Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797–1858)
Empress Jingū Invades Korea
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1847–1852
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

Empress Jingū (Jingū kōgō, c. 169–269) traditionally is believed to have been the 15th imperial ruler of Japan, ascending the throne in 201 after the death of her husband, Emperor Chūai (dates unknown), and acceding the throne to her son, Emperor Ōjin (dates unknown) in 269. Although she is discussed in both the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki, c. early 8th century) and The Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720), due to limited amount of evidence, the historical accuracy of her existence has been strongly contested. During the Meiji period (1868–1912), historians removed her from the official list of emperors and designated her as a legendary figure.

The reputation of Empress Jingū is primarily based upon tales of her invasion of Korea, and during the Edo period images of her dressed in battle armor and leading that military campaign were produced by various artists of the Utagawa School, including Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861). In Empress Jingū Invades Korea, by Hiroshige, a fearsome figure stands upon a boulder and gestures with her bow while giving orders to her soldiers. The only concrete clue to this figure’s gender is in Hiroshige’s caption in the upper half of the print.

Since women were typically prohibited from serving in the military, and since battle armor was specifically designed for men, should we interpret this portrait as an example of transvestitism? If a wakashū’s gender was defined in part by his long-sleeved kimono (furisode), then isn’t Empress Jingū’s armor likewise a means through which she temporarily transformed her gender?

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