Performing the Okinawan woman in taiko: Gender, folklore, and identity politics in modern Japan

Hideyo Konagaya, University of Pennsylvania


Taiko, the art of drumming, has grown into a powerful cultural performance that constructs Japanese identity. Since its innovative emergence in the late 1950s in Japan as a new entertainment genre, recast from its earlier ritual context, it has emphasized the masculine representation of the subject through spectacular bodily performance. It has made postwar Japanese society believe it to be a distinctive heritage unbroken from the ancient origin, that is, the embodiment of Japanese spiritual unity. Underlying this cultural phenomenon has been the discourse of the “Japanese,” which assumes the coherence and continuity of the nation, people, and culture. This dissertation, focusing on the semiotic manipulation of gender and race, aims to deconstruct the historical and political processes of the masculine and homogenous identity construction in taiko. It genealogically examines the structural forces that organized this cultural form within the modern Western paradigm, notably the cultural policies of the nation state and the scholarly endeavors of disciplines---folkloristics, anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. A principal agent in this ethnography is a taiko performer Kawata Kimiko known for being the female pioneer in the genre and also for her licensed familial heritage of traditional Okinawan dance and music. Examining her experiences from the past through the present, the dissertation explores the way in which her performance has been produced within the male-dominant structure of the Japanese taiko, and the way in which Kawata's performances, emphasizing being a woman and Okinawan, have ambiguously and parodically challenged taiko's formidable power and authority. Chapter One discusses the appearance of taiko and Kawata's official debut within the postwar political and social context that have encompassed Japan, Okinawa, and the United States. Chapter Two looks into metaphoric tropes and liminoid potentialities of her performances and the socio-historical factors that conditioned them. Chapter Three scrutinizes folkloristic concepts and subject matter that constituted a particular performance of Kawata, titled Himiko in 2005. Chapter Four analyzes the semiotic system and describes the textuality of Himiko. Finally, Chapter Five argues Kawata's agency in the performative moment in Himiko. ^

Subject Area

Biography|Anthropology, Cultural|Folklore|Music

Recommended Citation

Konagaya, Hideyo, "Performing the Okinawan woman in taiko: Gender, folklore, and identity politics in modern Japan" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3260933.