Reading Girls’ Agency: The Pillow Book and Flower Tales, Past and Future


The topic of this paper emerged from a deceptively simple question: When and why did the linkage between girlhood and same-sex love emerge in Japanese culture? Ostensibly, the answer is clear. Flower Tales [Hana Monogatari] (1916–1924), a serialized girls’ novel by the Japanese popular writer Yoshiya Nobuko, featured flowers and romantic same-sex friendships, coupled together, and her depictions of a mutual crush, dubbed “S” (meaning sisterhood), captured schoolgirls' imagination. Michiko Suzuki in Becoming Modern Women: Love and Female Identity in Prewar Japanese Literature and Culture (2009) brilliantly discusses how the girls’ fiction genre shaped the understanding of same-sex love. However, what is often overlooked is that Yoshiya claims, rather anachronistically, that the tradition of girlish sentiments unfolding in Flower Tales originates in The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon in the tenth century. In fact, at a time of her writing in the 1910s and 20s, Sei Shonagon was reevaluated—or devaluated—as a “new woman” in the literary circle.

This paper proposes to consider the cultural work of Flower Tales by situating it across space and time. I argue that the linkage between flowers and same-sex girl love in Flower Tales emerged not simply as a reaction to patriarchal heterosexism, but was significantly informed by a female rereading of The Pillow Book; thus Flower Tales reshapes the past in a way that it reshapes a future. Moreover, I will discuss the crucial role that horticultural education played for schoolgirls to understand the function of flowers in Flower Tales.

Author Information
Umehara Yuu, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2018
Stream: Area Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2018 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon