Spann
250 pgs. Seventh Street Books. $15.95

TLC Book Tours Tour HostYou may purchase Betrayal at Iga at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Seventh Street Books.

Betrayal at Iga is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

Betrayal at Iga Giveaway

Want to win a copy of Betrayal at Iga for your very own? Simply complete the form below and click submit to enter to win. Giveaway is limited to U.S. residents only. Contest ends August 9, 2017.

Advertisements

About Susan Spann
Susan Spann is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year and the author of the Shinobi Mystery novels featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT, was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Other books in the series include BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, and THE NINJA'S DAUGHTER. When not writing, Susan is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing and business law. She obtained her degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history and culture. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

One Response to The Surprising Role of Women in Medieval Japan [GUEST POST]

  1. Thanks for featuring Susan for the tour!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: