Elementary Learning for Women
(Onna shōgaku 女小学)
Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), 1763
Woodblock-printed book; ink on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003
Alongside a similar work that preceded it, Greater Learning for Women (Onna daigaku, 1729), Elementary Learning for Women was widely published throughout the Edo period (1615-1868). In addition to its use as a primer on various works of Japanese literature, this text also promoted a strict Confucian code of behavior and exerted a powerful influence upon the formation of young women’s self-identity.
Readers were instructed about the various social roles that each woman, depending upon her family’s status, was destined to assume: a court noble (kuge), a member of a samurai’s family (buke), a merchant’s wife (tsuma), a rural commoner (min), a naive young girl (oboko-musume), a mistress (mekake), a prostitute (keisei), or a nun (ama). The final two roles are depicted on the right page, while the left page, on the subject of marriage, portrays two fathers greeting one another during a wedding ceremony, rolls of silk intended as dowry stacked on wooden trays in the background and the young groom quietly observing the ceremony from the side of the room.
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